Russian journalist in hiding after Soviet critique

Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:31am EDT

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian journalist says he fears for his life and has gone into hiding after angering a nationalist pro-Kremlin youth group by writing an article criticizing Russia’s Soviet past.

Alexander Podrabinek says he has received threats after publishing an editorial on the Internet about a Moscow restaurant changing its name from “Anti-Soviet” under pressure from local officials who said it was offensive to “Soviet veterans.”

The article on http://www.ej.ru recalled the prison camps and crimes of Stalinism, and accused the current Russian authorities of trying to burnish the image of the Soviet Union.

Podrabinek, a former anti-communist dissident and freelance journalist, has since been criticized by Nashi, a nationalist youth movement that began under former President Vladimir Putin.

“I have received information from reliable sources that at a senior level the decision has been taken to settle scores with me by any means,” he wrote in a blog post late Monday, his first comment since going to ground several days ago.

“For the time being, in the interests of security, I am limiting my contact,” he said.

Nashi said Tuesday it would picket Podrabinek’s Moscow’s home, accusing him according to Interfax news agency of “defiling the honor of veterans of the Great Patriotic War,” the name by which Russians refer to World War Two.

Nashi denies threatening Podrabinek, but demands an apology. It styles itself as a democratic, anti-fascist movement but has been accused by critics of engaging in harassment and intimidation.

New York-based press watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks Russia the world’s third most dangerous country for journalists, with 17 killed since 2000 including Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders Sunday called for an end to the “hate campaign.”

“The authorities must appeal for calm and curb this outburst of fury,” the press watchdog said. “A man’s life and respect for free expression in Russia are both at stake.”

“This episode highlights how difficult it is in Russia today to challenge the official version of what happened during the Soviet era,” it said in a press release.

Critics accuse Russia’s leadership of trying to rehabilitate Soviet history, glossing over Stalinist mass deportations, gulag labor camps and repressions in order to strengthen a sense of patriotism.

In his article, Podrabinek wrote that the Soviet past was “bloody, false and shameful.”

“The Soviet Union was not that country you portrayed in school textbooks and your lying media,” he said.

The Moscow grill restaurant changed its name to “Soviet” earlier this month, saying it had been threatened with a fine.

(Reporting and writing by Matt Robinson, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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