Parliamentary question by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission
(22 January 2003)

Subject: Freedom of opinion and speech in Russia

For nearly a year the Russian movement Iduchtïï vmeste ("marchers together"), which claims to have almost 100 000 members, most of them students, has been conducting a vigorous campaign against authors it describes as "marginal", "pornographic" and "literary hooligans". In particular, its attacks have been directed against two distinguished authors, Viktor Pelevine and Vladimir Sorokine. The movement has brought a case against Mr Sorokine and his publisher, Alexander Ivanov, for "propagating pornography and perverted sexual practices". The investigation is under way and the publisher, Ad Marginem, has already been subjected to two searches by the Russian authorities. If they are found guilty, Sorokine and Ivanov risk a two-year prison term.

What information does the Commission have regarding this campaign of denigration and intimidation - carried out with the more or less open support of the Russian authorities - against writers and intellectuals in Russia? What steps has the Commission taken, or does it intend to take, to obtain undertakings from the Russian authorities that they will provide full and practical guarantees of freedom of opinion for all Russian citizens? In the light of this possible new threat to the freedom of speech and thought of citizens and the media in Russia, does the Commission not take the view that it should re-examine the criteria on which its policy towards the Russian Federation is based, inter alia as regards aid to the press?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(25 February 2003)

The Commission does not have specific information on this Russian movement . However, the Commission shares the concern of the Honourable Member over reports that freedom of expression has been either curtailed or is under threat in Russia. The Commission is particularly concerned about the deteriorating situation of the independent media, both at federal and regional levels, which is likely to lead to reduced impartiality, independence and professionalism among print and broadcast media.

In its dealings with the Russian authorities, the Commission has consistently emphasised the importance of freedom of expression and strong, independent media. That the Commission has devoted considerable technical assistance to promote the independence of regional mass media, with the aim of training journalists in objective reporting techniques and professional ethics. The Commission plans to provide further support to the development of independent media in selected regions in Russia, as part of its efforts to boost the role of Russian civil society.

In more political terms, the Commission has in the past raised - and will continue to raise - the issues of freedom of expression and media control in meetings with the Russian authorities as part of the intensive Union/Russia political dialogue. A close partnership with Russia can only be built on firm foundations of shared values, which must include guarantees for freedom of expression. The Commission will continue to closely follow all developments in this field.