Tag-arkiv: Samuel Rachlin

To Kill a Journalist: Guest comment by Samuel Rachlin

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.

Rachlin om Lenin & skeletter i skabet

Vores ærede on/off gæste-punditokrat Samuel Rachlin havde i denne uge i forlængelse af genbegravelsen af den danske prinsesse Dagmar, der blev russisk kejserinde som Maria Feodorovna, et fortrinligt indlæg i International Herald Tribune.  Her er essensen:

“When will it finally be Lenin’s turn?

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more so since the remains of Czar Nicholas II and his family were reburied eight years ago, there has been talk of moving Lenin out of his mausoleum on Red Square and to bury him alongside his mother in St. Petersburg’s Volkovskoye Cemetery, as he requested in his last will. But the idea has not gained any momentum in Russia.

Removing the embalmed body of the father of the Russian revolution from the grand mausoleum, which served as the symbolic heart of the Soviet Union, would be the beginning of a necessary confrontation between Russia and the murderous dictatorships of Lenin and Stalin.

It would begin the catharsis that Russia so badly needs to rid itself of the skeletons in the closets of its history.

Today we need someone to say, “Mr. Putin, tear down this mausoleum.” Give the millions of innocent victims of Lenin and Stalin the apology that they and their descendants deserve and let the historic truth finally be heard all over your country.”

Læs resten her.

E-mail to Dick Cheney: Guest commentary by Samuel Rachlin

Punditokraterne er glade for igen at kunne bringe en gæstekommentar af Samuel Rachlin (den første var denne):

E-mail to Dick Cheney

Right after Vice President Dick Cheney’s trip to Europe and Central Asia, I wrote him an e-mail:

Dear Dick,

It’s fine with me that you give President Putin a lecture and tell him what democracy is about, and that he should not use the oil weapon against his neighbours.  I think it’s appropriate that you tell him that the Russian government has “unfairly and improperly restricts the rights of her people.” and that Moscow should not use oil and gas as a tool of “intimidation and blackmail”. I also find it OK when you tell new East European and Baltic democracies in Vilnius that they are on the right track and they have the full support of the U.S.

But I have a problem when you, after that meting, move on to Kazakhstan to visit President Nursultan Nazarbaev – a mix between Ghengis Khan and a Soviet Politbureau Member without any tolerance of opposition or respect of human right, but with great patience with corruption and abuse of power. He is a leader of the same mold as Azerbaidzhan’s President Ilham Aliyev who recently was received by your boss in the White House.

It’s problem for me because it creates a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the American message. Nazarbayev and Aliyev are by no means on the right track to democracy and are even more undemocratic and despotic than President Putin and his crowd in the Kremlin. It’s obvious that this weakens the message to Moscow and causes confusion among the East European leaders you met with in Vilnius.

Nazarbayev and Aliyev both control significant oil wealth, and you have to understand that this could lead some people to think that the U.S. applies different criteria and values for who’s in and who’s out, and who should be lectured on what’s wrong and what’s right. That’s what we call double standards. When you and your boss cultivate relationships with people like Nazabayev and Aliyev one could get the impression that you distinguish between those who have and those who don’t have oil. The new breed of haves and haves not.

Some people could draw the conclusion that if you have oil it does not matter that much that you violate the rules of democracy and suppress basic human rights. The problem becomes even more conspicuous because everybody knows how close you and your boss are to the American oil industry. The relationship with Saudi Arabia – one of the most important providers of oil to the U.S. – has never suffered under the lack of democracy in the Arab kingdom.

You have to understand that there is not a very big jump from these observations to raising the question about the real motives behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Was it primarily a question of freedom and democracy or was it Iraq’s oil wealth that led the U.S. into the war? It’s obvious to anyone that your and President Bush’s credibility has suffered considerable damage. After Abu Graihb and Guantanamo, your lecturing about democracy and human right begins to sound hollow. After more than three years of warfare in Iraq no one can claim that the U.S. has been defeated, but the lack of results, not to speak of victories, is a defeat in its own right. That has not only undermined your status as a hyper power, but also weakened your ability to speak out about democracy and freedom on behalf of the free world – at least with the same authority as in the past.

You wound up your trip in Croatia, and in a speech to regional leaders in Dubrovnik, you again spoke about freedom and democracy. That’s a problem for me, too, because you welcomed the new countries to the EU. Listen, Dick, on whose behalf did you do that? Who gave you that mandate? Are you out of your mind, as you Americans say.  Don’t you think that we have problems enough already in the EU with the timeout for the constitution debate, with our European identity and our direction.

We don’t need any good advice. We have more than enough of our own good ideas. What we need is determination and action, but right now we are confused and enervated by all the changes we have gone through with integration, expansion and one treaty after the other. We have gone into rethinking mode, and no one really knows when we will come out. Untimely interference can only make things even worse.

And don’t you actually think that you and President Bush have problems enough on your own? The Iraq war more and more looks like a dead end. The oil price in the U.S. is still half of what it is in Europe, but your voters are so angry that they are ready to start a new revolution. The trade and budget deficits look like a Hollywood horror movie. The President’s support is at a historic low, and your own ratings are lower than Michael Jackson’s. How do you feel it’s going for you, as we say in Denmark?  I understand you need a breather, but I would suggest that next time you feel like getting out of there you should go back to Texas for some old fashioned hunting with your buddies.

Sincerely yours,

It did not take long before I got an answer from Dick Cheney:

Dear Samuel,

The hunting season in Texas has not started yet, and after that deplorable episode at  my latest hunting trip, I have to go abroad to test my markmanship before I try to renew my license. Quite frankly, I think things are going just fine. It was a great trip – one of my best in a long time,

Sincerely yours,