An obituary in the Economist reports:
IT IS still not clear why Anastasia Baburova was shot in the head. Was she a target—along with Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer who was shot seconds earlier? Was she an accidental victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or did she try to grab and disarm the killer after he shot her companion?
Both Mr Markelov and Ms Baburova were killed in broad daylight in the centre of Moscow. The next day, a party of Russian nationalists brought champagne to the murder scene to celebrate the “elimination” of their enemies. Her death was part of a continuing battle between fascists and anti-fascists in Russia, which is seldom so plainly revealed to the outside world.
Jumping an assassin was part of her nature. At any sign of violence or racism her nerves and muscles instantly responded, hitting out, resisting what was physically intolerable. “It is hard to look in the eyes of a Korean student who has just been hit on the head by two under-age jerks…giving ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes”, she wrote in her blog after seeing yet another neo-Nazi attack in Moscow. It was the same blog in which she enthused about roller-blading for the first time: at night, fast, without a helmet.
The fact that she worked at Novaya Gazeta was no coincidence. “Where else?” she asked her colleagues, rhetorically. She was the fourth journalist Novaya Gazeta had lost in the past eight years. But Russia’s most critical newspaper, co-founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, the architect of perestroika, was the natural place for her to be.
She was born in 1983, just before perestroika opened up the country. Like the best of her generation (alas, few and untypical) she grew up fearless, thriving on freedom and fresh air. Ms Baburova considered herself a citizen of the world; she had more in common with rebellious youths in Europe than with office workers in her own country. She spoke fluent English and learnt Chinese; yet she had little chance to go abroad, to London or anywhere else. Instead, she travelled through books. At 15 her restlessness was compressed in a poem called “Coffee Cup”:
Wake up in the morning
Stretch your arms towards the sun
Say something in Chinese
And go to Paris…
Every minute, somewhere in the world there is morning
Somewhere, people stretch their arms towards the sun
They speak new languages, fly from Cairo to Warsaw
They smile and drink coffee together.
Official patriotic slogans (“A resurgent Russia that is getting off its knees”) sounded false and alien to her. She was never on her knees, never humiliated by the Soviet collapse, even though she was born in Sebastopol—a Black Sea port redolent with past Russian glory—when it was part of the Soviet empire, and went to school there when it had become part of Ukraine. Instead of feeling inferior, she learnt martial arts. She managed to get into the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), where the children of the Soviet elite traditionally prepare themselves for diplomatic careers—a miracle for a girl from Sebastopol, without connections. Her exam results were so impressive that she was offered a place at Yale. But she decided she wanted to be a journalist, and walked out of the institute.
She could have made a career at Izvestia, and did a short stint there, but never fitted in at a newspaper which in recent years has exuded nationalism, conformism and cynicism. She got into trouble for showing her press card, and was arrested for filming police evicting residents from a building which they had claimed for themselves. Vladimir Mamontov, the editor of Izvestia, who never met Ms Baburova, dismissed her as the type of girl “who knows very little about real life, but vibrates at the sight of a social change. They are waiting for a revolution, and when there is none they get bored.”
Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, knew her better. She reminded him of the young men who people Dostoevsky’s novels, youths with a heightened sense of injustice and a longing to change the world. Though her family came from the Soviet intelligentsia, her roots went back further, to the 19th-century thinkers who invented the word. Unsurprisingly, Ms Baburova had a soft spot for anarchists. Mikhail Bakunin, for example, who believed that without inner freedom for the individual, society can be neither free nor fair.
She and her friends rightly identified fascism as the biggest and most pressing threat to her country. She swore to fight it. She sensed accurately the social kinship between Stalinism and fascism: the link between attempts to portray Stalin as a “successful manager”, and the current upsurge of nationalism. Unlike many young people in the generation before hers, she did not see a safe job as an ultimate measure of success.
In Turgenev’s poem “The Threshold”, a young woman stands before a door. A voice asks whether she is prepared to endure cold, hunger, mockery, prison and death, all of which await her on the other side. She says “Yes” to everything, and steps over. “A fool,” cries a voice from behind her. “A saint,” suggests another.