Since the rise of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become more and more like a Mafia state in which political power and violence merge as instruments of control by the oligarchs and their political allies. Russia appears more as a Potemkin village rather than a genuine nation state. It has the outer trappings of a political, legal and constitutional system. But underneath the body is rotting to the core. We cannot speak of the rule of law. There is the diktat of power wielded by corrupt petty bureaucrats doing the bidding of an unseen hand.
In the United States, there is an opposition to the war in Iraq though it is ineffectual and disorganized. In Russia, there seems no organized opposition to any Putin initiative including the war in Chechnya. The Russian people have always been cowed by their czars and Politburo apparachniks. This condition persists today. No one in the government had to pay for the Beslan massacre. No one questions the war in Chechnya. I should say, there are individual voices which do. But in nation so corrupt, these voices are suffered by the powerful much as a distracted man swats at an annoying gnat without killing it.
Anna Politkovskaya was such a person. A virtual one-person journalistic campaign against the state and its misbegotten Chechen war. She was the one who told Putin what no one else in the country dared to–that the war was pure evil. For some reason, the Russian intelligence apparatus endured her outrages. Until they stopped being willing to do so. It almost doesn’t matter whether her murder was ordered by a shadowy government connection or by the Russian-allied Chechen government. There are so many evil, corrupt loci of power in Chechnya and Russia that any number of people could have given the order. Suspicion falls first and foremost on Razman Kadyrov, Russia’s chief Chechen stooge. He can’t have relished her repeated reports on torture and other blatant acts of terror carried out under his watch and sometimes by him personally. I can see Kadyrov saying in the words of King Henry: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome journalist?” And in a land built on violence and corruption, there were hundreds, even thousands eager to do his wishes.
There seems little we can do for the Russian people who suffer under the yoke of these thieves; or for the brave souls like Anna who stand up to the Mafiosi with defiance, truth and justice on their side. So perhaps we can read her books (pictured here with Amazon links) and learn more about her and the ideas for which she gave her life. I’ve featured A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya and Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy as worthy representations of her powerful journalism.
NOTE: This is a post I wrote on October 8, 2006 and had intended to publish it it in order to memorialize this remarkable woman. For some reason, I wrote the post but never published it. On writing today about the assassination of another Kremlin opponent, Alexander Litvinenko, I searched for this post and could not find it. This led me to realize I hadn’t yet published it. So apologies to Anna for the unforgivable delay. Given Litvinenko’s fate, it is never too late to remember those who die untimely death at the hands of Putin and his gang.