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Russian Journalist Weighs In On Country's #MeToo Movement

Mar 19, 2018
Originally published on March 19, 2018 7:46 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Moscow, specifically at the Duma, Russia's parliament. And I want to give you a little sense of how the #MeToo movement is playing here in Russia. Several women here have come forward, and they have made allegations of sexual harassment by the head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee. In response, the speaker of the Duma came out and offered this advice - direct quote - "do you feel in danger working at the Duma? If so, then get another job."

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DARIA ZHUK: (Speaking Russian).

KELLY: That is Daria Zhuk, one of the women who's come forward. She's a journalist. And what you're listening to is a video message she recorded and what her TV network Dozhd broadcast nationwide last month here in Russia.

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ZHUK: (Speaking Russian).

KELLY: "I have only one question," Zhuk asks. "Are you still going to deny this? Aren't you ashamed to be working in the Parliament and behave this way?" We're climbing the stairs to the offices of Dozhd - TV Rain in English - to meet up with Daria Zhuk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Russian).

KELLY: TV Dozhd is edgy by Russian standards. Its news shows report on gay rights in Chechnya and government torture of political prisoners. Zhuk has just launched a new show about women and women's rights. She's 27 now. She was 24 in 2014. And that is when she says Leonid Slutsky, a powerful politician, sexually harassed her. She was trying to book him for a panel on the evening news show.

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) When I was trying to book him, he was jokingly saying that he would only come on the show if I would go out with him to a restaurant. When I showed the messages to the anchor, he told me, yes, that guy always acts this way. But he also said, listen; we need him to be a guest on the show, and that's why we cannot react to those comments. So I didn't pay attention to the tone of the messages and kept asking him to come on the show.

KELLY: It took a month to persuade Slutsky to appear, which meant a month of lewd jokes and come-ons.

So he walks in. He arrives at the studio. And what happened?

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) I met him at the door. This happened four years ago, but I still remember quite vividly how disgusting this was. It was late and there were not that many people in the newsroom at that time. I told him, I need go and talk to the anchor, and I'll be right back. And as soon as I turned he touched me. He touched my butt. I just froze. So then he tried to get closer to me. He approached me and tried to kiss me with his mouth open. I was shocked. I was only 24. You could say I was just a child. I did not know what to do or how to react, so I fled the room. I ran away.

KELLY: Zhuk says she told her colleagues about what happened, but she says HR isn't really a thing in Russia and she wasn't clear on what laws might apply, so she let it go until she saw a headline on the website of her own news network. Two women were accusing Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment. Zhuk decided to tell her story, too, and Slutsky responded.

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) He wrote a message on March 8 congratulating women for International Women's Day. And he wrote, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to women whom I've voluntarily or involuntarily offended in any way.

KELLY: What is your message to him? If he were sitting here right now, what would you want to say to him?

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) Leonid Eduardovich, I do not believe in your remorse and your repentance. Leonid Eduardovich, you have to take responsibility for your actions.

KELLY: Are people in Russia following what's happening in the United States with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement? Do people here know about it?

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) Yes, people in Russia are following the news.

KELLY: And what do people think about it?

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) We don't have a lot of independent media, and the majority of Russian people are seeing this play out only on the government-controlled channels. Those channels broadcast an absolutely clear message - Americans have lost their minds. Will Americans stop having sex? Will they stop having romantic relationships? They have pushed this to the point of absurdity. That is what the majority of people think here.

KELLY: What do you think? What do you think of the #MeToo movement?

ZHUK: (Through interpreter) I believe that if not for this movement in the U.S., we would not be talking about any of this right now. The women in America showed us how we can protect ourselves.

KELLY: Journalist Daria Zhuk, one of several women who have come forward with sexual harassment claims against powerful men. She believes those claims will maybe mark the beginning of a conversation here in Russia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.