Murdered Journalists
An Interview With Larisa Yudina
Courtesy of National Public Radio
Eve Conant, Moscow; Madeline Brand, Washington, DC
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SHOW: NPR WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
(NPR 8:00 pm ET)
JUNE 13, 1998, SATURDAY
Transcript # 98061305-216

 

MADELINE BRAND, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeline Brand, sitting in for Daniel Zwerdling.

In the former Soviet Union this week, in the southern Russian republic of Kalmykia , police detained three people in connection with the murder of a journalist. Writer Larisa Yudina was found dead Monday in a pond.

One of the suspects in the case has links to the republic's authoritarian government. The collapse of the Soviet Union was supposed to have brought a new era of press freedom, but many journalists, particularly in Russia's far-flung regions, are learning that speaking out can still be dangerous.

Reporter Eve Conant was the last person to interview Ms. Yudina before her death. She prepared this report.


EVE CONANT, Reporter:
What was considered the voice of opposition in Kalmykia has been silenced. Larisa Yudina was buried in the city cemetery of the republic's capitol Elista . Her body was found with a fractured skull and multiple knife wounds last Monday morning in a pond.

The night before, the 53-year-old journalist received a call from a man offering documents, documents that would help her in her investigation of government corruption in Kalmykia. Yudina went down to the entrance of her building in her slippers. That was the last time she was seen alive.

Journalist who go to Kalmykia are assigned minders, so an interview with Yudina several weeks before her death could be arranged only late at night.

Yudina lived in a simple apartment with her husband Gennady . She talked about her belief that president Kerson Ilyamzhinov was the focal point of corruption in Kalmykia. The 36-year-old millionaire had developed a cult of personality, driving around his poverty-stricken republic in a Rolls Royce, and suppressing any dissent.

LARISA YUDINA, Publisher, Soviet Kalmykia Today (speaking in Russian, via translator): Democratic freedoms and human rights are violated here more than anywhere in Russia. We have laws which contradict the Russian constitution. I live in Russia, but I am not sure that Russian laws protect me here.

CONANT: Gregori Yavlinski is a leading figure of the Russian parliament, head of the liberal Yabloko faction in which Yudina was active. He says that she was right to be afraid.

GREGORI YAVLINSKI, Head of the Yabloko Party and Member of the Russian Parliament:
I think it was definitely the interest of the administration of Kalmykia to kill this journalist. There is no doubt about that.

CONANT: Larisa Yudina was not the first Russian journalist to die because of her reporting. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 66 journalists from the former Soviet Union have been killed since its breakup. All these deaths are believed to directly linked to the victim's journalistic activities.

Russia was recently ranked with Algeria as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.

Alexi Siminov is president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, which monitors press freedom.

ALEXEI SIMINOV: Not a single case when the journalist was killed, with evident connection with his professional obligations, was solved inside this country.

CONANT: Larisa Yudina was well aware of the danger. She discussed her struggles to publish her newspaper Soviet Kalmykia Today, despite constant threats and obstacles. She had no help from the local media whom she considered mouthpieces for the administration.

YUDINA(via translator): Russian journalists who come here say they haven't seen papers like this since Brezhnev's time. They can publish up to 15 photographs of Ilyamzhinov in one issue.

CONANT: Eventually Yudina published her paper in neighboring Volgograd in Stavropol. Before her death, she had been preparing a story on Kalmykia's off shore zone status and how money from it would go directly into President Ilyamzhinov 's personal accounts. She described an attack on her newspaper office by security guards employed by a bank with links to the Kalmyk government.

YUDINA (via translator): I tried to call the prosecutor's office, but they tore the receiver from my hands. Then I used mace against them, and they jumped out into the corridor. The head of the security service appeared and said "I'll kill her now." And shot off his gun. Later when the investigating team came, they claimed there were no bullet holes on the ceilings nor on the walls.

CONANT: Although the paper she edited continued to bear the name Soviet Kalmykia Today, Yudina vehemently denied communist leanings. Alexei Simonov of the Glasnost Foundation recalls a recent discussion with Yudina.

SIMINOV: We asked her, "aren't you afraid?" And you see, and she said, "I am tired to be afraid. I'm always -- already tired to be afraid." And this is also rare. Most of us are not yet tired of being afraid.

CONANT: The international watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres has called on President Yeltsin to protect journalists throughout the Russian Federation. Faced with such public outcry, Russian federal authorities have taken over the investigation of Larisa Yudina's death. But for now, the newspaper editor's name remains the latest on a growing list of unsolved murders.

For National Public Radio, I'm Eve Conant, in Moscow.


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