Investigation or Denunciation?

Russiangate’s Editor-in-Chief Alexandrina Yelagina shares her opinion on Transparency International‘s investigation on financing theatres in Russia

On October 23, 2017, Transparency International – Russia published a huge and smart investigation of how heads of state theatres pay themselves millions as salaries. Among the offenders, there was a popular favorite, art director of Gogol Center Kirill Serebrennikov.

TIR is a non-profit organization. Their task is to attract the attention of civil society to the existing problems, to give an independent legal assessment, to offer legislative solutions and to apply to law enforcement bodies that are endowed with legal tools to combat corruption.

Transparency’s approach worked in France: Sherpa et Transparency filed a complaint against the son of the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang. He, quite coincidentally, is the vice-president of Guinea.

The French court ruled that Obiang was guilty of “illegal property acquisition.” That is, he is guilty of laundering money, which “instead of financing the infrastructure and public services in Equatorial Guinea” went to “maintaining the exceptionally luxurious lifestyle” of Teodoro.

Teodoro was sentenced to three years in prison conditionally, and has to pay a 30 million Euro fine. France hopes to confiscate property for 100 million Eurosm, unless the United Nations in the Hague takes the side of the Guinean authorities.

In Russia, after the publication of the theatres investigation, Transparency had to respond to a stream of criticism: Dozhd TV channel titled its report of the investigation “A blow out of the blue.” “Transparency International responds to accusations of denouncing Serebrennikov,“ writes Afisha. “The comment on the matter: why the investigation regarding the managers of state theatres is completely all right,” wrote the organization on its website.

The essence of the claims is this: why are you touching the Gogol Center, which is already under arrest? And the case against Serebrennikov is persecution, persecution of freedom of speech! And in general, it’s the specifics of theatres, why do you even bother?

The fact that the list includes such stars as Oleg Tabakov, Oleg Menshikov, Gennady Khazanov, Vladimir Spivakov, Nadezhda Babkina, was ignored. All the managers had their deals in order, the Prosecutor's Office decided. All of them, except for Serebrennikov. This is the Prosecutor's Office selectiveness.

We, too, once got slapped by good people. Namely, by philanthropists. It wasn’t a strong slap, we are small, can’t compare to Transparency. The text “Enjoy yourself: how to win a grant sitting in the jury” caused a bit of discontent.

“How dare you criticize us?!” wrote to me friends and colleagues engaged in the third sector. “Do you even understand the conditions under which we have to work? So, when there was a chance to build a new system of grant allocation, yes, we did it! By the way, you offend people who do good deeds! And the fact that there are legal gaps, well, yes, there are. But that's all we could agree with the state! It’s the specificity here, you know?!”

As an editor-in-chief, I probably should apologize. As the head of a daily, I found the analysis worthy of publication, in spite of the fact that I admire the work of many people from the Supreme Council of Presidential Grants.

But I do not consider myself guilty of having offended “my people”. My mistake is that I approached corruption as well as any Western journalist or analyst from some NGO. As if I live in a vacuum. Id est, in another country, where a journalistic investigation is followed by the reaction of the Prosecutor's Office. Where there is no division into those who can be slapped because of corruption, and those who cannot be, there’s only love for them.

As if I live in a social state (it's even funny to appeal to the Russian Constitution now), where the welfare of the citizen has primacy. Not the citizen who chills on the yacht Dilbar and shouts “darn you”. And not the one that sits in the Kremlin. But the regular, usual one, who lives in a panel building.

Journalists do not know how to work in a country where you have no influence whatsoever. Our work is inseparable from the society’s reaction. More intelligent colleagues migrated to Western publications en masse; someone has retained self-esteem and corporate ardour in order to consider himself a successful worker of the media industry. What, “Business Petersburg” is acquired by the Kovalchuks? Now, it won’t be able to bother the authorities of the second capital by their investigations? Such news stopped being surprising long ago.

And what should non-profit organizations do then? What about those experts whose experience is massive, and yet absolutely not in demand under the prevailing conditions? Should they search for new techniques of work? Should they leave “their people” alone? (And who are “their people”?)

Unfortunately, there is no answer. If your personal beliefs do not correspond with reality, you either accept your daily struggle, or you mimic. As for the more global cases, it is necessary to have a lot of strength and courage to try to change what people have in their heads.

But, as we remember, Gryffindor got its 10 victory points thanks to the boy who found the courage to confront his friends.

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