In the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, many Russian media outlets have put forth a variety of ridiculous conspiracy theories to explain the plane’s demise. In the face of overwhelming evidence that Moscow-backed separatists shot down the plane, the Russian media stubbornly insists that the thugs armed, funded, and led by the Kremlin could not possibly have done such a thing. On Friday, a corner of the Russian media offered them all a powerful rebuke.
In a striking front-page design that serves as a testament to the power of that dying medium, the liberal Novaya Gazeta offered an apology to the people of the Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens in the crash. “Forgive us, Netherlands,” reads the headline.
Novaya Gazeta is one of the few — if not the last — liberal newspapers operating in Russia. It has a small circulation and its readership is mostly limited to Moscow. Anna Politkovskaya, the legendary war reporter who chronicled the horror of Russian military operations in Chechnya only to be murdered for running afoul of the regime, wrote for the paper. Mikhail Gorbachev is a shareholder.
But it’s hard not to think that this front page will land the paper on the Kremlin’s blacklist. It was precisely this kind of offense that saw the liberal television network TV Rain booted from many providers’ lineups. After the channel ran an online poll asking whether Russia should have surrendered Leningrad to the Nazis during World War II rather than suffer the horrors the followed during the siege, TV Rain was dropped by many satellite providers.
Similarly, the Novaya Gazeta front page seems to violate the received nationalist wisdom as it has shaped Russia’s understanding of the MH17 tragedy. Rather than stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing, the paper has done the graceful, necessary thing.
But grace, in this case, is all too likely to be interpreted as weakness.