BBG Watch Commentary
Lyudmila Alexeeva’s participation in Radio Liberty anniversary events in Washington and in Moscow may lead to crisis resolution.
BBG Watch has learned that newly-appointed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) acting president Kevin Klose has invited Lyudmila Alexeeva, a famous Russian human rights activist and a leading supporter of fired Radio Liberty journalists, to participate in a reception in Washington to honor the 60th anniversary of the station’s Russian Service.
The two events commemorating the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty, an official one in Washington and an unofficial one in Moscow, may signal an attempt to resolve a crisis triggered by the mass firing of the station’s Russian journalists last September by the previous management team. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s new president Kevin Klose had indicated that he does not object to the unofficial event in Moscow being organized by Radio Liberty in Exile, sources told BBG Watch.
Alexeeva will be accompanied in Washington by award-winning human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik. She recorded Alexeeva’s last interview on Radio Liberty on the day she was fired. Since that time, Alexeeva and many other famous Russian opposition leaders have been boycotting Radio Liberty’s Russian Service led by Masha Gessen and her new team. BBG Watch has learned that while in Washington, Alexeeva will try to send a support message and greetings from America to the fired journalists to be broadcast during the anniversary event in Moscow.
Alexeeva had written letters to Kevin Klose, the U.S. Congress, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) demanding that the fired journalists be reinstated. She had also suggested to Klose that some of the RFE/RL managers who were responsible for the mass dismissals and changes in the editorial policy of the Russian Service should leave their posts.
The fact that Klose has invited Lyudmila Alexeeva, one of the fired journalists’ strongest supporters, to participate in the official event in Washington, suggests that he intends to resolve the issue and offer them a chance to return to Radio Liberty. Otherwise, accepting the invitation could turn out to be a major embarrassment for 86-year-old founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch group who has been nominated by U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin and others as a candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Knowing Kevin Klose, he would not want to embarrass Alexeeva, one Russia expert told BBG Watch.
On the day of the RFE/RL reception in Washington, Radio Liberty in Exile, a group of fired journalists, is planning an unofficial anniversary event on March 1 in Moscow, to which they invited Klose, members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and top managers in U.S. international broadcasting. Radio Liberty in Exile does not expect that any of them will to be able to travel to Moscow on such a short notice, but the letter of invitation mentions the option of viewing the event live through video streaming.
The full title of the Moscow Radio Liberty in Exile gathering is: “60 Years in the Struggle for Human Rights – Radio Liberty – From Stalin to Putin – Liberty Without Borders.”
Many Russian human rights and political leaders, artists and intellectuals are expected to attend, as well as former and current Radio Liberty employees. Video recorded statements from former Russian Service directors and other personalities will be shown. Russian and foreign journalists have registered to cover the anniversary event in Moscow. But Radio Liberty in Exile journalists say that they have great respect for Kevin Klose and do not want their their event to be viewed as competing with the Washington ceremony. They also hope that Klose will soon propose a solution that would allow them to return to work at Radio Liberty.
The official RFE/RL Washington event was hastily arranged by Kevin Klose after he learned that the previous management team was not planning any special commemorations. RFE/RL’s English and Russian websites still do not show any announcements for anniversary events or any special reports, but the Radio Liberty in Exile website, “Novaya Svoboda” (New Liberty) – SvobodaNew.com – has posted Radio Liberty’s first interview with Mikhail Gorbachev and other historical materials. Gorbachev is one of many Russian democratic political leaders who have questioned the dismissals and editorial changes at Radio Liberty.
Alexeeva along with other leading Russian human rights activists had 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. Korn claims that all journalists resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect by RFE/RL managers. Longtime broadcasters were prevented by the management from saying good bye to their audience and escorted out of the the RFE/RL Moscow bureau by security guards.
Gessen insist that she was not responsible for the firing of the journalists, which happened after her appointment was announced, but before she officially came on board. She later brought to Radio Liberty members of her current team.
In a later meeting with his senior staff, Korn dismissed comments from Alexeeva and other Russian human rights activists, political leaders and scholars, “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.
In contrast to Korn, Kevin Klose 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 recently in The Huffington Post.
In a letter to Klose, Alexeeva asked for fired Radio Liberty Russian Service journalists to be allowed to return to their jobs of reporting on human rights abuses and political issues in Russia.
The letter was posted on the Radio Liberty in Exile Facebook page.
“The Russian government is in the middle of a massive crackdown on civil liberties, and is facing a desperate battle from civil society,” Alexeeva wrote to Klose, whom she praised as “a man with the necessary experience for this difficult job.”
Alexeeva also wrote to Klose that the director of the Russian Service Masha Gessen and RFE/RL Vice President of Content Julia Ragona, elevated to their current positions by Klose’s predecessor Steven Korn, “do not understand the organization’s mission, and, in my opinion, should leave their posts.”
Saying that these two managers insist on “making…programming more entertainment-oriented,” Alexeeva wrote: “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 Korn management team claimed that their proposals for programming changes were necessary to attract a new audience, but the Russian Service is being boycotted in Russia by key former supporters and its website has lost a significant number of former visitors.
During a highly emotional meeting in Moscow last week that lasted nearly five hours, Klose met with representatives of fired Radio Liberty journalists. Klose also met last week in Moscow with Russia’s leading human rights activists and democratic political leaders, including Lyudmila Alexeeva.