The Moscow Times has a review of Letter to Anna, a new documentary by Swiss director Eric Bergkraut on the life, work, and death of Anna Politkovskaya. Bergkraut met Politkovskaya while making his award winning film Coca: The Dove From Chechnya, which chronicled the efforts of Zainap Gashaeva and other Chechen women to document human rights abuses in the North Caucuses. Letter to Anna premiered at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto last month. The director doubts that it will make it to Russia. The film features a cast of anti-Kremlin characters, including Berezovsky, Kasparov, not to mention Politkovskaya herself. Another reason Bergkraut believes that his film won’t reach Russian audiences is the fact that in one segment Politkovskaya argues that the Chechen War is “genocidal.” The Chechen War is a lot of things, many of them tragic, horrendous, and brutal, but to call it genocidal I think trivializes the real acts of genocide the world has witnessed.
At any rate, who knows if the film will make it to Russia. I can foresee a number of difficulties, many of which have nothing to do with politics. The economics of film plays no small role. Distribution, costs, audience, not to mention finding a place that will screen it make it difficult for all small films, especially documentaries, to reach potential viewers. If it does make it to Russia I’m sure the screenings will occur in one of Moscow’s many smoke filled bohemian cafes. Hell, given how hard it is for small films to find a screen, I’ll be surprised if Letter to Anna makes it to Los Angeles. Maybe I’ll get lucky.
Below is a three minute trailer for the film.
You Might also like
By Sean — 5 years ago
I don’t have much to add about the biographies of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I certainly won’t presume the cause or intent of their bombings of the Boston Marathon. Here we have two young men, the now deceased Tamerlan, 26, and captured and injured Dzhokhar, 19, both born in a Chechen diaspora community in the town of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. In 2001, they moved with their family to Dagestan, Russia. After a year or so, they came to the United States as war refugees. Like many American immigrants, the Tsarnaev family lived a working class life. Anzor, the father, worked as a mechanic. The mother, Zubeidat, was a cosmetologist. By most accounts, the Tsarnaev brothers lived a typical American male life: school, partying, sports, and alienation. As immigrants they lived an in-between existence. They had all the trappings of Americaness, but by their own admission, they felt not quite American. Eventually, both turned to radical Islam and developed an intense desire to reclaim their Chechen identity. At the moment, what dove them to violence is anyone’s guess.
There’s been a lot of debate about how much Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s “Checheness” figures into their bombing attack. Yet, what strikes me are the narratives of trauma that try to discern the meaning of “Chechnya” in the Tsarnaevs’ personal lives and, more often, as a implicit explanation for their violence. The discourse of trauma as a means to explain violence reveals how much psychological rationalizations imbue our public discourse. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I would caution against using trauma to find the rationality in the irrational. For me, trauma only works as an analytic to understand how the irrational becomes rational to the traumatized subject. So far, the trauma talk around the brothers Tsarnaev seeks to identify the former and not the latter.
Many profiles of Tsarnaevs read as if the duo suffered from a litany of traumas: collective trauma, war trauma, the trauma of geographical displacement, and the trauma of fragmented identity. There are surely more. Even when commentators disavow Chechnya as having any role in the Tsarnaevs’ actions, the current ritualistic recounting of Chechnya’s tragic history, even when it’s to educate the American public, implies that they were nonetheless traumatized anyway. Indeed, the headline for a Bloomberg comment says it all: “Boston Revives Trauma for Chechens in U.S.”
After all, the logic goes, for a people that have suffered as much as the Chechens have, how could these young men not be traumatized? If the trauma isn’t located in them specifically, then surely there are reenacting that of their forebears? It is as if to be Chechen is to be traumatized. In fact, based on a lot of what has been written in the last few days, Chechens are only afforded two subject positions: sufferers and violent rebels. As Charles Clover wrote in the Financial Times, “Suffering and violent rebellion are twin themes of Chechnya’s national mythology.” Suffering and violent rebellion are also born of the same source: trauma.
