Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Politkovskaya Podcast

On Tuesday evening, Open Source radio broadcasted a show on "The death of Anna Politkovskaya", with myself, Masha Gessen - Deupty Editor of Bolshoy Gorod, Raffi Aftandelian - maaskva: nashimi glazami, and Edward Lucas, The Economist Central and East European Correspondent. The programme in full will, in due course, be available for download at OpenSource, but in the meanwhile, it will have to suffice with their presentation of the show:

What did she know about Putin’s Russia that we don’t? Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow this week, shot on the street. A journalist, she spent the last seven years as a columnist for Novaya Gazeta, covering Chechnya and the oligarchs and the list of official sins that continues to grow in Putin’s Russia. She titled collections of her columns Putin’s Russia, A Dirty War and A Small Corner of Hell; it’s not hard to figure out why she made a lot of people uncomfortable.

She had a lot of enemies, they all had motives, and the threat isn’t limited to her. Russian journalist Masha Gessen revealed on the phone this afternoon that, given the choice between a lighthearted piece for a Russian paper on the economy or a more sober look at Putin for an American paper, she’d take the economy. Safer that way.

Several guests we spoke to this afternoon described Politkovskaya as “passionate”; she opened her 2004 book
Putin’s Russia with the words “These are my emotional reactions, jotted down in the margins of life as it is lived in Russia today.” She established her own credibility; she was asked to help negotiate the hostage crisis in Beslan and then — she believed — poisoned on the plane on the way down. After the crisis, when it became illegal to sell a newspaper within a hundred meters of a subway entrance or bus stop, she was one of the few fearless journalists left; The Economist described her in an obit on Sunday as brave beyond belief.

And now she’s gone. What does this say about Putin’s Russia? Was an oligarch — or a Chechen, or police sergeant exposed for corruption — angry at what she’d done to his image, or did the Kremlin send a signal? And as we focus our attention on the Middle East, Russia threatens European natural gas supplies and rounds up Georgians as “criminals” for export back to Georgia. Are we completely missing a serious and not-so-new problem?

What is interesting with a discussion like this, is how various perspectives meet: a Russian and a western journalist, an Armenian American in Moscow and a Swedish expert on Russia. The greatest fear participating in a broadcast is not to get one's message through. This time the message is urgent: The significance of Anna Politkovskaya and how her murder reflects current Russia.

In these days, the negative attitudes towards Russia dominate. At the same time, Politkovskaya's murder may prove a turning-point for Russia. Although, there were only familiar faces - old soviet dissidents in their seventies - at her funeral yesterday, her death may actually rejuvenate the civil rights movement in Russia.

In 1966, the trial against Danilov and Sinyavsky set off a spark that ignited the soviet dissident movement of the 1970s - Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner and others. Nobody could then fully grasp the significance of a few "lost souls" in the quagmire of Brezhnevite soviet society. Still, the perseverance of the dissidents inspired others and eventually led to the era of glasnost and perestroika of the 1980s.

Today, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya may inspire a young generation of "new Russians" to gradually look beyond self-interest when confronted by mounting oppression. Regrettably, oppression is the situation for Russian media today, and journalists fear for their lifes and far too many try to avoid sensitive subjects, while they otherwise risk the necks of themselves and their families. Still, perhaps it has to become worse before it becomes better.

Perhaps, Anna Politkovskaya's death will become the start of something new in Russia. That would be a testimony worthy of her bravery and moral standing as an independent journalist and a whistleblower on all the injustices prevailing in Russia of today. Anna Politkovskaya was an inspiration when she lived. Now her legacy may become an even greater inspiration for future Russia. Her mission was to fight injustices. Her vision was a better Russia - a Russia which the people deserves but must fight hard to attain. Her final sacrifice must not be in vain!

Comment: The show in full may be listened to at Open Source Radio.


Anonymous said...

Since you were on a panel with Masha Gessen, can you tell us why her column in the Moscow Times has ended, and what she will be doing instead?

Anonymous said...

