For the benefit of both our Danish and our foreign readers, we are proud to bring a guest commentary on the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Our guest commentator today is one of the most distinguished and respected Danish journalists, Samuel Rachlin.
By Samuel Rachlin
COPENHAGEN Anna, Anna, I did not get to call you last time I was in Moscow, and now no cell phone can reach you. I am looking at your phone numbers and e-mail address in my PDA and think of all the occasions in the past when I called you to ask for your advice or ask you to let me interview you on camera. I am not deleting your name or numbers and will keep you alive digitally like, I assume, hundreds of your other colleagues and friends around the world, to stay connected with you and preserve the illusion about you as an active contact, source or colleague – beyond our reach.
You were always busy with your next story or your family and you could come across as absentminded and stressed when you guided us through the piles of papers and books piled everywhere in the usual chaos of your typical Moscow apartment. But you always were ready to share your time and knowledge and advice with a smile and a mixture of amazement and patience when you were confronted with a foreign correspondent’s naiveté or lack of understanding for the realities of your country.
I have to confess that where we practice our professional duties it is difficult to relate to a reality where you kill a journalist, gun her down like a snitch because you don’t like her work or perhaps fear what her revelations can lead to. There is a long distance between the reality of one of our popular TV shows, “Crazy with Dance”, and the reality of a Russian journalist who can pay with her life for her word.
I don’t know if you were crazy with dance, I don’t even know if you knew this entertainment program at all. But I know that you were crazy with truth. You wanted to get to the very core of it without any compromise and at any price – even the highest. You got to pay that price last Saturday when you met your fate in that elevator and your killer finished your most important story – your life. Probably, you did not see him because he shot you in the back with three shots and one to your head, the control shot as they say in Russian, to make sure that you would die.
That’s how your narrative ended, Anna, and I think it’s fair to say that you were not surprised. You had often told your friends that you had received death threats, that you felt you were in danger and that somebody was trying to get you killed. The best known case was the attempt at your life when you were poisoned on board the plane en route to Beslan to cover the hostage drama. You never made it to Beslan and doctors had to do their utmost to save your life.
That did not make you change you workings habits or style. You did not give it a thought that you could move to another country and take advantage of the fact that you were so famous now that there would be no lack of job offers. But you wanted to pursue what you had set out to do – to tell the world about the state’s crimes in Chechnya, the violation of human rights all over Russia, abuse of power in the Kremlin and the rampant corruption in all layers and corners of the society,. You were not driven by any death wish. You loved life and admitted readily that you were afraid. But there was no alternative for you. You knew better than most what Putin’s Russia has to offer journalists who do not follow directions and keep challenging the system and the authorities.
Freedom of expression has been constrained all over Russia in the past six years and the media are, like in Soviet times, increasingly being used as an instrument or a weapon in the service of government. Like in Orwell’s “1984” prison is freedom, darkness is light, lying is truth. Your life is at stake when you choose reporter as your profession in Russia.
A Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, said in the 30’ies that nowhere are poets as important as in Russia. Only in Russia poets are being killed. And yes, Mandelstam was killed. Today you can say that nowhere are journalists as important as in Russia. Only in Russia, journalists are being killed. 12 journalists have been killed in Russia under Putin. You became the 13th.
Anna, you knew, of course, which powers you were challenging when you said that Chechny’a young prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov is “a state level bandit” and that his appointment was one of President Putin’s most tragic mistakes. When you met your killer last Saturday you were working on a story about how Kadyrov and his men use torture, abductions and killings against unwanted people in Chechnya. You said you had pictures to document your charges. Your article was to be published last Monday. Instead, your paper published your obituary.
Moscow is awash with rumors and speculation about who took out a contract on you. There is the Chechen trace, assumptions about the Kremlin’s interest in getting rid of you, suspicion of some Neo-Nazi connection and all kinds of other theories. The fact of the matter is that, like in all the preceding killings of this kind, it will never be established who killed you.
The journalist who would be the best to investigate and establish who, what and why would, of course, have been you. Your paper has started its own investigation, but I am sure that it all will be in vain. Even if a Russian court some day will sentence someone as the killer the truth will never surface. You can catch and jail someone, but how do you catch and sentence a system that has made it possible to hire a killer to eliminate a journalist.
Today’s Russia is basking in its oil money and the sense that its great power dreams are within reach again. For the Kremlin, the killing of a journalist is a deplorable even tragic act. But it does not call for a quick reaction. It took President Putin three days to condemn your killing, Anna. But he added that your influence on the political life was insignificant and that your killing was far more damaging to the Kremlin than any of your articles.
More interestingly, Putin said that he knew there were forces that want to exploit your killing to damage Russia’s interests in the world. I can hear how you laugh at this suggestion and how you will cut to the bone withy this analysis: “Putin never could use me for anything when I was alive, but now he will use my death to tighten the screws even more and do away with what is left of freedom of expression in Russia. Just wait and see.”
Anna, the problem for us and all your Russian colleagues now is who is going to tell the Kremlin that Putin and his men with all their financial prowess and power must understand that there is one loss which the new Russia cannot afford: you and your courage, tall, slim, upright Anna.