Medvedev listens to media censorship claims

President-elect Dmitry Medvedev has been facing questions on crime and punishment from members of the Public Chamber, the body set up to provide dialogue between Russian citizens and the authorities.

The Public Chamber is made up of doctors, businessmen, scientists – all leading specialists in their fields. Now they are taking on a new challenge – nurturing Russia’s civil society. They’ve just held their first meeting with the man who’ll be supervising this process for the next four years.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former law professor, has described his political views as democratic. The meeting provided another opportunity to put them across.

“Mature civil society is a very important thing. It is one of the guarantees of the stable development of our country. And our goal is to create a system where civil groups participate in formulating state policies and evaluating their effectiveness,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev asked the chamber’s members to feel free in sharing ideas and criticism and, indeed, they didn’t shy away. Corruption, xenophobia, manipulation of media – they're just some of the issues highlighted at the meeting.

“Extremism and ethnic intolerance are on the rise in Russia. Just before this meeting, I checked out the statistics for this past week. In Moscow alone there were about a dozen attacks on people from Asia and Africa,” said Nikolay Svanidze, TV journalist.

Darker skin and non-Slavic features have indeed become risk factors on Russian streets.

According to independent monitoring group Sova, around 70 people were killed in racist attacks last year.

Some, like Indian Nitesh Singh, came to Russia to get an education. Just months before graduating, he was stabbed to death.

“Law enforcement has to take a firm position when it comes to such crimes. And then the courts – their verdicts should be based on the assumption that such crimes are very dangerous for society,” Medvedev said.

While Russian media is often blamed for propagating social evils, some suggested journalism lacked not only social responsibility, but also freedom.

“Regional authorities often consider mass media as an element of their own system. We have to break this bond,” said Valery Fadeev, Editor-in-Chief of Expert Magazine.

Medvedev didn’t respond to that but took notes and nodded. For the Chairman of the Public Chamber, this was a good sign.

“My impression is very positive. His understanding of civil society is very deep,” said Evgeny Velikhov, Public Chamber Chairman.

When the meeting ended, the chamber’s members continued bombarding Medvedev with ideas on how to strengthen civil society in Russia, while also keeping civil tongues.