The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Fearless Speech

What is it that makes me dislike him, Putin, so much, as to feel moved to write a book about him? Putin, a product of the country's murkiest intelligence service, has failed to transcend his origins and stop behaving like a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet KGB. He is still busy sorting out his freedom-loving fellow countrymen. He persists in crushing liberty, just as he did earlier in his career - Anna Politkovskaya

 

Anthony McIntyre • October 2006

Anna Politkovskaya had previously featured in the pages of The Blanket where in 2002 she was profiled for the purposes of highlighting the dangerous environment in which she lived and worked. In 2004 as a result of her speaking with James Meek, he wrote in the Guardian that 'poison and death threats won't stop Anna Politkovskaya from reporting the truth about Chechnya.' How right he proved to be.

While many of her colleagues felt she was taking too many risks and had developed a crusading zeal, she insisted to Meek that despite all her brushes with death, 'I wanted to stay alive.' It was not to be. And so, almost five years after she was first profiled in this journal she features in very different circumstances, an obituary. It is the result of her having being murdered last month in the apartment complex where she lived by a gunman believed by many to be in the pay of the Russian security services. The Washington Post, while not directly implicating Russian president Vladimir Putin, alleged that the climate of brutality which he had created was responsible for her death.

New York born, her parents who worked as UN diplomats, sent her to the Soviet Union to be educated. She studied at Moscow State University and in a clear statement of her intent to deal with matters frowned upon by authority, and which would later come to characterise her style of journalism, she completed her dissertation on Marina Tsvetayeva, a poet generally airbrushed out of Soviet literary life.

But it was her stance on the Russian occupation of Chechnya which both infuriated the Kremlin and saw her scale unparalleled heights of Russian investigative journalism. In addition to working as a correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, the main opposition newspaper in the country, the uncompromising mother of two authored a number of books, two of which were A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya and Putin's Russia. In a country where 85% of the population get their news from the state controlled television stations the importance of independent media outlets such as Novaya Gazeta and autonomous publishing houses is not to be understated. Although stung by Politkovskaya, Putin dismissed her work as 'extremely insignificant.'

When Boris Yeltsin invaded the Chechnya in 1994 the media made it so difficult for the Russian forces that the invasion had to be aborted two years later. However, Putin, Yeltsin's successor, in launching his own invasion in 1999, was determined to succeed where Yeltsin had failed. The media would be intimidated into acquiescing in Kremlin policy. Politkovskaya became an avowed opponent, meticulously chronicling mass executions, torture, rape and kidnappings perpetrated against Chechen civilians.

On occasion she would abandon her journalist role for a more hands-on approach. During the Moscow theatre siege she acted as a negotiator between Chechen rebels and the Russian authorities. En route to the Beslan school siege to play a similar role she was poisoned.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision to meet the son of Politkovskaya while on a recent visit to Moscow lent a sense of accentuated chutzpah to the West's dealing with Russia. Her country's courting of Putin to tie him into US global strategy continued unabated while Rice sat in her hotel room talking to the bereaved son of the murdered journalist. It was for the optics. The reason for her visit was only to drum up support against North Korea. In 2005 Robert Chandler wrote of Politkovskaya that 'unless there is whole-hearted support for her from Western journalists, politicians and the general public, she is likely to be assassinated.' The US and its allies were aware of this but decided that Putin was more a strategic asset than his critics who advocated democracy and human rights.

Politkovskaya was under few illusions and pummelled the West for its tolerance of Putin. She wrote how the Russian president had used the Bush 'war on terror' to portray himself in a positive light while he went about murdering and torturing the Chechens. Taking advantage of a nervy international climate ratcheted up by 9/11, Putin tried to link the Beslan siege to Bin Laden. Politkovskaya was scathing in her response:

What's Bin Laden got to do with it? The Russian government created these beasts, brought them up, and they came to Beslan and behaved like beasts.

Putin's claims that by keeping his boot on the neck of Chechnya he is bringing peace and security to the general region while at the same time protecting Russian lives is belied by the uncomfortable statistic that over one thousand Russian civilians have been killed in reprisals by Chechen rebels.

Since 1992 a total of 42 journalists have been murdered in Russia, 12 of them since Putin took office. Generally Putin says very little about murdered journalists but as a result of the public outcry and international opinion he was forced to condemn the murder of Politkovskaya, although he waited two days in the hope that the furore would blow over. His general disdain for the perspective of Politkovskaya and others is to be found in the introduction of a new law which discriminates against foreign non-governmental organisations. As a result the work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch has been suspended.

At the time of her death, Anna Politkovskaya had been working on a story about torture by the government of Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin prime minister of Chechnya. A couple of days before she was murdered she claimed to have 'two photographs on my desk now. These photos are of his torture chambers, today and in the past, and people who were kidnapped for no clear reasons.' It was discovered after her death that both her article and the photos had gone missing.

48 year old Anna Politkovskaya knew the risks and was prepared to take them. The potency of her life's work and her death in defence of it will be diminished if journalists elsewhere, particularly in the West where the level of state repression is nowhere near as severe, fail to pick up the baton that was shot from her hand and press it against the throat of their own governments. Through such pressure may Western state powers they be dissuaded from courting murderous modern tsars to the fatal detriment of brave but beleaguered journalists.

 


 

 


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Index: Current Articles



7 November 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

When It's Time for Change, No One Is Irreplaceable
Mick Hall

Date Fixed For Flawed Landmark Case
Michael McKevitt Justice Campaign

Souper Sinn Fein
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Boo!
Dr John Coulter

St Andrews Agreement & 'the Left'
Davy Carlin

Shotgun Wedding
John Kennedy

...and to create the space for a diversity of views...
Noel Dolan

'Undo the Great Betrayal, Free the Occupied 26'
Dr John Coulter

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Anthony McIntyre

Power & Powerlessness
Patricia Campbell

The Constantine Institute
Terry O'Neill

Mary Robinson Spotlights Human Rights Abuses in Darfur
William Hughes

Fearless Speech
Anthony McIntyre


30 October 2006

Granny Josie
Anthony McIntyre

Guardians of Perjury
Martin Galvin

Writing on the Wall
John Kennedy

The Litmus Test of Republicanism
Charlie Clarke

Monkey Business
Anthony McIntyre

Northern Invasion
Dr John Coulter

Eamon McGuire: The Life of an Undercover IRA Activist
William Hughes

Deal Will Underline Delusions
David Adams

Blood in the Water
Dr John Coulter

Muslims = Terrorists
M. Shahid Alam

Nothing Could Be More Offensive!
Maryam Namazie

 

 

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