Russian repressions hit close to home

JNJ cover-300x500Anyone who has paid attention to Russia in the last several years is well aware that the regime of Vladimir Putin has seriously cracked down on civil society and freedom of speech in the Russian Federation. A whole array of books and publications are blocked if they are deemed to not be in line with the regime’s current narrative. Any book, for example, that presents the Ukrainian side of the crisis in Russia’s western neighbour does not see the light of day in Russian bookstores, libraries or universities. The most often cited legal reason for the blocking of a publication is Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, whose aim is to “combat the incitement of hatred or enmity”. Any book that is considered “extremists” (by Kremlin’s standards of course) is easily stopped from reaching a Russian audience.


Last week, these crackdowns hit a little close to home. On February 11th 2016 Russian authorities in St Petersburg put a stop to the printing of a collection of essays by Jan Nowak-Jeziorański; seizing any copies that were already printed. The collection was the Russian translation of a book that was published in Polish by the same publisher as New Eastern Europethe Jan Nowak-Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe in Wrocław. The translation was funded by the Polish Institute in St Petersburg.


Jan Nowak-Jeziorański is a legend in Polish history. During the Second World War, Jan Nowak (as he was known in the underground Polish Army) smuggled information and intelligence in and out of occupied Poland. Known as the “Courier from Warsaw”, it was thanks to Jan Nowak-Jeziorański that the Allies were able to get real intelligence about the situation in Poland, which was occupied at the time by Nazi Germany. He was also a participant of the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, he stayed in the West and for many years worked as the Polish head of Radio Free Europe. After the fall of communism, he returned to his native Poland and became involved in Poland, as well as setting up the College of Eastern Europe foundation in Wrocław, which became the publisher of our magazine – New Eastern Europe.


The current row between Poland and Russia over the Nowak-Jeziorański publication involves his essays that were written after the end of the Cold War, in the years 1991-2003. In Poland, this book was released by our publisher under the title Rzeczpospolita Atlantycka (The Atlantic Republic). These essays discuss a variety of issues, including Nowak-Jeziorański’s thoughts on Poland’s role in the region, Polish-German relations, importance of the transatlantic alliance, Poland and Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union as well as relations with Russia. Obviously, this last topic is what is causing controversy in Russia.


For any western reader, it is very difficult to call these essays “extremist” as defined in Russian law which is the basis for the intervention. If anything these essays are insightful (even by today’s standards) and important to carry on a debate about finding a basis for building new relations in a complicated geopolitical situation.


Unfortunately, the wisdom of Jan Nowak-Jeziorański will remain elusive to Russian-language readers.


Adam Reichardt is editor in chief of New Eastern Europe.