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Text of Remarks by David E. Hoffman During 2010 PMA Ceremony


I worked in Russia in the 1990s, and I remember well the violence. In those first years after the Soviet Union collapsed, the rule of law – so essential in a democracy – did not exist. Without enforceable laws and courts that functioned impartially, disputes were settled with coercion and violence.

I know that it became fashionable to say this was ll Boris Yeltsin’s fault, that Russian was chaos in the 1990s. But the truth is that the fault was much deeper – many people don’t’ realize this, but in those first years, the laws of the Soviet Union were changed only gradually. Entrepreneurship was against the law in Soviet times. When the country disappeared, there was the dawn of a new system but a lawless space. It took several years to just pass a law on how private enterprise companies could function. Yeltsin certainly is to blame for this – he didn’t build rule of law fast or carefully enough – but it is important to understand that this was a vacuum , a space without rule of law.

At first it was the businessmen who were victims, but soon it became the journalists too. When I look down the lists of the journalists who have died int he line of duty, I see some who were my friends and sources in the 1990s.

Two in particular stand out.

Valery Ivanov was a courageous editor of the Togliatti Review and provided me and my researcher then with a great deal of valuable material about the workings of Aftovaz, a huge auto factory there. Ivanov was gunned down April 29, 2002. His assailants have never been caught.

The other was my friend and colleague Ivan Safronov. Ivan had served in the rocket forces and he helped me with some very important stories, including the one about the 1983 false alarm that opens my book The Dead Hand. Ivan was a tall, strapping fellow and to this day I cannot believe that we know the full story of hi death on March 2, 2007, when he fell from a fourth floor staircase window.

Neither of these cases was adequately investigated.

And this lack of rule of law which I mentioned earlier persists now, almost two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I know that both President Medvedev and then-President Putin have paid lip-service to establishing the rule of law. Remember that Putin promised “diktatura zakon,” or dictatorship of law, whatever that means, and Medvedev promised to end “legal nihilism,” but the fact is they have not.

Rule of law means that no one is above the law. But we see now that some people in Russia think they are above the law. We see it in the reaction to Ilya’s recent article exposing the Moscow riot police and their methods.

Ilya’s investigations are a testament to the courage of all journalists in Russia who work against such terrible odds. This kind of work is not glamorous and not easy. There is a great deal of secrecy, threats, and coercion.

And there must be days, many days, when you ask yourself, Ilya, is it worth it? Why do this? Why get up every day and go out to ask these difficult questions and put yourself at risk?

And I am sure that there are days when you must ask, if Russia has been without rule of law for two decades of post-Soviet history, what will the next two decades bring? If this is what Russia inherited after seven decades of Soviet rule, then was it really worth it, all this effort to end the Soviet system? Will things ever change?

Ilya, and to all of us, I want to say, yes. It is worth it, and here is why.

What the Soviet Union lacked was a functioning civil society. Civil society is the glue, or the sinews, that connect the rulers and the ruled in a democracy. In the Soviet Union, the Communist Part and it extinguished any other organization or person – there was no oxygen for others.

Now since the Soviet collapse, there have been some new green shoots of grass growing up – there has been a change. There is some oxygen. Russia today is not the Soviet Union. It is not an absolute dictatorship. Rather, Russia is at a crossroads. After communism, it did not develop as a full democracy. It has gone backwards in recent years.

But I think we should not entirely despair about the press in Russia today. The New Times has 50,000 readers and about 300,000 visitors a month to its web site. The magazine is distributed in all the major cities of Russia, and winds up on the desk of Putin and Medvedev.

In fact there is a fair measure of press independence today in the non-government media – print, radio, Internet and some television. Some do their best to expose the government while others are openly analytical or carry angry opinions.

These are tender green shoots of civil society. They have not been extinguished. Now they are small; they are often struggling – the New Times has difficulty gaining advertising – and they are easily intimidated. But fortunately they are surviving.

Meanwhile, the big media, such as state television, commands a huge audience. The big media are controlled by the state and don’t make waves.

