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The woman who stood up to protest on Russian live TV

An interview with Marina Ovsyannikova: “A whole generation has grown up with
Putin’s propaganda”. Russia’s courageous journalist in private: “My son says I ruined the family’s life“

Interview courtesy of Faces of Democracy initiative

For six seconds, Marina Ovsyannikova held up a poster on “Vremya”, the main
news program on Russian state television, and became an icon for freedom of
speech and the press overnight. Those six seconds on live television would
change her life forever. Sven Lilienström, founder of the Faces of
Democracy initiative spoke with the 43-year-old editor about what
motivated her to take such a courageous move with concrete repercussions,
the minutes that followed, and how her family reacted.

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*Ms. Ovsyannikova, in a matter of minutes, you became a global icon for
freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a champion of democracy.
What do democracy and democratic values mean to you personally?*

For me, democracy means being able to live as a free person. However, my
home country, Russia, has recently turned into a totalitarian state that is
increasingly closing itself off from the outside world. Communication has
been affected as well. Virtually all independent media outlets are blocked
or classified as “foreign agents” and most social media platforms are no
longer accessible. State-directed information propaganda is now almost the
only news sources for the Russian people, leading to an information vacuum
– which we have to overcome.

I have always enjoyed travelling and talking to many different people.
Therefore, democratic values are not empty phrases for me. On the contrary,
these values mean that people in Russia can exchange their views with the
whole world and express their point of view instead of living as obedient
slaves in a totalitarian country!

*Let’s talk about the sign you held up on March 14th during a live
broadcast on Russian state television. How exactly did it come about? What
happened immediately afterwards? How did your colleagues react?*

My desire to protest had been growing for many years. I disagreed with the
policy of the channel “Perwy kanal,” as well as with some other
developments that occurred and still occur in our country. The wish to
speak out was simmering inside me, but for personal reasons I could not
quit immediately. However, that changed abruptly with the start of the war.
It was clear to me that I could not work for “Perwy kanal” one day longer.
In the heat of the moment, I considered going to “Maneshnaya Square” to
protest, but at the last moment, my son stopped me.

I had the idea for holding up a poster the following weekend. I went to the
stationery store around the corner, bought a highlighter and some paper. At
home, I drew the poster. And by Monday, I knew: it was now or never. My
original plan was to place myself more in the background of the TV studio.
However, at the last moment I felt a strong “emotional impulse.” I decided
to run into the studio, cross a security barrier and stand directly behind
the presenter.

Everything happened in a flash. The security guard – a nice girl – had no
time to get her bearings, let alone understand what had just happened.
Nothing had anything like this happened in the 50-year history of “Vremya”.

After a few seconds, I left the studio, looking calm on the outside, and
walked down the central corridor. The entire management team of “Perwy
kanal” was already coming towards me. I had to make a written statement in
the office of the deputy director. Then the police, who had been called in,
escorted me to my office. The atmosphere was unreal. All the employees
present just stood there looking at me, completely dazed. They didn’t
understand what had happened. They didn’t understand how something like
this could happen at all.

*On the German talk show “Markus Lanz,” you said you wanted to wake up
Russians who had been turned into “zombies” by Russian propaganda. Do you
think you succeeded in doing that?*

Judging by the fact that most people around me think the same way I do,
it’s hard to judge how successful the campaign was in the end. My friends,
neighbors and acquaintances support me as much as they can. Many people
have written me or commented on my statement in social media. But when I
ask people why they don’t take to the streets, why they don’t take action
themselves, the answer is usually: “We’re afraid. It’s better not to get
involved in politics!”

*Since March 4th, Russia has issued prison sentences of up to 15 years for
unpopular reporting. What does this mean for journalism? Is it enough to
wake people up if they don’t dare to demonstrate?*

No, of course, that’s not enough! People form their opinions, but state
propaganda in Russia is very advanced. Just today I read in a recent poll
that 81 percent of people in Russia support Putin’s “actions.” I don’t know
if this poll result is true and if this data can be trusted. My perception
is that more than half of Russians do not support this war.

On Saturday, protests again took place in Moscow and many other cities in
Russia. Several dozen people were arrested, but the masses are keeping
quiet. People are really afraid.

Nevertheless, there are some – albeit few – people in Russia who are
willing to put everything on the line: their lives, as well as the lives of
their families, all in the name of active protest!

*You said you are surprised that you have not yet been convicted for the
poster you held. Do you think Vladimir Putin is using your media publicity
to portray himself as a champion of the rule of law?*

After my protest moment, the leaders of “Perwy kanal” kept silent for a
week. They did not know how to react. They screened me on the basis of all
available sources. And not only me, but my relatives as well. Only a week
later my direct superior Kirill Kleimyonov went public with a report
claiming that I was a British spy, which is totally absurd! Since then, I
have had the feeling that I am being watched at every turn.

Many people ask me the one question, “Why aren’t you in prison?” I think
that to some extent Russian propaganda is fine with me communicating with
Western media. It may be that my notoriety – at least at the moment –
serves the Kremlin’s interests. I cannot say what the leading FSB forces of
our country think. But there are active calls to put me behind bars. A new
administrative procedure was initiated, but two days later it was
withdrawn. Now my lawyers are waiting to see what charges will be brought.
We are waiting to see what will happen next.

