Putin’s new political reality in the regions

The Russian city of Ulyanovsk  became the center of the event, which might exert considerable influence on the political life in Russia. A journalist was convicted for slander last week in Ulyanovsk. Yulia Sheladymova was sentenced to 12 months of correctional works. She was sentenced to that for the article that was written not by her, but by another author. The original author of that article is Igor Petrukhin. He was not called into criminal account at all.

The peculiarity of Russian laws in media cases is the following. There are two articles of the Criminal Code that can be applied to a media outlet, or an author of an article: offence of honor and slander. Offence of honor is punished with administrative penalties only: a fine, rejection and apologies. Slander is formulated as a crime. It is punished with criminal punishment, even imprisonment. The distribution of deliberately slanderous information has been actually saving journalists. It is nearly impossible to prove the fact of deliberateness. It was only enough to say something like this, “Yes, it was the false information,  but when I was writing about it, I thought  that it was true.” That’s it.

Needless to mention that only a court could convict a journalist of a crime of slander. Occasions like that were very rare to happen on the territory of the former Soviet Union. They basically took place only in the Asian countries, which were very close to the structure of a monarchy. Now we have the city of Ulyanovsk added on that list. We have to say that a newspaper article could not be a reason for an investigation even in tsarist Russia. Yet, a governor could quickly exile an author in dislike, but an exile is not a jail anyway.

The most unpleasant thing in this story is the fact that it was Ulyanovsk regional governor Shamanov that went to court to file a lawsuit. In the article that was called “Hope, you enjoyed your bath, governor!” Shamanov found something that made him forget about everything and tart the investigation immediately. He sued the editor-in-chief  of the regional newspaper Simbirskiye Novosti.

Virtually, the article does not give any reasonable explanation of the governor’s extra sensitivity. It is about a bath house that burnt in governor’s summer residence.  The story was true, the bath house burnt, it was officially registered and documented. Yet, the claimant believed that  the events were described in a very vivid and strong way. The governor also believed that the author's statements were too unrestricted and impudent.

The trial was an unusual one. Three investigation officers changed  during the period February – August. It seemed that it was a trial on some super maniac or a criminal that was charged with an attempted murder of a state official.

It is curious that local newspapers of Ulyanovsk  that work on the process, appeal not to the law and justice, but to the feelings of the governor himself. It’s like, “please, have some pity for a girl,  you are a military man, after all.”

Governor Shamanov is a Chechen  general. His appearance on the position of the Ulyanovsk regional governor is one of the vestiges of the new political reality. This reality arrived together with Vladimir Putin. The new president was appointing his people on state positions and the society believed that those people would bring some sort of new political culture and new reality. Of course, Putin appointed those people that he knew before in St.Petersburg, when he was employed in the Federal Security Service.  He also selected those, who proved their work capacity during the second war in Chechnya. Those people depended on the president only. They did not have any political or material  resource of their own. Vladimir Putin was their resource.

The president’s elite became his own source two years after. The results of their activity are the results of Putin's policy. As we say, you are responsible for what you tame. Unpleasant surprises keep coming out.

The new political culture is threatening to become a new kind of  barbarism. Practice makes it perfect, of course.  Barbarians’ grandchildren might  become gentlemen in the future. We wish it could happen sooner.

Anatoly Baranov

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Author`s name Olga Savka