A letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors sent by Lev Gudkov, renown Russian sociologist and director the highly respected independent research institute in Russia, Levada Center, protests the firing of journalists at the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty and the cancellation of a program devoted to reporting on social research in Russia.
The Levada Center was formed by a group of renown sociologists as an independent organization in 2003 after the state authorities tried to gain control of its predecessor organization the All-Union Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) by placing government officials on the VCIOM board of directors. The center is named after its founder, Yuri Levada — the first professor to teach sociology at Moscow State University. In 1972, his institute was closed down during a Brezhnev-era purge of some 200 sociologists from research institutes and universities. Levada was reinstated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as glasnost was under way.
The Levada Center’s current director Dr. Lev Gudkov studied journalism, sociology and philology and received a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation concerned the Max Weber’s concept of the methodology of social sciences. Gudkov is the author of several books and articles considering the theory and methodology of sociology, sociology of literature, ethno-national relations and social problems of the Post-Soviet society.
One of the Levada Center’s largest projects is the study “The Soviet Person,” or Homo Soveticus, in which specialists used surveys to monitor and identify significant trends in the social development of Russia’s society over the past 15 years.
Referring to the Russian government’s attempt to take over sociological research in Russia, the Levada Center’s director Lev Gudkov wrote, “In this situation, the presence of specialized sociological program on the air of Radio Liberty contributed to survival and development of independent sociology in the country.”
“In an authoritarian state, and especially in the period of reaction and ‘crackdown,’ permanent restriction of freedom of speech (which is what is happening now in Russia), it seems extremely untimely to suspend the Radio Liberty broadcasting and to fire its old team. These are people, who advanced the country’s democratic values and human rights,” Professor Gudkov told BBG members.
Professor Gudkov also called on the Broadcasting Board of Governors to conduct a full investigation of the actions of RFE/RL executives.
“Management and employees of the Levada-Center are extremely concerned about the dismissal of the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty, the closure of many programs and future cease of broadcasting on medium waves. The “Public Opinion” radio program of Veronica Bode and column of the same name at the website is closed. This program gave the opportunity for the independent Russian sociologists to deliver the results of their work and the analytical commentary to the audience.
Independent sociology in Russia is now in a very difficult situation, the Russian authorities make all kinds of obstacles to its existence. Thus, in 2003 the authorities made a violent change of leadership in the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, after which the entire staff of the Centre left with its former director Yuri Levada to create independent Levada-Center. In this situation, the presence of specialized sociological program on the air of Radio Liberty contributed to survival and development of independent sociology in the country.
In an authoritarian state, and especially in the period of reaction and ‘crackdown,’ permanent restriction of freedom of speech (which is what is happening now in Russia), it seems extremely untimely to suspend the Radio Liberty broadcasting and to fire its old team. These are people, who advanced the country’s democratic values and human rights.
We ask you to consider the situation and conduct a full and thorough investigation into the decisions of the Radio Liberty administration: President Stephen Korn and Vice President Julie Ragona, which resulted in the actual elimination of the radio in Russia.
Director of the Levada-Center”
Renown Russian-American scholar Vladimir Shlapentokh also sent a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors protesting against the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists.
Mikhail Gorbachev said:
“Glasnost is threatened in Russia and other countries. Journalists and press are being increasingly attacked. Glasnost helped break the resistance of conservative reactionary top bureaucracy, when its representatives attempted to turn back Russia’s development. Today, when people openly show their will to influence the government’s policy and participate in forming their destiny, glasnost’s importance grows.
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty’s management decision to dismiss almost all of the Russian service staff looks especially strange in this context. In times of severe censorship Radio Svoboda (RFE/RL Russian Service) made calls for democratization and glasnost a tenor of its programs. It is hard to get rid of an impression that RFE/RL’s American management is prepared to make an about turn.”
The Radio Station Known as Radio Liberty on the Cold War Radios blog by Richard H. Cummings, author of “Cold War Radio: The Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950-1989” (2009) and “Radio Free Europe’s ‘Crusade for Freedom’: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960” (2010). Both published by McFarland & Company, North Carolina.