“The reality is worrying. So the Kremlin invited all independent media to the cemetery,” writes editor-in-chief Kirill Martynov in Novaya Gazeta Europa. However, he rejected the "generous offer" and brought what was once Russia's largest independent newspaper to Europe. The first edition of the printed newspaper in Germany was published on November 24th. It was written by editors who fled abroad after the outbreak of war. Because their work in Moscow was effectively banned shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.
In early March, Vladimir Putin enacted a law criminalizing alleged false reports about the "special operation," as the war in Ukraine was called. Journalists faced fines, imprisonment, or worse, for “publicly disseminating false information.” Even before that, freedom of the press was repeatedly attacked: under Vladimir Putin's government, independent reporting became increasingly difficult, media houses came under state control, journalists were labeled "foreign agents" and subjected to reprisals.
Ever since Novaya Gazeta was founded in 1993, the newspaper headed by editor-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov has reported critically about the government. They uncovered cases of corruption and wrote about crimes committed by the Russian army. In the 2000s, six journalists were killed in assassination attempts, allegedly because of their work.
The laws, enacted in March 2022, effectively banned opposition voices from working. Independent media such as the online TV channel Dozhd or the radio station Echo Moskvy were also affected, as was the Russian website of Novaya Gazeta. The media regulator Roskomnadzor threatened to revoke the latter's license. On March 28, the newspaper ceased operations in Russia, and on September 5, a Moscow court revoked the newspaper's printing license.
In order to be able to continue reporting uncensored, 45 of the 75 employees went abroad - to Latvia, Poland, Austria or Germany. In April, a new headquarters of “Novaya Gazeta Europa” was formed in Riga. After two print editions in Latvia, the newspaper now wants to reach readers in this country: "There is a large Russian-speaking community in Germany," says Michael Komin from the Riga editorial team. Many of these people would get information from media outlets close to the Kremlin or from Russian state television. "There are many people who understand Putin within the Russian-speaking community in Germany," says Komin. The newspaper wants to position itself as an alternative source of information to Russia's propaganda.
The new edition has 24 pages and is included as a supplement to the Russian-language newspaper "Russkaja Germanija" (German: Russian Germany), which was founded in Berlin in 1996 and has been called "Redakzija Germanija" (German: Redaktion Deutschland) since the beginning of the war. Among other things, the articles address the gas crisis in Germany or analyze the threat posed by German bloggers and journalists who sympathize with Putin. But their trademark, investigative reports, are also printed. One of the stories critically examines the Russian school reform, which "teaches" children "patriotism" in the classroom. There, students would study Vladimir Putin's statements about "special operations," celebrate the "joining" of Ukrainian territories into Russia, and learn to hate Ukraine and NATO.
The newspaper hopes to reach as broad a target group as possible in Germany. 60,000 copies were printed for the first edition. According to migration researcher Jannis Panagiotidis, there were around 2.2 million adults in Germany in 2020 who were either native speakers of Russian or spoke it fluently. Many of them came to Germany from the 1990s as late resettlers or Jewish quota refugees.
Russia's war triggered further migration to Germany. Around a million refugees arrived from Ukraine. In addition to the Ukrainian official language, most Ukrainians also speak Russian, since the country had to enforce Russian as an official language while it belonged to the Soviet Union. But Russians who are against Vladimir Putin's regime or who want to flee the partial mobilization have also found refuge in Germany. According to the Federal Foreign Office, a total of around 53,300 visas were issued to Russian nationals between March and the end of October 2022.
It remains to be seen whether the newspaper will appeal to Ukrainians or exiled Russians or whether it will gain acceptance among the Russian-speaking diaspora. "That's what the test phase is for," says Komin. The second print edition is scheduled to appear in December.