Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Russian MediaLab 2: New Media, Creative Resistance and Spaces of Relative Freedom of Speech in Russia

Chair: Cai Weaver (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Discussant: Galina Miazhevich (University of Leicester, UK)
Saara Ratilainen (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland): The Networked Architecture of Freedom of Speech: Collaboration between New Generation Urban Journals and Cultural Industries in Russia
Mariëlle Wijermars (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland): Aleksei Naval'ny's "On vam ne Dimon"-Campaign and Data Activism in Russia
Dilyara Suleymanova
(University of Zurich, Switzerland): Tatar Creative Industries and Articulations of Ethnic Identity in Tatarstan, Russia

Over the past decade and a half, international indexes of freedom of speech and media freedom have indicated a clear downward trend in Russia. Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the tightening of the public sphere appears to have accelerated, affecting both traditional and new media. In this year’s report on global press freedom, Reporters Without Borders for example describe the current situation in Russia as a “stifling atmosphere for independent journalists”, drawing a bleak but by now commonplace picture of neo-conservativism, TV propaganda, blocked access to webpages and NGOs being labelled as ‘foreign agents’. Contrary to what these indicators may suggest, the system of internet controls in Russia remains rather incomplete; the Russian government has not chosen to restrict the online spread of information to the extent or by the same means as in other countries that are known for violating civil rights, such as Turkey and China. Spaces of relative freedom of speech continue to exist on the RuNet. In fact, digital industries are one of the most flourishing areas of Russia’s media economy, creating opportunities for new entrepreneurial and creative networks to develop. Looking at the latest developments in new media, many Russian regions are clearly being invigorated by innovative online publishing, hyper- and trans-local new media practices of social engagement and urban culture. The panel seeks to investigate this apparent paradox between, on the one hand, the indisputable constriction of the online information space and far-reaching restrictions on the freedom of the press and, on the other hand, the vibrant display of innovativeness and creativity in new media. In addition, it critically examines the assumption that such alternative media necessarily involve politics, creative resistance or activism – putting forward both examples that challenge and that support this assumption. Saara Ratilainen’s paper examines multiplatform collaborations between “new generation urban online magazines” and cultural centres in different Russian cities. She argues that creative industries are, to an extent, taking on the role of critical journalism and traditional media and demonstrates how critical discourses in Russia are increasingly adopting formats other than traditional news and political reporting. In the second paper, Mariëlle Wijermars analyses Aleksei Navalny’s “On vam ne Dimon”-campaign as an example of data activism. She argues that Russia’s adoption of “open government” principles under president Medvedev, intended to support the government’s democratic image by increasing governmental transparency, appears to be backfiring. While the regime increasingly relies on big date analysis to monitor discontent among its population, publicly available data equally provides material for creative resistance. Finally, Dilyara Suleymanova’s paper examines emerging creative industries in Tatarstan and their use of new media to promote the use of Tatar language and to revitalize public interest towards ethno-national legacy among youth. Placing these developments against the backdrop of, e.g., Russia's official restrictive policies on native language education, she demonstrates how these initiatives actively contribute towards rearticulating Tatar ethnic identity and strengthening regional patriotism in new ways. This panel is organised by the Russian MediaLab and the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies – Choices of Russian Modernisation.