I’m still trying to figure out what all this might mean. But I find something attractive and deeply troubling about the media discourse framing the Tsarnaevs as potential embodiments of traumatic legacies. I’m drawn toward it because it tries, however imperfectly, to understand the motives of the Other on his or her own terms. At the same time, I’m disturbed by all this trauma talk. First, it renders the Tsarnaevs as victims in a crime they perpetrated and therefore robbing the real victims of their victimhood. I’ve read many reader comments , often disturbing, expressing outrage at articles that normalize the Tsarnaevs. I don’t agree, but I begrudgingly understand their anger. Second, by placing trauma at the core of Chechen identity you inherently risk, as Sarah Kendzior writes, “treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence.” You may humanize the Tsarnaevs, but you nevertheless erase their complexity. But giving trauma explanatory power for the Tsarnaevs’ crimes does more. It reduces Chechen identity writ large to the materialization of the mythic suffering and violent duplex, thus rendering Checheness to a perpetual state of abnormality.Post Views: 181
By Sean — 5 years ago
Sunday, October 7, marks six years since Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment elevator. The assailant shot her four times, three in the chest, and once in the head, the trademark of a contract hit. Also on Sunday, incidentally, Vladimir Putin will turn sixty years old. Six and sixty. There’s symmetry in the numbers, the one marking a death, the other a birth. But Putin and Politkovskaya have been linked for a while now. That is, at least since the former became (acting) President of Russia in December 1999. Only six months prior had Politkovskaya begun writing for Novaya gazeta, where she spent the rest of her career covering the gruesomeness of Putin’s war in Chechnya. Her murder on Putin’s birthday (which many think was a perverse present to the leader) formally cemented the link between the two rivals, perhaps forever.
Sunday will be a reminder of that bond, if only because no one has been convicted of Politkovskaya’s murder. This is not to say that Putin is to blame for it, but the lack of conviction has occurred under his watch, first as President and then under his stand-in, DmitryMedvedev. Three suspects, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibragim Makhmudov, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were tried and acquitted in February 2009. By that summer, the Russian Supreme Court overturned their not-guilty verdicts, and the three will be retried. As it stands now, investigators have completed their inquiry, and six suspects will eventually stand in the docket: Rustam Makhmudov, the alleged gunman, his brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, and two former police officers, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov and Sergei Kadzhikurbanov. As for the persons who hired these alleged proxies, the search for them appears to have grounded to a halt, assuming it was ever started.
The link between Putin and Politkovskaya will be recalled in the divergence of scale and tone in the planned commemorations for each figure. The state channel NTV will run a documentary giving the public a “never-before-seen” peek into the life of their dear leader. Other Putinoids will hold everything from rallies to poetry readings, while towns like Rostov and Chelyabinsk will drape their thoroughfares in Putin banners. And just so you don’t think Putin has lost his virility, the Levada Center has conducted a poll that puts the sex into the sexagenarian Putin. According to the survey, 20 percent of women would “would jump at the chance” to wed Russia’s President. How fitting it all is. But make no mistake; such events are not at the behest of the Kremlin. Or so we are told. “I already said that Vladimir Putin is not a supporter of marking his birthday in public,” his press secretary, Dmitrii Peskov told reporters. “He spends his birthday among close friends and family.” Then he added, “We definitely do not encourage any kind of on air celebrations. Although some special celebration was initiated by the channels themselves, we will not approve of it.” As Jan Plamper noted in his study of the Stalin cult, such acts of disavowal amount to “immodest modesty” or “flamboyant modesty.” The leader wants his cult, but doesn’t want to appear to want it. I suspect Putin is no different in this regard.
Plans to observe Anna Politkovskaya’s murder are in stark contrast. Supporters, friends, and family will stage a small and likely solemn picket on Novopushkinskaya Square. The organizers originally wanted to have it at Pushkin Square in the center of town, but the authorities rejected the idea, saying the site will be occupied. This is not to say that Politkovskaya’s murder doesn’t have its own objects of memory. A human rights award has been named after her, two posthumous books have been published—her diary A Russian Diary (2007) and a collection of her final articles in Nothing but the Truth (2010) (published in the United States as Is Journalism Worth Dying For? (2011)—and a few films and documentaries have been produced about her work, murder, and its investigation. New memory objects are in the works. Just this week, officials in the Czech town Karlovy Vary renamed a park in her honor. And further celluloid immortalizations are in store with a new Hollywood film about the journalist in the planning stages.
