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 — 11 years ago
They say it’s ten but no names were given in the interest of the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. The ten comprise of a Chechen native who’s a specialist in contract killings, two security officers, one from the MVD and the other FSB, and three former police officers. The other four have yet to be identified in any way, but according to the Prosecutor General Iurii Chaika, the ten are “the direct organizers, accomplices, and implementors of the crime.”
The investigation, about which information has been scant for months, revealed that the conspiracy to assassinate Politkovskaya was composed of enemies from without determined to discredit the Kremlin. “As to the motives for the murder, the results of the investigation have led us to the conclusion that only people outside the territory of the Russian Federation could have an interest in eliminating Politkovskaya.” Chaika told the media. “It first and foremost benefits people and structures which aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change its constitutional order, create a crisis in Russia, return to the former system of governance where money and oligarchs decided everything, discredit the leaders of the Russian state and a desire to provoke internal pressure on the leadership of our country.” That’s quite a mouthful. All roads, it seems, lead to Berezovsky.
One can’t describe how neatly this fits into the Kremlin’s own narrative of not only the motives for Politkovskaya’s murder, but also the high profile murders of Alexandr Litvinenko, Paul Klebnikov, and Central Bank head Andrei Kozlov.
The convergence of the Kremlin’s line with the investigation’s own findings will undoubtedly raise suspicions as to whether those arrested are really the perpetrators. And though Politkovskaya’s colleagues at Novaya gazeta, which the Prosecutor’s office informed beforehand, feel that the arrests are based in real evidence, they can’t help be concerned that they will be used for political purposes. Sergei Sokolov, the deputy chief editor of Novaya gazeta says that the staff fears that the Kremlin would attempt “to steer the case in the direction of London.” By Chaika’s statements, that already appears to be the case. In addition, Solokov told the Associated Press, “Of course we are concerned that in an election year, this crime may be used by different groups for their own aims.” In the game of politics, they would be stupid not to. Such opportunism is no more a “Russian illness,” in Sokolov’s words, than the meat and potatoes of politics itself. No matter who, where, or how they are practiced.
But while I think suspicions of who Russian authorities connect to the crime are certainly valid, one should hesitate to fall lock step with the march of conspiracy theories that are surely on the horizon. There is no doubt that the Kremlin’s will strive to rationalize Politkovskaya’s murder within it its own paradigm of paranoia. That’s a given. But to use that as impetus to search for the real conspiracy behind the conspiracy doesn’t guarantee the revelation of any deeper truths. Such a search, I’m afraid, will only fuel a paranoia opposite of the Kremlin’s. That all roads lead to an omnipresent Putin.
One things is clear, Politkovskaya as “political football” has been dusted off and re-inflated just in time for a new season.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
Evgenii Kolesov, one of the jurors in the Politkovskaya murder trial, was on Ekho Moskvy today and said the following about the sudden closing of the trial to the media:
“I can’t say that the initiative originated from us. In no way did any of us demand this,” the juror emphasized. According to him, the court secretary came to the jury room before the trial and asked them to sign a request to conduct the trial without the press, but “yesterday no one signed this request.” Today, the jurors for the Politkovskaya case addressed the court with a request to allow the print media into the trial.
It appears that the plot is thickening.
- By Sean — 8 years ago
I haven’t done an update on Kyrgyzstan in several days. While things seemed to have calmed in the southern part of the country, tensions are high, the humanitarian crisis is deep, and the political outcomes are uncertain.
Two questions have been occupying most commentators: Why the violence, or, specifically why didn’t we see it coming? and What are the international ramifications, particularly for the US and Russia? I’m personally less interested in the second question, and for the most part discussion on this has ranged from the ludicrous (for how ludicrous see Michael Hancock’s undressing on Registan), the paranoiac and uninformed, the all too typical, to the regurgitated. Basically, I’ll leave it to the foreign policy wоnks to untangle this mess. I just hope to hear something new as they do.
The “why” question, however, is the thing that seems to be occupying the minds of most Central Asia watchers. This is an observation based on discussions on Registan and articles on Eurasianet.org. The debates on Registan are informed, measured, fresh and invaluable. Posts by Sarah Kendzior, Michael Hancock, and Christian Bleuer are must reads.
