One month ago this past Tuesday, at 5:10 pm Moscow Time on Saturday October 7, 2006, the heroic and valiant Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was found shot dead at her home. Politkovskaya was far and away Russia’s most internationally recognized and lauded journalist, and a harsh critic of the Kremlin’s brutal policies in Chechnya, which have been roundly condemned by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Universally, analysts have seen Kremlin complicity in the killing. As if to confirm it, commenting on the killing days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin called her an enemy of Russia, and expressed regret only for the fact that the killing would be used by Russia’s enemies as fodder for a negative PR blitz.
Given the Kremlin’s barbaric, neo-Soviet attitude towards the Politkovskaya assassination, the logical question to ask now is: Who’s next? Five targets are readily apparent: Lidia Yusupova, Marina Litvinovich, Svetlana Gannushkina, Yulia Latynina and Yevgenia Albats. Ironically, all are female. There’s no doubt but that the leading voices in favor of democracy in Russia today are women (Russian women are dramatically healthier of body than Russian men, whose abuse of cigarettes and alcohol is notorious and whose average lifespan is shockingly brief, and perhaps this leaves them better equipped in terms of fortitude as well). Outrageously Lidia, widely touted as a contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has only a stub entry in Wikipedia, and the same is true of Yulia (Wiki has requests for assistance with these entries posted) while Yevegenia, Svetlana, and Marina have no entry at all. Readers are asked to consider providing/supplementing these entries to Wikipedia as a first step towards creating the kind of international recognition that these three women deserve, recognition which would not only give them due respect for risking their lives in the cause of democracy but also help facilitate financing their heroic efforts and give them so protection against retaliation (LR does not do this kind of thing herself as she’d be accused of bias). Obviously, more could have been done to recognize and protect Politkovskaya while she was alive, and her killing should serve as a wakeup call for all concerned with the development of democracy.
1. Lidia Yusupova
The awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace prize to a pair of economists responsible for inventing the “microcredit” that facilitates the development of small businesses in the third world was nearly as great an affront to the worldwide battle for democracy as the prior award to terrorist Yasir Arafat. The prize should have gone to Yusupova, winner of the prestigious Rafto Human Rights award from Norway, who puts more on the line in any given day for the cause of democracy and peace than all the economists who ever lived combined. Here’s what Reuters reported about her in the run-up to this year’s Nobel announcement:
The cramped apartment on the outskirts of Moscow overlooking rows of Soviet-era tower blocks is the temporary home of human rights lawyer Lydia Yusupova, a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s temporary because next year she plans to return to her native Grozny and continue — despite the threat of murder and kidnap — to document human rights abuses in a war between Russia and Chechen separatists which has killed thousands. “It’s very important (to win),” she said in the kitchen of her two-room apartment where she has lived since last year while she completes a study programme funded by the U.S. non-governmental organisation Ford Foundation. “The Chechnya theme is still critical. Things are not as good there as European experts may think.” Whether Yusupova wins or not, she says she will return to live and work in Grozny, Chechnya’s ruined capital. “Now there is another wave (of kidnappings and arrests) in Chechnya,” she said comparing it to disappearances during Stalin’s Soviet Union. “There are currently many people who are illegally imprisoned.” Thousands died and Yusupova and Memorial, the human rights group she works for, estimate that as many as 5,000 people have disappeared — mainly Chechens targeted by federal and pro-Russian law enforcement. Yusupova, an ethnic Russian born in Grozny, also faced the threat of kidnapping. “We went to bed every night waiting,” she said, faint highlights streaked through her short, dark hair. “I didn’t want to be caught totally off my guard if they came for me in the middle of the night.” The dangers for people who highlight the disappearances persist away from Chechnya. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, one of President Vladimir Putin’s strongest critics, was killed by a gunman in central Moscow on Saturday. “It’s absolutely terrible,” Yusupova said by telephone after the murder. “It was done to make others shut their mouths. To say ‘See what can happen to you’.”
Will it happen to Lidia too? To a large extent, that’s up to us to decide. Will we publicize her work? Make financial contributions to facilitate it? Or will we wake up tomorrow and read another horror story, just like Politkovskaya’s?
