Russian editor and philosopher Kirill Martinov

- I don't care much about the future of this state

UA in Riga: - In general, I'm losing this idea of being an academic philosopher, because, well, the list of problems is not about philosophy anymore.

Kirill Martinov, Editor-in-Chief of Novaja Gazeta Europe, used to work as an assistant professor in Philosophy in the Free University of Moscow. He still lectures a minor course.
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Novaya Gazeta Europe

  • Novaya Gazeta Europe was founded when the long-established opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta (eng. New Newspaper), was shut down by the government March in 2022.
  • Its Editor-in-Chief Dimitry Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. 
  • Novaja Gazeta Europe was launched in Riga shortly thereafter as an organizationally independent structure by Kirill Martynov, former political editor of Novaya Gazeta.
  • The online newspaper is blocked in Russia. Individual print editions were published soon afterwards in the Baltic States and in Germany.

Kirill Martynov is primarily known as Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta Europe, founded shortly after the Putin-led invasion in Ukraine February last year.

He is also co-founder of the Free University of Moscow, founded during the period of pandemic-induced lockdown. Martynov has a PhD in philosophy, graduated from Moscow University. His first topic in philosophy was analytical philosophy of mind, which according to him was not popular in Russia back then. The, in his own words, 'hero of his PhD thesis', was the American philosopher Daniel Dennett.

Martynov was employed as assistant professor in higher school of economics in Moscow. He describes the institution as the best and most liberal university in Russia: Partly because it was never linked to Soviet past.

During these years his professional focus changed.

- I was deeply interested in political philosophy, and my courses at the university was mostly about that. We discussed concepts like equality and democracy and justice. And we tried to focus on some political philosophers from 20th century, like John Rawls and Robert Nozick and other people who spoke about power and society, he explains.

Martynov was fired from his position at the Moscow University in 2020, in the middle of the covid crisis. The sacking process was initiated when he was accused of breaking some ethical rules, he explains. Assistant professor Martynov had posted some political speeches of Putin on his Facebook profile, commenting on them. The university administration told him to either delete the posts or to delete all links to the university, which he did. Still, some months later he was informed that his employment was terminated.

He received the email while attending a Zoom conference, and shared destiny with ten other colleagues. Other academic departments, law schools and more shared his destiny: Out of work, with no professional future inside the Russian borders.

Putin's invasion and Kantian ethics

Martynov still maintained a minor position as teacher at two other universities. He held his last lecture two days after the invasion in Ukraine.

Editor-in-Chief Kirill Martynov with a banner displaying the logo, originally belonging to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The banner is marked with signatures and hearts from supporters.

Free University of Moscow

  • The Free University is a community of teachers and students. Since 2020, it has been working to make modern knowledge available to everyone, without censorship.
  • Their mission is «... to rebuild the university, freeing teachers from any administrative dictate.»

- My topic for students was some ethic issues of Immanuel Kant. I decided, okay, we need to be professional, and I spoke about Kantian ethics applied on this situation. All my examples were about the war. It was quite easy to link Kant and what Putin actually did, Martynov comments, a slight smile on his face.

- And I was fired again on the next day, because I was reported by some administration staff. They came to me and said it was dangerous to discuss stuff like that inside the classroom. A few days later I left Russia.

At that time he was deeply engaged, together with 15 colleagues, in founding a private, autonomous academic institution – Free University of Moscow, where he now holds a minor position.

Shortly after the invasion more than 200 Russian university rectors declared their full support of Putin and the Ukrainian invasion.

200 teachers, 10 000 students

This spring the Free University of Moscow was declared a criminal group by Russian authorities, a so-called 'undesirable organization.'

- Consequently, they can prosecute students even for attending lectures or some of our events. The situation right now is really, really hard because we still provide free courses to students in Russia, but we are forced to hide the students' names to reduce their level of risk, Martynov says.

Free University of Moscow now exists primarily outside of the Russian borders. At present time, many faculty staff members have left Russia, and many of them don't want to be linked or associated with Moscow, Martynov explains. Most courses are now available online, the seventh semester in a row. During these three years more than 10 000 students have taken courses, according to Martynov.

- Right now, we are running several programs, like graduate level programs. And we started around 55 free courses at this semester. We now have up to 200 of teachers in our community.

More: The Tragedy of designating Russia's free university as 'undesirable'

We had a choice

Novaya Gazeta Europe was founded shortly after the invasion.

- How did it come about that you and your colleagues decided to start this newspaper?

- Well, it was a clear-cut situation, in which we understood that Kremlin was going to destroy us. And in this situation, we had a choice, either to wait or to do something on our own. And in order to take action, we needed to leave Russia and to start all over again, Martynov says.

