Sunday, July 19, 2009

Medvedev Murder Mystery

For Global Voices Online: Anna Politkovskaya... The mere name evokes images of Moscow's worst public relations nightmare in years - an ongoing ordeal for Russia's international reputation in the realm of rule of law. Still, the murderers have not been brought to justice, and Politkovskaya turned into a martyr for world voices critical of Russia - for them epitomising everything that is wrong and wretched with the country. So, should President Medvedev's quick reaction to this week's murder of Human Rights' acitivists Natalya Estemirova merely be regarded as lessons learnt from the Politkovskaya assassination? The answer might be more complicated, as voices from the Russian blogosphere have their say.

As news broke of Wednesday's murder of Russian Human Rights's activist Natalya Estemirova, it did not take long for President Dmitry Medvedev to offer his condolences to her family and appoint a committee to investigate a crime widely covered by international media. But was this merely a reaction to avoid repetition of the Politkovskaya PR-fiasco? In the domestic media arena, there was no comparison in coverage, provoking anger, resignation, and accusations of hypocrisy among Russia's liberal bloggers. However, looking at the wider picture, others see the Estemirova case as yet another herald of troubles ahead for the Putin-Medvedev tandemocracy, and believe that Medvedev reacted to the murder out of honest concern and worry.


The first, and obvious, question for all touched by the murder of one of Russia's foremost human rights' defenders is: Who could commit such a heineous act?

Fingers have been pointed at both Putin and Kadyrov, resulting in the Chechen President threatening to sue Estemirova's organization, Memorial, for libel. Still, the question remains, who were the murderers, and who stood behind them?

LJ user Andrei Naliotov is wondrous about [RUS] the character of the murderer, as opposed to that of Estemirova:

I cannot understand what kind of person one has to be, to shoot at a doctor, hurrying to save the sick or the wounded, at a priest praying to save souls, at a human rights defender, pulling people out of misery? I knew Natalya Estemirova. When I first spoke to her, I was surprised by her courage: To challenge power in today's totalitarian Chechnya, doing so living in Grozny - takes the highest of courage. But to stand on the side of truth and save people was superior to all for her. "No village without one righteous." Natalya was the righteous of Chechnya. Let her memory live eternally.

Whereas Medvedev's statement on the murder, may have averted international repercussions, reactions in Russian media were sparse, and LJ user tupikin accounts for [RUS] his own feelings and others' neglect to cover the issue:
Almost the entire day was spent in a realm of black colour. At first, the press conference about yesterday's kidnapping and murder of Grozny Human Rights defender Natalya Estemirova (judging from comments on my post - a single one - one might think that it is only of interest for anti-Kremlin websites, whereas none of my best friends showed any interest whatsoever). Tell me, honestly, do you think that Human Rights' defenders are crazy? Or rather, predestined to die? OK, the press conference gathered 60 journalists, including ten TV-cameras. When Ludmila Alexeyeva, chairman of the Moscow Helsinki group, asked national [i.e. Russian] journalists to raise their hands, it turned out to be no more than 15 people. The news, which has circled world media, is received, here in our country, with amazing stoicism, as if that simply is the way it has to be. Really, not 60, but 160 journalists should have come... Well, that is not some other country, but it is all ours. [---] and then Ludmila Alexeyeva added that two people were guilty - Ramzan Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin. [---] I don't know whether the tacit readers of my LiveJournal understand, that this is a sensation of all-Russian proportions [---] that two of the most high-ranking state officials in Russia were named as accomplices to a political murder in front of TV-cameras and tens of journalists. The ground did not shake, only silence followed. As I wrote these words on the keyboard of my old notebook, it was as if the finger-touches forming letters were like the strikes from the Tsar Bell...


Turning to the political ramifications of the murder, there are bloggers who underline how problematic and untimely the Estemirova case is for Medvedev, possibly adding to an alleged domestic political campaign to undermine the president's power and legitimacy. Consequently, LJ user anaitiss writes [RUS]:

It is the second political murder during Medvedev's presidential term. What's more, straight after Obama's visit. Moreover, just as the provocation with "the drunk Medvedev" at the G8 [summit] failed. And then, if we are to be honest, in a region where the guilty are nowhere to be found, even if we all know who everyone is thinking of. And also, exactly when America, personified by Obama, has deserted the local revolutionaries (they even write about this themselves). And boy, how they were abandoned! And this, having formed the joint McFaul-Surkov commission [US-Russian working group on human rights]. They simply have to portray Medvedev as "a bloody tyrant, trampling justice", they really have to. To make matters such, that any dialogue between ourselves and the West becomes impossible. "The second Politkovskaya" is an ideal scenario, one must admit that much. And moreover, in the Caucasus.

