Eleven IFEX member organisations, led by the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), have called on the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the free expression groups said resolving the crime is “vital to enable journalists, who are experiencing persecution, to feel safe.” Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow on 7 October 2006. She was an internationally acclaimed reporter for the biweekly newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” and a staunch critic of Putin. Another IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has presented a separate petition to the Council of Europe calling for an international investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. The petition has been signed by 12,175 individuals, including International Criminal Court prosecutor Carla del Ponte, European Parliament member Elmar Brok and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Thirteen journalists, including Politkovskaya, have been murdered in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) No one has been brought to justice for any of the murders.
Politkovskaya is the runaway winner of La Russophobe‘s year-end “Person of the Year” poll.
On January 3rd, the New York Sun offered the following review of her magnum opus, Putin’s Russia. Notice how she, like La Russophobe, places the blame for Russia’s current state squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people themselves, just as any true Russian patriot would do. Those who blame others are traitors to Russia, m0re dangerous to the nation than any foreign enemy.
REPORTING FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT
Russia is no longer Russia. It is now “Putin‘s Russia,” a country ruled by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, whose centralization of power and crackdown on the press have alarmed the West and all but stifled dissent.
Who is to blame for the former KGB spy’s election, in 2000, as president of one-sixth of the world’s landmass, and his re-election, with a stunning 70% of the vote, in 2004? Whose fault is it that, as Anna Politkovskaya writes in ” Putin’s Russia” (Henry Holt & Company, 255 pages, $25), “more than six thousand ex-KGB/FSB people followed Putin to power and now occupy the highest offices” in Russia?
According to Politkovskaya, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Russian people: “It is we who are responsible for Putin’s policies, we first and foremost, not Putin. The fact that our reactions to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia have been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years.”
Politkovskaya, for one, did not limit her reactions to gossiping in the kitchen. Through her relentless reporting on the Russian army, the wars between Russia and the breakaway republic of Chechnya, corruption, and subsequent terrorist attacks on Russian soil, Politkovskaya sought to expose what she perceived as the injustices of post-Soviet life and Russia’s current leader. There is no question that her ganglandstyle murder, on October 7, was linked to her work.
The daughter of Soviet diplomats, Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. She graduated from the prestigious Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980 after defending a dissertation on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and went on to work at the newspaper Izvestia. In the early 1990s — when she reportedly reclaimed her American citizenship — she moved on to Obshchaya Gazeta and in 1999, she landed at the muckraking weekly Novaya Gazeta as a columnist, a position she held until her death.
As the state began to assert more control over the press after 2000 with the highly publicized takeovers of the television channels NTV and TV6, Novaya Gazeta’s outspoken exposés and investigative pieces on corruption and Chechnya put it increasingly in the minority in a sea of positive news about the Kremlin. (The Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev — a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party and also a former KGB agent — and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49% stake in the paper in June, promising to keep its voice independent.)
Politkovskaya’s own searing pieces on corruption in the Russian police and army had earned her death threats before; in 2001 she fled for a brief time to Vienna, fearing for her safety. But she refused to give up and soon returned to Russia. Her columns and her books were published in the West, earning her an international reputation that was rewarded with numerous journalism awards outside Russia.
But her opinions and critiques of Mr. Putin, who enjoys an approval rating in Russia topping 70%, earned her a certain wariness among Russians. When she volunteered to mediate with the Chechen hostage-takers during the “Nord-Ost” theater siege in October 2002 — and then investigated the consequences of the poison the Russian special services used to kill the terrorists, which also left 130 theatergoers dead — some saw her as taking the Chechens’ side. Since Politkovskaya even suggested that Russians were to blame for driving Chechens to commit terrorist acts, including the Beslan school attack in 2004, she was vilified in some circles.
“It is arguably we ourselves who allowed Beslan to happen as it did,” she wrote. “Our apathy after the ‘Nord-Ost’ events, our lack of concern for the ordeal of its victims, was a defining moment.”
Politkovskaya had no patience for Russians’ apathy. The stability and order that Russians craved after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the turbulence of the Yeltsin era, and the default of 1998, which left many penniless, came at too high a price for her when it finally appeared, after 2000. In the early Putin years, “Society had become noticeably more orderly, and people even had free time,” she wrote, but it was a “monstrous stability.”
For Politkovskaya, and for many who desired a Western-style democracy for Russia, any positives of stability under Mr. Putin — more wages being paid on time; pensions raised; an agreement, finally, for Russia to join the World Trade Organization — were undercut by his failures to reform the army, the government, the judiciary, and the police. ” Putin’s Russia” contains valuable investigative reporting about the hardships of Russian soldiers, judicial corruption, and the awful situation in Chechnya.
But though Politkovskaya’s voice was undoubtedly important and her death a terrible loss for Russia’s faltering opposition, her shrill tone in ” Putin’s Russia” dilutes the effectiveness of her message, as do her overlong descriptions of Yekaterinburg’s judiciary in the late 1990s, and pages of bile directed at Mr. Putin — who can certainly be blamed for some of Russia’s ills, but not all. ( Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, gets off easy by comparison.)
More engaging are her stories of everyday Russians, especially a nuclear submarine captain, Alexei Diky, and two victims of “Nord-Ost,” Irina Fadeeva and Yakha Neserhaeva. Politkovskaya is at her best setting out the case of a Russian army colonel, Yury Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, and describing how her friends Tanya and Misha have adapted, or failed to adapt, to post-Soviet life.
The brazen killing in late November of Movladi Baisarov — a Chechen FSB lieutenant colonel and foe of Chechnya’s pro- Kremlin prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov — by Chechen police officers on the streets of Moscow puts the loss of Politkovskaya into high relief. Before her death, journalists at Novaya Gazeta say, she had been investigating alleged cases of torture under Mr. Kadyrov. Her computer held unpublished information on those cases, they say, but was taken away by police investigating her murder.
After Politkovskaya’s death, in October, her ex-husband, TV host Alexander Politkovsky, called her a “principled, honest journalist.”
“She was a person from another time,” he said.