As I noted in my last post on Kyrgyzstan, there are a lot of people skeptical of the ethnic roots of the violence. It’s not that they are saying that ethnicity doesn’t matter. It does. Rather, skeptics of the ethnic conflict thesis are questioning the tendency to reduce everything to ethnicity. As always, media commentary tends to engage in this reductionism thereby making ethnic conflict, and therefore the idea of ethnicity or nationality itself, into something that is primordial and eternal. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in some articles is to locate the origin of the conflict in how Stalin drew the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as a means to realize some kind of “divide and conquer” strategy. For example, Peter Zeihan writes, “Kyrgyzstan is an artificial construct created by none other than Stalin, who rearranged internal Soviet borders in the region to maximize the chances of dislocation, dispute and disruption among the indigenous populations in case the Soviet provinces ever gained independence.” Or, Edward Stourton, “The way Stalin designed the region ensured that it would regularly be shaken by inter-ethnic violence.” And the Economist, “In 1924 Stalin divided the region into different Soviet republics. The borders were drawn up rather arbitrarily without following strict ethnic lines or even the guidelines of geography.” These statements misunderstand the history of ethnicity as a concept of identity in this region. True, the borders were drawn by Stalin, as Commissar of Nationalities, but, as Francine Hirsch contends, these borders were to purposely create these nations since the Bolsheviks believed in their evolutionary teleology that becoming a nation was necessary in order for “backward people” to overcome nationality.* Was it a colonial strategy? Most certainly since what Hirsch calls “state-sponsored evolutionism” was the Bolsheviks’ own version of White Man’s Burden. Ironically, in their efforts to destroy nationality and nationalism, the Bolsheviks were their midwives. So if there is anything to blame Stalin for it was playing a pivotal role in creating the geographical foundation for “Kyrgyz” and “Uzbeks” were none “existed” in the first place.
The roots of the conflict, therefore, are quite recent, and though there were tensions between the two groups in the Soviet period, they have exacerbated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In particular, thanks to the widening gap between rich and poor. Inevitably, class and ethnicity became intertwined as the Kyrgyz majority saw themselves losing out to the Uzbek minority. The conflict therefore has local and international economic motors. One of the more interesting analyses on this point is Balihar Sanghera’s “Why are Kyrgyzstan’s slum dwellers so angry?” which puts the inter-ethnic violence in a global economic frame. I found this passage very revealing:
The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation have imposed upon Kyrgyzstan and many other developing countries a package of neo-liberal economic policies. Powerless to resist, governments have had to sign up to these structural adjustment programmes in return for international loans, foreign direct investment and other financial support. Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has undergone an extensive programme of liberal marketisation and privatisation: privatisation of land and property, a break-up of kolkhozes, reductions in subsidies and import tariffs, liberalisation of commodity prices, cuts in state expenditure, relaxation of foreign ownership rules in key sectors (such as gold mines), opening up of home markets to imports, floating the exchange rate and so on. The shock therapy approach to the ‘transition’ to a market economy has had negative consequences on the Kyrgyzstani agricultural sector, and indirectly on urban slums and land invasions.
Given the small allocation of land that each family received in the 1990s in South Kyrgyzstan, most farmers struggle to eke a living, and are unable to absorb family labour, resulting in rural unemployment and underemployment. In addition, marginal and small farmers lack funds to buy adequate fertilisers, to invest into a proper irrigation system, to pay for effective livestock immunisation, or to capitalise their farms for future growth. Many farmers survive by pooling their resources, reviving some aspects of the Soviet kolkhozes. Some have abandoned farming, either by leasing their land rights to larger farmers, who possess the capital to undertake successful commercial farming, or by giving back their tenancy rights to ayil okomotu (local state administration), who then lease them to rich farmers. As a result, the rural society has become pauperised.
How many times have we seen this around the world?
Boris Petric also places the violence in the context of privatization (along with political clan and mafia struggles and the drug trade thrown in the mix):
As the free market ideology gained ground internationally, Kyrgyzstan launched massive privatization initiatives and opened its borders. This led to the collapse of industry and the agricultural sector, as well as causing increased social inequality. With new opportunities in cross-border trading, a new upper class formed, while most of the population lived below the poverty threshold. Structural adjustment policies, which Akayev followed to the letter, encouraged the emergence of new familial economic powers. In the south of the country, and particularly in Osh, many Kyrgyz often associated these economic powers with urban Uzbeks.
After the 2005 Tulip Revolution, Kurmanbek Bakiyev quickly put an end to the advantages gained by some Uzbeks in Osh during the privatization period. These politico-economic entrepreneurs, of which Deputy Batyrov is a good example, were gradually marginalized. The Bakiyev brothers then set about gaining control of the economy, and encouraged other “Uzbeks” to monopolize major economic resources from the Akayev administration’s former protégés. Control of the economy passed into the hands of Bakiyev’s allies. These new economic leaders were soon required to set up various dummy companies benefiting the presidential entourage.
Events took another turn when Roza Otunbayeva came to power in April 2010. President Bakiyev’s allies in the Osh region were quickly dispossessed of the advantages they had enjoyed. The situation deteriorated rapidly and tensions arose between different groups which aspired to control economic activities. An Uzbek businessman, Aibek Mirsidikov, was murdered in mysterious circumstances. According to rumor, Mirsidikov was involved in Mafia and other criminal activities. He was closely linked to the Bakiyev family, and it was even said that the President’s brother put him in charge of the lucrative Afghan drug trade and reorganizing economic relations in Osh. The fall of President Bakiyev therefore led to a new politico-economic shakeup in the region. The current conflict was probably triggered by the rise to power of some politico-Mafia groups, and the fall of others. The groups that had flourished under the previous government were not willing to accept defeat. Adopting extremely violent tactics, they began settling scores, aided and abetted by the Bakiyev brothers. The extent of these retaliations meant the conflict finally took an interethnic turn.
