Vilhelm Konnader, Global Voices Blogger on Politics and Security in Russia

By Kelsey Duckett

A Global Voices blogger since March of 2006, Vilhelm Konnander, is a Swedish specialist on politics and security in Russia and “Eastern Europe.” Konnander has been covering the region on and off since the early 1990s.

Aside from his Global Voices blog, which has over 600 posts, he also has a personal blog where he posts his thoughts and reflections on various issues.

In light of our recent discussion with journalists and students from Russia, I wanted to follow up with a blogger that specializes in the coverage of Russian politics and security.   I found it very interesting that besides blogging, Konnader has no “real” journalism training, which again broaches the question: What are the qualifications for being a journalist?

I also found it very interesting that Konnader has such a extensive source list throughout the Russian government. Not only is he unpaid, or paid very little, he is covering very important issues in Russia and doing it with top sources.

Vilhelm Konnander, Blogger Global Voices

1. How long have you been blogging for Global Voices? And what are you primary topics of coverage?

I have been blogging for Global Voices since March 2006. Geographically, I primarily cover Russia and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Topics are often related to reporting on events in politics and society, but often I find that e.g. cultural issues may serve as litmus tests for greater trends, not necessarily addressed by other media or for that case scientific discourse.

2. How do you decide what topics to blog on — what is news and what isn’t?

Apart from obvious news items, there are far too many untold stories to account for. Bloggers regularly have both a greater depth and scope in what they address than might be expected. From more than two decades’ experience of the region, it is often easy to tell which stories stand out, and also which will not be addressed by traditional media. What is news and what is not news is often determined by the blogger discourse on various topics, which may not necessarily coincide with what is addressed by other forms of media. In this respect, qualitative and innovative perspectives on issues may often prove more interesting to pursue than quantitatively large discourse on items already well covered by other media.

3. Do you currently live in Russia, and blog live from Russia? What type of response have you gotten as far as viewers, memberships, etc.

I do not currently reside in Russia. Given the very specific nature of the issues I blog about at my personal weblog, the following is rather limited. Still, blogging has widely expanded my network among professionals within international academia, NGOs etc., having similar expertise.

4. Besides blogging for Global Voices, what type of Journalistic experience do you have?

None. My main approach to Russia and Eastern Europe is policy analysis. I have worked within politics, academia, diplomacy and the military on and off, but have largely remained an independent consultant, providing second opinion on various issues.

5. What are some of the most recent, major news stories in your country — and what has their impact been on public affairs?

I do not blog about or follow politics of my native country, Sweden, very closely, as I largely have been living abroad in recent years. Thus, there is little reply I can give.

6. What are some of the top public affairs issues in Russia?

The top issue in current and future Russia is whether the political system will be able to modernize and reform in the manner that have been proposed by political consensus by way of several modernization plans, e.g. the Putin plan, plan 2020 and so on. The political élite rationally realizes that reform is inevitable for long-term systemic sustenance, but short-term and often rivaling interests tend to fragment modernization attempts. With little economic room for reform, the great issue is one of capacity for politico-societal cohesion, given the structural challenges confronting Russia.

7. What is the political landscape in Russia?

This is too vast a question to address in this context. Still, a basic characterization might be – as in many countries – that politics and economics are inseparable, and that opposing interests try to balance each other, often by way of superior regulation (arbitration) instead of open conflict. The greater systemic stress, the greater propensity for conflict.

8. How does the government in Russia play a role in your blogging?

None whatsoever and a very crucial. I am not influenced by or have formal relations with Russian officials except for the cases I deal with them in business. My network within Russian government and politics is however extensive. Personally, my main interest is in Russian statecraft, and how well the business of politics is enacted by major and minor players. Normative approaches, to the contrary, are of little interest to me.

9. How does the government in Russia affect the Freedom of Speech of bloggers, newspapers and other media?

In recent years, government capability to intervene in the blogosphere has increased, even though the number of cases where it actually has done so is still rather limited. This follows the general trend of systematic legislation curtailing freedoms in Russia. For further reference, I recommend what Alexey Sidorenko of Global Voices has written on this subject.
10. What do you think the future holds for bloggers, and for people in all forms of media?

As far as I gather, there has been a steady decline in blogging over the last years, while other social media such as Facebook have swept the world. Many serious bloggers have turned to tweeting, which is a specific discourse in itself, and only blog on an irregular basis. My impression is that much of the depth and knowledge expressed by blogging has subsided to a more fragmentary tweeting discussion. As for media generally, they will have to adapt to balancing between further integration of news and social media and the public’s limited capacity to digest an increasing information flow.

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