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.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
As I noted the other day, Teimuraz Khugaev, head prosecutor for the Ossetian government, announced that 1692 Ossetians were killed in the Georgian assault last month. Now the Public Commission on the Investigation of War Crimes in South Ossetia has published a list of the names, birth date, cause of death, place of burial of 311 victims. So far this is far below initial claims. However, the press release states that the list is still incomplete. One can assume that more names will added to the list in the coming days, if not weeks. Here is a translation of some of the entries (kindly provided by frequent SRB commenter Chrisius Courtappointedrussiafriendlius, formally known as Chrisius Maximus)
1. Ataev Alan Muratovich. b. 1971. Died in the course of military action. Buried in the yard of his home.
2. Kelekhsaev Murzaba V. b. 1944. Shot by Georgian sniper. Buried in Tbet village.
3. Petoev Albert S. b. 1943. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
9. Tadtaev Sergei Lvovich. b. 1972. Burned to death in automobile hit by Georgian tank. Buried in school no. 5.
10. Kozaev Sukiko A. b. 1940. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in Itrapis village.
30. Kharaszishvili Angelina Dmitrievna. b. 1974. Died during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
31. Chekhoev Abesalom V. b. 1967. Died during bombardment of city. Place of burial unknown.
32. Elbakieva Dina. b. 2005. Died during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
49. Maldzigov Sevastii Stepanovich. b. 1965. Killed by exploding BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
57. Bitarov Uruszmag. b. 1950. Died during bombardment. Buried in Zguderskii cemetary.
59. Dzhussoev Mair Zaurovich. b. 1971. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
60. Dzhussoev Aslan Mairovich. 15 years old. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
61. Dzhussoeva Dina. 14 years old. Burned to death in automobile that had been covered in gasoline and ignited. Buried in Nagutin cemetery.
85. Shanazarova Albina Chorshanbievna. 14 years old. Killed by Georgian sniper. Buried in Zguderskii cemetery.
98. Kisiev Ibragim Feliksovich. Killed during bombardment of Khetagurova village.
99. Doguzov Leonid Nikolaevich. Killed during bombardment of Satikar village.
122. Maldzigova Evgenia Nikolaevna. b. 1927. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
128. Tedeev Vladimir Romanovich. b. 1948. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in Kornis village.
129. Dzhioev Radion Zurabovich. b. 1984. Died from wounds obtained during bombardment of city. Buried in yard of his home.
152. Dzhabieva Zemfira Chermenovna. b. 1952. Died in course of military action. Place of burial unknown.
177. Ikaev Valerii Vladimirovich. b. 1958. Killed by sniper during the evacuation of Zarskoi Road.
182. Lalievna Valentina Sergeevna. b. 1940. Killed by sniper during the evacuation of Zarskoi Road.
209. Kadzhaeva Elina Kazbekovna. b. 1986. Wounded during shelling of her home. Burned to death. Buried in Vladikavkaz.
214. Galoeva Larisa Valikoevna. b. 1974. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in Vladikazkaz.
238. Ikoeva Roza Viktorovna. b. 1936. Killed during bombardment of city. Buried in Tbet village.
257. Bekoev Alan Tuzarovich. b. 1974. Killed by explosion of BM 21 Grad shell. Buried in yard of his home.
270. Bagaeva Svetlana Georgievna. b. 1975. Killed when her automobile was fired upon. Buried in yard of her home.
290. Tskhovrebov Sebastian B. b. 1937. Killed during bombardment of Tbet village.
311. Dzakhov Valerii Borisovich. b. 1987. Killed by Georgian sniper during military action. Buried in Tbet village.
The Commission is also collecting evidence on the destruction of Ossetian historical monuments and culture that was destroyed by the Georgian attack. “The annihilation of a people’s culture,” says Commission member Zalina Medoeva, “means to go further that the physical annihilation of a people. After destroying Ossetian culture, the Georgian leadership aspired to destroy the memory of the people, to wipe them off the face of the land is proof of the Ossetian historical right in taking the territory for themselves.”
