Kommersant reports that police investigating Anna Politkovskaya’s murder have settled on a dominant theory about who killed her. Police have descended on the Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk because they suspect that the killer is linked to former policemen there. Kommersant reporter Sergei Mashkin writes,
“Information received from Khant-Mansiiskii police was the reason why investigators from the General Prosecutor and operatives from Russian MVD Criminal Investigation Department departed [to Nizhnevartovsk]. One of the police there saw someone who looks like their former colleagues—Mayor Alexandr Prilepin and Colonel Valerii Minin. Presently there is an international search for them for crimes they committed in Chechnya.
However, the investigators have been unsuccessful in finding the mayor or the colonel. Possibly the police informant was mistaken or former colleagues warned the fugitives beforehand. As a result, the investigators had to be satisfied with interrogating Prilepin’s and Minin’s comrades and even their relatives.”
Prilepin and Minin are wanted in connection with the 2001 the kidnapping and death of a Chechen man named Zelimkhan Murdalov. Politkovskaya, working in tandem with Memorial, reported his disappearance and murder in Novaya gazeta in 2002. The articles were instrumental in Former Police Lieutenant Sergei Lapin’s conviction to eleven years in prison for the murder. People connected to Lapin are suspected because according to court documents, Lapin told Politkovskaya in a 2002 email, “You have ten days to publish a retraction. Otherwise the policemen you have hired to protect you will be powerless to help.”
There are three theories about who murdered Politkovskaya. The involvement of people close to Lapin was one theory. The others suggested that Razman Kadyrov had Politkovskaya murdered or that she was killed by opponents of the Kremlin to destabilize Russia.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Perry Anderson, prominent left wing social critic and historian at UCLA, has written an insightful analysis of Putin’s Russia for the London Review of Books. I recently translated an interview Anderson gave to Kommersant, and in the LRB piece he elaborates on some of the ideas he presented there. I highly recommend reading it. It’s quite lucid and thick. Not to mention the guy can just flat out write. Here is an opening excerpt:
Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.
The authorities had gone to some lengths to divert Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral from the obvious venue of the Vagankovskoe, where Sakharov is buried, to a dreary precinct on the outskirts that few Muscovites can locate on a map. But how necessary was the precaution? The number of mourners who got to the Troekurovskoe was not large, perhaps a thousand or so, and the mood of the occasion was more sadness than anger. A middle-aged woman, bringing groceries home from the supermarket, shot at point-blank range in an elevator, Politkovskaya was killed for her courage in reporting the continuing butchery in Chechnya. An attempt to poison her had narrowly failed two years earlier. She had another article in press on the atrocities of the Kadyrov clan that now runs the country for the Kremlin, as she was eliminated. She lived and died a fighter. But of any powerful protest at her death, it is difficult to speak. She was buried with resignation, not fury or revolt.
In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards. Politkovskaya was a figure of another magnitude. A better historical comparison might be with the murder of Matteotti by Mussolini in 1924. In Russian circumstances, her moral stature as an opponent of arbitrary power was scarcely less than that of the Socialist deputy. But there the resemblance ends. The Matteotti Affair caused an outcry that nearly toppled Mussolini. Politkovskaya was killed with scarcely a ripple in public opinion. Her death, the official media explained, was either an unfathomable mystery, or the work of enemies of the government vainly attempting to discredit it. The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life.
It is tempting, but would be a mistake, to see in that casual dismissal no more than the ordinary arrogance of power. All governments deny their crimes, and most are understanding of each other’s lies about them. Bush and Blair, with still more blood on their hands – in all probability, that of over half a million Iraqis – observe these precepts as automatically as Putin. But there is a difference that sets Putin apart from his fellow rulers in the G8, indeed from virtually any government in the world. On the evidence of comparative opinion polls, he is the most popular national leader alive today. Since he came to power six years ago, he has enjoyed the continuous support of over 70 per cent of his people, a record no other contemporary politician begins to approach. For comparison, Chirac now has an approval rating of 38 per cent, Bush of 36 per cent, Blair of 30 per cent.Tags: Putin|Russia|Perry Anderson|London Review of Books|journalism|human rights|democracy|economics|historyPost Views: 387
By Sean — 12 years ago
Next week will mark 15 years since the August Putsch. On August 19, 1991 a group of Soviet politicians calling themselves the State Executive Committee (Gosudarstvennyi Komitet po Chezvychainomu polozheniiu, GKChP) attempted top seize power in Moscow. The “putsch” took a very Soviet form. The Committee announced that Gorbachev was ill and was relieved of his position while he was on vacation in Sochi. Soviet Vice-President Gennady Yanayev was named in his place. The precedent for removing GenSeks while on vacation was set with Khrushchev’s sacking in 1964. The real reason for the move was that Gorbachev and his counterparts in the Soviet Republics were to sign a new Union treaty the next day, thereby dissolving the Soviet Union. The Committee’s membership consisted of KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov.
The putsch was quickly met with resistance. Crowds of protesters gathered in Moscow. Then Russian RSFR President Boris Yeltsin denounced the coup and his subsequent speech on the top of a tank in front of the Russian Parliament became a defining symbol for the Soviet Union’s implosion and the end of the Cold War.
