A Rus­sian jour­nal­ist

Ta­nia Fel­gen­gauer’s stab­bing re­calls a long cam­paign of vi­o­lence against those who speak out

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW ROTH an­drew.roth@wash­post.com

vowed to re­turn to work as a ra­dio talk show co­host af­ter she was bru­tally stabbed at the sta­tion.

mos­cow — Ta­nia Fel­gen­gauer can re­call nearly ev­ery fran­tic mo­ment when a lis­tener broke into the Mos­cow ra­dio sta­tion where she works last month and stabbed her re­peat­edly in the neck. Then she re­mem­bers wak­ing up in a Mos­cow hospi­tal bed, un­der heavy anes­the­sia, with “tubes ev­ery­where” and a stack of pan­icked notes from col­leagues and friends.

At first, doc­tors won­dered whether Fel­gen­gauer, an out­spo­ken, pop­u­lar host for the Echo of Mos­cow ra­dio sta­tion, would ever speak, or breathe on her own, again.

On a re­cent Fri­day, she sat in an Ital­ian cafe sip­ping tea and calmly tick­ing off her in­juries (dam­age to her jugu­lar vein and sali­vary gland, cuts on her neck and hands) in a soft but res­o­lute voice that proved her re­mark­able re­cov­ery from a near-fa­tal at­tack.

Al­ready she was plot­ting her re­turn to drive-time ra­dio, where she co-hosts a talk show that pokes fun at Rus­sian politi­cians and news­mak­ers.

“I love jour­nal­ism, I love my morn­ing show, I love my ra­dio sta­tion,” said Fel­gen­gauer, 32, who has worked for Echo of Mos­cow, where she serves as deputy edi­tor in chief, since she was a teenager. “The at­tempt on my life will not change it.”

With a slight smile, she added: “I’ll prob­a­bly have to come up with some jokes about my throat.”

Her good-na­tured ban­ter cov­ered up real trauma. Fel­gen­gauer said that since the stab­bing she has avoided read­ing about her at­tacker, a 48-year-old man named Boris Grits, who dis­abled a se­cu­rity guard and then fell on her with a knife in the ra­dio sta­tion’s green room.

Pho­to­graphs of the blood­stained floor pro­voked out­rage on so­cial net­works among Rus­sians who saw this as yet an­other in a se­ries of as­saults on well­known jour­nal­ists.

Some el­e­ments of the at­tack on Fel­gen­gauer re­called a long cam­paign of vi­o­lence against Rus­sian jour­nal­ists. Oth­ers seemed at odds with that his­tory.

In Rus­sia, jour­nal­ists who rile pow­er­ful in­ter­ests, par­tic­u­larly the lo­cal busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and politi­cians who dominate the coun­try’s re­gions, can be met with vi­o­lence or pres­sure from the po­lice. This year, a col­league of Fel­gen­gauer’s, a colum­nist for the No­vaya Gazeta news­pa­per named Yu­lia Latyn­ina, fled Rus­sia af­ter her car was set on fire. Af­ter the at­tack on Fel­gen­gauer, the edi­tor of No­vaya Gazeta said he would arm his news­room with rub­ber-bul­let pis­tols.

The mur­ders of some jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing No­vaya Gazeta cor­re­spon­dent Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and Forbes Rus­sia edi­tor Paul Kleb­nikov in 2004, be­came na­tional scan­dals. Those who or­dered the killings, the “za­kazchiki,” were never caught.

Far from the gang­land as­sas­si­na­tions or court­yard beat­ings that have tar­geted jour­nal­ists in the past, the at­tempt on Fel­gen­gauer’s life seemed less cal­cu­lated and more chaotic.

When ques­tioned by po­lice, Grits said Fel­gen­gauer had ha­rassed him for years us­ing telepa­thy. He seemed crazy. For days af­ter­ward, de­bate raged among Mos­cow cir­cles of jour­nal­ists and lib­er­als as to whether the at­tack could have been part of a con­spir­acy to si­lence a crit­i­cal voice.

Fel­gen­gauer said she was try­ing not to jump to con­clu­sions.

“I love con­spir­acy the­o­ries, but not in this case,” she said. In se­cu­rity cam­era footage of the at­tack, “he was con­fi­dent . . . but from there we could say ‘it was all planned,’ and then some­one would take my words out of con­text. I want to have the re­sults of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The at­tack re­ceived world­wide at­ten­tion. In a speech Nov. 15 at the In­ter­na­tional Press Free­dom Awards, held yearly by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists, ac­tress Meryl Streep named Fel­gen­gauer as one of sev­eral jour­nal­ists who “paid hard for their ques­tions this year.” Streep also men­tioned Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia, the Mal­tese in­ves­tiga­tive reporter killed in a car bomb­ing last month, and Kim Wall, the Swedish free­lance jour­nal­ist who died aboard a small sub­ma­rine in Au­gust (the sub­ma­rine’s owner has been charged in her death).

For Fel­gen­gauer, who spends much of her time in the news­room, the com­par­isons led to some soul-search­ing.

“It is a big honor for me,” she said. “But I thought, ‘Is it ap­pro­pri­ate to men­tion my name among other jour­nal­ists who suf­fered be­cause of their work?’ ”

She sighed, then an­swered as though think­ing out loud.

“I un­der­stand that if I had not been a jour­nal­ist, if I had not had my shows or done in­ter­views, if I had not been my­self, some­one would not have found a rea­son to kill me,” she said. “So, I am con­fi­dent that the at­tempt on my life was con­nected with my work.”

She said she hoped the me­dia at­ten­tion would ad­dress the safety of other jour­nal­ists across Rus­sia, not­ing one case last year when sev­eral re­porters in In­gushetia were beaten sav­agely and had their van set on fire. The at­tack­ers have not been caught.

“As long as the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties do not want to deal with the prob­lem and solve it, the prob­lem will not dis­ap­pear, no mat­ter what celebri­ties or stars say,” she said.

At the same time, in­ter­ven­tion from prom­i­nent fig­ures in the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment may have saved Fel­gen­gauer’s life. The Mos­cow mayor’s of­fice rushed an ambulance to Echo of Mos­cow and cleared the way for her to be ad­mit­ted to one of the coun­try’s best hos­pi­tals.

An­other “high-rank­ing of­fi­cial,” whom Fel­gen­gauer de­clined to name, “of­fered his sup­port in terms of med­i­cal treat­ment.”

State-run tele­vi­sion may also have played a role in the at­tack. Be­fore Grits broke into Echo of Mos­cow’s down­town stu­dios, Fel­gen­gauer fea­tured promi­nently in a doc­u­men­tary on the Ros­siya-24 chan­nel that ac­cused her of tak­ing money from the U.S. State Depart­ment.

“We laughed when we watched them,” Fel­gen­gauer said. “I just can’t take them se­ri­ously. Not as a provo­ca­tion or any­thing else — it is aw­fully un­pro­fes­sional work.”

Far longer than the United States, Rus­sia has been em­broiled in a “fake news” cri­sis. So­ci­ety is split be­tween those who watch tele­vi­sion, where fed­eral chan­nels ag­gres­sively back the Krem­lin’s pol­i­tics, and those who find other sources of news.

Ag­gres­sion — to­ward jour­nal­ists and to­ward peo­ple with op­pos­ing points of view — is grow­ing. Just watch the po­lit­i­cal talk shows, Fel­gen­gauer said.

“When peo­ple ev­ery day see that at a po­lit­i­cal show you can at­tack your op­po­nent, beat him, and this will be shown on TV, they think that they can do the same in real life,” she said.

She added: “This is a re­ally painful topic for me.”

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