Thursday, October 11, 2007

Anna Politkovskaya one year later



A silent voice
Oct 4th 2007

HOW she would have relished the farcical investigation into her own murder. Anna Politkovskaya’s speciality was exposing the brutality and blunders of Russian officialdom, and the crude and greedy politicisation of what should be the neutral exercise of state power. Only modesty would have prevented her penning some bitter words about Vladimir Putin’s dismissal of her “marginal” role and mocking the authorities’ insistence that her murder was ordered by Russia’s enemies (who else, after all, has an interest in discrediting the Kremlin?).

Her own fate aside, the 12 months since the murder of Russia’s best-known campaigning journalist would have provided material for a weighty sequel to “Putin’s Russia”, her last book, which mixed acute observation with caustic commentary. It is easy to imagine the passion with which she would have written about the fate of Larisa Arap, a Murmansk-based opposition activist who unwisely wrote an article complaining about the sexual abuse of minors in mental hospitals. She went to see a doctor for some minor paperwork; when he found out who she was he had her locked up in psychiatric hospital. It took a month to get her out .

Politkovskaya would have noticed the growing numbers of Kremlin critics in exile: Yelena Tregubova, a journalist who unwisely wrote a gossipy insider’s account of life at the top, including a startling description of a dinner á deux with Mr Putin. She has fled to London. She also would have noted the fate of Boris Kuznetsov, Russia’s best-known defence lawyer, who has moved abroad to escape charges of leaking state secrets (he complained to Russia’s constitutional court that the FSB was bugging a client’s phone).

She would have been particularly irate at the authorities’ closure of the Educated Media Foundation, whose director, Manana Aslamazian, has moved to Paris. Ms Aslamazyan’s “crime” (which led the to the closure of Russia’s biggest independent journalist-training outfit) was failing to declare all the foreign currency she was bringing in to Russia; that is a rule, habitually broken, that exists only to provide a basis for checking those wanting to take foreign currency out of the country.

Smoke would have been rising from the Politkovskaya keyboard at this week’s “news” (better described as a twist in the script), which had Mr Putin smoothly taking the top spot in United Russia’s election list for December, paving the way for him to become prime minister.

“Why do I so dislike Putin? I dislike him for a matter-of-factness worse than felony, for his cynicism, for his racism, for his lies...for the massacre of the innocents,” she wrote in “Putin’s Russia”. She used to dismiss him as a failed spy with delusions of grandeur; now she might be mocking him as a would-be Tsar.

But she would have noticed some flickers of good news too. Kremlin pressure against Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine in the past 12 months has proved fruitless. Her biggest western bugbears—Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Silvio Berlusconi—are history. Their successors are taking a much tougher line against Russia.

It is no longer quite possible to argue, as she did in a despairing finale to “Putin’s Russia”: “[The West] barely reacts…it finds much about today’s Russia entirely to its taste: the vodka, the caviar, the gas, the oil, the dancing bears, the practitioners of a particular profession...Europe and the rest of the globe are perfectly satisfied with the way things are going.”

That at least is no longer the case. But it would not help assuage Politkovskaya’s greatest concern: that the Russian people seem so indifferent to their rulers’ shortcomings, and so willing to vote for those who despise democracy.

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