Human Rights and the disrespect for law is a matter of great concern for the Russian president - a lawyer by profession. With little over a year in office, turning the tide on rule of law seems a precondition for Medvedev to efficiently exercise power at a time when Russia experiences an economic downturn not seen since the 1998 financial crisis. Although trusitic, it suffices to point out that Putin back in 2001 - a year and a half into his first presidential term - was not the uncontested source of power and authority that marked the last years of his reign. So, that could barely be expected from Medvedev. At a recent discussion on the rule of law and Human Rights, published on his blog [RUS], Medvedev characterised the problem of Russian lawlessness accordingly:

MEDVEDEV: You were speaking about massive lawlessness. As a matter of fact, we live in a country with a very complicated relationship to law [---] and a very relaxed and tolerant [attitude] to lawlessness. But it is not a secret that one has to be able to fight for justice. We have no culture of fighting for justice, we simply don't. [---] How do we handle this? At first, we turn to some bureaucrat - once, twice, and still no result whatsoever. Then we turn to the media, as an alternative source of power, but if there is no result, to whom do we write letters?
REPLY: To you.
MEDVEDEV: To me. That is totally correct. So that is the hierarchy for defending human rights.
REPLY: Then one turns to Strasbourg [the European Court of Human Rights].

The last remark is illustrative of Medvedev's dilemma, when confronted with Estemirova's murder, and the general lawlessness of current Russia. In matters of human rights and the rule of law, the President of the Russian Federation appears not to be the supreme authority and guarantor of the constitution. It is to Strasbourg the Russian citizens turn as a last resort when their own judicial system fails to deliver on their constitutional rights.

Consequently, reinstating law and order stands out as a crucial credibility issue for Medvedev, and moreover as a make or break for his own capacity to exercise the power invested in him. Judging from Medvedev's views, and those of some bloggers, the law is also one of the major problems of today's Russia, as it touches the very fine line of political statecraft - the balance-act between continuity and change, stability and progress. Whereas the murder may not be a mystery to most, for Medvedev it is a mystery how to solve it, as part and parcel of general Russian disrespect for law.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Politkovskaya Laureate Murdered

For Global Voices Online: Just another death, just another obituary. That seems to be the general sentiment as news of today's murder of Russian Human Rights activist, Natalya Estemirova, broke. However, there are still people out there, in the Russian blogosphere, who challenge disillusion as yet another voice of conscience and tolerance is silenced by violent death.

This morning, prominent Russian Human Rights activist Natalya Estemirova was abducted from her home in Ingushetia by armed men. She was later found dead, a bullet through her heart. As mainstream media reports just another death of an activist - even when it comes to the assassination of one of the country's leading Human Rights' adovcates - some bloggers react with abhorrence.

Then, who was Natalya Estemirova? LJ user xanzhar gives [RUS] a short account of the public figure:

Natalya Estemirova was one of [Russian Human Rights Organization] Memorial's leading representative in the Caucasus. Authorities in the Republic of Chechnya never expressed any discontent with her work. Estemirova's Human Rights advocacy earnt her many international awards. She was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award (2007), and winner of the Swedish [---] Right Livelihood Award (2004). In 2005, the European Parliament gave her the Robert Schumann medal.
LJ user nansysnspb expresses [RUS] her feelings about the murder:

So close, and so terrible... [---] I know people who were friends with Natalya Estemirova... So, they take her life. It's like in a Strugatsky [fantasy novel]... What's next then? Lighting candles... Cursing the murderers, and writing letters to the prosecutor's office with appeals for investigation to rightfully convict these murderers - murderers who probably carry epaulettes and hold positions of corresponding responsibility in the security structures.
LJ user for efel continues [RUS] along the same line:

Surely, [the murder] is connected to [Chechen president] Kadyrov. It's simply not known in what way. To please or to spite him, as with the murder of Politkovskaya. It's connected (as I see it) to the official removal of the borders between Chechnya and Ingushetia for his sonderkomand [special units]... [---] Natasha [Estemirova] was a more precious person than even Anna Politkovskaya - it's a fact. Generally, one could raise a memorial to every single Human Rights activist working in the Caucasus. I only hope murderers don't take it the wrong way: I mean a monument for the living!
Another death - another obituary. Does it make a difference? That is a question for each and everyone to ponder. Still, judging from blogger reactions, Natalya Estemirova surely made a significant difference for many people exposed to the indiscriminate violence and terror of everyday life in Russia's conflict-ridden Republic of Chechnya.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Support Jailed Bloggers Hajizade & Milli

Azerbaijan rates 150 out of 173 countries on Reporters Without Borders' 2008 Press Freedom Index. Last Friday's jailing of Azeri bloggers and youth activists Hajizade and Milli therefore gives cause for great concern and worry about developments for freedom of speech and media in Azerbaijan, and in the continuation, the country's relations with the EU and the West.
I thus encourage you to sign the petition for Hajizade's and Milli's swift release, in accordance with the text below. For updates on the case, please visit the Free Adnan Hajizade & Emin Milli website.

We, the undersigned, condemn violent physical attack against Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli and express our grave concern at their subsequent detention and trial by the authorities.

Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli are prominent representatives of socially active Azerbaijani youth calling for the establishment of civil society based on principles of modernity, respect for individual rights and freedoms, non-violence and tolerance. Their non-partisan activities, as leaders of progressive youth networks, contributes significantly to building human capital, promoting knowledge and education, and strengthening social texture in Azerbaijan.

Their detention and trial is a gross violation of their basic human rights, as well as the legal protections guaranteed to the citizens by the constitution and laws of Azerbaijan Republic. It undermines democracy building in Azerbaijan, amplifies international concerns about individual rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan, and weakens the country's position in international arena.

Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were subjected to a violent and unprovoked by two individuals dressed in civilian clothes while dining with their friends during the afternoon of July 8, 2009 in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Immediately after being attacked and severely beaten, Emin and Adnan went to a police station to file a report.

After holding Adnan and Emin for several hours, police decided to detain them for 48 hours for further trial. Although they were the vicitms who came to the police station to file a report, charges were pressed against Adnan and Emin based on clause 221 (Hooliganism) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, while the people who assaulted Emin and Adnan were set free.

We are deeply concerned about the following:

1. despite being the victims who were attacked and beaten, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were treated as suspects and detained for 48 hours, while those who attacked them were set free;

2. despite persistent demands, Emin and Adnan were not allowed to meet with a lawyer until after being detained for more than 10 hours;

We demand the immediate release of Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli.

We call on the government of Azerbaijan to investigate the violation of their legal rights.

We also call on the authorities to ensure that their attackers are held responsible for their actions and face fair and open trial.

Sign the petition!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Azeri bloggers & youth activists jailed

On Friday, July 10, the two Azeri bloggers and youth activists, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, were put in two months' pre-trial jail custody awaiting trial for charges of so called hooliganism.

The two bloggers were unprovokedly assaulted and beaten, according to unanimous witness accounts, by two men during a restaurant visit in Baku Thursday night. They were then arrested by police and themselves charged of crime, while initially being denied legal representation, in breach of the European HR Convention. As German government Human Rights' Ombudsman, Günter Nooke, commented the case visiting Baku: "Here vistims are made into perpetrators. It is a typical sign of dictatorship in action."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have drawn attention to the case, and demanded the release of Hajizade and Milli. RSF ranks Azerbaijan no. 153 out of 170 on its Press Freedom Index.

I recently visited Azerbaijan, and then met with bloggers and activists from OL! - the organization Hajizade and Milli belong to - and got an opportunity to discuss the situation surrounding freedom of speech and media freedom in the country. My impression was that bloggers and youth activists are increasingly subjected to various repressive measures, as e.g. mass arrests a memorial manifestation for the 13 students murdered at the Baku State Oil Academy this spring. Impressions from evolving events in nearby Iran were apparent and similarities between Iranian and Azeri activists' use of IT-based social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) were striking. This may possibly also explain Azeri authorities' actions against the two bloggers.

As mentioned, the two bloggers were active within OL! OL! Azərbaycan Gənclər Hərəkatı - OL! Azerbaijan Youth Movement - is an opposition youth organization, advocating modernity, non-violence, and tolerance. Support for extended freedom of speech is a recurrent theme in the organization's activities. OL! gathers mainly students and intellectuals, with extensive use of new media and so called flash mobs - public and peaceful gatherings with unexpected and intriguing contents (a new type of demonstration).

