I’ve had no internet connection for the last two days, hence my silence. I promise it is not part of some plot organized by Putin. It seems from the comments list that people are making up for the slack. So continue to talk amongst yourselves. I’m also going to Ryazan this weekend so I hope things will be back to normal on Monday. Gotta go my battery is running out. You know, if Russian coffee shops want to offer Wi-Fi they should at least have plugs so you can plug in your computer.
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Anna Politkovskaya’s murder continues to reverberate in the Russian and Western press. It is no surprise that her memory has become one of either martyr or demon, and where one stands in this sordid binary depends more often on one’s political perspective than an appreciation or thoughtful criticism of her work. The dead are the play things of the living, and for a figure so controversial like Politkovskaya it is no surprise that the vultures of memory are hovering in greater numbers.
I recently called Politkovskaya a political football. I now think that this metaphor is incorrect. A football suggests something that is kicked around, back and forth between participants. Given the hyperbole of her memory, I think the appropriate metaphor is Politkovskaya as political pi?ata. So many politicos and pundits are incessantly beating her memory with the hope her body will shower the sweets of political capital in their outstretched hands.
I am alerted to the discourse on Politkovskaya memory by Alexei Pankin’s editorial in the Moscow Times. Pankin writes that he could no longer quietly morn the famed reporters’ death once “grief [turned] into a dance on Anna’s grave.” As a long time associate of Politkovskaya, Pankin feels that she would have viewed all the superlatives now being said about her with much disgust. “Anna, I think,” he writes, “would not have accepted all the consternation generated by Putin’s inability to find any appropriate, human words after her death. For her it would probably have been the greatest acknowledgment of all. I also think she would have disapproved of all the petty politicking in her name.”
The production of memory is a game of detractors and adherents alike. One should point out that Russian Union of Journalists has used her death to publish a sixteen page tabloid about her and the 211 journalists that have been killed in
since 1992. Using her image is an effective way to draw attention to the violence against those trying to do their job as the fourth estate. Russia
One may debate whether it is right or wrong to criticize Politkovskaya at this time. I personally feel that it really doesn’t matter. Her supporters are going to cry that it is too soon when faced with unfair or harsh criticism, her detractors are going to use the fact that she is in the news to launch criticism or attacks. Others will simply use her as a prod, like the Weekly Standard article, for other means.
Whatever people say, a memory of Politkovskaya is being produced and it matters little whether she would have agreed or disagreed with what is now being said about her. She is, after all, dead and can’t join the debate.
All of the rhetoric I think begs a different question. Is there a “real” Politkovskaya to know or even reclaim? I began thinking about this years ago when I wrote a paper on biographies of Huey P. Newton, the famed leader of the Black Panther Party. I discovered in my reading that everyone claimed to represent the “real” Huey P. Newton, even
claimed such in his autobiography. I soon realized that there wasn’t a real Newton Newtonto represent and that all representations were just that because no biographer or even autobiographer could either capture the complexity of an individual like or siphon through all the political sand to get at something genuine. The memory of Newton Newtoncould not be reduced to his person because his life symbolized more than the individual could ever represent. Thus his memory is a political battle that is still being waged to this day. Newton
The same could be said of Politkovskaya. There is no Anna Politkovskaya to remember that is free of all the political baggage, much to the contestation of her family and friends. They may have individual reminiscences and they may try to share them, as Pankin does, with the world. But since her death, Politkovskaya has become a figure that is in a sense public domain. There is a battle over its ownership because her memory is a potential weapon for the weak and the strong alike. And there is no doubt that the narrative that was Anna Politkovskaya life will be written and rewritten. But one should not shudder at the thought of such naratological chicanery. The public-ness of her memory is a result of her very controversial work and a testament to its importance. In that sense, no matter how opportunist or disgusting people’s use of her memory may be, I think it is all a vindication that even in death; she can’t be so easily ignored.
A reader sent me this comment about foreign registration in Russia:
I realize that private registrations are the cheapest way to be in R BUT a traveler’s time is also money, especially when you are on a tight schedule. For between 125$ and 200$, you can get legal, convenient registration in less than 24 hrs through almost any travel agency. Who cares if it says that you are at the hotel Ukraine? I can testify that it will work against any Moscow cop seeking a bribe at 2pm or hunting drunks at 2am, trust me. This is a simple tourist registration and for a few more $, you can get a ‘business’ visa by the same means. It is more flexible.
On my first trip to R, I had an absolute nightmare experience with a private registration. My friend spent a lot of time and energy to get me the visa and then I had to spend 10 days trying to register it, 10 days without papers on a 65 day trip. 6 days in half a dozen Moscow police stations, all day long. Finally, my buddy got the chief of OVIR for all Moscow (a fucking colonel) to write a letter ordering the local station to register my visa. He was actually pretty understanding of the idiocy of the regs. I quote him: “These people working for me do not understand OUR rules and they never will” Imagine that! They would not even take a bribe to do it. What an education in Soviet-Russian bureaucratic ways!!
Russian forces have killed Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the Beslan attack, in counterinsurgent operations in Ingushetia on Monday. Ingush Deputy Prime Minister Bashir Aushev confirmed his death. “Fragments of the bodies of two militants were found on the scene of the explosion. Basayev’s body has been identified through some of the fragments, including his head,” Aushev told Interfax. Putin said that Basayev “?deserved retribution” for Belsan and for taking hostages in Budyonnovsk in 1995. Chechen President Alu Alkhanov called the killing a moment where Chechnya could finally turn “one of the blackest pages in [its] history” and that his death means the end of antiterrorist operations in the region. The Chechen rebel site, Kavkaz Center, reports that the rebel Chechen leadership has yet to release any confirmations or comments on the matter.
As one can imagine, the news keeps coming out faster than it can be consumed. For a list of articles on the matter, go here. Most of the reports are short on details. Be sure that over the next day or so analysts and commentators will deal with the obvious question: Does Basayev??s death signal the end to the Chechen resistance and the Chechen War?
More later . . .
Update: According to the Kavkaz Center, Basayev did not die as a result of Russian counterinsugency operations as the FSB claims, but from an accident. A cargo truck carrying explosives blew up next to a vehicle carrying Basayev. Not the glorious death one would hope from a terrorist. I guess the Russians can’t really complain too much. Dead is dead . . .
It’s been a great week for Putin. He’s scored points with the global public with his BBC/Yandex.ru sponsored webcast, the Russian state has $76.8 billion in its , and that is expected to grow to $110 billion by the end of the year, Russia is hosting the G-8 this weekend, and will probably reap mucongratulationsons and respect for fighting terrorism.
However, some think that declaring the Chechen nationalist movement dead is premature. The violence did not stop after the deaths of Dzhokhar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov. The conflict has alreaspreadard to neighboring regions under Basayev’s inspiration, but not necessarily under his direction. So the aftermath and impact of Basayev’s death remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I think Rolling Stone, of all places, put it best, “Putin got his Osama.”