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.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
On Thursday, Novaya gazeta published Anna Politkovskaya’s last article. The article is incomplete. This translation was sent out on Johnson’s Russia List #231, 13 October 2006. It was translated by Elena Leonova. I reproduce it below.
October 12, 2006
The anti-terrorist policy of torture in the North Caucasus
Torture in Chechnya: Anna Politkovskaya’s final, incomplete article
By Anna Politkovskaya
Everyone is asking us whether Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was connected with her work on some articles about torture, which she mentioned in a Radio Liberty interview on Thursday, October 5, a day before her death. Today we are publishing fragments from two unfinished articles by our observer. The first fragment includes first-hand testimony about torture, confirmed by medical evidence. The second fragment is a transcript of a video recording which Politkovskaya intended to use for an article. The disc found in Polikovskaya’s possession (we would like to hear from whoever gave her this video recording) shows some unidentified individuals being tortured. The scene was recorded by the torturers themselves – presumably, personnel from one of Chechnya’s security and law enforcement agencies.
Every day, there are dozens of folders in front of me. These are copies of materials from criminal cases against people who are in jail for “terrorism” or still under investigation.
Why is the word “terrorism” in quotation marks here? Because the overwhelming majority of these people are designated terrorists. And by 2006, this practice of “designating people as terrorists” has not only displaced any and all real anti-terrorist efforts, but has also started generating revenge-seekers – potential terrorists. When prosecutors and courts work on political orders and chase after anti-terrorism statistics that will please the Kremlin, rather than working to uphold the law and punish the guilty, criminal cases are turned out like so many pancakes.
The conveyor belt of “organizing full confessions” excels at providing good statistics on “fighting terrorism” in the North Caucasus.
Here is part of a letter I received from the mothers of a group of young Chechens convicted of terrorism: “In effect, these penitentiaries have turned into concentration camps for convicted Chechens. They are subjected to ethnic discrimination. They aren’t allowed out of one-man cells or punitive solitary confinement. Most of them, or almost all of them, have been convicted of fabricated crimes, with no material evidence. Held in brutal conditions, subjected to humiliation, denied human dignity, they are developing a hatred of everything. This is a whole army of young men who will return to us with their lives ruined, their beliefs ruined”
I’ll be honest: I fear their hatred. I fear it because it’s like a river that will overflow its banks sooner or later. And it will be taken out on everyone – not just the investigators who tortured them. The “designated terrorist” cases are the arena where there’s a head-on clash between two ideological approaches to what is happening in the zone of the “counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus”: are we using the law to fight lawlessness, or are we hitting “their” lawlessness with “our” lawlessness?
They’re clashing, thus ensuring sparks in the present and in the future. The result of “designating terrorists” is an increase in the numbers of those who refuse to tolerate it.
Ukraine recently extradited, at Russia’s request, a certain Beslan Gadayev – a Chechen. He was arrested in early August during an ID check in the Crimea, where he was living with the status of a displaced person. Here is a quote from his letter dated August 29:
“After I was extradited from Ukraine to Grozny, I was led into an office and immediately asked if I’d killed someone from the Salikhov family – Anzor and his friend, a Russian truck driver. I swore that I hadn’t killed anyone or shed anyone’s blood, Russian or Chechen. They said firmly: ‘No, you killed them.’ I started denying it again. After I’d answered them for the second time, saying I hadn’t killed anyone, they started beating me. First I was struck twice near my right eye, with fists. While I was recovering from those blows, they twisted my arms and handcuffed my wrists in front of me, and placed a pipe between my legs so I couldn’t move my hands, although I was handcuffed already. Then they grabbed me – or rather, they grabbed the pipe at both ends, and suspended me between two tables about one meter high.
“Straight after they suspended me, they started attaching wires to the fifth finger of both my hands. A couple of seconds later they started giving me electric shocks and beating me with rubber batons at the same time, anywhere they could reach. Unable to stand the pain, I started screaming, calling on God, begging them to stop. In response, because they didn’t want to listen or hear me scream, they placed a black bag over my head.
“I don’t remember exactly how long this lasted, but I started to pass out from the pain. Seeing that I was losing consciousness, they took off the bag and asked me if I’d talk. I said I would, though I didn’t know what I could tell them. I answered in order to escape the torture, if only temporarily.
“Then they let me down, removed the pipe, and threw me to the floor. They said: ‘Talk.’ I replied that I had nothing to tell them. They responded by hitting me with the same pipe, near my right eye again. I fell on my side and I was barely conscious as I felt them start hitting me all over my body. …I was then suspended between the tables again, and they repeated what they’d done before. I don’t know how long it lasted, I can’t remember, they kept throwing water over me.
