Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Russian Diary

I am currently reading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia. The book is Politkovskaya’s final offering, because she was murdered at her Moscow apartment in October of last year.

Politkovskaya was a great, courageous journalist and a writer of tremendous emotional impact and analytical acuity. An earlier Politkovskaya book, A Small Corner of Hell, was one of the definitive portraits of the agony inflicted on the Chechens, and how actors on both sides of the conflict cynically profited from it. When she was killed in 2006, Politkovskaya had been working on an article regarding the use of torture in the regime of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow premier Ramzan A. Kadyrov, which, she told The New York Times in April, would likely include evidence of torture by Kadyrov’s police and paramilitaries, and perhaps even testimony from at least one witness who had been tortured by Mr. Kadyrov himself.

One of the most striking things about A Russian Diary thus far, is the appearance in it (it covers the years 2003 until 2006) of so many of those now-departed. There is Nikolai Girenko, the founder of the Group for the Rights of Ethnic Minorities (GPEM) and a respected professor of ethnology slain by extreme nationalists in St. Petersburg in June 2004. There is Paul Klebnikov, the Moscow editor of Forbes magazine, gunned down outside of his office barely a month later. And there is Alexander Litvinenko,the former lieutenant-colonel in the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation who went into exile in London and became one of the most bitter and vocal critics of the government of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Following Politkovskaya’s murder, Litvinenko spoke out strongly, accusing Putin of involvement in the killing. A month later he followed her to the grave, poisoned after meeting with another former Russian spy.

I came across a moving and eloquent interview conducted with Litvinenko a few years before his death, which speaks, I believe, not only of the state of modern Russia under Putin, but also of the bravery and courage of people like Politkovskaya and Litvinenko, fragile individuals standing up against awesome political and financial power, and organized campaigns against their integrity and reputations by those in a position to benefit from chaos and banditry.

You did the best your could, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko. That’s all your countrymen or the rest of us could have ever asked for.

No comments: