Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dmitry Muratov Visits Holy Cross, Speaks with Students

Michael O’Brien ‘23, Editor-in-Chief and Grace Bromage ‘23, Senior Editor

As highlighted in the Constitution of the United States and valued by many other governments around the world, freedom of speech should be a universal right. However, there are many cultures that still prohibit this inherent freedom: one of them currently being the Russian government. The Kremlin is currently in control of nearly all forms of media within the nation, which is helping them control their war narrative.

     While independent journalism is being threatened now more than ever in Russia, there are still people that are fighting to tell the truth every day. One of those people is Dmitry Muratov, the former editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta from 1995-2017 and then again starting in 2019. The Gazeta was the last remaining independent news publication in Russia before it was shut down by the Kremlin earlier this year. The newspaper faced constant opposition from the Russian government for their work, to the extent that seven members of the Gazeta were murdered since 2000 because of their investigations. Muratov himself was attacked in April 2022 while on a train from Moscow.

     Prior to winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, Muratov’s hard-hitting work with the Novaya Gazeta led to the release of 147 prisoners of war and acquired necessary medicine for children, among other humanitarian accomplishments. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa for their “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” something he continued to do even after Russia invaded the Ukraine in March 2022. 

Muratov is currently on a lecture tour stopping at several colleges throughout the United States, and Holy Cross had the privilege of hosting him on Oct. 6. During his time at Holy Cross, Muratov spoke on the importance of maintaining free speech and creating anti-war movements, especially at this time in history. 

Before his keynote lecture in St. Joseph’s Chapel, we had the opportunity to interview Mr. Muratov to learn more about his experiences as a journalist through the help of his translator Vasiliy Arkanov. We started off by asking why freedom of speech was so important to him personally, to which he replied “It’s not important just for me; you can find the rights for freedom of speech in the Bible, in the very beginning was the word. The first thing that any dictator does is eliminate freedom of speech, and after that the dictatorship can immediately start. In many respects, the freedom of speech guarantees that there won’t be a war.”

While Muratov aptly believes that freedom of speech is one of the most important ingredients in ensuring that wars don’t break out, we were curious as to why he became a journalist in the first place, even before the current conflict in Ukraine. Muratov answered this by saying “It’s a very old story, so I’ll omit some details and I will just tell you that journalism allows you to not only evaluate lives, but also change them; to not only determine what is wrong, but how to change it. Real journalism is something that changes life for the better.”

This sort of understanding of journalism as a way to evaluate lives then inspired us to ask about our current situation in the United States. While America is ostensibly a far more democratic nation than Russia, there is still a growing sentiment that American democracy is under a massive threat; after all, the Washington Post’s current slogan is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In response to this question, Muratov joked “Russians have one common feature, and it’s that everywhere they go, they try teaching people how they should live. I’m not going to teach you. I think the American people will find the right way to solve this. But I can tell you one thing; your election cycle is linked to the movement of the sun. It happens on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years. So as long as the sun is moving, you can’t cancel an election in the United States.”

While Muratov humorously told us that he didn’t want to tell Americans how to live their lives, we still wanted to know why he chose to come to America to instill the values of freedom of speech to American citizens, particularly college students. In contrast to his jokes, Muratov grimly answered “we’re stepping into a new Cold War. In the time of the first Cold War, the most important thing was that the people would speak with each other and kind of start to speak anew. So the culture separates us but actually talking with each other brings us together. It would have been silly of me to deny the opportunity to actually speak to people if my message is being heard.” For Muratov, dialogue is a powerful tool to combat violence. 

Despite the keynote taking place during midterms week, St Joseph’s Chapel was almost entirely filled with students, professors, staff, alumni, and other community members. Muratov was introduced by both the SGA co-presidents, Anna Parker ‘23 and Erin Reinhart ‘23, and Thomas M. Landy, the director of the McFarland Center. 

Muratov opened his keynote address by admitting that, while he had come to Holy Cross with the intent of speaking solely on free speech, it was more important to talk about the Russian-Ukrainian war at that moment. Muratov recounted how several decades ago, Russia and the United States had been in the midst of a cold war, but through the determination of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan peace was maintained. He contrasted that with the image of Russian politics now, asking the audience “why are we again at the edge of a nuclear disaster? How in the 21st century does the fate of the future depend on one person, Putin?” 

Muratov maintained that the key precedent that allowed Putin to attack Ukraine and pose a threat to the world was the censorship laws introduced by the Russian government. It was these laws that shut down the Novaya Gazeta in the Fall 2022 and kept citizens pacified. Already in Russia, political opponents and journalists have been imprisoned or killed. The Russia Muratov left before this tour, was one that was filled with anti-American and pro-war propaganda, preparing the Russian citizens for war. He claimed that the Russian government “betrayed its people” and “created a new religion with a TV set instead of an icon and Putin instead of God.” 

Although it seems bleak, Muratov has not lost hope and admits that he plans to return to Russia to continue to advocate for a peaceful government, claiming that “the day I stop is the day they press a barrel of a gun to my forehead.” However, Muratov also admitted that the fate of the anti-war movement does not rest on him, but on young people around the world, including at Holy Cross. He told the audience members that “everything is in your hands” and joked that it is “a small gift from me to you.” When questioned on how to form a youth anti-war movement, Muratov claimed that that was the audience’s place to decide, not his, calling back to the fact that he doesn’t want to teach people how to live their lives.

Muratov’s interview and lecture was inspiring to student journalists like ourselves and the student body in attendance as a whole. The need for peace in our world is essential for the wellbeing of all people, and Muratov’s words drove this point home.

Photo courtesy of Grace Bromage ’23

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