“The next day, they washed me and smeared something over my face and body. Around lunch-time, an operative in plain clothes came in to see me and said that some journalists had arrived, and I’d have to confess to three murders as well as looting. He threatened that if I didn’t agree, they’d repeat everything they did before and release me after performing abuses of a sexual nature on me. I agreed to confess. After I’d been interviewed by the journalists, the operatives threatened me with sexual abuses again and forced me to sign a statement to the effect that all the injuries I’d received from them, all they’d done to me, all those injuries were allegedly incurred during an escape attempt.”
Lawyer Zaur Zakriyev, defending Beslan Gadayev, told the Memorial human rights organization that his client suffered physical and psychological abuse at the Grozny (village) district Interior Ministry police station. According to the lawyer’s statement, his client had essentially confessed to a raid on police in 2004. But the Grozny (village) police also decided to make him confess to a number of crimes he hadn’t committed in the village of Starye Atagi, Grozny (village) district, Chechnya. According to the lawyer, the severe violence left his client with visible injuries on his body. A medical inspection at the SIZO-1 pre-trial detention center in Grozny, current location of Beslan Gadayev [charged under Article 209 of the Crime Code (banditry)], showed numerous signs of a beating, injuries including scars, abrasions, bruises, broken ribs, and complaints of pain in internal organs.
For all these blatant abuses of human rights, lawyer Zaur Zakriyev has filed complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Chechen Republic…* * * * *
Politkovskaya’s article stops there. It is unfinished. We are attempting to establish what kind of incidents remained undescribed in this text.
One of the last video recordings received by Anna Politkovskaya
The video shows two young men being held and tortured, presumably by personnel from one of Chechnya’s security agencies. One of the detainees is sitting in a car, bleeding (a knife is embedded in the vicinity of the victim’s ear). The other detainee appears to have been thrown out of the car, onto the road. The torturers themselves are not visible – there’s just the sound of their voices, speaking Chechen (Melkhiisk dialect), interspersed with obscenities.
The transcript, verbatim:
“Putin said: ‘keep a lookout,’ he said, ‘on all sides…'”
“He’s still with us! [Addressing the victim, scornfully, using the feminine gender.] She’s refusing to die… slut. Idiot, damn you… Fag, fuck. Look how pretty you are. I’m longing for you.”
“Breathe, buddy, breathe, slut. For God’s sake, I’m telling you, telling…”
“Done, huh? Is he done?”
“Yes, he’s done.”
“Let’s go… over here!”
“Hey, grab the… get in position, get in position, keep all surroundings under surveillance.”Translated by Elena LeonovaPost Views: 39
By Sean — 10 years ago
I began translating Sergei Sokolov’s interview with Petros Garibian, the chief investigator in the Anna Politkovskaya murder case late last night. It’s a good thing that I got too blurry eyed to get too far into it considering the NY Times published a translation on its website. I reproduce it below.
Sokolov’s interview with Garibian was published in Novaya as part of its 8 October issue dedicated to Politkovskaya.
Novaya Gazeta’s Interview With Investigator in Journalist’s Murder
Interview with Petros V. Garibyan, the lead federal investigator into the killing of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, scheduled to be published in the Oct. 8 edition of Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper where Ms. Politkovskaya worked. The interview was conducted on Oct. 2 by Sergey Sokolov, deputy editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, and translated by Viktor Klimenko and Nikolai Khalip of The New York Times.
“The killer has not yet been accused, but we know who he is”
From the very first day – Oct 07, 2006 – many skeptics appeared who claimed that the murder of Anna Politkovskya would never be solved. So, will you solve it?
It is solved. But the other thing is that we have to find out all the chain: from the one who ordered it to the one who carried it out. And prepare hard evidence of their guilt for the court. I would like to make it clear: specific work began only now – from August 15 – when the first arrests were carried out. And in September quiet work began: the legality of the arrests was confirmed by courts, and we managed to start planned interrogations, “ochniye stavki” (interrogation of two suspects at the same time), and other investigation actions. Before that it had been investigative-operative, search work, checking of all, including the secondary versions. We have just stepped on the straight path, and we should not rush. Let it take a lot of time – but we should not rush, otherwise that huge amount of work that has been done will be lost.
Many people predict that the case will be divided into several parts. At first, those who carried out the crime will be tried and everything dealing with those who ordered it will be made into a separate case to be investigated without rush. Is such variant possible?
