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Russia: Politkovskaya Remembered For Seeking Truth, Challenging Authority

  • Heather Maher

http://gdb.rferl.org/21A526C3-2810-4701-8736-A342B1783370_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/21A526C3-2810-4701-8736-A342B1783370_mw800_mh600.jpg Garry Kasparov described Politkovskaya as someone who only had respect for the truth (RFE/RL) WASHINGTON, October 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A joint event by RFE/RL and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10 commemorated the first anniversary of the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

In opening the conference, Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, California) described Politkovskaya as the victim of a government that has turned away from democracy and is embracing authoritarianism. Lantos described Politkovskaya as "one of most remarkable women I have ever had the pleasure and the honor of meeting."

"This extraordinary human being was gunned down in her own apartment house, one of the many victims of an increasingly authoritarian government," Lantos added.
"This extraordinary human being was gunned down in her own apartment house, one of the many victims of an increasingly authoritarian government." -- Lantos


Politkovskaya was an investigative journalist who covered human-rights issues -- especially the war in Chechnya -- and was a frequent critic of the Russian government. She was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006. Law-enforcement authorities in Russia say they are investigating Politkovskaya's murder.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 journalists have been killed since Vladimir Putin became president, and only one case has been solved.

Lantos, a native of Hungary who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called Politkovskaya "a passionate fighter for freedom who loved Russia" and was fighting for a free and open society.

'Authority, Truth Never Found In Same Place'

The remembrance event's keynote speaker was Garry Kasparov, a leading opposition figure in Russia who has declared his intention to run for president in the March 2008 election. He remembered Politkovskaya as a journalist who stood up to authority and pursued the truth no matter the cost.

"She was always challenging people," he said. "And she challenged her critics to refute the proof she collected, she challenged her supporters and collaborators to live up to her high standards of hard work and moral authority. And most of all, she challenged authority. She had no respect for authority, only for the truth. And as Anna proved so many times, in Russia today authority and truth are never found in the same place."

Kasparov described a recent effort to mount a marble plaque on the building where Politkovskaya was killed, as a small but symbolic way to honor her memory. Moscow city authorities denied the request but members of the opposition group Kasparov leads, Other Russia, put the plaque up anyway. He also noted that October 7 was both the anniversary of the journalist's killing and the birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only Putin's birthday was mentioned in the press.

"On October 7, we remember a day of tragic coincidences. None of us believe it was an accident of fate," Kasparov said. "Across Russia, the state propaganda machine was celebrating the birthday of Vladimir Putin and ignoring the anniversary of Anna's murder. We all must do whatever we can to reverse this horrific state of affairs. Only when the Russian state acknowledges this murder and ignores this birthday will we be able to say things have been put right."

Putin's 'Corporate Apparatus' Not Democracy

Kasparov is an outspoken critic of Putin and the current Russian government, which he says is consolidating power in the hands of state-appointed oligarchs, suppressing civil society, banning opposition, and repressing independent media.

"The facts are that the Russian government is increasingly irrelevant to Putin and his chosen few," Kasparov said. "So the state apparatus has been subverted to serve a corporate apparatus. And this apparatus operates above the law and behind the scenes."
"The facts are that the Russian government is increasingly irrelevant to Putin and his chosen few." -- Kasparov


Russia is no longer a democracy, Kasparov said, yet Putin is still treated as a democratic leader. He urged the member of the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries to stop supporting Putin, saying that every time he is treated as an equal, he is given more moral authority to continue reversing democracy.

"Today we have an awkward situation, when Putin acts like [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka or [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe, but is treated as one of the members of the exclusive democratic club," he said. "Russia today does not qualify by any democratic standards."

Russian Elections Not Real

General elections in Russia are scheduled for December 2, and the presidential election is set for next March. But Kasparov warned against using certain words to describe those events because they have lost their meaning.

"I ask you to be very cautious in using words [like] elections, running for office, and all other elements -- political terms for democracy, while speaking of Russia," Kasparov said. "Because it's all fake. In Russia we are not fighting to win elections, we're fighting to have elections."

Kasparov has been fighting to register his party for parliamentary elections, but as he was speaking in Washington, media in Moscow was reporting that the Central Election Commission has refused to register the candidate list submitted by Other Russia.

Stories of Russian authoritarianism were echoed by other speakers at the Washington event. Larisa Arap, an opposition activist and member of the United Civic Front, was forcibly kept in a Russian psychiatric hospital for 46 days this summer after she wrote and spoke publicly about child abuse in state psychiatric hospitals. She said the trend in Russia these days is to punish people who confront authority, as in Soviet times:

"Nowadays, just like in the times of the Soviet Union, Russia is practicing punitive psychiatry. It is used against those who are in disagreement with the acting authority," Arap said. "Punitive psychiatry is yet another way of combating political opposition. If you criticize the authorities, you have a chance of finding yourself in jail, or in the psychiatric ward. You may be severely beaten up or murdered, just like Anna Politkovskaya. Regardless of these repressions against us, we will persevere and continue our struggle and our work."

Arap's struggle will be harder from now on -- she was beaten so badly when she was taken to the hospital that her spine was damaged.

Another panelist, David Satter of the Washington-based Hudson Institute who is a former Moscow correspondent for the "Financial Times," said the group of powerful oligarchs who run Russia has abandoned all pretense of appropriateness and is "losing its fear of the civilized world."
RFE/RL Remembers Anna Politkovskaya



A COURAGEOUS JOURNALIST REMEMBERED

On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, who had reported on human-rights violations in Chechnya and the North Caucasus and was a strong critic of the Kremlin, was shot dead in her Moscow apartment block, robbing Russia of one of its bravest investigative journalists.

On the first anniversary of her death, RFE/RL paid tribute to Politkovskaya and looked at her legacy and the media environment in Russia today at the conference "Russia One Year After the Murder of Anna Politkovskaya."

On our special webpage are a multimedia tribute to Politkovskaya presented at the conference, as well as video of the conference's speakers and panel discussions. See RFE/RL Remembers Anna Politkovskaya

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