Sounds as if the Ossetian government is really going to run with this genocide claim.
The Georgians aren’t going to sit idle and not make their own charges of genocidal acts. In his joint press conference with US Vise President Dick Cheney, Mikheil Saakashvili called on the world to not accept the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia. He claimed that more than over the years 80% of Abkhazia and in the last few weeks two-thirds of Ossetia have been cleansed of Georgians. He added:
“If anybody would try to legalize it, or would accept what has happened, basically, it will be accepting of human tragedies of hundreds of thousands of people. Ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia took place not only against ethnic Georgians, but also against ethnic Ossetians, who were considered to be disloyal.”
“So I call on all the responsible nations of the world not only to [not] accept this, but to continue condemn[ing] it and to continue uphold[ing] international law and justice. On our part, we are [a] peace-loving nation; we’ll do our best to avoid violence and we are committed to [a] peaceful resolution of all the issues, as we are committee to dialogue with everybody internally and with all the nations in [the] neighborhood and worldwide.”
As for his commitment to a peaceful resolution of all the issues, isn’t it just a bit too late for that?Post Views: 452
By Sean — 9 years ago
The human rights organization Memorial was victorious in the Dzerzhinsky district court on Tuesday when Judge Andrei Shabakov ruled that the police raid on their office was “unlawful.”
The key issue driving Monday and Tuesday’s hearing was whether Memorial was given the right to have their lawyer present during the raid. Chief investigator Mikhail Kalganov argued that the organization was given the right to have a lawyer present but didn’t take advantage of it. Memorial’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov argued that Iosif Gabuniia arrived at the office to monitor the search, but the police refused to open the door. Gabuniia testified in court that “We don’t need lawyers here” was shouted through the door. Kalganov claimed that he wasn’t aware of any of this. Nevertheless, the judge found that Kalganov’s actions, or lack thereof, prevented the lawyer from representing his client during the search.
The case isn’t over yet. Authorities have yet to return the hard disks and other archival materials seized in the raid, prompting Memorial workers to remain cautious despite their legal victory. The court ruling goes into force only after 10 days and the police still have an opportunity to file an appeal.Post Views: 785
By Sean — 11 years ago
Anna Politkovskaya, A Russian Diary: A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin’s Russia, trans. Arch Tait, Forward Scott Simon, Random House, New York, 2007.
I’m told that when you begin reading a book you should always start with the title. It’s a small window into the tales between its covers. This is especially the case for Anna Politkovskaya’s posthumous Russian Diary. The title of this English translation pretty much says its all. Anna will tell you stories about how life is slowing becoming paralyzed by a creeping and sinister despotism. She will spin you stories of a State and society rotted out by corruption. And then there is death. It’s a showcase of political gore, depression, and misery. (Interestingly the Russian version’s title lacks such promotional edge. It is simply titled What For (Za Chto).
Political gore is what English speaking readers should expect from Politkovskaya. Her previous three works, A Dirty War, A Small Corner in Hell, and Putin’s Russia all propounded the same thesis. Russian democracy is a façade spun to cover the emergence of despotism. There is a creeping counterrevolution going on in Russia headed by Putin and his chekists.
Some would call Politkovskaya paranoid. But even if she was, it’s hard to completely write off her theory. She was victim of it. In A Small Corner in Hell, she wrote about how in 2001 she was detained, humiliated and taunted by Russian troops. En route to help with negotiations in Beslan she was poisoned. And finally, she was gunned down in her apartment building last year. To a certain extent all of this suggests that perhaps she was on to something.