2. Marina Litvinovich
That’s Marina in the sunglasses, standing in front of an apartment building in downtown Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The building, like many others, remains a burned-out shell because, despite its claims to the contrary, the Kremlin has done virtually nothing to support a rebuilding effort. It has instead engaged in a rather pathetic, Soviet-like effort to create a Potemkin Village that will fool the unwitting eye of the few foreigners who dare to visit while leaving the population to stagnate in a condition of utter despair. But Marina Litvinovich will not be fooled. She operates a blog (in Russian) called Abstrict2001 at Live Journal and has a played a number of significant roles in the modern Russian political debate. She has served as chief of staff to Irina Khakamada, liberal legislator. She is a key advisor to liberal presidential challenger Garry Kasparov. She publishes a website called The Truth About Beslan (also in Russian) in which she investigates the Kremlin coverup of its outrageous conduct during the Beslan hostage crisis. Like Politkovskaya, she has defiantly probed the truth about Beslan by interviewing key figures involved in the events and publishing their accounts. She’s been arrested by the Kremlin for taking part in public protests over its conduct regarding Beslan and she’s participated in wide variety of other protests, including those to oppose the cruelty of hazing in Russia’s military. Finally, she heads the Aid to Victims of Terror Foundation, whose work has been praised by Freedom House. In other words, she does more in any given day (indeed, any hour) to serve the interests of Russia than Vladimir Putin will do in his entire lifetime. Maria’s work regarding Beslan is essentially that of a shadow government, as the official government group charged with investigating the catastrophe, known as the Torshin Commission, might in the words of Russia commentator Jeremy Putley “be thought to stand as a symbol for much that is wrong with Russia today – too cowardly to tell the truth, too dishonest even to lie, knowing that lies will be transparently obvious, and so saying nothing, even though the commission has had an inordinate amount of time already to complete its investigation. It is like the failure to mount an investigation into the 1999 bombings in apartment buildings, that were declared to be a state secret. It is like holding trials in secret, so that the truth cannot be seen. It is cowardice compounded with criminality and abuse of authority.”
For her service to her country, Marina has been repaid in the classic Russian manner: Brutal physical assault by cowards in the darkness. On Monday, March 20, 2006, for instance Marina was attacked from behind as she headed her car just after 9 pm. She had valuables on her person which were left untouched. Here’s how Moscow Times columnist Masha Gessen described the incident:
Monday night, Kasparov’s right-hand person, the political consultant Marina Litvinovich, left the United Civil Front office just after 9. About an hour later, she opened her eyes to discover that she was lying on a cellar awning and someone was trying to ascertain if she was all right. She was not: She had apparently been knocked unconscious by a blow or several blows to the head. She had been badly beaten, was bruised all over, and was missing two of her front teeth. Nothing had been taken from her: not her notebook computer or cell phone or money. She spent three or four hours in the emergency room that night, and she spent another three or four at the police station the following day. She found the police to be extraordinarily polite and considerate — and, as the organizer of many of Kasparov’s public speaking events and any number of protests, Litvinovich is something of an expert on police behavior. Some higher-up had apparently been sent down to the station to handle her case. At the same time, she told me, “I am not stupid and I could see what they were getting at: that I was just walking down the street and passed out. That I must be in poor health.” Litvinovich is 31 years old and healthy. “And that I fell in such an unfortunate manner that I got bruised all over.” Litvinovich has a bruise on her leg that, the doctors told her, was probably caused by a blow with a rubber baton. The police suggested it may have been a car bumper. Litvinovich pointed out that her clothes were so clean that she was wearing the same trousers and coat the following day. She clearly was not hit by a Moscow car. Moreover, this is one of several signs that she was attacked by professionals: She must have been held while she was beaten, then laid carefully on the awning on which she found herself. In other words, the attack was a message. The pristine execution and the fact that Litvinovich’s valuables were not touched serve to underscore this. So what’s the content of this message? Another young political consultant, an up-and-coming member of the Kremlin’s Public Chamber, Alexei Chadayev, put the message forward in his blog: “Women should not be in this line of work. … Marina is on the warpath, and no one ever said this war would be conducted according to rules.” This is this country’s ruling regime speaking. Its message is crude: as simple as a rubber baton, as brutal as a blow to a young woman’s face. If you are going to oppose the Kremlin, it is saying, this will happen to you.
