BBG Watch Commentary

March 2013 BBG Photo: Then RFE/RL President Kevin Klose, flanked by Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva (left) and journalist and author David Satter (right) at a Washington, D.C., reception to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty's first broadcast to Russia on March 1, 1953.

As reported by Dr. Paul Goble on his scholarly Window on Eurasia blog focusing on Russian media, “Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a longtime defender of the rights of her fellow citizens against Moscow’s violation of their rights, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, an award many believe she should win and one that they believe could protect her in the face of the increasing repression by the Kremlin.”

While Paul Goble’s article does not mention U.S. international broadcasting, BBG Watch readers know that Lyudmila Alexeeva (Alekseyeva) has been a staunch supporter and ally of fired Radio Liberty journalists whose political and pro-human rights programs, both radio and online, were terminated by former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn.

Alexeeva herself was a regular contributor to Radio Liberty, but along with most leading Russian opposition leaders she is now boycotting the Russian Service under the directorship of Masha Gessen who had been installed by Korn.

Alexeeva has recently written a letter to Kevin Klose, appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as new acting RFE/RL president and CEO, urging him to bring back to Radio Liberty dozens of journalists fired by his predecessor and to restore their programs.

“Like in the Soviet era, Radio Liberty is becoming the principal source of alternative information; however, the new management in Moscow, headed by M. Gessen, and Vice-President J. Ragona seem to be in cahoots with our oppressors. They insist on making our programming more entertainment-oriented. We are more than adequately entertained by government-owned television networks and radio stations. Human rights reportage and cogent political analysis is what we are lacking. The demand for coverage of these issues by the progressive part of our citizenry is not even closely satisfied by what is currently available. It is Radio Liberty’s responsibility to fulfill this role. Gessen and Ragona do not understand the organization’s mission, and, in my opinion, should leave their posts.”

Paul Goble reported that U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, who chairs the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was among those nominating Alexeeva for the Nobel Peace Prize. The U.S. Helsinki Commission is co-chaired by Congressman Christopher Smith.

In his January 29 letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Senator Cardin noted that Alexeeva is “fondly referred to by many as the Dean of Russia’s human rights corps” and that “her work over a half-century helped bend the arc of history toward justice.”

Alexeeva along with other leading Russian human rights activists sent two letters to Senator Cardin asking him and other members of the U.S. Congress to intervene in defense of fired Radio Liberty journalists. The letters were also sent to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and funds it with U.S. taxpayers’ money.

Alexeeva also confronted former RFE/RL president Steven Korn in a meeting in Moscow, telling him that he had treated Radio Liberty journalists worse than repugnant Russian capitalists treat their employees.

In a later meeting with his senior staff, Steven Korn dismissed her comments, “I did not think that we would convince any of the people in the room of anything. I don’t think I could have convinced them of what day it was, if it was coming out of my mouth they were not going to believe a word of it,” Korn said.

Korn, who insists that all Radio Liberty journalists resigned voluntarily and were treated with utmost respect, himself resigned reportedly under pressure from the Broadcasting Board of Governors and was replaced in late January by Kevin Klose who described the commitment of his Prague-based staff, along with journalists reporting in difficult political environments, as “deeply moving to me.” Klose also said he takes recent criticism and concerns from former employees seriously but isn’t wiling to speak yet about how he’ll mend fences in Moscow, Michael Calderone reported in The Huffington Post.

Mending fences in Moscow would presumably include winning over to Radio Liberty famous Russian democratic leaders like Lyudmila Alexeeva.

Paul Goble wrote in Window on Eurasia that Moscow’s Novyye Izvestiya, reported Alekseyeva’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination and interviewed her about that and about her current concerns, «Власти у нас пребывают на стадии сознания пещерных людей».

Goble reported that Alexeeva, 85, said she was “grateful” for this nomination but said she did not “particularly believe” that she would win the prize “because there are many candidates. Among them are many worthy people, and [she said she was] not sure that [she has] a serious chance.” But she said she was grateful to those who had put forward her name.

Goble reported that instead she talked about the difficulties she and other human rights organizations face in the Russian Federation as a result of the 2012 law requiring that they declare themselves to be foreign “agents,” a word she pointed out that in Russia is equivalent to “spies,” if they accept assistance from abroad.

While Alexeeva boycots Radio Liberty, still run by Masha Gessen, she said in a recent interview with the Voice of America (VOA), another U.S.-funded broadcaster managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, that Moscow’s recent actions have put Russia “at the border of totalitarianism.”

In his Window on Eurasia article, Paul Goble included a rich biography of Lyudmila Alexeeva with details of her pro-human rights activities in the Soviet Union and in Putin’s Russia.

Paul Goble, who served as special adviser on Soviet nationality issues and Baltic affairs to Secretary of State James Baker and held various positions at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and International Broadcasting Bureau, presented this assessment of Lyudmila Alexeeva’s activism:

“…at all times, Alekseyeva has been an outspoken defender of the human rights of all citizens of the Russian Federation and an equally vocal critique of the violation of these rights by Moscow.

For that, Lyudmila Alekseyeva deserves the gratitude of all people of good will and selection as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

READ: Window on Eurasia: Moscow Helsinki Group’s Alekseyeva Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize – By Paul Goble – February 5, 2013

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