RUSSIA IS about to host the Winter Olympics, welcoming thousands of athletes from around the world. But Moscow has quietly decided there is one person who cannot enter the country. The American author and journalist David Satter, who has been advising Radio Liberty and has written three books about the Soviet Union and Russia, was informed Dec. 25 that he would not be granted a visa.
According to Mr. Satter, the Russian authorities told him: “The competent organs have decided that your presence on the territory of the Russian Federation is undesirable.” The “competent organs” is an old euphemism for the security services. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming Mr. Satter had committed visa violations. Mr. Satter admitted overstaying a temporary visa by a few days but says that was caused by paperwork delays at the Foreign Ministry. It seems clear that Mr. Satter has been barred from entry because someone in the Russian power structure does not want him in the country.
He is not the first foreigner to be barred from Russia, although such actions against U.S. journalists have been rare. Even at times of great tension, post-Soviet Russia has generally given journalists, including this newspaper, access to the country. Russian presidents, including Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, may not have liked what they read in the foreign press but for the most part did not exclude reporters. That is what makes the decision about Mr. Satter worthy of protest. It shouldn’t have happened, and we hope it will be reversed.
Mr. Satter’s views about Russia may have given Mr. Putin and his crowd heartburn. He has spoken out fiercely about the tragedy of Soviet communism and the chaotic, lawless years of the new Russia. Some of his statements we would not agree with; some we would. In a thriving and healthy civil society, even the most controversial and edgy arguments can and should be aired, at least so they can be examined and answered by others.
But Mr. Putin has not tolerated a healthy civil society. He seems enamored of an age when unpleasant voices could be silenced. This was the conceit of the Soviet party-state: Books could be banned, dissidents silenced and borders closed. It was the work of the Soviet KGB, Mr. Putin’s onetime employer.
In today’s world, in the digital age, Russia has no borders when it comes to ideas and words. Mr. Satter’s work will be read in Russia, whether he writes from within or without. When Mr. Putin throws open the doors of Russia to Olympic athletes, he should welcome all those who play on the field of ideas and principles, including Mr. Satter.