Giving people of the Caucasus a voice

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Gregory Shvedov is receiving the Dutch Geuzenpenning award today for championing democracy and human rights. The journalists working for his Caucasian Knot internet newspaper supply the world with independent information about the Caucasus region. They regularly risk their lives in the course of their work.

Grozny, Makhachkala, Sochi. If Dutch people recognise the names, it’s probably thanks to the 2014 Winter Olympics or to Dutch football coaches who secure lucrative contracts with local clubs. Shvedov aims to tell a different regional story on Caucasian Knot .

Investigative journalism
Headlines, such as “Fans in Grozny forced to watch soccer matches” and “Flashmobs arrested in Krasnodar”, focus the attention of the international - and the Russian - media on the Caucasus. Local people also get to read about things that aren’t reported in the state media.

“Other media rate official press releases as highly important,” says Shvedov in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, “while we do in-depth reports on disappearances and torture cases.”

Caucasian Knot produces independent reports in English and Russian about the region – which is made up of former Soviet countries such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Azerbaijan. Shvedov himself is from Moscow, but got increasingly interested in the Caucasus through his work for the Russian human rights group, Memorial. The region is a patchwork quilt of Russian and independent republics, where freedom of speech is under intense pressure.

From activist to journalist
“Gregory Shvedov was far ahead of his time,” says Leon Willems, director of the Dutch group, Free Press Unlimited. “Media platforms for human rights are more usual now but, when Shvedov launched Caucasian Knot in 2001, it was really new.”

Shvedov is in the Netherlands for a few days to attend the Geuzenpenning award ceremony. He’s been coming here fairly regularly since the 1990s, first as a student and later for visits and training courses.

Free Press Unlimited has given Caucasian Knot support in the past. That’s how Shvedov and his colleagues – who as human rights activists “were used to writing 200-page reports” - learned to produce good, independent articles.

The website developed from a human rights platform to a provider of independent journalism. Shvedov is based in Moscow but works with over 50 correspondents spread over the Caucasus region. He doesn’t have an editorial office and allows his journalists to publish anonymously if they want to. There’s a reason for this: Caucasian Knot journalists are often in personal danger.

The most well-known case was that of Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted and murdered in Grozny in 2009 after she had repeatedly filed reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya. Another journalist was killed under suspicious circumstances in a car accident and yet another was seriously assaulted.

Shvedov sees the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as an opportunity to show the world a less spruced-up side to the Caucasus region: “Sochi families move to a garage in a cemetery after their homes are pulled down”. He says there are “hundreds of stories” concerning Sochi.

“That’s what we’re here for, to focus as much attention on these people as possible – to let them know the world cares about their human rights.”