Politkovskaya: Friend

Writing on the BoingBoing blog at the end of August, blogger Jasmina Tešanović remembers her friend

Seventh of October 2006:

Accompanied by a nervous dog named Van Gogh, Anna Politkovskaya returns to her three room flat, on the seventh floor with a single bag of groceries (she will have to return downstairs for the second bag).

Inside the elevator, five gunshots. The killer drops his gun and walks out of the building. A 14 year old, Nina, is the first to see Anna dead on the elevator floor. Nina screams and runs up to the seventh floor on foot. An elderly woman from the eighth floor calls the elevator to her own floor, then calls the police. Then the old woman hurries off to buy her own groceries because all the shops will be closing at 4PM.

Anna Stepanovna Mazepa Politkovskaya ( her ex husbands name), mother of a 28 year old son and a 26 year old daughter… murdered in Moscow. The long-expected news shocks no one, even as it hurries around the world. Repeated attempts had been made on her life, and success, was only a matter of time. What did this tiny, unpretentious woman do to merit this? She was a journalist from Novaya Gazeta, a magazine founded in 1993 by Mihail Gorbachev, as an attempt at Russian full democracy through truth and openness. She was always close to death while wandering in the lethal war zones of Chechnia, alone, in the dark, to get the story from the other side…

Once she was kidnapped by the Russian military, who staged her fake execution, much as they had done to Dostoyevski some centuries earlier. The military commented after that they would have preferred an authentic execution… Arrested, she was kept in a hole of solitary confinement for four days without food, water, light, even buttons, for fear that her buttons might be microphones. During her attempt to reach Rostov and mediate in the Beslan school terrorist kidnappings, she was poisoned.

Anna wrote about the dirty wars in Chechnia, on terror attacks and the political instrumentalization of terror by the Russian government, of the aftermath of terror, on numerous abuses of civil human rights, of the double crimes inflicted on victims, the crimes of the terrorists and the crimes of the state.

It is incredible how the biggest opposer to Putin and his virile masculine Russian model (just as Yeltsin was before him) should be this minute fragile creature who did not smoke, drink, or enjoy any bursts of adrenalin. And yet only a hit-man could silence her.

She hated the misery and felony of Russian official power, but she despised the Chechnian militant heroism and its historical cult. While reporting on the impotent war-games convulsing the region, she tries to create a new line of understanding, a language for survivors and grieving mothers. The missing red thread of the missing peace. Her motto: I live my life and I write what I see.

She used to say in her low key, matter of fact voice:

Sometimes one has to pay with one’s own life for one’s own words. She found no swaggering male glamour in being a war correspondent: for her, war was about dirt, stench, confinement, thirst, hunger, hatred, grief.

My texts are written for the future. They bear witness to the new victims of the new Chechnia war.

That is why I write all the facts I can.

Maybe some day, there will be a war tribunal for the many criminal deeds in Chechnia , and Anna’s life and death will be a part of that.

What are those tales and facts she is talking about in her work? The letters of a Chechnian father whose son was abducted and killed, to Putin and Kofi Anan. These are the questions of the father:

– who insulted, tortured my son and according to what law?

– what was he guilty of?

– why is there no enquiry about it and no criminal charges?

One mother of a dead Russian soldier refused to bury him (she kept it under her window sill for 15 days) while demanding an official report of his death. Thus the authorities were forced to do it, and other Russian mothers followed her example to find the truth. Breaking the general rule: You have your son’s body, shut up, you should be grateful.

Instead of saying: thank you for my dead son, they asked: Why, for what noble cause?

The case of a young Chechnian woman who disappeared preemptively, accused by the Russian authorities as a potential kamikaze. And her mother asking both sides: why? Sometime I think that I am put here in the middle in order to see if I can survive all of them, says the mother, reflecting Anna’s own standpoint as a reporter.

The episode at the gala dinner when Kadyrov (the pro-Russian Chechnian who suppressed the rebels) made Chechian girls, winners of a beauty contest, dance and collect money from the floor where the heroes threw it: Kadyrov the peacemaker.

Anna was lonely. Why write books that cannot be published in Russia and are not understood in the West?

Just before she died she said: My life is so hard, but most of time humiliating. At age of 47 I have a sign on my forehead that I am rejected by society, and I don’t have the strength to fight it any more. Not to mention the joys of my work – the poisoning, arrests, threats… phone calls to my editors because of the texts of the crazy woman from Moscow… living this way is terrible. I need more comprehension.. But the most important thing is to be allowed to do my work, to tell what I see…

Anna is not here to see and write anymore: but she belongs to a long history of women’ activism, pacifism and the creation of an alternative, invisible history.

Her description of Malika — the girl who took the lead against the Russian tanks which invaded a Chechen village, killed alone (2002) while nobody from her lot had the courage to follow her cry “You cowards”… a voice like Jean of Arc, like Antigone.

She discusses boldly of the instrumentalization of the female kamikaze bombers and their desperate ideology: take me with you, I too want to avenge myself… the new fake heroines are women manipulated, like a fashion-show with explosive waist-belts. At last, through getting killed ‘for her people,’ a woman in Chechnia can become a martyr saint — escaping her historical role as traditional mother, cook, housewife, nurse.

Such true life stories against all constructed patriotism and patriarchal nationalism… that makes Anna an international pacifist thinker.

The whole world is afraid of nuclear proliferation while instead I am afraid of hate: nobody can predict the paths revenge will take. The children from our camps will never forgive the children who grew up in cosy homes. The refugees need understanding and solidarity, not gifts of cash or the hypocrisy of those who fast to “share the suffering” and yet secretly nibble cheese in the closet.

“I live my life and I write what I see:” anywhere on the planet, we can retrace Anna’s steps, and we owe her that.

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