There was no love lost between Politkovskaya and Putin. In Putin’s Russia, Politkovskaya called Putin the “soul brother” of Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich on the eve of his inauguration for his second term in 2004:
“[Putin’s] outlook is narrow, provincial one his rank would suggest; he has the unprepossessing personality of a lieutenant colonel who never made it to colonel, the manner of a Soviet secret policeman who habitually snoops on his colleagues. And he is vindictive: not a single political opponent has been invited to the inauguration ceremony, nor a single political party that is in any way out of step. Tomorrow . . . Akaky Akakievich Putin will strut down the red carpet of the Kremlin throne room as if he really where the boss there. Around him the polished tsarist gold will gleam, the servants will smile submissively, his comrades in arms, a choice selection from the lower ranks of the KGB who could have risen to important posts only under Putin, will swell with self-importance.”
In contrast to Politkovskaya’s hyperbole, Putin was cold, dismissive, and exact when it came to his critic. When asked for a comment on Politkovskaya’s murder, Putin said, “Yes indeed, this journalist was a harsh critic of the present authorities in Russia, but I think that journalists should know this, at least experts are well aware of this, the extent of her influence on political life in the country, in Russia, was extremely insignificant. She was known in journalistic circles, in human rights circles, in the West. I repeat, her influence on political life in Russia was minimal.” For him, Politkovskaya was merely a “woman” and a “mother,” and as far as who was the real victim of this crime, it was “Russia,” its “current government authorities,” and if that wasn’t ironic enough, those of the “Chechen Republic.” Her murder, Putin continued, “inflicts on the current authorities a far greater loss and damage than her publications.”
Politkovskaya would have hardly been surprised by Putin’s response. Yet I wonder what she would have thought about the last two years of Putin’s second term, the Medvedev interlude, and Putin’s return for a third tour. She would have likely been among those who called Medvedev a sham, and would have been unmoved by Putin’s hat-trick, or that the vast majority of Russian society passively accepted it. After all, her general assessment of Russia was incredibly dark, and she showed little hope that it would change. “Our society isn’t a society anymore,” she wrote in Russian Diary. “It is a collection of windowless, isolated concrete cells…There are thousands who together might add up to the Russian people, but the walls of our cells are impermeable.” Her prophesies about “revolution” in Russia were similarly laden with dread. “Our revolution, if it comes, will be red, because the Communists are almost the most democratic force in the country, and because it will be bloody.”
She minced few words when it came to the opposition too. In February 2004, she rhetorically asked, “Why is it so easy in Russia to put down democratic opposition? It is something in the opposition themselves. It is not that what they are confronting is too strong, although of course that is a factor. The main thing is that the opposition lacks an unflinching determination to oppose.” A month before her murder, her diagnosis of Russia’s democratic opposition had hardly changed: “To put it bluntly, I do not believe their democratic convictions run that deep. I don’t trust any of them, other than Kasparov, and I doubt that he will be able to move mountains on his own.”
Her assessment of her colleagues in journalism was no less caustic. In an article found on her computer after her death, presumptuously titled, “So What Am I Guilty Of?” Politkovskaya compared her peers to “koverny,” Russian circus clowns who entertained the crowd between acts. “Almost the entire generation of Russian journalists, and those sections of the mass media which have survived to date, are clowns of this kind, a Big Top of kovernys whose job it is to keep the public entertained and, if they do have to write about anything serious, then merely to tell everyone how wonderful the Pyramid of Power is in all manifestations.” She, on the other hand, refused to play the clown, and accepted the fate of pariah. “What am I guilty of? I have merely reported what I witnessed, nothing but the truth.”