It is difficult to say anything about it at the current stage. We all – both the leadership and our group – try to gather all them at once and have all of them landed in the dock. Of course, excluding those who we won’t have arrested at the moment of the trial. Yes, the Criminal Procedural Code limits the period of investigation but we still have a lot of time. Enough.
How many have been arrested and who has been charged?
11 people have been charged and 10 have been arrested. But the list has not been closed. The more so that not all of the arrested have been charged with involvement with the murder of Politkovskaya. They have enough other sins, which have brought them to jail. We will work thoroughly with them including on our main direction.
As far as I understand, it is possible to say now: those who are arrested are those who are suspected of being those who carried out the murder and those who organized it?
As for those who carried it out – yes. If, when talking about those who organized it you mean those who coordinated the activity of those who carried it out, who connected different links in the criminal chain with one another – also yes. But it’s too early to say that the one who organized it, in the procedural meaning of the word, has been arrested.
Have you approached the other links leading to the one who organized it?
We have good ideas: we work on finding the middlemen and those who organized it. As for those who ordered it, we have interesting suggestions, let’s put it this way. And we won’t say anything more. Because it is very difficult – to find the one who ordered it, any information may harm. When a murder is ordered the criminals think about every detail: as a rule the one who orders a murder never applies to killers directly. And nothing comes out until you find this professionally cunning intermediate link.
And what about the killer?
We have not charged the killer yet, but we know who he is.
As you said, not all the arrested have been charged with involvement in the Politkovskaya murder or they have been charged not only in involvement in this crime. What else you have charged them with?
There are different charges: abuse of office, overstepping one’s authority. I cannot give more detail – it’s the secret of investigation.
There was a noisy campaign in the end of August to discredit the investigation which began after two suspects were freed. Why was that decision made?
First, the investigation has many other possibilities besides arrest – the requirement not to leave the jurisdiction, for example. Second, people should understand the specific features of our work: we cannot, right away, this very second, figure out a degree of involvement of every person in the group of suspects. The chain was determined by operative methods: by phone numbers, connections, contacts, and witnesses’ evidence. If there are justified suspicions about involvement of this or that person – he has to be detained, because the criminal may escape. What should we do – send them a subpoena? In this case all the criminals would be on the run. And we were afraid to lose something and somebody because later we would not forgive ourselves as well you and nobody would forgive us for this. This is why all people, known at that moment, the suspicions about whom were based on facts, were detained. We sorted everything out with two of them and they were freed. I would not say that these people are as pure as a child’s tear drop in the face of the law – but they were not implicated in the Politkovskaya murder. This is normal work: to detain the suspects, hold interrogations, check alibis, understand: involved, no, to what extent – and make decision on a measure of restraint. The other thinking would be not normal: to keep those in jail who have nothing to do with it, but found themselves at a bad time in a bad company, with those who are really guilty of the crime.
What is the volume of materials at the current moment – how many volumes – and how many of them will be in the court?
Several dozens of volumes. So far, about ten per cent of the indictment materials that we have now will be sent to court. All the rest deals with versions, which were finally rejected and with initial information. But in the end, I think, the correlation will be fifty-fifty. Now we are going to present proofs to the arrested persons, carry out more arrests, bring others to criminal responsibility.
How many versions were there in the beginning?
I am not a great fan of having multiple versions: this is a sign of non-professionalism. The versions should be based on something realistic and not on theoretical assumptions that it could also happen this way. But in this case six versions were put forward – to me, subjectively, too many – frankly, a rare case. However, those six versions had to be checked from the beginning to the end, otherwise we could, in several months, come back to something from which we shortsightedly refused. Besides, during the investigation, especially in the beginning, many additional directions emerged, false leads, as I understand now, but which also had to be paid attention to and checked. There was much different information, some provocateurs showed up, swindlers – you know it perfectly well – you also came across them and had to spend time on them. How can it be otherwise? Everything has to be checked.
One of the versions that looked promising from the very beginning dealt with the Khanty-Mansi militiamen, one of whom, Lapin (call sign “Cadet”), is on trial now and threatened Politkovskaya with murder?
Yes. It is one of the checked versions; non-involvement of these people into Anna’s murder has been proven completely. Our investigator and an operative officer went there – many people were interrogated – relatives, acquaintances, distant acquaintances, colleagues, the routes of people who interested us were determined. No, they are not involved.
How many versions do you have today?
We checked four and can say that people suspected by us then, are not involved.
And the remaining two?
At the moment they can be combined in one (of course, if we talk about global versions, and not about assumptions about personalities of specific people who ordered it): the murder connected with Politkovskaya’s professional activity and murder on political motives. My subjective opinion: these versions should not be separated, it’s impossible. If we talk about journalistic activity of Anna, we come across politics; if we talk about the political version, come across the professional activity, because Anna was a journalist who wrote on political issues.
