The killing of Anna Politkovskaya October 7 has rallied hercolleagues and fellow citizens in a way few recent events have. “Wemust all change the situation after this tragedy and stop the passivityof civil groups and the journalistic community,” a Russian journalistfriend told me just hours before 3,000 people gathered in the heart ofMoscow to mourn her death and demand the government conduct an immediateinvestigation.
Politkovskaya’s murder was shocking, but for anyone who follows Russianpolitical life today not surprising. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow’sCenter for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of hermurder, “I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of allbecause of Chechnya.”
I met Politkovskaya a few times, in Moscow and in New York. Herdemeanor–quiet, even shy–belied her role as a journalistenraged by the injustice and corruption she believed werestrangling her country. Since 1999 her unflinching investigativereporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war had madeher the target of numerous death threats, but she never slowed down. Infact, when she was killed, Politkovskaya, 48, was at work on an articleclaiming torture of Chechen civilians by security forces loyal to theregion’s pro-Moscow prime minister. Her reporting appeared in Russia’sleading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independentoutlets left in the increasingly state- or oligarch-controlled media.
Some have blamed President Vladimir Putin for her killing. Among them isthe Washington Post, which pointed to “the climate of brutality that hasflourished under Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent himself.” But that is farfrom a satisfactory or full explanation. Since 1992 forty-twojournalists have been killed in post-Soviet Russia–most in unsolvedcontract executions. Thirty of them occurred under Boris Yeltsin,Putin’s predecessor. Indeed, Politkovskaya lies in the samecemetery where Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed during the Yeltsin yearswhile investigating military financial corruption, is buried.
Lost amid so much of the coverage is a sad irony: Politkovskaya wasmurdered on the twentieth anniversary of the unfolding of MikhailGorbachev’s glasnost policy–which quickly led to an increasingly freepress. Perhaps reacting to the human costs of glasnost‘s rollback, theformer Soviet president (who recently became a shareholder in NovayaGazeta), called Politkovskaya’s murder “a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us…[and] a blow to the entire democratic,independent press.”