Further information about the two jailed bloggers, Hajizade and Milli, may be found at OL! Bloqu, and an assortment of news articles are also available beneath.

11 July 2009:
- Reporters Without Borders, "Two bloggers held on hooliganism charges"
- Le Monde, "Reporters sans frontiéres dénonce la détention de 2 blogueurs"
- RFE/RL, "Azerbaijani Activists Denied Release Before Trial"
- Le Figaro, "Azerbaïdjan: 2 blogueurs arrêtés"
- Der Standard, "Hier werden Opfer zu Tätern gemacht"
-, "RSF denuncia detenciones de blogueros e internautas en China y Azerbaiyán"

12 July 2009:
- Reuters, "Azeri blogger detained, oil major presses case"
- The Times, "Repression in Azerbaijan"
- The New York Times, "Azeri Blogger Detained, Oil Major Presses Case"
13 July 2009:
- Article 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, "Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Deplores Harassment of Internet Journalists"

Azeriska bloggare och ungdomsaktivister fängslas

I fredags den 10 juli sattes de båda azeriska bloggarna och ungdomsaktivisterna, Adnan Hajizade och Emin Milli, i två månaders förhörshäkte i avvaktan på rättegång om anklagelser för så kallad huliganism.

De båda bloggarna angreps och misshandlades, enligt samstämmiga vittnesuppgifter, oprovocerat av två män vid ett restaurangbesök i Baku på torsdagskvällen. De greps därefter av polis och ställdes själva inför brottsanklagelser samt förvägrades inledningsvis, i brott mot Europakonventionen, kontakt med advokat. Som tyska regeringens MR-ombudsman, Günter Nooke, kommenterade fallet på plats i Baku: "Här blir offer till gärningsmän. Det är ett typiskt tecken på en diktatur under utövning".

Reportrar utan Gränser (RSF) har uppmärksammat fallet och krävt att Hajizade och Milli släpps. RSF rankar Azerbajdzjan till plats 150 av 173 i sitt pressfrihetsindex.

Jag besökte nyligen Azerbajdzjan och träffade då bloggare och aktivister från OL! - den organisation Hajizade och Milli tillhör - varvid jag fick tillfälle att närmare diskutera situationen kring yttrande- och mediefrihet i landet. Mitt intryck var att bloggare och ungdomsaktivister blev alltmer utsatta för skilda repressiva åtgärder, som exempelvis omfattande arresteringar i samband med en manifestation till minne av mordet på 13 studenter vid den statliga oljeakademin tidigare i våras. Intrycken av händelseutvecklingen i närliggande Iran var påtagliga och likheterna mellan de iranska och azeriska aktivisternas användning av IT-baserade sociala medier (bloggar, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) var slående. Möjligen kan detta även förklara azeriska myndigheters agerande mot de båda nu fängslade bloggarna.

Som nämnts var de båda bloggarna aktiva inom OL! OL! Azərbaycan Gənclər Hərəkatı - OL! Azerbajdzjans sociala ungdomsrörelse - är en oppositionell ungdomsorganisation, som förespråkar modernitet, icke-våld och tolerans. Stöd för ökad yttrandefrihet i Azerbajdzjan är ett återkommande tema i organisationens verksamhet. OL! samlar framförallt studenter och intellektuella samt utnyttjar i stor utsträckning nya medier samt "flash mobs" - offentliga och fredliga sammankomster med oväntat och intresseväckande innehåll (den nya tidens demonstration).

Närmare information om de båda fängslade bloggarna, Hajizade och Milli, återfinns på OL! Bloqu och ett urval internationella pressreaktioner nedan.

11 juli 2009:
- Reporters without borders, "Two bloggers held on hooliganism charges"
- Le Monde, "Reporters sans frontières dénonce la détention de 2 blogueurs"
- RFE/RL, "Azerbaijani Activists Denied Release Before Trial"
- Le Figaro, "Azerbaïdjan: 2 blogueurs arrêtés"
- Der Standard, "Hier werden Opfer zu Tätern gemacht"
-, "RSF denuncia detenciones de blogueros e internautas en China y Azerbaiyán"

12 juli 2009:
- Reuters, "Bloggers detained, oil major presses case"
- The Times, "Repression in Azerbaijan"
- New York Times, "Azeri Blogger Detained, Oil Major Presses Case"
13 juli 2009:
- Article 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, "Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Deplores Harassment of Internet Journalists"

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rewinding the Russia Reset

For Global Voices Online: Two new presidents, two great powers, and three world leaders. That was the stage set as US President Obama earlier this week travelled to Moscow to meet Russia's President Medvedev and Premier Putin. With shared and conflicting legacies of idealism versus realism, the meeting held the promise of a new start in the two countries' relations. Still, as we rewind the "reset summary" for US-Russian relations, this was not exactly the outcome of the visit, at least when seen through the eyes of the Russian blogosphere.

