Editor of Raadio 4: In short, the Russian-speaking media landscape is in chaos | News
“In short, you could say that the Russian landscape is in chaos,” Žemžurov said when asked by the host what is being written in Russian-language media and Russian-language social networks in Estonia at the moment.
“Last week we started seeing stories on our media portals that the police – and I – were most afraid of,” he said. “When the war started, Russians were tense about people’s changing attitudes towards Russians. The first time I asked the police for feedback on what to do if one was exposed to a conflict because of his ethnicity, they personally asked me to think twice before bringing up the subject on air. That I would be doing a disservice by doing so. But two days later, it was clear that “It was already too late. The fakes started to appear so quickly that it was not possible to verify what was true and what was not.”
According to the editor of the Russian-language radio, the most widespread story concerned how refugees who had arrived in Estonia from Ukraine had shouted something bad at local ethnic Russians. Some channels even broadcast news about an alleged stabbing attack on local Russians carried out by Ukrainians.
“I was already on a bus on my way to the Ukrainian-Polish border when I read all this, and it really tensed me up,” he recalls. “Not thoughts of where I’m going, but what’s going on with our Russian people here [in Estonia]. How they blindly and foolishly believe information that someone is intentionally spreading to sow division and wickedness. It was easy to tell that these stories are published elsewhere, because the language used that I personally heard most recently in the movies of the 90s. No one even speaks using the expressions that were used to describe the attacks.
He cited as an example a phrase in the Russian language that translated to “stabbed with a knife”, noting that he had not heard this expression used “for a thousand years”.
Žemžurov said he would have heard something if someone had been stabbed in broad daylight in a popular park elsewhere. “And it’s interesting that suddenly everyone knows someone who knows someone who had dog poo stuck in their mailbox because they’re Russian,” he continued. “It reminds me of course of the stories told by the anti-vaxxers, and it seems like the last few years have been kind of a warm-up for society.”
Fortunately, he said, the Estonian police reacted quickly to the news and immediately announced that the reports broadcast were not true and that anyone witnessing conflicts should contact the police immediately.
The cancellation of the Russians is a subject that changes the way people think; even the strongest liberals succumb to it, Žemžurov said.
“It’s worth accepting that not all decisions are reasonable,” he continued. “For example, many experienced and intelligent people can’t stand the fact that universities [in Estonia] will no longer accept students from Russia or Belarus. Delovye Vedomosti editor-in-chief Polina Volkova even wrote publicly that she was embarrassed by her alma mater; she graduated from the University of Tartu. And she wrote a whole story about it in her diary. It is worth reading.”
He also pointed out that a petition had been launched to urge universities to reconsider their decision and to consider that the banning of Russian and Belarusian students may not be logical.
“Same [President] Alar Karis somewhat doubts the merits of this idea, if you follow what he says,” he added.
Comment sections tainted with hate speech
Another major concern cited by Žemžurov is the division caused by the presence of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia.
“Under every post about organized help for people from Ukraine, you can find those spreading hate speech and emphasizing inequality,” he said. “That’s why most portals have already closed their comments; those who haven’t will be in touch with these disputes.”
There’s also too much news to follow right now, and everyone else has suddenly become self-proclaimed thought leaders, the publisher continued.
“What I will say for myself is this: I find it harder to be here right now than on the Ukrainian-Polish border, where people are fleeing with their children and where horrors and tragedies are are unfolding before your eyes, but at least everyone is on the same page,” Žemžurov said. “They want to help each other, and share love and warmth, and believe that everything will end soon. They are grateful and respect each other. But here I don’t know how to help – how to fight the fact that everyone does things their own way. That there is division and fear in news portals and in society. That people are generally scared and in pain, but have to go on living somehow.
If not for oneself, he continued, at least for the sake of children and young people, who do not want to spend their best years thinking about war.
“For example, as we sat down to eat together today, my child asked that we not talk about the war,” the editor said. “He’s fed up. They want to live in a normal environment, and I think the best thing we can do is provide that normal environment for our children and young people, and give them the opportunity to live, and to don’t burden them with adolescence and fears. As long as we live in peace, let’s be grateful that we succeeded together.
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