That wasn’t the first time Marina has been physically attacked, proving the power of her work and the utter cowardice and impotence of those who oppose her, who cannot face her on any remotely civilized terms and can only resort to the crude violence of an animal. Next time, maybe a bullet rather than a blunt instrument will be relied upon, since the latter had no effect on this valiant heroine. That is, unless the West sends a clear message that the price of harming her is not one Russia can afford to pay.
3. Svetlana Gannushkina
As the Washington Post recently reported: “Svetlana Gannushkina, a refugee rights activist, tops a list of 89 people published by a radical nationalist group, the Russian Will, which has urged ‘patriots’ to take up arms and execute her and other friends of ‘alien’ peoples.” The Post reported further: “‘I am horrified at what happened with Anya,’ said Gannushkina, using Politkovskaya’s nickname. ‘Of course, I understand that considering what happened, we are all under the same threat.’ Gannushkina said she first learned in August of the Web site calling for her to be killed as an ‘advocate of alien migrants.’” The Post revealed that “information on the targeted activists and journalists, including their phone numbers and addresses, has spread to numerous other nationalist sites and blogs and Gannushkina has received phone threats.
Gannushkina said she asked prosecutors to investigate the group’s activities in August, but prosecutors have failed to launch a probe. A spokesman for the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office declined comment.” Gannushkina’s response? The Post states: “Gannushkina said she would continue her advocacy work despite the intimidation, rejecting her colleagues’ advice to hire a bodyguard, because she did not want to put anyone in danger. ‘If I intend to live here, I intend to live and not hide in a burrow,’ she said.”
Gannushkina is the director of an organization called the “Migration Rights Network” which is operated under the aegis of the major Russian human rights group Memorial. She is also a member of the Human Rights Council and the leader of her own organization, the Civil Assistance Committee. Here is an example of the types of issues she confronts on a daily basis:
In 2005, in 10 areas of the Russian Federation (Central Russia, the Volga Region, and Siberia) 39 people were held on charges in of so-called Islamic extremism, according to Vitaly Ponomarev, Director of the Central-Asian Program of the Human Rights Center Memorial, at an October 31 press conference, “Anti-Muslim Repressions in Central Russia” at the Independent Press Center. Scores of people are under investigation. No less than 40 percent of those under investigation undergo torture, noted Ponomarev. Recently in central Russia, terrorist accusations have been manufactured. The most scandalous of them is the Tatarstan matter, where 20 people were accused of preparing terrorist acts for the 1000th anniversary of Kazan. The kidnapping of former inhabitants of Uzbekistan continues. Vitaly Ponomarev reports that, according to Muslims of the Volga Region, each year 3 – 4 descendants from Uzbekistan disappear. The Director of the Civil Assistance Committee, Svetlana Gannushkina, discussed the fate of the 14 ethnic Uzbeks detained in Ivanov. One of them, Xatam Xadzhimatov, was freed as a citizen of Russia. The rest – 12 citizens of Uzbekistan and a citizen of Kyrgyzstan are located under guard in expectation of obtaining refugee status. The period for examining their petitions elapses on November 8th, and if the detained are not recognized as refugees, they are threatened with deportation. Gannushkina is certain that the leaders of Russia and Uzbekistan have an understanding about deporting Uzbek citizens to their native land, even though their extraditions are illegal. Gannushkina spoke about the recent deportation to Uzbekistan of Marcel Isayev and about the assistance of Russian authorities in the kidnapping, by Uzbek special services, of Russian citizen Alisher Usmanov.
Gannushkina is, then, one of the people who are actually doing the things that Politkovskaya was reporting about, and hence a natural target of Kremlin ire, perhaps concealed behind the veil of neo-Nazis or other nationalist groups.
4. Yevgenia Albats
Yevgenia Albats, host of a controversial radio talk show on the Ekho Moskvy station, one of the last bastions of independent journalism in Russia, is the heir apparent to Politkovskaya. As identified by the International Consortium of Journalists
She was the first Soviet journalist to investigate the Soviet political police, the KGB, when the communist regime was still in control. She is the author of KGB: The State within the State. In 1989, she received the Golden Pen Award, the highest journalism honor in the then-Soviet Union. She was an Alfred Friendly fellow in 1990 and a fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in 1993. Albats also free-lanced for several publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and the CNN bureau in Moscow. She has a graduate degree from Harvard and has testified before the U.S. Congress on human rights abuses during the war in Chechnya, which she covered.
