Fired Radio Liberty journalists, some who are currently working at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as those who resigned in protest, have written an open letter to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President and CEO Steven Korn, in which they ask that two of their colleagues with disabilities and a single mother with dependent children be allowed to return to work.
Aleksey Kuznetsov, one of the disabled employees, was a fully performing web editor, multimedia specialist and reporter before being forced to resign. Another former employee with disabilities was RFE/RL Moscow bureau coordinator Bella Kaloeva. They were both fired without any any warning and without any attempt on the part of RFE/RL executives and managers to discuss their status.
Steven Korn reports to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in Washington which funds Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL’s budget is approved by the U.S. Congress which passed a number of laws designed to protect the rights of employees with disabilities. Some of these laws and regulations apply specifically to government contractors and institutions like RFE/RL which receive federal grants. Inquiries made with the BBG whether these U.S. anti-discrimination laws and regulations apply to RFE/RL employees in Russia have remained unanswered.
Methods used by RFE/RL executives to fire the Moscow staff have produced an outrage among Russian human rights leaders, democratic political figures, and Radio Liberty audience. RFE/RL-hired guards prevented journalists and other staffers from entering the Moscow bureau and directed them to a law firm where they were informed that they no longer had a job and had no other choice but to agree to a termination of their employment contracts. RFE/RL executives with the help of security guards prevented these well known, highly respected and dedicated journalists from saying good bye to their radio and online audience of many years.
Aleksey Kuznetsov’s account and Russian media reports all indicate that employees who were fired included many new media specialists with more experience and greater multimedia skills than some of the newly hired employees who replaced them. According to latest media reports, Radio Liberty’s Russian website has lost more than 60 percent of its daily visitors since September when the mass dismissals took place. Many Russian media reports, as well as statements from leading Russian human rights and democratic political leaders, assert that Radio Liberty has been destroyed as an effective pro-democracy medium and its reputation ruined in Russia.
A similar situation has developed in Kazakhstan, where RFE/RL management — after dismissing several experienced journalists — tried to produce and place sexually suggestive videos with obscene content to attract a new audience but instead caused a moral outrage among many Radio Liberty website visitors.
Open Letter to President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Mr. Stephen Korn
Leaving aside the appropriateness and reasonableness of your ongoing reform of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty, it is our professional and human duty to make the following statement.
During the mass layoffs in the Russian Service combined at the same time with mass recruitment of new employees, two of our colleagues were fired from Radio Liberty’s Russian Service – Radio Liberty website editor Aleksey Kuznetsov and coordinator of the Moscow office Bella Kaloeva, who because of the state of their health are considered persons with disabilities. Furthermore, Ekaterina Vysotsky, a single mother of three young children, was also fired. Officially, they have left “by mutual agreement,” in reality, your subordinates used psychological pressure to force them to resign.
We are convinced that this kind of treatment of vulnerable people violates the norms of civilized society and is directly contrary to the values which Radio Liberty defends in accordance with its mission. We are confident that the American taxpayers who fund the activities of the institution entrusted to you would strongly condemn the firing of vulnerable people with disabilities.
In this situation, we are convinced that the clarification of the circumstances of what happened to Radio Liberty must take place in the public forum.
We do not expect charity from you. This is about the persons who are able to fully serve the mission of spreading democratic values in Russia and in the world. Aleksey Kuznetsov and Bella Kaloeva worked effectively for many years for Radio Liberty. While they were employed, they have lost their health, which, despite the efforts of doctors, they did not fully regain. However, despite their status as persons with disabilities, Alexey Kuznetsov and Bella Kaloeva flawlessly continued to perform their duties.
We do not expect from your an apology – it is unlikely to make up for the moral damage RFE/RL corporate executives caused to these vulnerable people.
We demand the immediate return of our colleagues to work and are ready to defend their rights at every level, right up to the U.S. Congress.
This letter has been signed by former and current employees of Radio Liberty.
