“Radio Free Russia” project could help establish hub for Russian journalists in Prague

Hundreds of independent Russian journalists who fear being prosecuted by the Kremlin could benefit from a new project being set up by Czech Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová. Called “Radio Free Russia”, it would include financial and legal support and could even help the establishment of a hub for Russian reporters in Prague.

The current editor-in-chief of the English language newspaper Moscow Times, Andrei Shmarov, lived in Russia for over 30 years before the country launched its invasion of Ukraine last year. But he decided to leave and move to Amsterdam after the Kremlin introduced legislation that targeted independent journalists last March.

“Putin signed a decree that everyone who said unauthorised sayings was viable for a jail term of up to 15 years. Basically that’s when we had to make a choice because it was too dangerous…It was in a space of like two days that we had to make this decision. People left their families, houses, children, wives.”

Relocating was not that difficult for Shmarov as he was born in the Netherlands and is thus a Dutch citizen. He has since set up a hub for reporting about Russia in Amsterdam with other some compatriots. However, he says that there are hundreds of Russian journalists for whom moving to and staying in Europe is far harder.

“In principal no one gets a visa. So we are actually very lucky that the Dutch government supported us and gave visas very quickly to the journalists.

“Our business model was broken too. We had a good business in Russia, but now we cannot receive money from Russians. Our advertising model is dead. We used to organise many events that made money for us. So we are in a financially difficult situation and to live in Amsterdam, or Europe in general, is far more expensive than in Russia.”

Věra Jourová | Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

The network that Shmarov and other Russian journalists have since set up in Amsterdam is one of several that could benefit from a recent call by Czech Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová for a so-called Radio Free Russia project.

Its aim would not necessarily mean the setting up of a new radio station, but rather the “support of journalists in the EU to produce more content and distribute it more widely without any editorial interference”.

Jourová explained her upcoming plans regarding this project to Czech Radio.

“I am looking for a way to support them by assigning an official status, meaning visas or residency permits. Currently, this is something that member states do themselves, so I think that it would be good if these specific EU members had a common approach to this issue.”

Aside from making it easier for dissident Russian journalists to live in the EU, Jourová said there are also plans to provide technical support for independent Russian media through EU funding.

“I would like to send some sort of financial injection there. We have EUR 3 million in our budget…I am doing all that I can to get this thing rolling in the spring. It’s a fast project.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague | Photo: RFE/RL

Aside from boosting established networks of Russian journalists, such as in Amsterdam where, for example, the Russian independent broadcaster TV Rain has set up shop, Shmarov says that the funding could help establish a similar such hub in Prague.

“Some of them are already in Prague or want to go to Prague, so that is why we are now establishing a similar thing there. We are still in the development phase. Everything is ready basically, but now we need the money.”