*Relations between Russia and the West have reached a low point since the
Russia-Ukraine conflict at the latest: Do you think a “normalization” of
relations under Vladimir Putin is realistic?*

Absolutely not. Under Vladimir Putin, normal relations are impossible.
Russia has been engaged in aggressive propaganda against the West and all
Western values for the last ten years. During that entire time, people in
this country have been led to believe that the West is trying to destroy
Russia, that America and Britain are our enemies, and so is the Western
media. This propaganda is repeated in the “insane” shows on TV: there are
shows where Ukrainians are consistently labeled as nationalists and
fascists.

If they continually repeat that “black” is actually “white,” people will
eventually believe it. We have been very aggressive on television all these
years; in fact, there was state information propaganda in all the media,
directed specifically against the West. A whole generation has grown up
with Putin’s propaganda. It is simply terrible. I think that nothing will
change under Vladimir Putin. It will only be possible if a new generation
of leaders is elected, a generation that does not think within the patterns
of the Cold War. Only then will we be able to “patch up” our battered
relations with the West.

*Ms. Ovsyannikova, our seventh question is always a personal one: How did
your family and close friends react to your protest action on Russian
television? Were there people who advised against it?*

The situation is very difficult. My son, my mother and I have completely
opposite political views. My mother belongs to the older generation. She
listens to state propaganda from morning to night, listens to Vladimir
Soloviev. Therefore, it is impossible to talk to her or to convince her of
anything else. I have often tried to establish a kind of dialogue with her:
“Mom, I’m working. I know how to do it, listen to me…” But she doesn’t
understand anything, she answers using recited phrases from TV or radio.
Such as that the West is our enemy, that everyone wants to destroy our
country.

This is why I can’t talk to my mother for more than five minutes. We have
completely contradictory sets of values. When we start talking about
political issues, we always end up arguing. So, I don’t even try to talk to
her about it.

Even my son does not support me. He says I ruined the family’s life – also
because I got a divorce. In addition, his father – that is, my ex-husband –
works for another government propaganda channel, “RT.” So we are on two
opposite sides of the information war. He fully supports the Kremlin
propaganda. I, on the other hand, have more liberal views. Accordingly, my
ex-husband teaches our children his values, while I try to give them a
different perspective.

Fortunately, my daughter is still small. She does not understand the
political connections. But she senses what is happening right now in and
with our family.

*Thank you very much for the interview, Ms. Ovsyannikova!*

*Press Contact:*
Sven Lilienström
Founder of the Faces of Democracy initiative

Broicherdorfstraße 53
41564 Kaarst – Germany
phone: +49 (0) 2131-5978299
mobile: +49 (0) 177-3132744
email: [email protected]
web: www.faces-of-democracy.org

*About the Faces of Democracy initiative:*

To date over 1.000.000 people in 50 countries have signed the online
commitments of the Faces of Democracy and the Faces of Peace. More than 100
prominent figures from the world of politics, media, business and society
are now committed to our democratic achievements – including numerous heads
of state and government, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, the publishers and
chief editors of leading media publications and the CEOs of international
companies.

