She wasn’t charismatic, she didn’t fill lecture halls and she wasn’t much good at talk shows either. Nevertheless, at the time of her murder in Moscow Saturday, Anna Politkovskaya was at the pinnacle of her influence. One of the best-known journalists in Russia and one of the best-known Russian journalists in the world, she was proof – and more is always needed – that there is still nothing quite so powerful as the written word…
A few hours after news of Politkovskaya’s death became public, a worried friend sent me a link to an eerie Russian Web site that displays photographs of “enemies of the people” – all Russian journalists and human rights activists, some quite well known. Above the pictures is each person’s birth date and a blank space where, it is implied, the dates of their deaths will soon be marked. That sort of thing will make many, and probably most, Russians think twice before criticizing the Kremlin about anything.
And there is, at the moment, a lot to criticize. With crises brewing in Iran, Iraq and North Korea, few have had time to notice the recent escalation of the political dispute between Russia and Georgia, or to ponder the political consequences of Europe’s increasing reliance on Russian gas, or to worry much about minor matters such as the deterioration of press freedom in Russia. Critics of Anna Politkovskaya’s writing did complain, on occasion, that her gloom could be overbearing: She was one of those journalists who saw harbingers of catastrophe in every story. Still, it is hard for me not to write about her murder in the same foreboding tone that she herself would have used. It is so much like one of the stories she would have written herself.
The latest on Politkovskaya’s death here.