Albats’ book, a vigorous attack on the secret police organization of which President Putin was the former spymaster, makes her an automatic target of Kremlin ire, and her brilliant Moscow Times columns only escalated the level of confrontation. But the Moscow Times is published in English and reaches a very narrow audience; Albats move to Russian-language radio brings her to the forefront of Kremlin opposition. Recently, she launched a staunch defense of Politkovskaya on her radio program, one which caused Russophile Moscow Times columnist Alexei Pankin to label her as espousing “democratic sympathies that verge on Bolshevik intransigence.”
Reviewing her book, the New York Times wrote: “That Ms. Albats could conduct her courageous research at all suggests at least a glimmer of change in the ancient Russian apparatus of secrecy. Still, for Americans rushing to feel good about the ‘new’ Russia, ‘The State Within a State” is a sobering reminder that whatever you believe about the influence of the secret police now, the world in which the Hydra-headed K.G.B. flourished is just three short years behind us.” Albats cagily said nothing to condemn Putin when he first rose to power, giving him all the rope he needed to hang himself. She told PBS’s Frontline just after he came to power: “Obviously, I don’t think that’s a good idea to judge Putin just by his KGB past. It’s not right, because that’s the way KGB used to judge us Soviet citizens–just because we are not party members or had the wrong last name or belonged to the wrong nationality or confessed to religion. I do believe that people are capable to change, and that ten years in the democratic circles did make a certain impact on Putin, as well.” But she also fretted: “The mentality of the KGB officer is that they were taught to be an extreme statist. . . . those who believe in the Russian imperialistic notion of being a great empire. That kind of mentality was taught and developed inside the KGB. And we clearly can see that Putin is that sort of extreme statist. For him, as for many of those who worked in the KGB, the state always comes first.” Thus, she now has a solid base from which to launch her assault on the Kremlin, which may see silencing her as its only alternative given that she cannot be discredited.
If you read Russian, you can also keep up with Albats on her blog.
5. Yulia Latynina
If Yevgenia Albats is not Politkovskaya’s successor, then the mantle surely falls to her firebrand colleague at Novaya Gazeta, Yulia Latynina (also a columnist for the Moscow Times and an Ekho Moskvy radio commentator like Albats). No description of this amazing woman can suffice, one must let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a transcript from one of her broadcasts:
Good day, this is Yulia Latynina and “Access code” is on the air. First, as always, some questions from the internet. I have a bunch of questions I’m going to try to answer here about Abkhazia, about Yuganskneftegaz, about the terrorist act in Taba, even about the Russian national soccer team’s loss. But first I would like to briefly mention one interesting item which went practically unnoticed by the Russian press but was very much of interest to Western newspapers. That is the report of the governing council of Iraq, which found that Russian politicians and officials received fairly large amounts of money from Saddam Hussein. Companies linked to the KPRF received about 142 million barrels under the oil-for-food program, that works out to about $16 million of profit for them. Zhirinovsky received more than $8 million, Mirkom, the MChS’s trading company, that is, I should remind you that at that time that trading company and the MChS were headed up by the then-leader of “Unity” [Sergei] Shoigu, and all of this was going on while the question of whether Russia would support Iraq or America was being decided. Shoigu received $7.6 million, and the most modest recipient was Aleksandr Voloshin, the then-head of the presidential administration, a mere $638,000, according to the Iraqi governing council.
As I already said, none of this aroused very much curiosity in Russia. First, because all of this has long been rumored, and there wasn’t really anything that seemed too disturbing for Russia. Yes, we know more or less what our Russian officials are like, but in the West everyone was terribly alarmed. The reason I’m talking about this is that it’s a very important matter, this story about Iraqi money, Iraqi bribes to be more precise, which explains the mechanism by which our foreign policy decisions are made. To be honest, it was always incomprehensible to me why Russia took Europe’s side on the issue of Iraq rather than America’s. Let me repeat that I don’t want to discuss the Iraq war here, I don’t think it was justified, and I don’t think President Bush was a smart man for starting it, that was all falsehoods, stupidity, and lies. Just like all lies, this one has ended badly; Bush wanted to use the Iraq war to help defeat terrorism, but he’s only made it stronger. He wanted to lower the cost of gasoline for his voters, but he’s raised it. And most importantly, the war in Iraq has changed the USA from a power which controlled the world through certain mechanisms, certain economic, financial, and, as funny as it may sound in relation to the US, cultural mechanisms, to the extent that Hollywood and McDonald’s can be considered culture. So anyway, this war has transformed the USA from America into an empire. To be what America was and become an empire, that’s sort of like what happened to Spain in the 16th century, what a fall.