Vladimir Abarbanel, journalist
Venera Abarbanel, journalist
Artur Asafev, journalist
Veronika Bode, journalist
Yuri Vasiliev, journalist
Elena Vlasenko, a journalist
Daniel Galperovich, journalist
Kristine Gorelick, journalist
Vladimir Dolin, journalist
Daria Zharov, journalist
Anna Kachkaeva, journalist
Vitaly Kamyshev, journalist
Anastasia Kirilenko, journalist
Andrey Korolev, journalist
Elena Kolupaeva, sound
Albina Sanchez Lear journalist
Sergei Mulin, journalist
Dmitry Nalitov, sound editor
Natalia Ogadzhanyants, producer
Alexander Orlov-Sokolsky, sound editor
Olga Orlova, journalist
Nadezhda Pertseva, journalist
Marina Petrushko, journalist
Elena Polyakovskaya, journalist
Mikhail Sokolov, journalist
Marina Staune, coordinator
Ekaterina Skaryatin, coordinator
Tatiana Skorobogatko, journalist
Dmitry Starovoitov, journalist
Nikita Tatarsky, journalist
Marina Timasheva, journalist
Lyudmila Telen, journalist
Yuri Timofeev, journalist
Ilya Tochkin, engineer
Ivan Trefilov, journalist
Andrei Truhan, journalist
Elena Fanailova, journalist
Lyubov Chizhova, journalist
Mumin Shakirov, journalist
Mikhail Shevelev journalist
Anyone can add a signature under this letter by going to the Radio Liberty in Exile website SvobodaNew.com. Signatures are added by leaving a comment under this post: Открытое письмо президенту RFERL г-ну Стивену Корну
Dismissal of an Employee with Disabilities at Radio Liberty
by Aleksey Kuznetsov
“Firing a disabled but fully employable and well performing person is extraordinary in any civilized country. I became disabled after a strike, which happened in 2008. My schedule, created at that time by RFE/RL management, was very demanding. I spent more than ten hours a week doing live broadcasts, three days – early in the morning. My stroke didn’t happen at the work place, but it came just one hour after my exhausting morning shift. I didn’t demand that RFE/RL pay for my medical treatment, although it wouldn’t have been hard to prove in court that my work schedule was the principle reason for my stroke.
I’ve always thought that RFE/RL’s mission is more important than my health, and that we would always come to an agreement, if needed.
We did. In 2008, RFE/RL management arranged my schedule in a different way. I started working from home on the web team as an editor, coming to the editorial office just once a week. As a longtime disabled employee, I thought that I would never be thrown out on the street by an American publicly-funded and publicly-owned company. I did not think that given my employment record and the public nature of my employment, such a thing would be likely to happen to me if I were employed in the United States and that RFE/RL would treat its employees as if they were working in America. But I was employed in Russia and I was wrong.
The mass firings at the RFE/RL Moscow bureau were done so inappropriately and with the use of such strong psychological pressure, that many of my colleagues and I got a distressing impression that fighting for our rights would be fruitless and impossible.
When RFE/RL managers said I was fired, I reminded them that I was disabled. They suggested that I could work one more month as a freelancer, a prolongation of the suffering.
It will be quite impossible for me to find a job in Moscow. I’m 52, and I’m disabled.
It is worth mentioning something that the chief executive did to increase our torment and humiliate us even more. Shortly before the mass firings, Steve Korn told us that we would finally be getting medical insurance. We spent years fighting for it, and this apparent victory seemed especially valuable for me. But as it turned out, we were not the ones to see the fruits of our struggles. Medical insurance will be a bonus for some other people who didn’t become disabled working for RFE/RL. Not for someone like me.
The new RFE/RL management keeps bragging about Radio Svoboda’s transformation into as a multimedia platform, which doesn’t involve dividing staff into radio and Internet teams. I was one of the employees who worked exactly without such a division of functions as one of the website’s editors, sports columnist and radio correspondent.
I also did photos and videos while covering UEFA championship in Kiev. I think my experience could become an example of new, multimedia Radio Svoboda.
But instead I was fired without any warning whatsoever or anyone bothering to talk to me or seek my input. I was informed of the fact that my experience in an area which coincides with RFE/RL multimedia strategy, as well as my health, are of no concern to the RFE/RL management. Such an attitude on the part of RFE/RL’s top American executives is capricious, nonprofessional and disreputable at the same time.” — Aleksey Kuznetsov