Independent action by civil society to fight corruption has become more and more common. In most cases, it takes place in the form of projects implemented by civil society organisations, often financed by international donors, but sometimes innovative initiatives emerge also from actions of single individuals. One of such examples has been recently reported in the small province of Chuvashia, in Russia, where an indignant farmer has taken up a new occupation as an investigative journalist to uncover local corruption.
Eduard Mochalov’s motivation to launch and distribute an independent and free newspaper in his region came from his personal story as a victim of corruption. Once the owner of a large farm that employed 150 workers, he lost everything after failing to pay a bribe to a police officer. Documents stating that he had allegedly sold his property were forged, and as he attempted to bring those involved to justice, he was himself accused by prosecutors of fraud in obtaining credit to buy the farm. After eight months in prison waiting for trial, he was finally released on time served and eventually managed to re-establish his ownership of the land, but by then his property and his business had already deteriorated beyond recovery. He protested several times in front of the Kremlin, but never received any support from the government to punish the local officials who ruined his livelihood.
He then decided to take matters into his own hands and came up with the idea of a monthly investigative newspaper, entitled Vzyatka (“The Bribe”). Based on information of corruption cases received from local businessmen and government employees, he pursues his investigations and publishes articles under pseudonyms. The enterprise also has the support of a journalist and a woman who assists with the distribution of the papers. Their efforts have not resulted in any formal investigations or prosecutions yet, but the initiative to expose corruption in the province has become very popular among locals, and the 20,000 copies printed every month are not enough for the increased demand. About the rising interest from the population, Mochalov remarks that “[…] people have had it with all these corrupt people in power, […] they want to know the truth”, as quoted in an article published by the Associated Press (AP).
Although the initiative has had no legal impact against corrupt leaders in the province, its political impact is evident. On the positive side, he has gained attention also outside Chuvashia, and has even received the support of national opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has also been engaged in several projects to fight corruption in Russia. On the other hand, local politicians and officials have strongly reacted against the paper, and Mochalov has been several times sued for libel. He is aware of the dangers he faces, including risks to his life, but is determined to continue making his contribution to inform the local population and expose local corruption cases.
More details on this story can be read in the article “Russian farmer takes on corrupt officials”, published by AP. The picture featured above is from knoxnews.com and is credited to AP.