My following article appears in today’s Crikey newsletter:
The recent murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya has triggered, albeit briefly, an unprecedented interest in life under Vladimir Putin.
The Sydney Morning Herald has provided particularly decent coverage of Politkovskaya’s death, but perhaps unsurprisingly failed to continue interest beyond the requisite few days. There is much of this story that remains untold here.
The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum reminded us that despite not being “charismatic” – though I disagree with this assessment, as Politkovskaya was highly engaging during our time together in Sydney earlier in the year – “she was proof… that there is nothing quite so powerful as the written word.”
The Russian author was murdered just days before her newspaper was to run an expose into Russian-controlled Chechnya. Its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is alleged to be torturing an entire generation of young Chechens, causing unprecedented levels of abuse, killing and intimidation. Her final unfinished article paints a grim picture of Putin’s war against terrorism:
Dozens of files cross my desk every day. They are copies of criminal cases against people jailed for “terrorism” or refer to people who are still being investigated. Why have I put the word “terrorism” in quotation marks here?
Because the overwhelming majority of these people have been “fitted up” as terrorists by the authorities. In 2006 the practice of “fitting up” people as terrorists has supplanted any genuine anti-terrorist struggle. And it has allowed people who are revenge-minded to have their revenge – on so-called potential terrorists.
The latest reports suggest that Politkovskaya obtained video evidence that allegedly showed Kadyrov kidnapping two civilians. Was this the reason behind her murder?
Putin’s response to her death was muted, although the Russian public are still enraged. Putin expressed regret, but claimed she had “minimal influence on Russian political life” and her assassination had caused more grief to Russia than her journalism. It was a typically cynical statement. This response caused a leading Russian human rights campaigner this week to resign his post as a Kremlin advisor.
The most moving discovery since Politkovskaya’s death has been the publication of an essay for an English PEN compilation, due in 2007, and written in August. “I am a pariah”, she begins. She accurately predicts that her life is likely to be extinguished because the Russian establishment hates her vehemently. Until the end, she remained resolute in the face of such threats:
So what is the crime that has earned me this label of not being “one of us”? I have merely reported what I have witnessed, no more than that… I am not an investigating magistrate but somebody who describes the life around us for those who cannot see it for themselves, because what is shown on television and written about in the overwhelming majority of newspapers is emasculated and doused with ideology. People know very little about life in other parts of their own country, and sometimes even in their own region.