Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Glasnost 2.0

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Glasnost 2.0

Article excerpt

Abstract: Although Soviet era glasnost did not generate authentic media freedom, it did allow for pluralism. The internet is creating similar conditions in Russia today. The anti-electoral fraud rallies that took place at the end of 2011 demonstrate that the internet can mobilize large protest movements. Accordingly, in order to prevent future protests, the Putin administration has two choices: accommodate greater engagement of the public in decision-making or seek to control the internet, including through the use of nationalist appeals and diversionary warfare.


Does the Soviet experience with glasnost teach us that even if Russians don't have media freedom, media dissonance can lead to social upheaval? The diversification of media voices via the rise of the internet in Russia may not be media "freedom" as we know it in the West, but it can still signal change as it amplifies divisions in society. Western analysts, scholars, and arguably even the Soviets themselves missed the significance of that dissonance in accelerating political change almost three decades ago during the glasnost period. Today, there is evidence that Russia stands on the threshold of political upheaval again, with the online sphere broadening and amplifying a type of "Glasnost 2.0" effect. Not only is there a diversification of media voices and evidence of fracture within the central message as there was in the late 1980s, but now there is the augmentation of this dissonance via online social networks. This has the potential to broaden, deepen and, perhaps most significantly, accelerate change in Russia.

Currently, analysts look more toward other countries rather than to the Soviet past to consider the possibility for change in Russia. Do the events of the Arab Spring signal a step-change in the ability of online communication to challenge authoritarian regimes, particularly in the way that social action linked to digital communication can travel across country lines? This is a question that has galvanized the attention of post-Soviet analysts, citizens, and leaders alike as Russia experienced wide-scale street demonstrations less than a year after the collapse of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. What is significant and useful about the Arab Spring vis-a-vis the Russian case is understanding how media dissonance functions in non-free states. In particular, a closer reading of the elements of glasnost in the late Soviet period can help us to understand how changes within a communication ecosystem, even if they are not intended as freedom of the press, can mimic media freedom to the point that it has the same effect. Is the type of information shift that accelerated the end of the Soviet regime already under way in contemporary Russia? Are we failing to perceive it in the same way that virtually everyone was surprised by the abrupt collapse of the authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?

This article argues that a careful consideration of changes in media diversity, as opposed to the introduction of media freedom, is key. This reframing of the argument will create a far more useful and nuanced understanding of information and political trajectories in present-day Russia than attempts to weld "liberation technology" arguments onto the Russian case. At the same time, this highlights the need to place the effect of communication technology within historic and national contexts instead of searching heedlessly for a type of globalized internet "effect."

Analyzing the relationship between media diversity and political protest in Russia takes a new interest and urgency in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis in early 2014. What social and political forces are unleashed by the internet in non-democratic regimes? This article argues that the inability to identify centralized points of permanent protest does not mean that people are not learning and changing their tolerance of authoritarianism through the rising diversity of information and interaction fostered by the digital sphere. …

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