The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has made the work of independent journalists very difficult in both countries, while in Russia it has become completely impossible. At the same time, however, the war could mark the beginning of a large-scale German aid program for journalists.
“A protection program for threatened journalists from all crisis regions of the world is currently being developed in coordination with the Federal Foreign Office,” writes a spokesman for the Federal Commissioner for Culture, Claudia Roth, when asked by the Tagesspiegel.
The first is the private JX Fund, which the non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders set up in March together with the Schöpflin Foundation and the Rudolf Augstein Foundation. “We want to help journalists build structures in exile,” says the head of the fund, Penelope Winterhager. This includes immediate financial aid as well as finding offices, advice and support in setting up new editorial structures.
The fund supports both individual journalists and entire editorial offices. “In both cases, it’s about getting back to work quickly and unbureaucratically and building new business models so that we can continue to work independently as a journalist,” says Winterhager.
The JX Fund will receive 800,000 euros for this from the budget of the Federal Commissioner for Culture, Claudia Roth. The Bundestag must first decide on the transfer of a further 3.5 million euros, writes a spokesman for Roth. However, they should be “paid out in 2022”.
He believes that there is no threat of state influence on the supported journalists or their work. “The focus is on structures, i.e. salary costs, office space, technical equipment of the fund.”
Maksim Kurnikov is one of those who is using this money to start working again in exile. He was deputy editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy. The radio station announced its closure on March 3 after pressure from state authorities after reporting critically about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ekho Moskvy was – along with the independent TV station Dozhd and the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” – one of the few media outlets that still offered any space at all to voices critical of the Kremlin.
The 38-year-old now lives in Berlin. “But my colleagues still have problems with visas,” he says on the phone. “None of this is happening as quickly as promised.” A spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office had already promised “a pragmatic and rapid approach to the issue of visas” at the federal press conference on March 23.
Many threatened journalists fled to various neighboring countries of Russia and are now trying to get a visa for Germany, says a JX Fund employee. You are not allowed to stay in these countries for a longer period of time. There are currently no quick solutions for them, nor for journalists who are still in Russia.
Part of his editorial staff is still in other countries, says Kurnikov, such as in Uzbekistan or Lithuania. “The goal is to set up a new editorial office in Berlin.” The fund supports the work primarily by providing start-up capital – for example to develop an app.
Similar to the “Nowaja Gazeta”, which is now to appear from Riga in Latvia as “Novaja Gazeta Europa”, Kurnikov is also planning a renaming – to Ekho Europe. “I like how that sounds. The message that has.”
The channel is aimed not only at Russians, but at Russian-speaking people in all former Soviet republics, such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Belarus. “And of course also to those living in Germany.”