Peace and sovereignty, democracy and human rights. Those were some of the issues at stake as US and Russian presidents Obama and Medvedev sat down in Moscow earlier this week to address the agenda of a troubled world, against the backdrop of global recession and climate change.

Even though expectations for a breakthrough in US-Russian relations had been downplayed ahead of Obama's meetings with President Medvedev - and Premier Putin - one would imagine that the very real issues at hand - nuclear disarmament, Afghanistan, Iran, sovereignty, democracy etc. - were to be widely debated in the blogosphere. Instead, reactions to the 6-8 July Moscow summit from the Russian and international blogospheres form a climate of anticlimax.


Barack Obama: Speech at the New Economic School - by Drugoi

Starting off from the Moscow horizon, the overall impression is exactly that Obama's visit was rendered a lukewarm reception by the Russian blogosphere, on either side of the political spectrum. As LJ user taranoff points out [RUS], in general, most people took little notice of the visit:

[...] If someone like Putin arrives in some town, then this town is sure to be scrubbed clean, shaped up, painted and polished. [---] And still, as Obama yesterday arrived in Moscow, it was as if - holey-moley - nothing could be noticed. [...]

LJ user lamerkhav continues [RUS] along the same line:

[...] It is still not long ago that America was dearly loved in Russia. Behaviour towards the USA was like that of a young girl to her idol. The "cool States" was the ideal. Now times have changed. The attitude I've come across in media and blogs reminds me of a sour, lonely and old suitor, abandoned by everyone. I won't try to gather why it's like that. Apparently, not out of unanswered love, but generally because mentality is like that. [...]

Characterizing the essence of the summit, LJ user Nevzlin addresses [RUS] renewed Cold War sentiments - disarmament and Human Rights - and perceives differences in Obama's attitude towards Medvedev and Putin:

[...] Generally, it was like colder times at the conference table - the fate of political prisoners and arms control. [---] From the outset, Obama typically split up Medvedev and Putin: Some praise and some critique. He said that Medvedev pulls ahead and Putin holds back. [...]

LJ user Yakushev continues with [RUS] the domestic political ramifications of the summit, speculating on a US-inspired Medvedev-Putin division into liberal and conservative camps:

[...] What was the essence of Obama's visit to Moscow? I imagine it as if Obama signalled to the liberal part of the Russian élite to go on the offensive. As it appears, Obama came to engage himself into Russian domestic politics. Already before the American president's visit, he made it clear who the USA supports in Russia, having promised Putin not to disturb his and Medvedev's progress. As no official reply was given to this ordinary American insolence, one can conclude that the Kremlin agrees with Obama. [...]

Not even when it comes to President Obama's meeting with Russian opposition representatives, it seems to please Russian bloggers. Thus, LJ user v milov - an opposition supporter - writes [RUS]:
[...] Obama's meeting with the opposition turned into true comedy. It's great that Nemtsov and Kasparov were invited from our side - but that's also all the good news there were. Further on the list were Mitrokhin, Gozman and Zyuganov. The State Department stands with one foot in the past. :) But seriously, a meeting with such a gathering is a flat puncture for those on the American side who prepared the visit. In such meetings, the real opposition must take part and not hopeless figures from the past. [...]
Turning to the very real issues agreed upon by Medvedev and Obama within the sphere of security policy - as e.g. nuclear arms' reduction and Afghanistan - LJ user malkolms writes [RUS]:

[...] How is it possible to sign anything with the USA (especially concerning such important issues as the START-agreement) when the USA demonstratively [XXX] Russia in the [XXX]. In my view, it is simply degrading to start any dialogue with the USA without lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment. And especially if signing such documents is unfavourable to Russia. The USA once again "sinks" us as was always the case during Yeltsin and Clinton. [...]

