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When a Fascist Calls You an Extremist, You Know Things Are Bad

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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With the recent inauguration of new president Dmitry Medvedev, how have things changed in Russia? Is the authoritarian freeze of the Vladimir Putin years starting to melt into a glorious new spring of freedom? Mark Ames, founder of Russian newspaper the Exile ( and Radar contributor), will provide occasional dispatches in pursuit of an answer to that question ... if the authorities don't lock him up first.

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MOURNERS AT THE WAKE At the Exile staff funeral party As this article is going online, I've either made it out of Moscow to London, or I'm stuck in a border-guard interrogation room in Sheremetyevo International Airport. Nothing will surprise me anymore. Two weeks ago, the Russian government closed down my newspaper, the Exile. And then last Thursday, during a live Moscow radio show on which I was a guest, a Putinjugend-turned-Duma deputy accused me and my newspaper of "extremism." That might be a badge of honor for a journalist anywhere else in the world but Russia, where the word "extremist" has serious legal and extralegal implications. During Putin's reign, the meaning of the word "extremist" was expanded to include anyone or anything who upset the Kremlin—particularly liberal critics such as the Washington-based think-tank analyst Andrei Piontovsky, who last year faced criminal charges over two books that are critical of Putin, on the grounds that they are "extremist."

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