Whatever happened to glasnost?

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"The new Russian journalism first lost its modesty, then its innocence."

The words of Alexei Simonov, a Russian media freedom campaigner, sound like an epitaph for "glasnost", the spirit of openness encouraged by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, which accelerated the collapse of communism.

Mr Gorbachev's nemesis - Boris Yeltsin - got re-elected in 1996 with the help of powerful businessmen, whose media told voters that it was a stark choice between Yeltsin's democracy and a return to communism.

"The media showed it could be sold for good money - it showed not that the law is its boss, but that the boss is its law," Mr Simonov said.

He was speaking in a debate at the Chatham House think tank in London this week, focusing on the fate of glasnost in Russia. His Glasnost Defence Foundation monitors freedom of speech.

Twenty years after the tumultuous events that toppled communist regimes like dominoes across Eastern Europe the euphoria of glasnost is but a distant memory.

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