Diana Kachalova Acceptance Speech - ICFJ 2005 Awards Dinner
I always like the legend about Winston Churchill’s famous speech. The one when he told students of Harrow School: “Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never give up!” and walked away.
When I think about today’s journalism in Russia, I feel that a lot of us are ready to give up: the freedom of speech, which came like a gulp of fresh water, the freedom of press, which we were fighting for together and won. We were winners, but not for long. I do not want to say that it’s completely gone now, but if you’ll talk to journalists in Russia, a lot of them would confess this: A strange and ugly worm has returned. It’s sitting inside us, and its name is Self-Censorship. And it is even more dangerous than government control and the threats of so-called “businessmen.” “What will happen to me or my newspaper, if I write that a son of a governor was appointed the vice president of the bank, through which all budget money is processed?” - asks the worm inside. And sometimes, the worm makes us give up.
I never met Paul Klebnikov, but I always admired the work he was doing. Because he always sounded to me like a guy who would never give up. I think his courage came from understanding that he had do his job - bring back the dignity in Russian society, show the people that they are not helpless, and that the truth can help them to fight for their rights. Honestly, I’m not very courageous person. I’m afraid to fly on airplanes. I was afraid of the businessman who collected money from people to build houses, then kept their money and never built anything. He called me and threatened to chop off my fingers and take me to court if I were to publish the story. Even my stomach was hurting that day. But we gritted our teeth and published the story. And you know what happened eventually? He was taken to court, not me!
When I found out that I got this award, a lot of people were asking me – why? Really – why? I understand that what we are doing in our small community newspaper and what Paul Klebnikov was writing about are very different stories. But I think we have one important thing in common. He was fighting for the right of people to live a decent life. He wanted to wake the citizens of Russia from hopelessness and make them believe that optimism and action can change their world. We are doing this on much smaller scale, but I think our efforts are not lost. You know, I want to tell you something very personal. My mother died when I was still a student, in the Soviet time. She wanted me to become a journalist, but she never, in her wildest dreams, could imagine that I’d be here in Washington, talking to you on such a wonderful occasion. I thought about this a lot in a last few days. Even not so much about the award, but about the open world in which we live now. And I think that is what we must fight for. And never give up.