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Radio Liberty Brews Up Civil Society Debate

Russia -- Elena Fanailova, RFE/RL Russian Service (Radio Liberty), June 2013.
Russia -- Elena Fanailova, RFE/RL Russian Service (Radio Liberty), June 2013.
Elena Fanailova is an award-winning journalist and poet working for RFE/RL's Russian Service. For more than a decade, she has moderated the Service's signature program, 'Liberty in the Clubs,’ a joint inter-media project between the Russian Service and participating cafe clubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The weekly radio and video program brings together well-known writers, publishers, linguists, historians, film and stage directors, actors, musicians, and painters to discuss current topics before the young, cafe club audience.

“Liberty in the Clubs”' was originally conceived by RFE/RL’s recently retired broadcasting veteran Ruslan Gelischanow, who was inspired by a similar program he saw on Austrian television. He went to Moscow in 2002 and took to the streets with Fanailova to explore Moscow's new generation of cafes with the aim of finding a partner for their new show.

They found an encouraging number of “cafe-clubs.” Much more than traditional cafes, many of these establishments had their own art galleries, bookshops, and even a publishing house.

The owners of these clubs knew exactly the type of clientele they wanted to attract: young intellectuals interested in discussing culture, society, and the arts. More importantly, many of these young people were the children of Soviet-era human rights activists. They understood RFE/RL and its mission.

“Liberty in the Clubs” caters to this young, urban, and educated group who Fanailova calls "the movers of a civil society."

The program's topics have evolved naturally alongside the political shifts in Russia. Although most of the participants come from cultural or artistic circles, many discussions are political in nature, dealing with both domestic and foreign issues. Topics might include the nationwide protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak, the Beslan school tragedy in 2004, and the massive anti-government protests in Moscow in 2012.

Over the course of the last decade, the clubs have increasingly become places where one can feel the beating pulse of society.

During the 2012 anti-government protests, the clubs became meeting points for protesters both before and after the rallies. The owner of the “Mart” club even drove some people home after they were released from police custody.

The clubs also became directly involved in humanitarian issues, collecting money, clothes, and small radio receivers after a devastating flood hit Russia's southern Krasnodar region last summer.

“I'm interested in everything that makes people better human beings, even when we talk about evil things like fascism or aggression,” said Fanailova. “I aim for my program to be enlightening and educational. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that editors at Radio Liberty like it, and so does the audience, which has been loyal to the program, and to me, for the last 10 years.”

To learn more about Elena Fanailova and 'Liberty in the Clubs' visit her web page.

-Zydrone Krasauskiene/Arash Shinwary