In Russian Dairy, that “something” is spelled out in dated entries that begin in the frigid months of December 2003 and end in the Fall of August 2005. The end of Politkovskaya’s tale is already foreshadowed in the book’s first entry. It was 7 December 2004. The day Duma elections were held. After voting, Mrs. Putina remarked that the President was worried and needed to hurry home. What was the urgency? The Putins’ Labrador Connie gave birth to puppies the night before. The President of Russia said nothing to the fact that that morning thirteen victims of a terrorist attack in Yessentuki were being buried. Politikovskaya’s friends announced that Putin’s silence meant political suicide of United Russia in the elections. But she wasn’t swayed. “By morning,” she writes with little surprise, “there was no more incredulity. Russia, rejecting the lies and arrogance of the democrats, had mutely surrendered herself to Putin. A majority had voted for the phantom United Russia Party, whole sole political program was to support Putin.”
This is the main theme of Russian Diary: a manipulative, emotionless, cynical yet all powerful Tsar in the form of Putin, a withering, delusional, or worse self-seeking liberal opposition, and an apathetic and fooled public who willingly embraces the opiates the State feeds them. There are few heroes in Russian Diary. When they appear they tend to be individuals or families that risk name, property, and person to survive the brutalities in Chechnya, stand up against its horrors, or risk all to form political organizations—like the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers—that use their moral authority to make political change. But besides these token examples of power from below, Politkovskaya’s Russia is filled to the brim with villainy.
The misery in the book is so thick that it is difficult to isolate what Anna Politkovskaya stands for. Surely she is an advocate for human rights. At times it’s with fervorous and unshakable naiveté. She is a partisan for democracy, but what that buzz word means to her is unclear. She not only takes pride in speaking truth to power, she is willing to take the risks to do so. She possesses a will that is not fueled by fame or fortune (had she wanted those, she would have taken up one of the many offers to move to the West) but by the energy exhibited by the small peoples she interviews in the war torn regions of the North Caucuses. All of this in the end fails to give the reader a clear picture of Politkovskaya politics, but rather forces him to wade through what she is against to discern what she advocates.
It is this ambiguity that makes Russian Diary frustrating at times and turns the myriad of sorrowful tales of human survival in Putin’s Russia into trivia. The book is void of any self-reflexivity, not just on a personal level, but also on a political level. This is strange considering that the book is a diary or at least written in a diary format. But this lack of self reflection suggests that Politkovskaya wrote her diary with the intention of publication from its inception. Those seeking to delve into her soul would be surely disappointed. That is unless they are willing to construct it by peeling away all of the death and corruption that mediates her self and the reader.
The only explicit statement of why Anna Politkovskaya risked her life for her profession is found in the short “Am I Afraid?” that occupies the book’s final two pages. There she denies charges of pessimism, obsession with Putin, and disdain for the Russian people. Her problem, she says, is that “I see everything, and that is the whole problem. I see both what is good and what bad.” The reason why the latter overwhelms the former is because it represents a “mushroom” that can’t be ignored. This is what makes her “want to do something about changing the situation in Russia right now.” And what is that situation? “Our state authorities today,” she writes, “are only interested in making money. That is literally all they are interested in.”
Anna Politkovskaya was the daughter of Soviet diplomats. It was a social position that bequeathed a life of a Soviet elite—access to a good Russian middle class living, education, travel, and intellectual circles. Being from a family of diplomats gave her access to Western books, ideas, and idealism. Not unlike the sons (and some daughters) of Tsarist nobility a century before, Politkovskaya’s class position showered her in benefits of a system she despised. Such is the internal contradiction of the Russian middle class intellectual. Either he or she reconciles themselves to the system, as so many liberals in Politkovskaya’s text have done and continue to do, or embrace the nagging sense of justice that pervades their soul. One can say what they want about Politkovskaya’s brand of “yellow journalism,” but she sincerely chose the latter path. And like so many Russian intellectuals of the past that path ultimately led to her destruction.
