Russia blocks Barents Observer

The Norwegian newspaper’s profile of a homosexual man angers Russia

Barents Observer

Photo: Atle Staalesen
The Barents Observer refused to remove a story about a homosexual man and is now blocked in Russia.

Atle Staalesen
The Barents Observer

“Block this newspaper to hell,” says Vitaly Milonov. He is a member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, and known for his hardline stance on liberals and independent-minded groups.

In an interview with the Federal News Agency, Milonov lashes out against the small English- and Russian-language newspaper, saying that it represents “degeneration and decay” and that “its ideology and its clients are based on people with queer psyche.”

According to Milonov, who is also a member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the Barents Observer must not only be blocked in Russia. In addition, diplomatic measures should be taken.

“We must send them a note of protest, call in the ambassador of Norway, and say: ‘what you are doing can affect our relations, if you continue to produce this kind of material for Russians in the Russian language.’”

Blocked in Russia

The plea from Milonov and his supporters has been met by Russian authorities.

Since the morning of Feb. 19, the Barents Observer has been unavailable to readers in Russia. Several sources in the country confirm that they can no longer access the site and preliminary data on website traffic indicate that the number of Russian readers already has shrunk significantly.

Readers in Russia must now apply VPNs (virtual private networks) to access the newspaper. It can also be read with the mobile phone browser by Opera. On Feb. 28, Barents Observer editor Thomas Nilsen reported that the paper had lost 50 percent of its Russian readers, which given the effort they must go through to read the paper is “not too bad.”

The story about Dan Eriksson

The blockage comes after Russia’s state media authority Roskomnadzor on Jan. 28 issued a warning saying that the story about Dan Eriksson, a homosexual Sámi man from northern Sweden, is a violation of Russian law. In a letter, the media authority gave the Barents Observer 24 hours to remove the Russian-language article.

The story, originally published by Swedish newspaper Arjeplognytt, profiles Eriksson who lived through years of hardship and twice tried to kill himself because of taboo and prejudices connected with his sexuality. He is now a happy man who works with mental-health issues among young homosexual Swedes.

Roskomnadzor argues that the story propagates suicide and is in conflict with Russian federal law.

The Barents Observer declined to comply, and the story remains available on its website, both in English and Russian (English: thebarentsobserver.com/en/life-and-public/2019/01/suicide-attempts-happiness-and-pride).

Storm of attention

The attack on the Barents Observer made headlines all over Scandinavia, and leading Russian newspapers also reported on the case.

Several hard-line Russian media resources soon engaged in a campaign aimed at undermining the newspaper. In the front line of that campaign has been the Federal News Agency, a news resource associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the controversial Russian businessman believed to be a friend of President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with Politika Segodnya on Feb. 12, Alexander Malkevich, leader of Russia’s Civic Chamber commission on mass media, says “it is time to set an example” against the Barents Observer.

“We need one striking show of corporate punishment,” he underlines. “And if that will not be enough, then we will need to whip them two or three times,” he continues.

Malkevich is not only a representative of the Civic Chamber but also editor of news site USA Really, an initiative reportedly associated with that same Federal News Agency. In late December 2018, Malkevich was put on the U.S. sanction list for attempts to interfere in elections.

According to Russian media group RBC, the Federal News Agency and its subsidiaries all started up on the same address as the so-called troll factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. “From the Troll Factory has grown a Media Factory,” the RBC reported in 2017.

The owner of the news resource, Prigozhin, is also believed to be associated with the Wagner Group, the quasi-independent military group that has engaged in a series of dubious operations in international conflict areas.

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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