Changing Channels. Television and the Struggle for Power in Russia

Article excerpt

Ellen Mickiewicz. Changing Channels. Television and the Struggle for Power in Russia. 2nd ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999. 374 pp. Index. $23.95, paper.

This has become a very widely cited book. Almost everyone, writing on media issues in the post-communist world after 1999, refers to this study at some point or another. So do many other scholars writing on the wider aspects of Russian politics and society. This revised edition of Ellen Mickiewicz's study takes the story of Russian television up to 1998. The book is a detailed account of how the relationship between media and politics changed in Russia during the glasnost years and the first decade of the post-communist era. In Mickiewicz's own words, she "seeks to illuminate the critical role television played at key times and with key political actors and institutions" (p. xiii).

One of the book's many strengths is the sources. As an established authority on media issues in that part of the world, Mickiewicz was able to interview most of the major decision makers in Russia. This includes well-known figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Yakovlev, Yegor Ligachev, as well as the less well-known actors in the television sphere, such as Igor Kirillov, Leonid Kravchenko, and Eduard Sagalayev. Since she was director of the Commission on Radio and Television Policy, she had the opportunity to interact with a wide range of media leaders, academics, and government experts. Also, her participation in working groups of the Aspen Institute allowed her to collect data from ordinary television viewers in Russia, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

The book follows a chronological structure. After an introduction, chapters 2-6 deal with the Soviet period. Chapter 7, called "Between Putsch and Revolt," serves as a bridge between the two eras, and chapters 8-12 discuss the new, post-communist Russia. This second revised addition has a new chapter, the Afterword, which takes the story up to the 1998 crisis, and a new preface.

Mickiewicz is strongest in her analysis of the glasnost period and early 1990s. This is the material she seems thoroughly familiar with and for which she has the best personal contacts. She records the events in great detail, conveys the sense of atmosphere in which the story unfolded, and makes the characters come alive. The reader feels her/himself transported to the feverish days of glasnost when things changed rapidly, and optimism interlaced with fear were the norm. For example, on p. 103, "At six o'clock in the morning on 19 August 1991, TASS announced that Mikhail Gorbachev was unable to perform his duties as president because of health problems and the government was in the hands of the State Committee for the State of Emergency." It is clear that she has the insider's view when she relates stories of how, "at one meeting with Yeltsin, Yakovlev told the president that he had gone to Gorbachev's dacha for dinner. …