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'An Argument For The Truth': Novaya Gazeta Editor's Nobel Prize Seen As 'A Shield' For Embattled Russian Journalists

Dmitry Muratov speaks to the media in Moscow after winning the Peace Prize on October 8.
Dmitry Muratov speaks to the media in Moscow after winning the Peace Prize on October 8.

Word from Oslo that longtime Novaya gazeta Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov had won a share of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize comes at a time when independent journalism is facing intense pressure in Russia.

In recent months, numerous prominent investigative outfits and individual journalists have come under assault by the government, with some media outlets shutting down and some journalists fleeing the country.

"This is wonderful," Ekho Moskvy radio Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, which was one of the first Russian media outlets to be targeted under the controversial "foreign agents" legislation, suggesting that the impact of the award would reach beyond the groundbreaking Novaya gazeta. "It is a huge success for all of us. It is also important for freedom of speech."

Muratov was a co-founder of Novaya gazeta and has served as its editor in chief since 1995, with a hiatus from 2017-19. The respected newspaper was created using the money awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev won in 1990 and was intended to be an enduring monument to Gorbachev's flagship policy of glasnost, or openness.

The paper has earned an international reputation for its reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, particularly in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, and stands as a bloodied but surviving example of the risks faced by Russians who challenge the claims and the narratives of the state.

Who Is Russia's Dmitry Muratov, This Year's Nobel Peace Prize Winner?
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Six of its journalists and contributors -- Igor Domnikov (2000), Yury Shchekochikhin (2003), Anna Politkovskaya (2006), Anastasia Baburova (2009), Stanislav Markelov (2009), and Natalya Estimirova (2009) -- have been killed in attacks that the paper and human rights activists say were retribution for their journalism.

Muratov was quick to credit his slain colleagues in accepting the award, while also citing the current pressure against Russian journalists.

"I think this prize belongs to Anna Politkovskaya, Yury Shchekochikhin, Igor Domnikov, and my fallen, beloved friends and colleagues," Muratov said in comments to the Readovka Telegram channel. "And this prize belongs to those people who now are being designated 'foreign agents' or 'undesirable' elements."

In comments to the Podyom Telegram channel, Muratov said: "we will use this prize to benefit Russian journalism, which is enduring repressions.... We will try to help people who are now being designated 'foreign agents,' who are being hounded and chased out of the country."

Political analyst Tatyana Vorozheikina told Current Time -- a Russian-language TV network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA that has also been designated a "foreign agent" by the Russian Justice Ministry -- that the announcement came at a time when good news for Russian journalism was scarce.

"This is very important, particularly now because the pressure of recent years -- and particularly the last year -- that the media have come under is, even for our country, simply unprecedented," Vorozheikina said.

"I think this will serve as protection for the newspaper and for other media that are working along the same lines," she added. "I hope that for Muratov and the journalists of Novaya gazeta this prize will serve as a shield in their noble work on behalf of all of us."

She added that "it is difficult to imagine that a Nobel laureate could be deemed a 'foreign agent.'"

Why Not Navalny?

Others argued that the prize should have gone to imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption campaigner who has become the front man of the anti-Putin opposition. Navalny was the target of a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning in August 2020 that he says was carried out by Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives at Putin's behest.

Political analyst Kirill Rogov told Current Time that although Muratov's prize was an important moment in the current standoff between "liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes," it should be viewed as a "compromise prize."

"This prize will be called 'the prize that wasn't given to Navalny,'" he said. "It is a compromise. On one hand, it is a prize given to those who oppose dictatorship and are fighting for freedom of speech. On the other hand, it is a prize that was not given to the people who are now in the tensest political conflict in the world. The [Nobel] committee has emphasized that they did not want to give that prize to them. And I'm talking, primarily, about [Belarusian opposition leader] Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Aleksei Navalny."

In a comment on Facebook, analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev disagreed, saying the prize "underscored the significance of a free press in modern society."

"Most importantly, by not giving the prize to opposition political figures, the committee did not repeat the mistake it made with Myanmar and Ethiopia, where prize laureates later got involved in war and ethnic violence," he wrote.

Novaya gazeta spokeswoman Nadezhda Prusenkova told RFE/RL that it was "a bitter irony" that the prize announcement came one day after the 15th anniversary of Politikovskaya's assassination in her Moscow apartment building.

"I guess this prize once again underscores that in our country, all is far from well with our profession," Prusenkova said. "Of course, it is important and wonderful that our efforts have been noticed. But I hope that this prize draws the world's attention and does something to change the situation -- so that those who ordered the killing of Anna Politkovskaya will be found, so that the government will stop hindering investigations into matters where state bureaucrats are involved."

"I hope this prize can become an important argument in favor of the truth," she added. "After all, that is what we are working for."

RFE/RL's Russian Service and Current Time contributed to this report

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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