The Conversation: Covert Comrades 1

Jane photoMcClenahan writes: For those interested in what is going on inside Russia I can highly recommend a newly published book which looks at how the internet has been faciliating alternative political voices inside the country. “Now I Know Who My Comrades Are” by Emily Parker considers opposition voices in China, Cuba, and Russia.


She poses that some authoritarian regimes prevent mass uprisings by manipulating psychological obstacles. In China that’s isolation. In Cuba – fear and in Russia its apathy. She argues the internet offers a way for citizens to ‘reclaim’ the national story. I went straight for the section on Russia.

It makes for fascinating reading. Emily Parker was part of Hillary Clinton’s team at the State Department focusing on digital diplomacy, internet freedom and open government.  Now she’s a digital diplomacy advisor at the New America Foundation.   She recounts her impressions of Russia in 2010 as being “plagued by apathy born of a deep disappointment”. The people realized the democracy offered after the collapse of the Soviet Union had failed to materialize and instead they had Vladimir Putin elected again in a disputed election.

However, out of the shadows, her bloggers and writers come to meet her in locations from Dunkin’ Donuts to random street corners and hotel lobbies. We meet Alexsei Navalny a blogger fighting back by challenging the endemic corruption in the country. He tells Parker his generation – those born between 1976 and 1982 – recall the end of the Soviet Union without a romantic view. “For me the Soviet Union was just standing in the line all the time.”  Artem Loskutov who began blogging about art exhibitions and moved into ‘Monstrations’ – performance art mixed with people protest. And self styled hipster Ilya Klishin who organized a massive protest in central Moscow via Facebook.

Towards the end of her book Parker wonders if those voices inside Russia can escape the turning of the screw on the country’s liberal media. Reading these stories after the events from the last few weeks reminds you how rapidly events can change. Events of the last few months in Russia suggest it will be extremely difficult.

On March 20 the Committee to Protect Journalists sent an open letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin expressing “grave concern” over clamping down on press freedoms over the past three months and listing the restrictions imposed. You can read the full letter here.   A number of independent and pro-opposition websites have been blocked. Among those who have been affected are anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny.

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