Do you remember the 7th of October, how it all started fro you? And what was going on for those 10 months before the arrest?
On the 7th of October last year I was the investigator on duty at the General Prosecutor’s Office. A prosecutor on duty called and said: Politkovskaya was murdered. I went there. Investigators of the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office were already working there. Naturally, I took part in the examination of the crime site, other floors of the building. I understood what happened, also understood that the case would be given to me and tried to go into every detail. And on the 9th of October Viktor Yakovlevich Grin, Deputy Prosecutor General ordered me to head the investigation. The resonant character of this crime was obvious, it was clear that the investigation would be under a close control of both the leadership of the country and the public. In my practice, I investigated Paul Khlebnikov’s murder and I fully realized that and was ready for this. But nevertheless…You know, it hinders a lot. People don’t understand the specifics of our work but along with this they are ready to draw far-reaching conclusions. A month passed and they complain – the killers are still free! But that was not a theft from a kiosk, that was an ordered murder which requires huge initial search work: interview of masses of people, study of huge amount of documents – in our case it meant Politkovskaya’s stories, her work documents, the contents of her computer, work with notebooks, phone. All that was necessary so that we would be able to single out the main directions of search from the huge massive of information. Yes, there was an image of the alleged killer from the outside surveillance camera. But there was not face – only a vague figure of a person who skillfully hides his appearance. All the rest had to be found grain by grain. And the journalists of Novaya Gazeta helped us a lot and keep helping. Incidentally, it’s the first time in my experience that such close cooperation with journalists took shape. Anna’s family helped a lot, especially her son Ilya. As the result, a very meticulous work has been done, huge amounts of information have been processed, information that has first to be found. There have been many trips across Russia and to other countries.
And here, I am asking to leave it in the story, I would like to thank many people. First of, the members of the investigation group. Good, young, tempered investigators, sent to the General Prosecutor’s office for solving this murder from Altai, Vologda, Moscow, Buryatia, Tver and other regions. Their attitude toward work was not formal, they were creative people with their ideas, who prompted me a lot. Operative offices: a group from Moscow Criminal Police headed by Viktor Golovanov, the chief of the Moscow Criminal Police and Igor Vasin, a group from ORB-1 of the Russian Interior Ministry headed by Yuri Karasyov and Yevgeny Kuzin, a group of the FSB employees. All of them are highly-skilled professionals. Last week they celebrated their professional holiday – the day of the criminal police. I cannot but congratulate them once again.
After a certain period of stagnation when many people quit, new people started joining the force. They were not at all worse than those who left, some were even better. However, we are still facing a lot of problems. Take the forensic tests. In the west they are done in no time, here it takes months. I needed biological tests results urgently so that I could make arrests: time was running out, the criminals were not waiting for us…
I cannot blame our experts, they are excellent professionals, maybe the best in the world. But they do not have the necessary equipment. And we could not use private labs because of the risk of information leak. Also, it costs lots of money and gives the lawyers a chance to challenge the conclusions of the experts in the court. And we should bear in mind that not only the pace of investigation but the quality of the proof of ones’ guilt or innocence depend on the work of experts.
How many people are in the investigation team now?
The team is not large, but reliable. Eight investigators and myself. All of them have been working from day one.
Is there anything special about the investigation of this case?
It required great patience and professionalism. I will repeat myself: the amount of information was too big. From the very beginning we realized that we had something… but we managed to grab this something only after a thorough analysis, after a time consuming and meticulous work.
Its even good that I was investigating Paul Klebnikov case at the same time. Strange as it may sound but this helped me to collect evidence for Anna Politkovskaya case.
It means we may assume that these two cases are connected?
They do not cross, they move tangentially. Same people who once were witnesses or are acquaintances of the witnesses or defendants in Klebnikov case come into our filed of vision. Contacts between these people – many of whom ran afoul of the law – had been established earlier which helped us in our work on Politkovskaya case. However, it is too early to speak about interrelation of these two murders.
What is the status of Paul Khlebnikov case investigation?
A separate case was opened in regard of those who are on the run from the investigation. The case is under investigation and has never been suspended. It’s a matter of principle: we have to investigate it to the end. It is important because we are speaking not only about those involved in the Klebnikov murder but also in the murder of Sergunin (former Director of the Judicial Department of Chechnya and later a Chechnya cabinet member) who was shot to death a few days before Klebnikov.