Now fifteen years later, how do we characterize the resistance to the August 1991 coup that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Was Yeltsin’s resistance merely composed of pro-democracy elites or did it have a popular base? Such are the questions Harley Balzer addresses in his article “Ordinary Russians: Rethinking August 1991” published in the Spring 2005 issue of Demokratizatsiya. Balzer argues that assumptions about Russians as political lemmings ready to accept any strong leader have led to a misunderstanding of August 1991 and the role ordinary Russians played in the Soviet Union’s collapse. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Balzer provides evidence that there was popular resistance to the attempt by the State Emergency Committee to unseat Gorbachev and roll back perestroika.
The argument is quite timely. Non-violent democratic revolutions against authoritarian systems are few and far between. The Revolutions of 1989 stand as a most often cited template. Mass demonstrations revealed the inherent weakness in the Communist system. Once the citizenry turned its back it seemed as if the system simply withered away. The recent “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan are placed in that same pantheon. Writing in the New York Review of Books in 2005, historian Timothy Garton Ash placed the “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine as within that lineage.
However, many Russia experts and Russian liberal intellectuals have met the prospects of the same occurring in present day Russia with both skepticism and pessimism. As Yuri Afanasev stated in disappointment about the prospects of democratic resistance in Russia, “Many of our people seem reduced to a condition resembling that of cattle and, what is more frightening, they do not ask to live any other way” (194).
Balzer shows that the events surrounding August 1991 prove otherwise. Such “revisionism” offers the prospect for not only placing 1991 in a comparative perspective, it also allows for remembering that Russians did stand up to authoritarianism. This is shown by the fact that resistance and subversion to the coup was not simply regulated to Moscow and St. Petersburg, though like in 1917 the twin capitals were the most important centers of political activity. Popular resistance was spread all over the Union as citizens held protests, strikes, and in some cases acquired arms:
One personal story undoubtedly has colored my own perception of this period. My driver met me at Sheremetevo in September 1991, a few weeks after the coup, and on the ride into town he recounted how on August 19 he had taken the store of hard currency he had been saving to open his own business and bought a Kalashnikov automatic rifle for $1,500. He claimed that had the coup lasted longer, he would have used the weapon to defend his right to private economic activity. At the end of August he sold the gun for 25,000 rubles (about the same value as the purchase price, but not in hard currency).
In fact, Russians’ close attention did not begin with opposing the coup. The first session of the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies in May-June 1989 was met with so much interest, factory production declined 20 percent because workers chose to follow the session’s debates and discussions rather than work. Live coverage of the event was eventually suspended because of the disruptions it caused (195).
As Balzer argues, this politization among ordinary Russians has been written out of the narrative because of how the memories August 1991 “have become increasingly selective and political” (195). The memory of popular resistance has been overshadowed by the belief that Yeltsin’s opposition was mostly composed of a “small number of property-grabbing Yeltsin cronies” (198). The uncertainty, violence, corruption, collapse of the economy and standard of living of the 1990s has colored many Russians’ personal memories and has increased their sense that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a mistake.
This “impaired memory,” however, has an additional source. Since Putin’s rise to power, the winds have changed. No longer is the Soviet period viewed as a pariah nor is the quest to fill the “blank spots” of Soviet history part of the agenda. Historical reconciliation, a move best symbolized by Putin’s own ambivalence on the Soviet period, has clouded fact that the population induced and supported the Soviet Union’s collapse.
In addition to all this, one cannot diminish the reality that Putin’s rule has been more in line with the putsch organizers than with Gorbachev’s or Yeltsin’s reforms. As Balzer writes,
A decade and a half after the attempted coup, Russia in many respects looks as if the coup plotters has succeeded. Many of their aims have been achieved and most of the plotters have had successful careers. Their primary objective, preservation of the union, was not achieved, but this was not a realistic goal short of war. Much of the rest of the agenda outlined in the GKChP’s “Appeal to the Soviet People” sounds remarkably similar to Putin’s policies (210).
This fact engenders an important question in regard to popular resistance in 1991. If there was so much resistance to GKChP, how did they essentially win in the end? Why didn’t the protests transform into more permanent organizations that could make up Russia’s civil society? One could easily point to the instability of 1990s for an answer as one could also point to the ideological discrediting “democracy” underwent in those years. While democracy and freedom were aspirations in 1991, they were quickly attached to Western control and plunder by the middle of the decade. Still, when evaluating the type of resistance that ordinary Russian practiced in 1991, we must also ponder what it was all worth when it came to building a society from the rubble of the Soviet project. I think that this kind of questioning will not only prevent collapsing democracy and mass protest and resistance, it will also remind us that the latter means little if the former doesn’t follow in real concrete institutions and structures.Post Views: 282
By Sean — 12 years ago
Reporters Without Borders has released its annual index on worldwide press freedom. The questionnaire the group used to calculate the index can be found here. According to the report Russia ranks 147th, where it is sandwiched between Singapore and Tunisia. Last year, Russia was ranked 138th. RWB explains the reason for the drop as follows:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.
Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.
When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
France has dropped a whopping 24 places in the last five years to its current position of 35th. French journalists have been victims of increasing police searches and violence. Japan, which has fallen 14 places to 51st, has seen the press under increasing verbally and physically attacked by nationalist forces.
The main culprits for the deterioration of press freedom aren’t surprising: war, nationalism, state censorship, and political and economic instability all contribute to a climate where journalists craft becomes dangerous.Post Views: 289