The original Novaja Gazeta in Moscow was shut down 28th of March 2022. The planning of Novaja Gazeta Europe was initiated the very same day.

- We went online at 7th of April - 10 days later. We first started from a Telegram channel and got our website the second week, which was very similar to the one Novaja Gazeta had. We started a Youtube channel and we started to meet, he says.

Martynov came to the main bus station in Riga and met friends and colleagues who left Russia by buses, and tried to take care of them, find places to stay and ways to provide some money for them. Then they started setting up the operation.

We were egoistic

- We were, in our minds, egoistic in a sense that we just tried to protect our professional dignity. And, you know, the values propagated by Novaya Gazeta are more important than Russian censorship.

Five of the journalists in Novaya Gazeta were killed at work at the time it was shut down, among them Anna Politkovskaja. The threat from Russian intelligence is a constant presence in the daily life of Novaja Gazeta Europe.

- How do you take care of security, and how much do you worry about it?

- Well, we have some basic rules on security. We don't name the address of our office. We don't take photos from our windows. We try not to provide any information about our plans where someone can find us. We stick to secure channels of communications. The most problematic here are those who report from inside Russia. We are also exposed to some risks, but I don't think it's the most crucial point. People who will still try to do some journalism for the public good from inside Russia are on a daily pressure, they risk arrest any time. For us, our situation is perilous, but it's mostly about some emergency situation, not a daily pressure.

Level of risks

- Do you fear for your life?

- Like Dimitry Muratov usually states, we never discuss questions about fears and security risks. Again, my personal view is that there are a lot of people who share much higher levels of risks than me personally. I'm not on the top of this list of people who are at danger. We observe certain security rules which we ourselves have established. But I try to focus on daily routine work, not on existential threats to Russian independent journalists.

- As both a journalist and an academic: What do you think about the situation, living in exile and having your fatherland involved in this terrible war?

- Well, we try to do what we can on our level. That's the main idea behind all these activities. I think that in the long term we need to fight for a normalization of Russia. If we have some historical chance to bring democracy back to Russia and to provide a normal lifestyle to the people, without all this military mobilization and propaganda and restrictions and censorship and rule of special services, we need to do this. We need to try to do what we can. And, well, it's a coincidence that I'm a teacher and a journalist. I try to do what I can to provide normal education to students inside Russia and to provide stories and access to free information to the general public in Russia too.

- Still, you are living and working under constant pressure?

- Well, a lot of people are under heavy pressure, and we have a really bad feeling about our situation. But I think that if you see that your work is appreciated by the audience or by students, that means that you are on the right track. So you need to just keep up with what you did before.

Martynov grows silent some seconds, then:

- In general, I'm losing this idea of being academic philosopher, because, well, the list of problems is not about philosophy anymore.

Wanted: Money, accreditation, cooperation

- What can Western universities do to be of assistance?

- This question is really important for us. We need to be recognized by Western universities. We would be very happy if academics would just support us by providing, for example, lectures for our students, for instance on Youtube. We have several scientific projects together with our colleagues in Europe, and we need to maintain this work in order to for example have common conferences, and to educate ourselves and to provide these opportunities to attend conferences to our students. And in general, we need this solidarity with Western universities and some collaboration with them, he says.

The prospective of sharing scientific academic activities with Western universities would be of great help for their students, he states.

- Try and imagine that you are a Russian student in your 20s inside the country. In your lifetime you have first experienced Corona, and after that the war, and after that the self-isolation of Russia, and you feel trapped. You don't have any exits from this situation. You can only obey rules and orders. It’s a terrible situation.

A looming demographic catastrophe

- What do you think about the future for the Russian nation and for the Russian state?

- I think Putin actually destroyed the future both for the state and for the people. Starting this war was the worst decision in the history of at least last decades of any political leader. He forced the nation to engage in a senseless war and to kill thousands and thousands of people, both Ukrainians and Russians.

This is senseless, also from av demographic point of view, Martynov warns.

- Russia has quite an old population, the median age of Russian people is slightly over 40 years right now. It's insane, you just don't have enough young people to go to fight and die. It's senseless, even according to the standards of dictatorship of the past, it's senseless to start this war in such a demographic situation.

It will be really hard to rediscover the future for Russians, Martynov fears.

- I don't care much about the future of this present, Russian state.

- If this goes on, then what?

- Then the Russian people have to find some other states, some other political organization. This is a question for the future, says Editor-in-Chief and assistant professor currently on leave, Kirill Martynov.