*The Faces of Democracy and Peace in alphabetical order:*

Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy
of Luxembourg
Inge Auerbacher, Survivor of the Holocaust
Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
Annalena Baerbock, German Minister of Foreign Affairs
Bishop Dr. Georg Bätzing, Chairman of the German Bishops‘ Conference
Dr. Katarina Barley, Vice-President of the European Parliament
Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Hubert Barth, Country Managing Partner EY Germany
Dominik Bartsch, Representative of UNHCR in Germany
Holger Beeck, Chief Executive Officer McDonald’s Germany
Jörg Biallas, Editor-in-chief of „Das Parlament“
Gérard Biard, Editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo
Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands
Wolfgang Bosbach, CDU expert on internal security
Prof. Dr. Peter Brandt, German historian and the first son of former
chancellor Willy Brandt
Michael Bröcker, Editor-in-Chief of „Media Pioneer“
Rolf Buch, Chief Executive Officer of Vonovia SE
Tom Buhrow, Chairman of the ARD network
Giovanni Buttarelli, Former European Data Protection Supervisor
Stephan-Andreas Casdorff, Publisher of the leading Berlin newspaper “Der
Tagesspiegel”
Piotr Cywinski, Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
Shirin David, YouTube star and “Germany’s Got Talent” jury member
Detlef Dzembritzki, Chairman of the United Nations Association of Germany
(UNA)
Moritz Döbler, Editor-in-Chief of „Rheinische Post“
Prof. Dr. Douglas Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School
Saskia Esken, Leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD)
Georg Fahrenschon, President of the German Savings Banks Association (DSGV)
Peter Frank, Federal Public Prosecutor General at the Federal Court of
Justice
Leonard Freier, Former RTL Bachelor
Fabrice Fries, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AFP
Dr. Clemens Fuest, President of the ifo Institute
Yvonne Gebauer, Minister of School and Education in North Rhine Westphalia
Sigmar Gabriel, Chairman of the Atlantic Brücke e.V.
Yvonne Gebauer, Minister of School and Education in North Rhine Westphalia
Thomas Geisel, Former Mayor of Düsseldorf – the state capital of North
Rhine-Westphalia
Tom Gerhard, Actor and comedian
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of the Republic of Croatia
Alice Greenwald, President and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial
and Museum
Thomas Greminger, OSCE Secretary General
Maria Großbauer, Organizer of the Vienna Opera Ball
Christiane Grün, Managing Director 3M DACH countries
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Hahn, Henkel-Endowed Chair of Sustainability Management
Dr. John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies
John Harris, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of POLITICO
Dr. Reiner Haseloff, Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt
Prof. Dr. Klaus Hasselmann, Climate researcher and Nobel Prize laureate in
physics 2021
Prof. Dr. Gerald Haug, President of the German National Academy of Sciences
Leopoldina
Dr. Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC)
LTG Ben Hodges, Retired Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe
Reiner Hoffmann, President of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB)
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Dr. Gunnar Jeremias, Head of the Interdisciplinary Research Group for the
Analysis of Biological Risks
Hans-Ulrich Jörges, Editor-in-chief of „Stern“
Jean-Claude Juncker, Former President of the European Commission
Bruno Kahl, President of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND)
Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia
Anja Karliczek, German Federal Minister of Education and Research
Daniela Katzenberger, Soap opera star
Fritz Keller, President of the German Football Association (DFB)
Steve Killelea, Creator of the Global Peace Index
Julia Klöckner, Federal Minster of Food and Agriculture
Laura Codruța Kövesi, European Chief Prosecutor
Dr. Hubertus Kolster, Managing Partner of CMS Germany
Ingo Kramer, President of the Confederation of German Employers‘
Associations (BDA)
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU)
Prof. Dr. Heyo Kroemer, Chief Executive Officer of the Charité
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman, Survivor of the Kosovo War and Activist
Miroslav Lajčák, OSCE CiO 2019 and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs
of the Slovak Republic
Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert, Chairman of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and
Former President of the German Bundestag
Martina Larkin, Head of Europe and Member of the Executive Committee of the
World Economic Forum Davos
Armin Laschet, Former Prime Minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia
Prof. Dr. Karl Lauterbach, German parliamentarian and health expert
Dr. Jürgen Linden, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Charlemagne
Prize
Christian Lindner, Federal Minister of Finance
Dr. Christian Lutz, Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Bahn AG
Heiko Maas, Former Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dr. David Magerman, Managing Partner at Differential Ventures
Sandra Maischberger, Television journalist and talk show host
Aiman Mazyek, Secretary-General of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany
Prof. Dr. Rudolf Mellinghoff, President of the Federal Supreme Finance Court
Prof. Dr. Lamia Messari-Becker, Professor of building technology and
building physics
Ralf Martin Meyer, Police President of Hamburg
Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney
Benigna Munsi, Nuremberg Christkind 2019/2020
Namika, Singer-Songwriter
Dr. Irfan Ortac, Secretary-General of the Central Council of Yazidis in
Germany
Dr. Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, Acting President of the Republic of Kosovo
Marina Ovsyannikova, Journalist and peace activist
Boris Palmer, Lord Mayor of Tübingen
Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Papier, Former President of the Federal
Constitutional Court of Germany
Prof. Dr. Volker Perthes, Director of the German Institute for
International and Security Affairs
Ulf Poschardt, Editor-in-Chief WELT
Dr. Heribert Prantl, Member of the Chief Editorial Team of „Süddeutsche
Zeitung“
Ernst Primosch, CEO of Edelman Germany
Q2/Grade 12 – Albert Einstein High School Kaarst
Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Co-President of the Club of Rome
Gitanjali Rao, TIME’s 2020 Kid of the Year
Carla Reemtsma, Co-Organizer of Fridays for Future in Germany
Alfred Theodor Ritter, Owner and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of
Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG
Dr. Daniel Röder, Founder of Pulse of Europe initiative
Annika Savill, Executive Head of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF)
Prof. Dr. Conrad Schetter, Director for Research at Bonn International
Center for Conversion (BICC)
Thomas Schnalke, CEO Düsseldorf Airport (DUS)
Olaf Schubert, Comedian and cabaret artist
Martin Schulz, German Social Democratic Party chancellor candidate 2017
Dr. Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Chair of Chatham House Council
Dan Smith, Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(SIPRI)
Erna Solberg, Former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway
Prof. Dr. Anja Steinbeck, President of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
Gabor Steingart, Founder and Publisher of the Media Pioneer Publishing GmbH
Dr. Johannes Teyssen, Chairman of the Board of Management of E.ON SE
Pia Tillmann, Actor and Influencer
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the democratic Belarus
Dr. Ulrike von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Dr. Andreas Voßkuhle, Former President of the Federal Constitutional Court
of Germany
Professor Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and chair of the Nobel
Women’s Initiative
Dagmar Wöhrl, Investor at „The Cave of the Lions“
Joshua Wong, the Face of Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement
Brigitte Zypries, Former Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy

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