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Dmitry Muratov: Freedom fighter and survival artist

Mikhail Bushuev
October 8, 2021

Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov is one of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners. His story has been marked by the fight for freedom of opinion — one that has seen the loss of many companions.

Russland Dmitry Muratov Herausgeber der Zeitung Novaya Gazeta
Journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry MuratovImage: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Biyatov

It's truly amazing that, in today's Russia, Dmitry Muratov is still in charge of the newsroom of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper — and has not been killed, forced into exile or branded a "foreign agent," as has happened to many other representatives of his craft.

"With this award, we will campaign for Russian journalism, which is now subject to attempts at suppression. We will help people who are being denounced as agents, persecuted and driven from their home country," Muratov said on Friday, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee had announced that he — together with Philippine journalist Maria Ressa — was this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Muratov, 59, was born in Samara (named Kuybyshev in the Soviet Union era). In 1993, he became co-founder and editor of the Ezhednevnaya Novaya Gazeta, now known in short as the Novaya Gazeta. Since 1995, he has served as its editor-in-chief almost continuously and, the Nobel Committee said, has "for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions."

His achievement and his role in the recent history of Russian media can be understood only when one is aware of what this meant for Muratov in concrete terms: Since the year 2000, at least five of his paper's journalists have been killed, with Anna Politkovskaya being the most prominent among them.

Prize also awarded to Politkovskaya and others

The day before the Oslo announcement was the 15th anniversary of the killing of this Russian journalist. Under Russian law, the crime took place too long ago for any legal proceedings to be initiated, but Dmitry Muratov is not prepared to accept that. "We will not recognize a statute of limitations," he says. 

Officially, those who gave the orders to commit the crime remain unknown. The Novaya Gazeta continues to demand further investigations and alleges that for political reasons, Russian authorities have no interest in clearing up the murder case.

A crowd gathers in front of the Novaya Gazeta editorial office where giant portraits of mudered journalist Anna Politkowskaja are on display
Anna Politkovskaya's death has been marked by several commemorative events, as here in 2016Image: Maksim Blinov/Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance

The Novaya Gazeta and Muratov personally are trying to keep the memory of Politkovskaya alive. For this reason, the prize awarded to Muratov is also, posthumously, awarded to her. Indirectly, it is awarded to all journalists who, like Politkovskaya, reported on abuses in Chechnya (where Russia waged two wars, from 1994 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2009, respectively) and were later persecuted or killed, like Natalia Estemirova, who was murdered in 2009.

Since 2017, Grozny-based Novaya writer Yelena Milashina has been receiving massive threats after reporting on extrajudicial executions of gay people and other crimes in the Chechen capital. The Novaya Gazeta finds itself facing a constant stream of new threats and attacks from the Russian Caucasian republic. Earlier this year, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov attacked the editor-in-chief and his colleagues personally, calling them "agents of foreign secret services and not journalists." Threats are Muratov's constant companions. 

Novaya Gazeta faced shutdown several times

The co-founder and editor of the Novaya Gazeta is hardly held in high regard by Russia's ruling elite. In March 2014, he signed an open letter against the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, and he supported the protest movement in Belarus after presidential elections held there in August 2020.

The Nobel Peace Prize has now been awarded to someone who has said: "I know that I can have faith only in my own strengths." Time and again, Muratov has had to intervene on behalf of his colleagues. For instance, he appealed to German diplomats to facilitate a passage to Germany for his former Uzbek colleague Ali Ferus in order to prevent the latter's deportation from Russia to Uzbekistan, where he faced the threat of being tortured.

Muratov says today that the paper has been on the brink of shutting down several times both because of the loss of personnel and because of financial problems. "We've been at work since 1993, and we can hardly believe it ourselves," the Novaya Gazeta states on its website. Today, the newspaper operates as a non-commercial organization and depends on donations.

As a footnote: Muratov is not the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize who has ties to the Novaya Gazeta: One of the paper's co-founders and co-owners is former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

This article has been translated from German.