Free newspaper called Vzyatka, or The Bribe
21 November 2012. When Eduard Mochalov tried to bring the people who stole his cattle and pig farm brought to justice. He failed and instead went to jail for eight months on charges he says were cooked up. He appealed to Vladimir Putin and even set himself on fire outside the Kremlin in protest, but still could not draw attention to his cause as his farm slowly fell into disrepair. Now, Mr Mochalov has found a new life as a crusading journalist investigating corruption in his native region, fuelled by tips from disgruntled businessmen and government workers. Undeterred by a system where the law is selectively used to protect the powerful and crack down on critics, Mr Mochalov has quickly earned cult status – not to mention the ire of countless local officials – throughout the small province of Chuvashia. Roughly once a month, he publishes a free newspaper called Vzyatka, or The Bribe, which rails against what it calls “Chuvash kingpins” who steal from the province’s budget. Headlines include “The Governor of Chuvashia’s Family Business” and “If Nobody’s Been Found Guilty, That Means They’re Already In Power.” The paper has proved so popular that with a print run of 20,000 he has trouble meeting demand. Frustration with corrupt officials has skyrocketed under President Putin’s rule. Twenty-nine per cent of Russians believe that civil servants only care about using public funds to enrich themselves, a more than nine-fold increase since Putin took power in 2000, according to the Levada Center, an independent polling agency. Corruption was a key motivation behind the unprecedented series of mass protests against Putin in Moscow last winter and spring, and remains a key rallying point for the opposition. Recently, the Kremlin has attempted to siphon off popular anger by launching a major crackdown on corruption, which has cost several high-level officials their jobs. In Chuvashia, a sleepy rural region about 650 kilometres east of Moscow best known for its felt boots, Mr Mochalov devotes all his energy to campaigning against local corruption. That makes him unusual in Russia, especially in the provinces, where few journalists seriously investigate officials and those who do frequently face violent reprisal. Chuvashia is one of the three most corrupt regions in Russia, according to the country’s top investigative agency, but few cases make it to court. Officials in Chuvashia did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story. “If they brought charges based on my investigations, they’d have to arrest the entire provincial government,” said Mr Mochalov, as what remained of his abandoned hog barn’s roof crumbled around him.