Democracy was in focus at CU Denver when Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dmitry Muratov recently visited the campus on a blustery Colorado Tuesday. The all-day event was hosted by the School of Public Affairs (SPA) and coincided with the school’s 50th anniversary, the launch of the Center on Policy and Democracy, and the newly re-energized Herrick Roth Lecture Series on Democracy. Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of the community gathered to hear the Russian journalist speak on topics like the role independent media, higher education, and world citizens play in creating peace and sustaining democracy.
“We are glad we are able to be a resource for the community,” said SPA’s Dean Paul Teske, PhD. “It’s too easy to just focus on your own viewpoint, so it’s helpful to look at your country and world from a different light; get a fresh perspective. These critical conversations are very timely.”
Journalism Fighting for Truth
Muratov is a Russian journalist, co-founder and current editor-in-chief of the pro-democracy newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a vocal advocate for an independent press. He, and the newspaper, are known for reporting on governmental corruption and human rights issues.
In the 2000s, six of his colleagues—Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekotschikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasija Baburova, Stas Markelov, and Natasha Estemirova—were murdered because they wrote critical articles about Russian military operations in Chechnya and the Caucasus. Muratov and the paper persisted in providing critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2021 for his “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.” In June 2022, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Muratov auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize medal for a record breaking $103.5 million to help Ukrainian children forced out of their homes because of the conflict. “Peace has not been achieved. It was clear the award was not mine to keep. No matter the situation you are in, you should always help those worse off,” said Muratov to CU Denver students attending a lunchtime World Café event on campus. It was one of three opportunities the CU Denver community had to meet Muratov.
Although Muratov’s newspaper is no longer allowed to publish in Russia, it continues to be available to the rest of the world over the internet. The journalist spends part of his time now speaking about his experiences, which is how he ended up at CU Denver on February 28.
One-on-one Conversations Give Perspective and Spur Creative Solutions
Throughout the day, Muratov attended three events at CU Denver, starting with a World Café-style lunch. More than 40 students, faculty, and staff broke out into small groups to discuss a variety of topics while the speaker made his way around the room with his interpreter, Elmurad Kasym, to ask questions and provide feedback. “The world needs creative ideas, and we are counting on your generation to come up with those solutions,” Muratov said.
Later, he reiterated the need for innovation around algorithms that can differentiate between facts and propaganda, saying: “Fact checking is the god of democracy.”
Many of the students in attendance at the lunchtime event are a part of the Accelerated Masters of Public Administration (AMPA) program, including Savleen Singh. “I appreciated his candor and willingness to talk about the state of our country, world, and democracy,” she said. “He took a very different approach to the same topics because of his life experiences, and it made me reconsider some of my viewpoints.”
In the afternoon, Muratov spoke to an audience of around 200 CU Denver community members, alumni, and civic leaders in the Jake Jabs Event Center. This was then followed up by a small private dinner.
Annie Miller, PhD, assistant professor and program director for Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration was a driving force behind Muratov’s visit to CU Denver. “Real life experiences are what help open doors to understanding,” she said. “It is so important we give our students and community an opportunity to learn how they can make a difference locally while considering a global scale. To truly provide an education requires us providing students and our community access to innovation, culture, art, ideas—to be stewards of place.”
After a long day of speeches and discussions about peace, war, democracy, journalism, propaganda, and power, Muratov ended every interaction with students and audiences with this question “Who will your decision make happy? Who will your government’s decisions make happy?”