When the small independent press makes noise, it is often ignored by the authorities. Scandals can be uncovered, but no one reacts. The powers either ignore it or intimidate it.

There is no link – no glue – no sinews – between the rulers and the ruled.

But this is not so much the fault of journalism. It is bigger than just journalism. Much bigger.

The rulers have sucked up the oxygen for free politics.

They have failed to build a rule of law.

Moreover, there is a certain passivity among your readers today. People are focused on personal freedoms and standard of living. They do not protests against the authorities. My good friend Masha Lipman has written, “the atomization and passivity of Russian society makes matters worse.. even the advanced and critically-minded audiences of alternative news outlets do not take action and do not seem to mind that the government keeps them from participating in national affairs.”

This is not a healthy situation. It is not good to have rulers who are not accountable to the ruled. It is not good to have a people who are indifferent to these kind of rulers.

But the situation is not hopeless.

When society changes – and I think it will – they will need you, Ilya. That is why you should get up every morning eager to continue your work. To use some stale words from another era, you are the vanguard, you are a pioneer! Everyone else will come. You need to be there for the day when civil society and rule of law will be created.

I cannot say how long it will take, but inevitably the courage of your work will feed a feeling among people that something must be done.

So realize that your articles are part of making history in Russia, making a new society, building a new democracy. All around you it may seem like a dry desert – but you are a green shoot of grass. You are an example of what has gone right with Russia since the collapse of communism.

Don’t give up!

AFP Announces First Winner of Peter Mackler Scholarship

Agence France Press (AFP) has announced Charlotte Turner of Cardiff University as the first winner of the AFP-Peter Mackler Scholarship. The program, the only current English-language scholarship offered by AFP, was created in honor of Peter Mackler who died suddenly on June 20, 2009. Mackler spent the majority of his career as a journalist working for AFP and was serving as the North Americas chief editor at the time of his death. Mackler is largely credited with having built AFP’s English language service and transforming the news agency into a large-market competitor.

The AFP-Peter Mackler Scholarship is not affilated with the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, which is managed by Global Media Forum and the US branch of Reporters Without Borders. The Peter Mackler Award seeks to recognize the contributions made and risks taken by journalists working in countries where freedom of the press is either not recognized or not guarantied. The first winner of the Peter Mackler Award will be announced August 22, 2009. Please check back on this blog or on our website for more details on the winner and the award ceremony.

Remembering Peter Mackler, One Year Later

One year after his sudden disappearance, Peter Mackler is remembered by his friends and colleagues.

“It’s hard to realize it’s been almost a year, since I’m reminded almost daily how much he’s missed. People I don’t know, or don’t remember, constantly come over to share an anecdote about how Pete drove them nuts, or inspired them, or maybe just listened to them. Today, outside the Holocaust Museum, where I was trying to get something out of the FBI and the cops on the shooting, Karen Zeitvogel from AFP came over and we laughed about how Pete would have had her and everybody else running here and there on the story. And then she said how much her son missed Pete, who was the only one who took time to talk to him about baseball. AND THE KID IS A RED SOX FAN!!! Pete always went the last mile.”

-Richard Sisk, New York Daily News

“Peter may have gone but I still get nostalgic flashes of his tireless work ethic, colorful anecdotes and unending compassion. His personal qualities and high standards of journalistic excellence have inspired me and those around him this past year, and will continue to do so for many more to come.”

–Ponnudurai Parameswaran, Agence France Press

“Soon after Peter died, I was talking with a former student of mine who is now an Arabic-speaking (American) reporter in AFP’s Jerusalem bureau, and I asked him if he’d ever met Peter. ‘No,’ he replied, “but he’s legendary in the bureau for somehow, against all expectations, persuading the Pentagon to include us, a French agency, in the embedded journalists program for the Iraq invasion.’ It was a reflection of Peter’s tenacity and his refusal to recognize limits. Peter always fought for what was right, both journalistically and in his personal life, and this award represents his ideals

