In 1993, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev used part of his Nobel Peace Prize to help create the newspaper Novaya Gazeta by purchasing the first computers for publication.
Almost 30 years later, the newspaper has another Nobel Peace Prize in its history. Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, was awarded the prize together with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa “for their efforts to defend freedom of speech, which is a prerequisite for democracy and lasting peace.”
The award is a surprise and welcome demonstration of support for the Russian independent press, which has been under constant pressure during the 21 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Thanks to the political reforms of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the liberation of the press in the 1980s, investigative journalists became national heroes of the late Soviet Union. They uncovered the regime’s past crimes, tracing them in newly opened archives, and exposed corruption among bureaucrats who abused their power to get rich.
It was in this context that Muratov’s career took off sharply. In 1987 he left his hometown to work for the Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. This newspaper of young communists was critical of the Soviet regime in the last years of its existence and was considered the leading voice of perestroika.
Komsomolskaya Pravda was among the newspapers that opposed the 1991 military coup carried out by the conservative bloc of the communist government to overthrow Gorbachev. The August coup marked the end of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated in December of that year, and led to a new era for the press.
In 1992, Muratov left Komsomolskaya Pravda due to a dispute over the future of the newspaper. Muratov was among those who defended the newspaper as an investigative media, while his rival Valery Sungorkin tried to turn it into a tabloid to make money. The tabloid performance has turned out.
Muratov and his colleagues began publishing the New Daily Newspaper, covering politics, corruption and war crimes in Chechnya. In 1995, Muratov was appointed editor-in-chief, and the newspaper received its current name “Novaya Gazeta” (literally “Novaya Gazeta”).
In an interview for my upcoming book, Muratov told me that editorial staff struggled to make ends meet in the 1990s. There was no money for salaries, everything that the members of the cooperative received in addition to newspaper duties was invested back into the newspaper.
In the 2000s, financial support was provided by Gorbachev and Alexander Lebedev, a Russian banker and entrepreneur who bought the London Evening Standard newspaper in 2009. The two supported Muratov’s desire to retain Novaya Gazeta’s leadership as a vehicle for investigations.
They also became friends of Muratov, sharing his happiness during periods of success and his grief over the numerous losses of the newspaper. The Novaya Gazeta is often referred to as the “boldest” newspaper in Russia, and has one of the highest murder rates among Russian media outlets. Between 2000 and 2021, six Novaya Gazeta journalists were killed in the line of duty, including Anna Politkovskaya on October 7, 2006 – almost 15 years before Muratov was awarded the Nobel Prize.
In 2009, after right-wing activists killed a lawyer and journalist working for Novaya Gazeta, Muratov created a security protocol to protect journalists who were conducting dangerous investigations.
This could not have happened too early: as the Russian regime became more authoritarian, it became increasingly dangerous to report corruption, human rights abuses, and the assassinations of Putin’s critics.
Nevertheless, Novaya Gazeta reporters revealed the extent of state involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov in February 2015. Nemtsov, Putin’s fiercest critic at the time, was shot dead in front of the Kremlin, and no high-ranking official was found guilty of aiding the crime. …
Elena Milashina, Novaya’s chief reporter for Chechnya, has documented the killings of LGBT people and reported the cold-blooded killings of opponents of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov. She faced physical attacks and death threats.
Muratov is a unique character. He is never afraid to speak out and defend journalists and dissidents, knowing that he or his editorial team may be attacked. He is the leader of a media network that helps Russian journalists in dangerous regions continue their work under the symbolic protection of Muratov.
He has certainly made hundreds of powerful enemies who would be happy to get rid of him, but at the same time he has made thousands of friends from all walks of life in Russian society, including leading politicians, law enforcement officials and the super-rich. His friendship with power brokers helps him navigate the murky waters of Russian politics without serious damage to his reputation. This has irritated vocal members of the Russian opposition and some Western observers of Russia, who think he sold his soul to the Kremlin.
This portrait of Muratov does not fully reflect the scale of his important role in the Russian media. Muratov uses his influence and connections not for his own enrichment, but to maintain the last refuge of investigative journalism in Russia.
The Nobel Prize will make Muratov more influential domestically and bring him more enemies among the elite, who can later claim that he has betrayed Russia because of foreign funding and awards. Symbolically, this award will empower all Russian investigative journalists who are fighting for their lives and professions amid unprecedented state attacks.