A Russian journalist
Tania Felgengauer’s stabbing recalls a long campaign of violence against those who speak out
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.”