What about the Russian reset then? LJ user optimist presents his views on the credibility of Washington's policy towards Moscow:

[...] In my view, the word reset doesn't mean anything in real political terms. It is a word of deception, the usual soap bubble [---]. It appears on all our screens and means nothing new, but a return to the past, to business as usual. And previously, our relations with the Americans were either one of confrontation or domination - on their part, by the way. So, what will we be returning to after a "reset"? [---] Aren't they just fooling us as usual... [...]

What stands out, from these and similar comments, is how little significance is given to the outcome of the US-Russian summit. It is like simply going through the motions, whereas the real issues at hand seem to be of little consequence. So, judging from Russian blogger reactions, the Moscow 2009 Obama-Medvedev summit could hardly be seen as a reset in US-Russian relations. The question is: Was it even rapproachement?


Pictures, if not otherwise indicated, from

Monday, July 06, 2009

Swedish sub hits Russian ground

Amid heated Swedish debate on the existence of a Russian Cold War sub threat, a Swedish sub this morning hit Russian ground. Information about the incidence is still scarce, but according to unnamed sources, the grounding may have been caused by a combination of overweight and shallowness. Witnesses also report rumbling from the sub's hull, indicating lack of fuel.

As of this time, no official comments have been made from either Sweden or Russia, but initiated sources within Swedish intelligence indicate that the sub for long has been transferred from military to civilian purposes, with a "healthy distance from the defence sphere."

The incident comes at an awkward moment for the two countries, coinciding with both US President Obama's visit to Moscow, and Sweden's assumption of the EU Presidency last week. Speculations thus run rampant that the grounding until now has been deliberately submerged for political reasons.

Swedish submarine scare
News about the sub may prove very inconvenient for Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who is currently facing allegations for misleading public and media on the Russian sub threat during the 1980s, following the 1981 grounding of Soviet submarine U-137 in the Swedish archipelago. An editorial in today's Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's leading newspaper, thus claims that Bildt's "career was largely founded on alleged soviet submarines - frequently improbable, sometimes minks." As the Swedish EU Presidency might further propel Bildt's international career, such ambitions could now be thwarted by an embarrassing incident of this kind.

Political parallels
Also, comparisons are made to the confidence crisis facing the Swedish political establishment after the 1979 Harrisburg nuclear accident. As news of the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown broke, leading Swedish politicians had for years been saying that the risks of nuclear power were inprobable on the verge of incredibility. The political consequences of this grave misjudgement led to a disastrous "maybe" decision in the 1980 Swedish referendum on the future of Swedish nuclear power, forming an anticlimax on nuclear termination that has since marred the country's energy policy.

In what now seems as a surfacing Swedish-Russian sub crisis, any Swedish claims that the sub ran aground due to faulty navigation may be retorted by Russia as "improbable" - echoing both Bildt's statements during the 1980s Swedish submarine scare, and reminiscences of recurrent ministerial misjudgements, gradually eroding the legitimacy of the Swedish political system.

Things are not always what they seem...
The above only serves to prove that, in the interplay between politics and media, things are not always what they seem. Regreattably, this is also the case with the news about the Swedish sub, which would have made a true scoop had it been true. Instead, the sub in question is no other than yours truly, who over the next two weeks will be SUB-stituting as Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices - a Harvard-based project that provides alternative reporting on world affairs to that of mainstream international news media.

Alternative reporting does not mean misleading reporting, as the above paragraphs may indicate. To the contrary, following the blogosphere and other Internet resources may, in my own view, at times present a more accurate and up-to-date picture, not least of evolving events, than presented by most other media. It gives the capacity to look beyond press conferences and newsdesks, which at times tend to present nicely wrapped-up truths about events often too obscure and complex for most to comprehend.

Giving precedence to first-hand accounts and on-the-field reporting, with all the ambiguities that may involve, can thus at times be preferrable to stories about "quarrels in far away countries between people of whom we know nothing." Yesterday it might have been Czechoslovakia and Germany, today it might be Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, forming a loosely concocted perceptive pattern of numerous and frequently disparate stories, to form the truth of the matter as we see it.

For truly, if you put your hand on your heart, how much does the faked story about a Swedish sub hitting Russian ground differ from far too much media coverage on events evolving on the margins of the world as we know it. So, it may not always be advisable to follow the calls: "As reports pour in, stay tuned as the story develops..."