The Golunov case: hopes dampened

Following the surprise release of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, which was celebrated as a success for Russian civil society, security forces in Moscow cracked down on demonstrators protesting against police repression on Wednesday. Hundreds of people were detained. The press asks how this affects interpretations of the Golunov affair.

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BBC (GB) /

Security apparatus no longer untouchable

The Golunov case offers a glimmer of hope, BBC News comments:

“Now that Ivan Golunov is a free man again, many questions are being asked about how many other people across Russia are languishing in jail on trumped-up drugs charges, but without the same voice. Police now find themselves under an uncomfortable spotlight. It is unlikely things will change overnight. That is clear from the arrest of more than 200 people demonstrating in support of Ivan Golunov in Moscow on Wednesday. But his case has raised hopes that those involved in law enforcement in Russia might feel just a little less untouchable than they did before.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

The state showing its harsh side again

For the Echo of Moscow the crackdown on the demonstrators is proof that the Golunov case doesn't stand for a liberalisation of the Russian regime:

“Everyone agreed that civil society had put the state under pressure and that this led to the release of a completely innocent person. And that the state did this because it would have been unpleasant if someone had asked on 'Direct Line with Putin' [the live Q&A show in which citizens can ask Putin questions, planned for 20 June]: 'Why is the journalists behind bars?' ... Now people are writing things online like 'The state has shown everyone who's the boss here,' and 'With its hard line it is trying to restore its reputation'. Which is true: within the state apparatus there has been no reflection on its own idiotic actions. ... Should we get all upset about this? No, it's nothing new.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

The fat cats are left in peace

De Volkskrant also believes that nothing will change after Golunov's release:

“Independent media have been writing for years about worsening corruption under Putin. Several of Putin's judo partners from St. Petersburg have become billionaires thanks to a steady rain of lucrative government contracts. Opposition leader and anti-corruption fighter Alexey Navalny revealed the existence of several luxury villas that are owned by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. ... The result? YouTube and Instagram were forced to remove Navalny's video. The police and the justice system are packed with corrupt officials. ... Every now and then a subordinate is sacrificed, but the fat cats remain untouchable under Putin. Independent media do exist - but if Russia wants to heal something must be done with their revelations.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Regime's power has its limits

Dagens Nyheter finds the journalist's release remarkable:

“Neither the Putin regime nor the Kremlin-controlled justice system normally tend to pull back. The ratio of convictions is almost 100 percent, practically as high as during the Stalin era. But on Tuesday Golunov's preliminary hearing was suddenly stopped. ... The case shows that there are limits to the power in Russia and that there are Russians who dare to defy the restrictions on freedom of expression.”

Kommersant (RU) /

Everyone can identify with Golunov

Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center explains to Kommersant why so many people can identify with Ivan Golunov:

“He doesn't fight against the Putin regime. His interests lie elsewhere, with far more concrete issues. He fights against objective evil, which would also exist under other political regimes. ... And for exactly that reason people could defend him without having to situate themselves in the strict division between Putin fans and Putin foes. His work didn't just suit the anti-Putin side, because he wasn't interested in toppling the regime but in making Russia a better place. ... And until Friday Ivan was hardly known outside press circles. ... He's not a celebrity so more people could identify with him.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

The headlines hit where it hurts

Novaya Gazeta believes the last development in the case is also a result of media coverage:

“The synchronised approach of the three business papers Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBK, which ran identical front pages in support of Golunov, played a key role. This was a brutal blow: the newspapers' action coincided with the conclusion of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Russia's bosses wanted to read about their successes in developing the Russian economy on their way home. Instead they were confronted with the legal and social system they have created in the era of Russian stabilisation: a complete lack of rights for the one side and impunity for the other. Judging by the events on the following day, the wave triggered by the press sloshed all the way to the top - and someone up there gave the order: Put an end to it.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

Reporters are being gagged

Vedomosti explains the dangers journalists face in Russia:

“The wish to silence Golunov has hugely undermined confidence in Russia's legal system. It's also a blow to the free press, which is already half-dead. In turns out that it's not as dangerous for a journalist not to fit in with the concept of 'state interests' than it is for him to offend an official or businessman in one way or another. While in the first case they just risk losing their job and careers, in the second they risk having drugs planted on them - and that can put their lives at risk.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Afraid of its own citizens

Russia's government is resorting to ever harsher means to dominate public opinion, Kaleva explains:

“The measures taken by the government in Russia against free media display a cold logic. As a survey published last week by the independent opinion research institute Levada shows, Russians are more willing to take to the streets to demonstrate against unfair treatment than they were in the past. ... Ultimately the restrictions on freedom of expression show that the rulers are afraid of their citizens. So they feed them with news according to which the problems lie elsewhere and not with those who make the decisions. Any information to the contrary on the Internet poses a growing threat to those in power.”

El País (ES) /

Journalists have lost their patience

The protests against the journalist's arrest could spread, El País observes:

“In the media branch the alarm bells are ringing and Russian journalists are taking to the streets to defend their colleague and themselves in unprecedented protests. ... They all know that they themselves could be the victims tomorrow if they allow the victory of a manipulated or irregular trial today. Solidarity is combined with a sense of justice here. By supporting Golunov international institutions are enhancing the symbolic character of the case. It's the last straw. Russian journalists who have been gagged, humiliated and had their self-confidence dented by a system that permanently puts obstacles and punishment in their way have finally lost their patience.”