In Russia, even death provides no reprieve from a shakedown. Moscow cemeteries are overcrowded, and gravediggers, hospital morgues, crematoria, and funeral homes conspire with corrupt officials to prey on the families of the deceased.
At least, that’s what Meduza, an independent Russian online news organization reported last year. Mobsters and shady businessmen in Southern Russia, Meduza explained, routinely work with corrupt officers of the F.S.B., formerly known as the K.G.B., to monopolize the funeral business and control Moscow cemeteries.
Ivan Golunov, the investigative reporter who wrote the piece, was soon after arrested on attempted-drug-distribution charges. Fifty-eight journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and many have been harassed or arrested, so it’s not surprising that many people assumed the charges were trumped up.
Russia’s media, normally stifled and submissive, sprang to Golunov’s defense. Protests were staged outside Moscow’s police headquarters, and three major Russian publications, Vedomosti, RBK, and Kommersant, each ran headlines reading: “We Are/I Am Ivan Golunov.” Meduza defiantly re-released Golunov’s exposé on the Russian Way of Death—this time in English.
What was less expected was Vladimir Putin’s about-face. On June 11, the charges against Ivan Golunov were dropped. President Putin fired two of his top law-enforcement officials. A Kremlin-friendly news anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov, conceded that the police “were not blameless and had acted quite roughly.”