As to Dukuzov, Vakhayev, Khusnutdinov who are accused of Khlebnikov murder, they, as you know, were found non-guilty by the jury, but later on the Supreme Court returned the case for a retrial. At the moment the case is suspended because Dukuzov, quite expectedly, disappeared having presented false documents that he had been in a hospital. We are looking for him because he is on the wanted list and the court ruled in absentia that he should be taken into custody.
You are very cautious about your answers. To be honest, as a person involved in the journalist investigation of Anna’s murder I like it. Within the eleven months, till this September there were practically no information leaks. It’s unprecedented in my practice.
Our investigation team was unanimous about it: no information to be given out. Not even to friends or relatives. Secondly, everybody who were in contact with them, operatives, defense lawyers signed non-disclosure documents. If journalists succeeded to reach us by phone, the answer was always the same: “sorry guys, too early, we’ve got nothing to tell you so far”.
The only people who did not sign the non-disclosure papers were you, the Novaya journalists, despite the fact thet you possessed very serious information. But you knew perfectly well that no arrests would have been made if there had been at least a slightest leak.
It became especially clear at the end of August when leaks started. How could it happen? To what extent did massive leaks of operative materials published in Media interfere with the investigation?
The breach happened because the time for the realization of information has come: our documents were sent to courts, pre-trial detention centers, various police units and other agencies beyond our control.
Analyzing the leaks I realized: nobody knew what Garibyan was up to, but what he did immediately became common knowledge.
This is what I mean: realization (of information) involves a number of various services. Take that car, the “model four Zhig” which we put on the missing cars list. Of course we are not standing in the street with traffic batons (meaning that traffic police received information about the car). Journalists knew all details in no time, even the license plate number was named. Nevertheless, we managed to intercept the car, we found it and prevented its destruction by criminals.
A similar thing happened with Shamil Burayev’s arrest?
Same with Burayev… Where could go the document that I presented to the court? Anyway, we got him, he did not disappear, he was arrested and criminal charges were brought against him. But in fact he was warned with the help of journalists.
What is the reason for that: corruption or the lack of order?
A: We are investigating all leaks… In some cases somebody’s interest is involved but in most cases it’s the lack of order. But in any case it was very bad for the investigation.
Don’t you think that all these leaks are not accidental, that there is a specific intent, a serious attempt to interfere with the work of the investigation?
Why don’t you think it over, you know the media better than I. Was it a PR campaign of some sort? May be it was an intent or somebody just panicked… But I am not inclined to believe in global conspiracies.
When an average citizen looks at the list of detainees he is puzzled: how could MVD and FSB officers mix with the members of an ethnic criminal group? This is corruption in its worst form. Didn’t it surprise you?
Not me. At least because I know the background of their acquaintanceship, their connections. It has to be taken into account that special services and law enforcement officers meet different people in the course of their work. .. Its up to you to make conclusions, my business is to solve crimes regardless of the personality of the culprit.
During this year did you feel any kind of pressure, at least indirect?
No, I did not feel any pressure. Nothing but help: from Anna’s family, from you, from my superiors. The General Prosecutor rendered all round assistance. He followed the investigation closely, offered his advice. Honestly speaking I was very lucky working with Viktor Grin, Deputy Prosecutor general and former chief of our department Sergey Ivanov. It’s very easy to work these days in the Investigation Committee, with its chief, Aleksandr Bastyrkin and with Dmitry Dovgy, Chief of the Main Directorate.
Nobody tried to impose his own opinion or to force us to do useless work. Very good professional approach. The new chiefs asked from the very beginning: will you manage to do it yourself or need some reinforcement? I answered that at the moment I was doing fine: it was the stage of summarizing the information and two groups could only interfere with each other. This is what we agreed upon: the bosses trust the investigator –which is very important- and closely watch the case, offer their advice.
Many people wondered what was the reason for the reshuffling of the investigation team in September.
Working necessity. Arrests were made. Many people were detained and charges had to be brought in short terms. So a decision was made to reinforce the team: the then chief of the department Sergey Ivanov became the head of this team. I remained in it; one more investigator for particularly important cases was introduced into the team. But when the force-majeure work was over and the regular planned work started there was no longer need for that.
So, the changes related to the formation of the Investigation Committee did not affect the investigation of this case.
Nothing at all interfered with the work of investigators. Cases were transferred from professional to other professionals who perfectly realized that our work must not stop and there must be no muddle in it.
So, the planned work you mentioned yielded results: the arrested suspects started cooperating with the investigation.
I will say nothing to it. But the work is in progress and there are positive moments.
And now the eternal question: is there such thing as insoluble murders?
Probably there is, but I have not come across such thing.Post Views: 59
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: 86