Russian Diary is at its best when talking about the small peoples Politkovskaya encounters in her search for a just Russia. You get a sense of how they are caught in the whirlwind of power, corruption, but also hope and the discovery of their agency. Take for example, her conversations with parents of two radicalized youths. One a National Bolshevik, the other a follower of Basaev. According to their parents, neither idolized the NPB’s Eduard Limonov or the Islamism of Shamil Basaev. Both were rather pushed to these extremes by the hopelessness of the political situation. “It is Limonov and Basaev who keep the hope alive in our children that someday they will be able to feel they are decent human beings. It is appalling, but that is how things stand,” Politkovskaya wrote.
This is really the essence of Putin’s Russia in Politkovskaya’s eyes. It’s not so much the corruption, the torture, the disregard for human life, or even the cynicism of Russia’s political elites. The essence for her is the fact that so many people hide their “eyes to reality until it hits us like a typhoon.” For her, Putin’s Russia is approaching what Leopold Haimson called “dual polarization.” The Russian political center has dropped out, civil society has been crushed, and there is a wide disconnect between the intransigent state and the hungry people. Russian politics is increasingly pushed to the margins, with despotism on the one side and radical revolution on the other. This is what the young National Bolshevik and Islamist represent to Politkovskaya. What appalls her is that the Russian state has learned nothing from its torrid history. “Are they suicidal?” She asks. “Are they calmly waiting for the appearance of new terrorist Kalyaevs, Zasuliches, and Savinkovs like the tsars conjured up? Or are they simply mindless, living for the moment? . . . I think they are mindless.”
Yet despite the Kremlin’s mindlessness, Putin and his circle appear to display a political adeptness that almost turns them into a superhuman omnipresent evil. Putin is everywhere in the text, and despite the scorn she heaps on his person, he is still elevated to master villain that has his hands firmly wrapped around the puppet strings. So much so that a reader might walk away with the sense that Russia is merely a victim of a mass conspiracy.
This is perhaps the main fault of Russian Diary. Politkovskaya’s world is one inhabited by individuals with Putin as its alpha and omega. It’s a kind of reverse monarchism really. Instead of thinking that everything would be right if the Tsar knew about the machinations of his nobles, we have the autocrat at the helm, in full control of steamship Russia. Why Putin possesses this authoritarian impulse is more assumed than explained. His career in the Company overshadows all else. And Politkovskaya’s fetishism of the individual leaves no room for any kind of wider analysis of the social, political, and economic forces that Russia finds itself in, whether those conditions are of its own making or not. One gets the sense from Russian Diary that if Putin had a sudden conversion and saw the liberal light, all that is bad in Russia would be magically swept away.
In his introduction to A Small Corner of Hell, Georgi Derluguian wrote that “this book represents a political position in a struggle where the stakes are exceedingly high. The author wants us to appreciate this because she hopes to enlist out support in her cause.” The same can be said of Russian Diary as well as all her books. Politkovskaya had an agenda, and she wasn’t ashamed to arm it with an arsenal of hyperbole. Though she has been repeatedly condemned as more a partisan than a journalist, her lack of objectivity is refreshing in a time when journalists more and more often strip themselves of their passions.
The fact that Politkovskaya threw self-censorship to history’s dustbin is what makes Russian Diary an important text. With that said, that passion drives the narrative to suspension at points. It leaves the reader thinking, “Okay, I get the point” far too often and left wondering if there is anything novel within its remaining pages. But I place the blame for this not on Politkovskaya herself, but on the Random House editors that felt the compulsion to publish every entry she wrote in those two years. After all, posthumous works are never really about the author making a mark for themselves. It’s about turning the author’s every word into something sacred as if their greater meaning would be loss with a single edit.
For better or worse, if Politkovskaya diagnosis for Russia is even a quarter right, what is emerging before us is neither Soviet nor Tsarist (though she makes rather crude allusions to both systems throughout). Putin’s Russia is something far more sinister; a quality, at least she hoped, would hasten its implosion.Post Views: 571