Tatiana Yankelevich, a Russian American scholar, daughter of Yelena Bonner and stepdaughter of famous Soviet dissident Andrei Sakaharov, has condemned the decision of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) American management to fire about forty of Radio Liberty’s (Radio Svoboda) human rights journalists and to end broadcasting on an expiring medium wave frequency in Moscow due to changes in Russian media law, without trying to obtain a new one. “Today a grave and gross error of judgement is taking place with Radio Liberty,” Tatiana Yankelevich said. The management of RFE/RL reports to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in Washington, which has taken no action to stop RFE/RL executives from carrying out their plan to fire a large number of Radio Liberty journalists and to cease broadcasting.
In an article titled, Digging an Early Grave for Radio Liberty, published in The Moscow Times, Yankelevich wrote:
“Today, when the regime of President Vladimir Putin has initiated a new attack on freedom of speech and the democracy movement in Russia, human rights organizations have been declared “foreign agents,” and USAID has been ousted from Russia, the U.S. management team of Radio Liberty has ended its medium-wave broadcasts and dismissed its top journalists, whose broadcasts attracted hundreds of thousands of listeners.
These actions go against the spirit and the mission of Radio Liberty. These actions dig an early grave for Radio Liberty as free and independent radio broadcasting. They put an end to the collaboration of people of high public repute, essential for a democratic public discourse, and they completely compromise the station’s moral authority.
This is why I am raising my voice against these policies. They are foolhardy at best and cynical at worst. They will quickly lead to a sad day when, to paraphrase writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, Radio Liberty will have only one future: its past.”
Read more: Digging an Early Grave for Radio Liberty, The Moscow Times, October 9, 2012.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Steven Korn, who made the decision to fire Radio Liberty journalists, assured the BBG that the controversy will die down in a few days.
Tatiana Yankelevich graduated in Russian Literature from the University of Moscow, and in 1977 moved to the United States with her family to escape pressure from the KGB. During the eighties and nineties, she worked teaching Russian history and literature at different U.S. universities. She has constantly focused her efforts on defending the cause of her stepfather, writer and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Andrei Sakharov, in the United States and in different European countries. She has also edited and translated part of his work.
She currently directs the Sakharov Human Rights programme of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, home to the Andrei Sakharov Archives.
A group of young Radio Liberty listeners and users of its website is relying on Facebook and other social media to organize a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Tuesday, starting at 2 PM Moscow time. They want to express their solidarity with RFE/RL journalists like Kristina Gorelik, Elena Vlasenko and others (seen in this photo), who were previously covering anti-Kremlin protests in which some of these Radio Liberty listeners participated.
About 40 Radio Svoboda broadcasters, website editors and technical staffers — almost the entire staff in Moscow — were fired or resigned in protest and their programs suddenly canceled. Security guards especially hired for this purpose by the RFE/RL’s American management prevented these journalists, who specialized in human rights reporting, from saying good bye to their radio and website audience. Many of these journalists were young, as are the organizers of Tuesday’s protest action in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
A group of major opposition political leaders in Russia is planning to issue a letter of protest on Wednesday, BBG Watch has learned. Some, like former President Mikhail Gorbachev, have already criticized the actions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty executives. The decision to fire journalists and to cancel Radio Liberty’s human rights and other programs was made by RFE/RL President Steven Korn. The action in Moscow was overseen by RFE/RL Vice President Julia Ragona. The Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington may not have been aware of the scope of the special operation conducted in Moscow by RFE/RL executives but took no action to reverse it despite numerous protests from human rights leaders.
Some described the action as a crime against human decency. Others said that the RFE/RL management did more damage to the reputation of Radio Liberty and the image of America in Russia than the old KGB and the FSB, the security service in Putin’s Russia.