But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about the fact that the war in Iraq could have become a fortunate gift for Russia, because we could have become America’s natural allies in the war against Islam. That is, we are fighting Islam in Chechnya, after all, and the US is doing so in Iraq. Second, because the USA was prepared to compensate us for our support in this war. They were ready to repay us not only with trade concessions and not only with the repeal of Jackson-Vanik; they were willing to repay us by changing Russia’s geopolitical status. Specifically, they were willing to make Russian oil instead of Arab oil one of the main sources of US oil reserves. Forgive me for such a pro-Russian statement, but a chance like this comes along to a country that has left the ranks of the superpowers once in a century. And we supported not the US, as it happened, we supported Iraq, we supported the EU, which, let me remind you, is a half-Islamic state. It’s enough to say that the most popular name for newborn boys this year in Holland was Mohammed. And now it’s become clear, from the report of the Iraqi governing council, why this happened: because the US was offering trade benefits for all of Russia, geopolitical status, Jackson-Vanik, etc. Saddam Hussein was offering big bucks to the big-shots. That is, Saddam Hussein understood better than the Americans how Russia works, because as it turned out, to get our support, the Americans shouldn’t have enticed us with Jackson-Vanik or whatever. It would have been enough to pay our officials more than Hussein did. That is a frightening decisionmaking process. We have 50 seconds to commercial, so speak up, you’re on the air.
Listener Alexei (Moscow) – Yulia, you find lots of interesting stories in the surrounding environment and comment on them in very interesting ways. But how would you comment on this story, it seems pretty interesting that some liberals are shouting on every street corner about how democracy and freedom of speech are being suppressed. But other liberals, including the leaders of SPS, Gaidar and Chubais, are implementing this very same suppression of democracy and free speech. How can that be?
Yu. Latynina – thanks for the question, I’m of course quite surprised that it turns out we’re ruled by Gaidar and Chubais here in Russia, that they are the ones suppressing free speech and democracy. I’m speechless, so I can end my commentary there and break for commercial. But, actually, that’s a brilliant text, I advise you to send it in to the Financial Times, that certain liberals, as you said, certain individual liberals, that’s a classic way of putting it, certain individual liberals are suppressing democracy. Turns out Gaidar’s in charge of the country.
How much longer Latynina will be allowed to go on like that is anybody’s guess. It’s actually quite mild compared to some of her commentary, such as this from the pages of the 2004 Moscow Times:
In the next decade, Russia may break up into six to eight different states. That, at least, is the view of CIA analysts to be found in a report available on the intelligence agency’s web site. In world history, countries that suffer from systemic internal disorder inevitably become the victims of conquest. And not even nuclear weapons can guarantee the territorial integrity of a country, just as a car alarms don’t always protect against theft. A country without an army is in trouble, and Russia’s army showed its true colors in Chechnya: It’s adept at plundering but no good at fighting. In this high-tech age, only professional armies can get the job done; mass conscript armies are as obsolete as cavalry armies were in World War II. However, our generals reject any reform of the army because a professional army would not perform, in their view, its most important function: building generals’ dachas. The Kremlin also abandoned reform of the army, though for a different reason: A professional army is a threat to the authorities. All the preconditions for a military dictatorship in Russia are in place, except for the military itself. The authorities would clearly prefer that the army disgrace itself in Chechnya. The state of the army also means that the preconditions are in place for the conquest of Russia from without. The strategic foes are the Islamic world and China; but we don’t hear much about Islam or China, we only hear about NATO. The fact that NATO is at our borders is a slap in the face but not a threat. disintegrating empire, which has a war on its hands but no army, tends to delegate the fighting to local princelings and to surround itself with a network of feudal principalities. One such principality is Chechnya, where President Akhmad Kadyrov will remain true to the Kremlin for as long as it serves his interests.
This is the courage of a Solzhenitsyn, willing to be packed off to a gulag in order to stand up for the future of her country. But it appears that only men, like oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, merit prison sentences from the Kremlin. Women like Politkovskaya get a bullet in the back in the night. Will we stand up for Yulia before it’s too late? We shall see.