Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006)

The Russian investigative journalist, who received an ovation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2005, was shot dead in Moscow on 7 October 2006.

This came at the end of a horrific week for the Politkovskaya family. First her mother was taken to hospital for urgent cancer treatment, then her father collapsed and died of a heart attack on his way to visit her.

Anna Politkovskaya was shot four times in the lift of her apartment block, as she unloaded shopping from her car.

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Anna Politkovskaya’s background was deepest Soviet establishment. She was born in New York to Ukrainian diplomats, graduated from Moscow University in 1980, and transferred effortlessly to the prestigious broadsheet Izvestiya, where she worked for 10 years. She became famous, however, only when she joined the small independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1999 and began reporting on the renewed conflict in Chechnya.

Her subject was the suffering of civilians caught up in the war and the hardship of the Russian soldiers sent to fight it, and she spared no risks in getting a story – becoming a hostage of Chechen forces in 2000 and undergoing a mock execution.[1] A collection of her articles, published as A Dirty War (2001) won her the Olof Palme prize in 2004, one many subsequent human rights awards. Recently she was investigating the new pro-Moscow regime in Chechnya and an article on torture by its troops was apparently due to appear two days after her murder.

Anna Politkovskaya must have had prodigious contacts in official and unofficial circles. A list of them is now with the people investigating her murder, who confiscated her home computer and all her papers.

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Perhaps because she was born into it, Anna Politkovskaya had little time for the international community and would excoriate the UN and European Community for doing too little on Chechnya. Her style was driven and passionate, and in the words of one human rights defender, she was an uncomfortable presence for friend and foe alike.

I interviewed her for the journal Index on Censorship when she was in Scotland and asked her, like all the other Russian writers at the book festival last year, to tell me how she pictured Russia in a hundred years’ time. She said:

“I love my country, but I don’t want it to follow a ‘Special Path’. I want it to be just like other countries where there is democracy, and the police protect people from criminals, instead of oppressing them. I want us to be like everyone else. People who talk about a ‘Special Path’ usually want to oppress somebody […] If we are intelligent, we will move away from the idea that we are the boss and the colonies must toe the line […] The colonies don’t want to toe the line. They see no reason to do it …We need to stop talking like a Big Brother.”

Over 1,500 people gathered in Moscow on Sunday to mourn her murder. From TV pictures of the crowd, some of them were wearing yellow stars and badges saying “I am a Georgian” – a bizarre detail for many foreign spectators, but presumably their comment on the events of last week, that saw Georgian civilians rounded up in Moscow and deported home, in Russia’s war of nerves with its neighbour.

Throughout her short career with Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya had been the constant target of death threats. When asked about this in a BBC interview in 2004 she said:

“I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients. The duty of singers is to sing. The duty of the journalist is to write what the journalist sees in reality”.

Marjorie Farquharson

“Anna Politkovskaya (obituary)”, The Herald (Glasgow), 18 October 2006

Anna Stepanovna POLITKOVSKAYA, journalist. Born Anna Mazeppa, New York 1958; died Moscow 2006. Two children: daughter Vera; son Ilya [Vera’s daughter, born in 2007, was named Anna in memory of her grandmother]

NOTES

Marjorie took this photograph of Anna Politkovskaya at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2005, when she interviewed Politkovskaya and other writers for Index on Censorship.


[1] In fact, it was Russia’s military forces in Chechnya that detained Anna in January 2000 and kept her for days in a zindan (underground prison pit).

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