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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Remembering Anna . . . and Defiling her Memory

The Moscow Times reports on two meetings in Moscow over the weekend. One of 300 to commemorate Anna Politkovskaya, and one of 600 (that's right, twice as many) pledging loyalty to Vladimir Putin and the extermination of liberty in Russia.

First the good news:

About 300 people gathered Saturday on Pushkin Square to commemorate the six-month anniversary of reporter Anna Politkovskaya's death and to call on the authorities to bring her killer to justice. "There is no political will to have this murder investigated," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told the gathering on Pushkin Square.

Participants passed through metal detectors to get inside the barred perimeter. Dozens of policemen ringed the square, while OMON riot police officers sat in buses parked nearby.

Mozart's "Requiem" and the mournful waltz "Amur's Waves" played from loudspeakers as people laid carnations and lit thin candles on the sidewalk. Several participants carried signs reading, "Stop the War in Chechnya," while others held portraits of Politkovskaya, who campaigned against human rights abuses in Chechnya and was a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin. Yabloko and Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front were the only political groups represented at the rally.

"I respected her for courage to tell the truth about Chechnya," said Olga, a middle-aged woman who had a small paper portrait of Politkovskaya pinned to her scarlet jacket. She declined to give her last name. Chechnya was the major topic for about a dozen people who addressed the gathering, including Chechen human rights activist Aisha Astamirova. "All of us in Chechnya kept newspapers with Politkovskaya's articles and shared them with one another. She was our Mother Teresa," Astamirova said.

Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter for Novaya Gazeta, was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building on Oct. 7 -- President Vladimir Putin's birthday, and two days after now-Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov turned 30. Politkovskaya had accused Kadyrov of human rights abuses. Putin has condemned the killing but played down the importance of Politkovskaya's writings, saying "she had minimal influence on political life in Russia."

Almost every speaker Saturday, including Yavlinsky and Yabloko's Moscow chief, Sergei Mitrokhin, accused the authorities of not doing enough to solve the killing. "The country's leadership could at least pretend that it wants to investigate Politkovskaya's murder, but we don't see even this," Mitrokhin said.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has taken the investigation under his personal control, and he said on March 29 that it was progressing "very well." Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov said Saturday that "the investigation was moving ahead" but refused to provide details. He attended the rally but did not make a speech. Politkovskaya's death is widely seen in the West as a sign of the sorry state of media freedom in Russia. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders warned late last week that "if the authorities fail to produce concrete and conclusive evidence, the creation of an international commission of inquiry or a Russian parliamentary commission of inquiry could prove necessary."

The rally lasted less than an hour and ended with the crowd chanting, "Down with the police state" and "down with chekist power." A few people started to chant, "Russia without Putin," but others rebuked them, loudly crying out: "Provocation! Provocateurs!" Dozens of participants moved to Politkovskaya's apartment building at 6 Lesnaya Ulitsa to pay tribute to her. Inside, the ground-floor stairwell glistened with a fresh coat of yellow paint, and a new mirror hung on the wall inside the elevator that was pierced by a bullet fired at the journalist. Every crack in the wall around the outside of the front entrance was used to hold a flower. Bunches of carnations were tucked into a small gap above the door and behind electric cables and thin pipes fixed to the wall of the building. More flowers lay scattered on the steps leading to the door. A boy of about 10 years old stubbornly lit thin candles scattered near the entrance door, with a chilly wind killing the flames almost immediately. One candle was stuck in an Easter cake. A silent gray-haired woman put a color portrait of Politkovskaya on the wall. An inscription written with black ink and glued to the portrait read: "Motherland -- You are not a mother and not even a stepmother. You are an old woman named Death."

Now the bad:

About 600 young people gathered under imperial black banners on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Sunday as their leaders pledged support to President Vladimir Putin and vowed to fight an "orange revolution" in Russia. The Eurasian Youth Union, a nationalist group whose chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin, has close ties to the Kremlin, had planned a march along Tverskaya Ulitsa, but city authorities only sanctioned the two-hour rally near Mayakovskaya metro station. "We are supporters of the regime. We support Putin because he created the prerequisites for the rebirth of the nation," Dugin told the rally. "We want guarantees that Putin will stay for a third term or secure the continuity of his course."

The Eurasian Youth Union is seen as a Kremlin-backed project to divert youth political activism from the banned, oppositional National Bolsheviks, who demand that Putin resign. When the group was created last year, its leaders pledged to fight Western attempts to influence Russian politics. "Russia should be strong and not crawling under the West," Dmitry Zakharov, a rally participant, said Sunday. Other participants said they had come to oppose the "orange pest," referring to Western-backed opposition groups. Such groups played an important role in Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004. "National Bolsheviks want to monopolize street protests and the notion of civil society for themselves, and we want to show everybody today that we, too, are a part of civil society," said Pavel Kanishchev, waving a black flag decorated with eight yellow arrows symbolizing Russia's imperial expansion.

The rally began with a public prayer by an Orthodox priest, followed by a monarchic hymn sung by a bearded baritone wearing black garb. Several participants who declined to give their names said they were not politically active and had come to Moscow because they had been offered a free bus ride. "There are many people like us here, mostly students from vocational schools in Kovrov, Vladimir and other towns," said a teenage girl with blue hair and a pierced nose. "I can't wait for the boring stuff to end and go for a walk."

Do you notice how the second report does not contain indications of the presence of OMON stormtroopers or controlled access? LR dares to wonder why . . .

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