–Jay Brannegan, Project Plato

“Peter was always teaching. Most of what I know about journalism I learned from him over the course of more than 20 years working together. Peter is still my toughest editor. Every story I write I ask myself ‘Would it pass the Peter test?’ It gives me some consolation to know that while Peter may not be around to guide them, through the Peter Mackler Award young journalists will be able to learn the craft that he loved so much. “

-Chris Lefkow, Agence France Press

“During Peter’s time in Washington, I may have spent more time with him than anyone, dealing with matters of the desk, union contracts (since I was the guild representative) and a variety of other issues. We seemed to have a bond because of a number of things we had in common: We were both from New York, both worked in VISTA, married French women and had a dedication to and love for journalism. One thing that struck me about Peter is that during all the meetings we had, all the tough discussions, he always was willing to take a call from his wife or one of his daughters, whatever the issue. I recall the shift from tough editor to tender family man, and then back again, many times. As hard as Peter worked — and he seemed to be the hardest and most most dedicated person in the office — you also knew his heart was at home. And I thought of him as lucky to be doing something at work he really loved while being surrounded by a caring family.”

–Robert Lever, Agence France Press

“A year is a long time in the news business. International crises ebb and wane. Elections bring hope of change, or serve merely to strengthen hardline regime. Science breaks through some frontiers and puzzles over new conundrums. But the drum beat of the news room goes on. And the

last 12 months have sped by for AFP Washington since Peter’s death a year ago ripped the heart out of our small community here. Yet every day his voice is heard, every day we ask ourselves: “What would Peter do?” Every day we endeavor to hold ourselves up to the high ideals he set. Always remember the news is about people and their lives. Strive to get every little detail right. Behind every story lies at least two more. Never assume, never dumb down and never, never accept anything at face value. We miss you Peter, but you are still our guiding light.”

–Joanna Biddle, Agence France Press

“A Renaissance man, Peter was not just a brilliant organizer of war coverage; he could also jump in as both a great writer and editor during such occasions.

When Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait in February 1991, Peter wrote a lucid and gripping 3,000 word account about how the war was fought, peppering it with references to Sun Tzu, a 5th century Chinese military strategist. I still have a copy of it, a precious gem for a wire service that normally runs much shorter pieces. As an editor, he took very seriously the risk of military propaganda seeping into news coverage. In his Brooklyn accent and rapid-fire delivery, the tireless Peter could bring a tired reporter to his or her senses with a biting, sarcastic comment if he felt he or she was falling for hype or outright lies. I recall — now fondly! — receiving a dose or two during both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.”

–Lachlan Carmichael, Agence France Press

“”Where there is one story there are two.” It was Peter who first imparted this basic journalistic axiom to me. It remains, for me, one of the most profound truisms of life and barely a day goes by when I don’t recall it. A year ago Peter departed. That’s one story. The other however is: Peter continues to arrive in our lives every day, in a variety of ways, same as ever. Where there’s one story there are two.”

–Christopher Boian, Agence France Press

“I remember Peter organizing things on a big board, like he always did, and telling favorite anecdotes like the story of Kitty Genovese, a woman murdered on a street in New York and none of the neighbors called the police.

I remember him enjoying AFP reporter Luke Hunt’s Australian accent and gung ho and fearless attitude during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the war, he called me once warning me to be careful because it was getting dangerous. Likewise, he was skeptical of US military claims they had found specimens of WMD. At the Palestine Hotel, surveying the scene and the lack of any US military spokesman or authority to talk to, he called it a scene from the ‘Marx Brothers Duck Soup.

I also remember Peter telling me when I wanted to keep going on with my embed for one more night raid in Baghdad, he said ‘enough was enough.’ And in Cyprus, when he would visit there in 2002, he could school anyone who played him in tennis. And he seemed to take great pride in that. He never lost.”

–Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

If you would like to know more about Peter Mackler, please click here. To help our efforts to honor Peter’s memory, please considering donating to the Peter Mackler. To find out how Peter’s work continues, please visit the Global Media Forum.