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Slain Journalist’s Parents Describe Her Selfless Fight Against Russian Fascism

Larisa and Eduard Baburov at a memorial service for their daughter in Moscow on January 23, 2009.
Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist for “Novaya gazeta,” was gunned down in Moscow together with lawyer Stanislav Markelov on January 19, 2009. She had been covering the case of Russian Army officer Yury Budanov, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 2000 rape and murder of a young Chechen woman named Elza Kungayeva. Just four days before the murders, Budanov was released from prison after serving 8 1/2 years of his sentence. Stanislav Markelov was representing the victim’s family in court.

On the first anniversary of her death, Baburova’s parents, Larisa and Eduard Baburov, spoke with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Valery Balayan from their home in Sevastopol, Ukraine, about the circumstances of their daughter’s death and her tireless fight against nationalist extremism and fascism in Russia.

RFE/RL: At the time of Anastasia’s death, did you have any idea what she was working on?

Larisa Baburova: We had no idea what Nastya was doing. Absolutely no idea. When all that reaction happened, I was thinking a little bit to myself that maybe people were exaggerating about Nastya. But we had absolutely no idea what she was doing. She didn’t tell us about those matters. I read her articles from “Izvestia,” and she was already writing for “Novaya gazeta.” And I even got on the Internet and saw her article about [Russian Army officer Yury] Budanov, and I didn’t understand anything at all. I was thinking, “What does Budanov have to do with this? What does Elza Kungayeva have to do with it?” I read Nastya’s article and I liked it. I wrote to her, “I’m really surprised, darling. You write really well, beautifully, and you get to the bottom of a lot of complicated things.”

RFE/RL: I just read the letter written by yourself and Eduard Baburov. And it seems as if your eyes have been opened to a few things.

Larisa Baburova:
Yes, of course. We wrote a letter for November 30 [Anastasia’s birthday]. “Novaya gazeta” edited it. I wrote there concretely about those horrific murders, listed all the murdered antifascists.

RFE/RL: Did you write the letter yourselves?

Baburova: We wrote that letter ourselves. It is our letter.

RFE/RL: You urge officials to acknowledge that the ideology of fascism exists.

Baburova: Yes, yes, yes. Those are my words. They should acknowledge on an official level that fascism exists in Russia. Of course, we’d like to see these criminals convicted in just trials, because it is impermissible to leave such things unpunished. They have murdered so many people. We asked how many more people have to be killed, and how can this be allowed to go on, and how can the legal organs of Russia treat such crimes so leniently?

RFE/RL: When the trial begins in the case of your daughter, will you attend? Do you want to look the killers in the eye?

Baburova: You know, that’s really hard, but most likely we will go. We actually have to go, in order to read the documents, because the investigators didn’t show us anything before the suspects were caught. And after they were caught, they invited us to come, but we weren’t able to.

RFE/RL: Can you say a few words about Stanislav Markelov, who was undoubtedly the target in the incident in which your daughter was killed?

Baburova: Yes, both Nastya and Stas were talented people and they gave all their strength to end the shameful phenomenon of fascism. They were thoroughly honest, both my daughter and Stanislav Yurevich.

RFE/RL: Eduard Fyodorovich, a year has passed now. What is your view of the situation inside Russia? Has it changed over the last year?

Eduard Baburov: Before our daughter was killed we had no idea of what was going on in Russia. It wasn’t until after the murder that we began reading and were horrified to learn how developed fascism is. We have the impression that this process is already beyond control and the authorities can’t do anything about it now. This ideology of Nazism, of fascism, has grown up from the grassroots to the very highest levels.

Larisa Baburova: It is surprising that the government of Russia, the president, doesn’t acknowledge any of this. Neither do the police. They saw this danger. They knew what was being threatened. Nastya, on January 13 [2009], wrote us a farewell letter. We only read it on January 15, as things turned out. We didn’t know anything then, and I was horrified when I read it. I thought -- what is this? Is our daughter saying goodbye to us?

The next letter she wrote was, you know, a little embarrassed. As if she was embarrassed about the previous letter. That is, she had been threatened and, apparently, threatened very seriously. Then a day passed and nothing happened and she wrote us a letter -- the embarrassed one. And we read it and we didn’t understand that one at all either. And then, suddenly, on the 19th, she was killed.

Eduard Baburov: That letter that she wrote on the 13th was very short.

Larisa Baburova: It said, “Dear comrade parents, how are you over there? I’d like to make a request -- love me, please.” The letter was double-spaced, and she never wrote like that before. It was literally three lines and that’s all.

RFE/RL: Did you have any idea at all, directly or indirectly, about the dangerous atmosphere that was developing around Markelov and Nastya at the beginning of January last year?

Larisa Baburova: Nastya had to change her telephone number. On December 25, she changed her telephone number. In 2008, on New Year’s, we weren’t even able to wish her a happy New Year. We called, but weren’t able to get through. So we wrote her an e-mail and she answered that she had changed her phone number. So, they did receive threats -- there were definitely threats.

Of course, the Russian government has such a soft policy, and these bandits are already in all the structures. [Former Duma Deputy Nikolai] Kuryanovich heads a university in Irkutsk. During the election of [former Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei] Baburin, virtually the entire Russian Image [Russky Obraz] movement joined his electoral bloc. The only one who didn’t was Nikita Tikhonov, because he was already wanted by police. [Tikhonov is one of the two suspects arrested in November in connection with the Markelov and Baburova murders. He was previously wanted in connection with the 2006 murder of antifascist activist Aleksandr Ryukin, whose interests were represented by Markelov.]

RFE/RL: Who do you think is behind the killings of your daughter and Markelov?

Baburova: We live in another country, so of course it’s hard for us to accuse the government of Russia. But there are a lot, a lot, of fascists there -- 141 fascist groups and half a million fascists. If Kuryanovich heads the university there, then most likely the whole university is full of the Slavic Union. If you look at the website of the Slavic Union, you see the swastika there. If you look at the site of Russian Image, you also see the stylized cross there. Maybe Russia does need to boost its authority, but not by these means -- by killing people. This is very distressing.

There was a boy named Sasha Ryukhin -- how could they kill him? He was on his way home from a protest where they handed out food to homeless people. Vegetarian food -- he prepared it himself to feed those people. And when he was on his way home, seven men with knives attacked him and killed him. Seven guys attacked this one boy, a student, completely defenseless. It was written that they were given long sentences. But to our mind, their sentences were very mild -- 6 1/2 years. But we understand that if it hadn’t been for Stanislav Markelov, even that wouldn’t have happened. We understand that, considering the situation, the Investigative Committee has a very hard time -- getting cases to court and getting courts to hear them properly. We understand that there are many obstacles. But Russia has to wash this filthy stain off itself if it ever hopes to treat criminals the way they deserve.