Masha Gessen, newly installed as an editor at Snob magazine, blogging at Reuters:
“Are you scared?” someone asked me during a talk in New York last Friday night.
I always get that question. I am a journalist working in Russia, where 19 murders of journalists remain unsolved. Russia ranks eighth in the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists — the only European country on the list, it is wedged between Nepal and Mexico.
People may be forgiven that being scared is an occupational hazard for me.
So I gave my stock answer: “No, I am not scared,” I said. “I have been at times, but right now I don’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous.” This is true.
Masha Gessen puts Putin in his place
For quite some time Masha Gessen was one of our favorite Russia pundits, and we often cited her work on this blog. Then her blog and Moscow Times column went quiet as she took a job editing a Russian paper and dropped off the radar screen, but she came storming back recently with a major piece on Vladimir Putin in the October issue of Vanity Fair after publishing a horrifying biography over the summer that explained the medical issues that caused her to disappear.
Her piece in Vanity Fair, which the magazine has bizarrely failed to make available online (only the unfortunately poor-quality PDF linked to above is available as yet), is called “Dead Soul,” a reference to the Gogol novel about Russian corruption. It is required reading. Gessen says that Putin has “concentrated power to an extent even greater than in the Soviet Union” and the editors summarize the piece as follows:
Chosen as Russia’s next leader by Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle, in 1999 Vladimir Putin appeared to be a blank slate on which his supporters, his country and the world could write their desires. Few saw him for what he really was, or the way he brutally erased his footprints on the climb to power. Fewer still have survived to decode him. As Russian forces bend Georgia to their will, Masha Gessen tells how one small faceless man, backed by the vast secret police machine that formed him, took control of the world’s largest country.
We here on this blog, of course, were among the “few,” and we are still waiting for the world to fully catch up. Even many Russians, however, at last are doing so. Writing on Georgian Daily, for instance, Paul Goble points out that even the Russian press is finally getting the message.