In her “The ethnicisation of violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan,” Madeleine Reeves notes some of the ways these social conflicts have become ethnicized in the Ferghana Valley:
In recent weeks, political tensions, economic anxieties, criminal violence, the freezing of legal process, and what seems to be a quite concerted attempt at ethnic mobilisation and provocation by supporters of ousted former-president Bakiev mean that in southern Kyrgyzstan, mothers, brothers, school-friends, colleagues, neighbours and drinking partners have been “pinned to the wall” of nationhood, reduced to the single category, “Kyrgyz” or “Uzbek” in this historically most complex and socially variegated of regions.
Writing to me a few weeks ago, a tri-lingual (Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian-speaking), “Kyrgyz”-identifying friend, with Uzbek and Uighur heritage on his mother’s side, described how his “Uzbek”-identifying wife was increasingly conscious of the appearance of ethnic slurs in the playground when she took her (ethnically “mixed”) children out to play. An Uzbek-identifying friend from Jalalabat noted in the same period a growing sense of disillusion amongst Jalalabat Uzbeks, as ethnically-marked political-criminal groupings sought to take advantage of the change of leadership in the wake of Bakiev’s ouster to seize control of businesses traditionally dominated by Uzbek elites in the city. For both of these acquaintances, ethnicity was a constitutive part of their identity, just as was their age, their gender, their education, and their identification with a cosmopolitan, urban Ferghana culture. Each, in different ways, has written of the horror of being reduced in recent days to that single dimension, “Kyrgyz” or “Uzbek”. Talking of this as an “ethnic conflict” misses that essentially processual dimension: it is essentialising; it is depoliticising and it acts as an analytical “stop”. It takes ethnicity as being analytically causal, rather than asking about the complex, messy, deeply political dynamics through which, in a moment of state crisis, conflict has come to be ethnicised.
. . . What we have been witnessing in Osh and Jalalabat over the last few days is a disturbing and distressing spiral of violence. Much of this has been articulated in ethnic terms: evident in targeted attacks on property, homes and in the brutal wounding of those perceived as ethnically “other” whether they be Kyrgyz or Uzbek.
Less reported are the multiple instances where ethnicity has been irrelevant to action: when property has been looted because “they” represent wealth and opportunity that is inaccessible to “us”; when Kyrgyz have sheltered Uzbeks and vice versa; when neighbours have sought to defend their street or their mosque from attack not because they are of the same ethnicity, but because they live in the same neighbourhood and want to have the chance of continuing to do so.
Reeves goes on to add that ethnicity in this case is more like poisonious silly-puddy with its ability to be molded and graft onto a multitude of existing social processes.
“Inter-ethnic conflict” as an explanatory frame is problematic, then, not because ethnicity doesn’t matter, but because the “ethnic group” by itself doesn’t do any meaningful explanatory work (unless, of course, we assume that some ethnic groups are “naturally” pre-disposed to violence). Ethnicity in Osh is socially constituted, as well as socially and spatially organised. It is produced and reproduced in a host of domestic, educational, social and political institutions, from schools to television broadcasts, from religious celebrations to the organisation of domestic and neighbourhood space. Critically, moreover, it is reproduced in a host of business networks, patronage relations, and crimino-political groupings, the activity and violence of which has increased dramatically in the weeks since former president Bakiev was ousted in an uprising on April 7th.
Perhaps it is this hornet’s nest which has made Russia hesitant to dive in military first despite the pleads of the Kyrgyz interim government. Indeed, I agree with the view that the US and Russia just hope the crisis goes away. But crises like this rarely do. Unfortunately for the Kyrgyz, the situation remains dire and continued destabilization may generate the very things that Russia and the US fear the most: regional civil war, increased drug trafficking, and Islamism.
The big test is coming in the next week. The continued “state of emergency” threatens to put the June 27 referendum on a new constitution on hold. The interim government hopes that turning Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary republic will bring political stability. However, if RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier is right it could only exacerbate ethnic tensions. According to him:
“Everyone that I’ve talked to in these Uzbek neighborhoods points out that they don’t have any representation in the government at all — the soldiers are Kyrgyz, all the police are Kyrgyz. If they hold the referendum and then there is something the Uzbeks don’t like, they are going to say, ‘This isn’t our constitution. This is a Kyrgyz constitution.”
*Francine Hirsch, “Toward an Empire of Nations: Border-Making and the Formation of Soviet National Identities,” Russian Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), 202-203.