BBC Russian Radio is there no more: farewell to whom?

Maanantaina, 31. tammikuuta 2011     0 kommentti(a)
Arkady Moshes
Ohjelmajohtaja - EU:n itäinen naapurusto ja Venäjä -tutkimusohjelma

This blog is very personal.

The news about the forthcoming closure of the BBC Russian Radio Service is difficult for me to overcome both as an analyst and as a usual listener. I, surely, understand: austerity measures. But still.

Like many others, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, I early on learned to appreciate the access to open information and alternative points of view. Without “enemy’s voices”, as the broadcasts from abroad were labeled by the official Soviet propaganda, the people from my reference group – not to confuse with age group – would simply not have built their identity.

But BBC was always something special. It was both a brand and more than a brand. It is not accidental that Vladimir Vysotsky, a cult poet and singer in 1960-s and 1970-s, in his ironic lyrics, proverbial until today (“А потом про этот случай раструбят по Би-Би-Си” – “And then on BBC this will be trumpeted”), speaks about BBC and not any other news service.

In the last 10 years I had a pleasure to be a regular guest in various programmes of BBC Russian radio, and I am now really glad that FIIA library has a good collection from these appearances. Early in the morning and late in the evening, depending upon in which time zone I was at that moment, I always appreciated the quality of debate, professionalism of presenters and sharpness of their questions, and - in recent years – the increasing interaction with the audience.

All this will be there no more. The website and even audio files posted there will not substitute the invisible emotional link between the studio and the listener.

However, the implications of the “case BBC” go far beyond someone’s personal feelings. A question inevitable arises, why from the five language services that are being now downsized or closed completely, we see the Russian and, for that matter, the Ukrainian one. Is it because Russia does not matter any longer to British decision-makers? Is it because the task of promoting democracy in Russia is now tacitly viewed as mission impossible or mission irrelevant from the point of view of the tax-payers?

For some readers these questions may sound heretical. Europeans are still used to hear the mantra that Russia is important – either as a partner or as a potential source of troubles, or both. But then, please, give me your explanation.

It so happened, that I was closely observing the process in the US in 1990-s when the funding of Russia research was rapidly decreasing and flowing instead into projects connected with Asia. This was logical. The triumphant superpower, enjoying its unipolar moment, had little reason to continue the studies of its former rival, then in obvious decline, with the same intensity as before. Can’t we now sense similarities in the behavior of Europeans?

Possibly, Britain’s parliament and the trade unions will be able to overrule the decision. But even then the case will remain a verdict, a suspended sentence, not just an alarm.

This will signify the end of a long period in the history of Russia, when its primary position in the unofficial ranking of global and continental importance was self-evident.

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