Webmedev? Russian president's new blog gets earful from the masses
Medvedev launches a new blog just as the Kremlin cracks down on Internet free speech in Russia.
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Buoying up his own brand could be an urgent task for Medvedev. A survey released this week by the Canadian polling firm GlobeScan found that just 15 percent of Russians think Medvedev is really in charge, while 27 percent think Mr. Putin still holds the reins of power. A further 41 percent believe that the two are sharing leadership, but 57 percent think Putin will return to the presidency soon.Skip to next paragraph
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Medvedev's blog a PR stunt?
In recent weeks, Medvedev has launched other initiatives that seem calculated to distance his image from that of the hard-line, conservative Putin, such as granting an interview (read more here) to the crusading oppositionist weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
But others say it's little more than a publicity stunt, aimed at distracting peoples' attention from the country's rapidly worsening economic situation. "People don't believe they have a voice today, and they're right," says Masha Lipman, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "This blog might be fun, but people don't take it seriously. It can't substitute for genuine channels through which the public might influence the government."
And many share the doubts of "Voros1" that Medvedev will ever actually read peoples' submissions to the site.
"It would be useful for Medvedev only if he had the time and desire to actually associate with people [on the blog], and then he might get to feel their pain," says Viktor Shenderovich, one of Russia's leading political satirists, who was forced out of the mainstream media after Putin came to power. "But past experience suggests this is a pure PR action. Medvedev's assistants will never allow people's real thoughts and feelings to reach him; they will just feed him portions of it," he says.
Will new restrictions shut down Medvedev's blog?
A few critics say the Kremlin blog is camouflage for an intended crackdown on Internet free speech. A Moscow court ruled this week that officials may shut down any website that posts "extremist" comments, and one popular website based in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg has already been forced to close its forum.
Aksana Panova, editor of the Ura.ru online newspaper, says she will be compelled to shut down the commentary site after receiving two warnings from the FSB security service about extremist comments – such as "Death to Medvedev" – that editors were too slow to remove.
"Our forum was a wonderful thing. People could come there to discuss any piece of news or exchange their ideas," Ms. Panova says. "What's happened to us is a very dangerous precedent. Lots of newspapers have such forums now ... but it means that you're vulnerable to any bad remark, any provocation."
Her plan is to write to Medvedev – via his blog – to explain the problem. "The principle of free speech is not working if teams of moderators filter everything. And what's the use of such a blog if moderators kill it?" Panova says. If extremists post something objectionable on Medvedev's site, "then will it be closed the way our forum has been?" she asks.