In the Politkovkaya show you did not touch on the Georgian topic as promised, so I thought that this small letter from my close Georgian friend who lives in Russia will help to realize the extent to which present Russian society has started to resemble Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Dark Age in Russia

It’s been slightly more than a week since Georgian authorities arrested four Russian officers on spying charges and turned them over to European intermediaries four days later. However I feel like months passed since that as things changed dramatically. Russia stopped all transportation between the two countries, stopped money transfers to Georgia, started military maneuvers in the Black Sea. We thought that was pretty tough for retaliation measures but it was just the beginning. Backed by heavy TV propaganda, painting Georgians as “nation whose representatives are responsible for many crimes”, Russian police and other special services mounted a massive attack on ALL GEORGIANS LIVING IN RUSSIA. People were stopped on the streets, taken from restaurants and from their own apartments; there were massive document checks; everyone with Georgian citizenship and even surname was taken for interrogation. At best, they spent several hours in jail and then released but many people (some with perfectly valid visas and registrations) were deported from the country by cargo planes. Then tax authorities and anti-organized-crime units started massive checks in all businesses owned (and even linked) to Georgians (and I mean ethnic Georgians, including Russian citizens)… and guess what – serious violations were found. Majority of Georgian restaurants are closed now (and there are about 150 of them in Moscow) as owners and personnel are afraid to show up. Migration ministry of Russia refused to give work permits to Georgians and publicly accused them of criminal activities. To finish the picture – there was an order for Moscow schools to prepare the lists of students with Georgian names and surrender them to police.

During this week I not once had a strange feeling that I am sleeping and this is a bad dream, or a movie, something unreal… But this is happening, here and now, in 2006, in Russia. For the first time in my life I am afraid to live home, this feeling of unsafety is something very ugly, I must say. And it’s happening so fast that I still am in dismay and confusion. Perhaps now is the time to leave this country, where I spent about 12 years, I don’t know yet… E ven if these repressions avoid me it is not safe to live in a country with such policies.

But now it’s really not about me, I am writing to ask you to spread this news – there is ethnic purge going on and innocent people are suffering . THIS IS NOT PERMISSIBLE - NOWHERE. Russian state should understand – even if they have a lot of oil, there is not permissible to persecute people based on their nationality. Unfortunately, Russian society today is too weak and immature to handle this internally, therefore the West should interfere, until this country completes its transformation into dangerous Nazi regime.

A Georgian Living in Russia for the Last 12 Years

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous #2: what you describe seems similar to how russians reacted against the united states after yugoslavia in invasion by nato. before this, russians seemed to be quite friendly, but as soon as there was an excuse we saw great hostility. seems to be the same case with georgia. one can't forget how deep is russian xenophobia, especially where race matters or chauvanist pride are concerned. so much hatred concealed behind smiling faces, just waiting for chance to come out! really, what you are describing is a horor story and i'm sorry you need to live through it, and even more sorry that nations of europe show great lack of courage in responding as they should to a future nato ally. clearly an emergency situation, those who favor democratic values inside and outside russia need to really now or lose chance as was lost against stalin and hitler.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

I believe Masha Gessen has left the Moscow Times to become Deupty Editor of Bolshoy Gorod. Why do you not ask her yourself?

As for the Georgian content of the Politkovskaya show, I agree with you that it was a pity it did not enough deal with the current Russian-Georgian crisis. However, when interviewed, one has to reply to questions posed rather than other subjects, and after all, it was a show on Politkovskaya. As far as I recollect, both Raffi Aftandelian and Masha Gessen spoke about Georgia. I did not, because I was never asked to. As for comparisons between current Russia and the Nazi regime, I believe that they should be avoided. Russian xenophobia is a strain of its own, and seeking similarities with Nazi Germany will only serve to obscure analysis of important issues at hand. Furthermore, I am not convinced that portraying Russia as a Nazi regime is in the best interest of Georgia.

Still, as Rolf succintly points out, one cannot let things get out of hand in relations to Russia. European politicians have to take a stand, and that is not a question of sooner or later. It is a question of now. The EU and its member states should consider a change in policies towards Russia before it is to late to influence developments that might have long-term repercussions. Such a change would also be in the interests of Russia itself, which many people fail to understand and acknowledge. Moscow is currently pursuing policies that eventually may blow up in its own face.