This begs the question of what she might have thought about the Russia of 2012. It’s widely maintained that Russia has changed. Would Politkovskaya have changed with it? What would she have made of the New Decembrists and some of the Young Turks at their head, like Alexey Navalny and Sergei Uldaltsov? Of the protests against Putin, which during her life were never more than a few hundred people, at best, and now number in the tens of thousands? Of the political vibrancy of Runet, the centrality of blogs and Twitter, and the new crop of activist-journalists? Would she write them off as clowns? And what of Russian society? Would Politkovskaya look at all this and still see it as a tetragon of windowless, impenetrable concrete cells? Is there still even a place for Politkovskaya in today’s Russia? Where would her role be, when Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general are literally out of the Russian sight and out of the Russian mind? Sadly, thanks to three shots to the chest, and one to the head, we’ll never know.Post Views: 302
By Sean — 9 years ago
Stanislav Markelov had a lot of enemies. In addition to representing the Kungayev family, his other clients included: Khimkinskaya Pravda editor Mikhail Beketov (he’s on the verge of death), Chechen Yana Neserkhoyeva, a Nord-Ost hostage accused of helping terrorists in 2002, Zelimkhan Murdalov, a kidnapped Grozny resident who was tortured to death by an OMON officer, and AntiFa activist Alexei Olesinov. Representing these types of people will make you enemies of Russian nationalists, Chechens, local businessmen, police and security forces, and skinheads. There is also, of course, Colonel Yuri Budanov, whose release last week was opposed by Markelov.
That list of enemies makes for a long list of potential perpetrators. Logic dictates that Budanov is the chief suspect, but the colonel denies any involvement in the murder. “Do you think that after several days of freedom I had a burning desire to do more time?” he told Komsomolskaya pravda in an interview. He called the murder a “provocation.”
Some suspect skinheads did the deed given that Markelov was attacked by five of them in 2004. Apparently he received several SMS threats from skins in the says before his murder. But can we really expect skins to use a silencer? Their methods tend to be a bit cruder.
Then, as always, there is the Chechen angle. As it seems with most murders of high profile personalities in Russia, there is a conspiracy behind the conspiracy, where a Chechen or a deposed oligarch stands at the end of a complex nefarious web. Sometimes these are viewed as one of the same entity. But this time it’s solely Chechens, according to Vladimir Karchevsky, the lawyer for the Markelov family. “Budanov is a smokescreen for the real murderer,” the jurist told Izvestiia. “The real murderer probably timed his crime to coincide with Budanov’s release – in order to deflect suspicions.”
Izvestiia even suggested that Markelov might have known something about Anna Politkovskaya’s murderer. I’m sure that this is only the beginning of what kind of tales will be spun around this one.
While the list of potential killers is long, Markelov’s work also got him a lot of friends as memorials to his memory attest. Hundreds of people gathered at the site where Markelov and Anastatsia Baburova were slain on Monday. Even a Russian Orthodox priest stressed that Markelov and Buburova’s death fell on Epiphany. Hopefully this will translate into a social epiphany on the dangers Russian lawyers and journalists face. Gatherings of AntiFa activists occured in St. Petersburg and Moscow to honor Markelov and Baburova. Barburova’s writings focused on Russian neo-nazis and anti-fascism (Also see her Live Journal blog. OpenDemocracy.net has translated of some of her last blog entries.). Thousands marched in Grozny to remember Markelov’s work on the behalf of the war torn republic Chechnya. Apparently, Markelov even has friends among Razman Kadyrov’s government. Upon hearing of the jurist’s death, the Chechen hetman awarded him with a postumous medal to recognize “his merits to the Chechen Republic.” “Stanislav Markelov was held in special esteem in our republic,” Kadyrov said. “His name was a synonym for justice.”
In the end, the memory of Markelov and Barburova might be all people have. Justice in these cases is rarely forthcoming. Instead we have a kind of perpetual danse macabre between killers and their victims. As an editorial in Novaya gazeta reminds us, “The killers have no fear because they know they will not be punished. But neither are their victims afraid, because when you defend others you cease to fear.”Post Views: 250