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]Are the British Royal Family the real enemies of history? Over the decades they have actively suppressed uncomfortable narratives about themselves. Hundreds of files in the national and royal archives remain inaccessible to the general public, files that many would argue are of public interest. The result? Holes in our country’s history.
These are some of the conclusions from the team at the magazine Index on Censorship, who carried out an investigation into royal historical censorship for their Winter issue. As part of the launch of the magazine, a panel of speakers will discuss the findings alongside their experiences of trying to access historical archives. This will be a lively discussion and one with heightened importance following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and ahead of the coronation of Charles III in the spring.
Speaking on the panel will be:
The event will be chaired by Jemimah Steinfeld, editor-in-chief at Index on Censorship.
“How to protect the freedom of the individual, including that of the artist, when the limits of government power are ever expanding, is a question for the whole world.”
Chiang Seeta, exiled Chinese artist living in France
Despite the strong focus on artistic freedom in many European countries, artists based in Europe are reporting attempts at censorship by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP has deployed extensive diplomatic pressure in an attempt to censor artwork and exhibitions. We have also identified endemic self-censorship within dissident artist communities, alongside extensive ties between Chinese companies and European museums and galleries. To investigate the current state of artistic freedom in Europe, and whether and how the CCP attempts to undermine it, Index on Censorship conducted interviews with more than 40 artists, curators, academics and experts from 10 European countries.
Join Index on Censorship as we launch our latest report titled Whom to Serve?: How the CCP censors art in Europe. We will discuss the challenges faced by artistic communities in Europe. Is art a tool for dissidents to rally around and critique authoritarianism or a soft power tool for the CCP to control the narrative? What challenges do artists based in Europe face? How can local institutions and organisations support dissident art? And what do these attempts at censorship mean for artistic freedoms in Europe more broadly?
MEET THE SPEAKERS
“If there is ever an opportunity to try and pretend a country is a nice country, it’s when everyone is diverted by someone kicking a football,” said Ruth Smeeth, CEO of Index on Censorship. Smeeth was introducing a panel discussion entitled “Qatar 2022: When Football and Free Speech Collide”. Hosted in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University, the event marked the launch of the Autumn 2022 edition of the Index on Censorship magazine, which looks at the role of football in extending or crushing rights ahead of the Qatar World Cup.
Index on Censorship Editor-in-Chief Jemimah Steinfeld was joined by David Randles, the BA Sports Journalism programme leader at Liverpool John Moores University, who has spent much of his career on sports desks and in press boxes. She was also joined by Connor Dunn, a public relations account manager who deals with big names from the football world, including Liverpool footballer Trent Alexander-Arnold, and was formerly a journalist at Reach PLC.
The issue of whether the FIFA World Cup 2022 being held in Qatar will be a force of change for good was prominent. Dunn was unsure whether there would be any long-term change in the country but felt there will in the short term, saying that “Qatar will want to show the world they are the best country on earth. They’ll be lax with those sort of rules people in the West will be used to [the human rights violations], as there will be potential for stories to be blown up”.
Therein lies a danger, as Steinfeld pointed out. Reeling off a series of examples, she said: “All of the editorials said that while France won the 2018 World Cup Putin was the real winner. The world forgot about the invasion about Crimea.” The fear therefore is that Qatar will relax their attacks on human rights during the tournament, court international leaders, put on a great show and as a result people will walk away with a much better impression of the country than they really should.
Despite attempts to appear more moderate, Randles said that he thinks most minorities would not visit the country due to safety issues. He said: “Would you go to support your team in a regime which doesn’t support you? I don’t think so. If you don’t feel safe, why would you go?” He also pointed out the fact that in Qatar’s neighbouring country Saudi Arabia (whose Sovereign Fund bought Newcastle FC last year), women still cannot attend football games.
Naturally discussion came round to the issue of migrant workers, who have died in huge numbers during the building of infrastructure for Qatar. Sadly the exact numbers are hard to come by, a nature of how tightly information is controlled in the country.
Dunn though highlighted one potential positive that has emerged from the heightened awareness of awful working conditions in Qatar. With claims of potential slave labour being used due to Qatar’s punitive ‘Kafala’ system (which has since been reformed on the back of World Cup coverage), there are hopes for reparations in the future. Dunn said: “There are calls to give the same amount of money the World Cup winner will win, which is about 440 million dollars, to make reparations and give that to underpaid migrant workers and families of those who have died. It’s not a big chunk of the predicted profits from the tournament but goes some way to changing things.”
On other positives that could come out of Qatar, all the panel agreed that football still has a unique way to be transformative. Steinfeld cited Permi Jhooti’s story from the new magazine which inspired the film Bend it Like Beckham, an interview with the head of the Afghan Women’s football team and the England Lionesses winning the recent European Championships for the nation’s first major trophy in 56 years.
And of course footballers, with their millions of fans, are often more listened to than politicians and could use their platform when in the country to raise rights issues. While they accepted that footballers shouldn’t be compelled to speak up, the event was full of examples of those who have – like Marcus Rushford and his campaign for free school meals – and in so doing have brought about important and far-reaching societal change.
Join Index on Censorship and Pushkin House for a night discussing freedom of expression in Russia as part of the launch of the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine.
The 2022 summer magazine looks at how the Russian invasion in Ukraine impacts freedoms within Ukraine and across Europe, Turkey and Russia. While the pages are filled with stories of brave and brilliant people speaking up and out, many write on the growing challenges for freedom of expression. This is especially the case for those living in Russia under Vladimir Putin. This will be the topic of our discussion for the launch.
Featuring a panel of people with direct experience and knowledge of Russia under Putin, the evening will address how much freedom there is in Russia right now, particularly in relation to media freedom and protest.
The panel will include Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, as well as Ben Noble, Associate Professor in Russian Politics at University College London. The conversation will be chaired by Index on Censorship magazine Editor-In-Chief Jemimah Steinfeld. The event will also include a reading of a passage written by the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow in 2006.
A wine reception will follow.
This event is free, but seats are limited. Advanced booking is essential. Register for your ticket here.
MEET THE SPEAKERS
Andrei Soldatov is a Russian investigative journalist, co-founder, and editor of Agentura.ru, a watchdog of the Russian secret services’ activities.
He is co-author with Irina Borogan of The New Nobility. The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (PublicAffairs, 2010), The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries (PublicAffairs, 2015) and The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad (PublicAffairs, 2019).
Irina Borogan is a Russian investigative journalist, co-founder and deputy editor of Agentura.ru, a watchdog of the Russian secret services’ activities. She chronicled the Kremlin’s campaign to gain control of civil society and strengthen the government’s police services under the pretext of fighting extremism.
She is co-author with Andrei Soldatov of The New Nobility. The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (PublicAffairs, 2010), The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries (PublicAffairs, 2015) and The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad (PublicAffairs, 2019).
Dr Ben Noble is Associate Professor of Russian Politics at University College London (UCL SSEES) and an Associate Fellow of Chatham House. His research focuses on legislative politics, authoritarianism, and Russian domestic politics, with awards from The Leverhulme Trust, the Political Studies Association, and the British Academy. His co-authored book Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future? (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2021) has so far been translated into eight languages, was selected by the Financial Times as one of the best books on politics in 2021, and has been shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize in 2022. Ben frequently provides commentary and analysis on Russian politics for academic, policy, media, and general audiences.
Jemimah Steinfeld is the editor-in-chief at Index on Censorship. Prior to Index she lived in China. She is the author of the book Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China, and has written for a variety of publications, including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, CNN, New Statesman and openDemocracy. She can be found tweeting @JFSteinfeld.