Today marks the sixth anniversary of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s death (by coincidence, Oct. 7 is also the birthday of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin).
An essay written by Politkovskaya about two months before she died (and published in the Washington Post eight days after she was shot to death) circulated on Twitter today.
Here are some excerpts from it, published on Oct. 15, 2006. The set-up is her paper, Novaya Gazeta, had published an article about an atrocity committed by government of Chechnya forces that timed with her arrival back in Chechnya.
Politkovskaya was out in public, dressed in traditional Chechen womens’ garb.
The women in the crowd tried to conceal me because they were sure the (Chechnya President Ramzan) Kadyrov people would shoot me on the spot if they knew I was there. They reminded me that Kadyrov has publicly vowed to murder me. He said during a meeting of his government that he had had enough, and that Politkovskaya was a condemned woman. I was told about it by members of the government.
What for? For not writing the way Kadyrov wanted? “Anybody who is not one of us is an enemy.” Surkov (Vladislav, Putin’s deputy chief of staff) said so, and Surkov is Ramzan Kadyrov’s main supporter in Putin’s entourage.
“Ramzan told me, ‘She is so stupid she doesn’t know the value of money. I offered her money but she didn’t take it,’ ” my old acquaintance Buvadi Dakiev told me that same day. He is the deputy commanding officer of the pro-Kremlin Chechen OMON, a militia special purposes force.
I met Buvadi secretly. He would face difficulties if we were caught conferring. When it was time for me to leave it was already evening, and Buvadi urged me to stay in this secure location. He was afraid I would be killed.
“You mustn’t go out,” he told me. “Ramzan is very angry with you.”
I decided to leave nevertheless. Someone was waiting for me in Grozny and we needed to talk through the night, also in secret. Buvadi offered to have me taken there in an OMON car, but that struck me as even more risky. I would be a target for Chechen fighters.
“Do they at least have guns in the house you are going to?” he asked. During the whole war I have been caught in the middle. When some threaten to kill you, you are protected by their enemies, but tomorrow the threat will come from somebody else.
Why am I going on at such length about Buvadi? Only to explain that people in Chechnya are afraid for me, and I find that very touching. They fear for me more than I fear for myself, and that is how I survive.
* From an Oct. 15, 2006 NYT story: “Meanwhile, Mr. Putin’s main proxy in Chechnya and a frequent subject of Ms. Politkovskaya’s writing, the Chechen prime minister, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, proclaimed his innocence in a manner perhaps never before heard from a premier’s lips. He could not have killed her, he effectively said, because the record would show that he had never killed a woman before. ‘I did not kill women and I never kill them,’ he said on national television.”
At least one journalist, Terry Gould, thought it was this refusal to compromise that got Politkovskaya killed. Here is what he told the now-defunct CBC Radio show Dispatches in a November 2006 interview.
While Kadyrov may have been moronic, stupid and Satanic, “you want to leave him a little bit of humanity and dignity … if you humiliate (such people), and they’re verging on psychopaths to begin with, then more you’re often than not going to spark in them a rage (that could make them kill you). And I’ve found in these countries you can get around that by turning the volume down from 10 to seven.”
Part of what made Politkovskaya so difficult was the effect on her of the horrors she’d been exposed to in Chechnya, Gould said. He said she would argue with everybody, including terrorists.
“The only ones she didn’t fight with, and showed infinite compassion to, were the endless victims of the Chechen war she wrote about, and literally the victims she put her life on the line to rescue.”