"I hoped against hope. I was living waiting for my asylum request to be processed. "
Yelena Tregubova, 35, is an ex-Kremlin journalist, a critic of the president Vladimir and his environment. She lives in a secret location in the United Kingdom, where she fled after her writing made her many enemies.
Tregubova’s troubles began after the publication in 2003 of her hugely successful "Tales Of A Kremlin Digger," a book that dished the dirt on life in the Kremlin.
In April 2008, her asylum application was accepted and the former "Kommersant" reporter has been told not to reveal her address – even to her family in Russia.
How do you feel as a political refugee in UK?
I feel huge relief, as you can imagine, because for a year I was living with this massive uncertainty as U.K. authorities processed my asylum request.
That’s to say I hoped against hope, but couldn’t be 100 percent sure, that it would be approved. The British government could just have decided to wash their hands of this matter, they could just have said, ‘Why would we want to get involved with this journalist and her problems? Let’s just keep on good terms with the Kremlin and forget about her asylum application."
Is it possible for you to return to Russia?
I think that while the current regime is in power – the one created by Vladimir Putin, as the former head of the secret services – I won’t be able to return to Russia. The door is closed for me, because I would be in mortal danger if I went back. Of course, I know that there is a difference between bravery and suicide. I’m not a kamikaze.
What is the the current state of the Russian mass-media?
It’s probably not very ethical for me, sitting so far away, in a civilized European country, where human rights are guaranteed, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are taken for granted – it wouldn’t be ethical for me to criticize those colleagues of mine still in my homeland. But frankly, I think that what’s going on there is less like journalism than some sort of harem. Even the boldest of my Kremlin-reporter friends have been reduced to writing flattering anecdotes about the president. No one dares to criticize or write anything different today, because they fear the consequences. Television has become a nightmare similar to what was shown in Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev’s era. Russia’s three main television channels are either state-controlled or owned by Kremlin-friendly enterprises, which means you never see news that’s critical of the government.
No freedom of speech, just like during the Soviet times?
What is interesting is that samizdat – the illicit reports published during the Soviet era that were critical of the regime – have started to reappear, but in a different format.
In fact, the strange thing today is that the Internet is playing the role of publisher of samizdat. I think that the future journalism textbooks will reflect this. Have a look, for example, at the grani.ru website — content-wise it is human rights-oriented per se. In fact, this is just what existed before — underground ‘chronicle of the current events’ or chronicle of what was going on during the pre-reform times in the Soviet Union.
Do you see any hope for the mass media in Russia?
I’m afraid that the Russian media must go through the very same difficult path it went through at the collapse of the Soviet Union."Just as when Yeltsin’s reforms began, we built journalism with our own hands, we started a new style, we tried to study western journalism — so the next generation will have to do the same thing in 10, 15 years’ time, when the current regime has gone.
How is your day to day life in UK?
I’m writing another book about my experiences. It keeps me busy and stops me thinking about the things I misses about Russia. So many things, it’s too painful to talk about them.
I just think it’s very sad that the history of reform in Russia, the attempt at liberalization — it’s all over. This great historical opportunity has been lost. Russia has gone back to being a colony for former KGB agents, who’ve changed in name only — a fuel-rich colony for a small group of oil and gas merchants who give nothing of their riches to anyone living outside the capital.
By Radio Free Europe