Slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya's diaries, published in English this week, paint a damning picture of a Russia where democracy is stifled, fascism is on the rise and ethnic minorities are brutally repressed. For her, one man is to blame -- President Vladimir Putin. Her hard-hitting account of Russian news and politics over two years, including the parliamentary elections in 2003 and the Beslan school siege in 2004, was completed shortly before Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow in October, 2006, aged 48.
She also voices her frustration at the opposition itself, saying it concentrated on wooing the wealthy while ignoring those below the poverty line, and at Russia as a whole. "In the Chechen town of Urus-Martan, three boys have gone off to fight for the resistance," she said in 2005. "They left notes for their relatives explaining that they could ... see no other way to get back at the failure to punish evil-doers."
The 300-page collection of reportage and reflection, unpublished in Russia, is a reminder of why Politkovskaya was such a thorn in the Kremlin's side. In the first of three sections, Politkovskaya describes the creation and success of the "phantom" pro-Kremlin United Russia party in 2003 parliamentary elections, which eased Putin's passage to re-election in a presidential ballot in 2004. "Were we seeing a crisis of Russian parliamentary democracy in the Putin era?" she said. "No, we were witnessing its death."
Politkovskaya, her appeals unheeded in her lifetime by the majority who see Putin as a bulwark of stability, accuses those in power of undermining the opposition through intimidation. "The Russian people gave its consent. The electorate took it lying down and agreed to live ... without democracy," she wrote on Dec. 8, 2003. "It agreed to be treated like an idiot." Putin declines the totalitarian label, but says democracy must be adapted to Russian conditions and culture. In between political reflections, Politkovskaya highlights the gap between Russia's rich and poor, allegations of arbitrary kidnappings and killings in southern Russia and of the torture and murder of a soldier by fellow recruits.
Politkovskaya wrote for a low-circulation liberal Moscow newspaper and was shunned by state-controlled media, making her less well known in her own country than she was abroad.Several times in her memoirs, she argued that by resorting to what she called brutality and lawlessness in Russia's Chechnya province, the authorities under Putin were driving young people to take up arms against them.
The mother-of-two also attacked Putin and security forces for botching the siege of a Moscow theatre in 2002 that left more than 100 hostages dead and that of a school in Beslan in 2004 in which more than 330 children and parents died. Politkovskaya accused men loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, confirmed as Chechnya's new president this month, of corruption and torture. Kadyrov has denied he ordered Politkovskaya's murder. Politkovskaya's sister Elena Kudimova said investigators had narrowed the search for her killers to a few possibilities, but she could not predict if or when charges would be brought.
"She had quite a lot of enemies. There could potentially be a number of people who might have killed her," she told Reuters. Kudimova added that Politkovskaya, respected internationally for reporting from troubled regions in Russia's south and tireless human rights campaigning, would speak again from beyond the grave with a new book to be published this year. Politkovskaya started the book about an event in Chechnya in 2006 which Kudimova said contained "explosive" material. Kudimova will complete it with a chapter about her sister. "She was very feminine, not just a warrior," Kudimova said.
Sunday, March 25, 2007