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Words Without Borders

Anna Politkovskaya

Last spring, I was invited to the Sydney Writers' Festival, as frequent readers of this blog might remember.
The day of my arrival, in the lobby of the hotel in Sydney, I was introduced to a fellow author and guest of the festival, a Russian woman named Anna Politkovskaya.
We exchanged a few polite words. The words that you say to other authors when you meet them at a festival like the one in Sydney. Where did you come from? How was your flight? Is this your first time in Australia? I think that morning in Sydney was the first time I had heard the name Anna Politkovskaya. That is not exactly proof of my being well read, but a festival is the kind of place where you have to accept your shortcomings humbly.
Later on during the festival, I heard that Anna Politkovskaya was probably poisoned in 2004, while she was on her way to Beslan to write about the hostage crisis.
This Saturday, while reading a newspaper, I stumbled on the headline “Journalist Killed in Moscow.” My first thought was: this must be Anna Politkovskaya. And I remembered the skinny and rather nondescript figure I had met in the hotel lobby in Sydney.
Of course, the journalist killed in Moscow was Anna Politkovskaya.
I would add that no serious person doubts that her killing is connected to her work.
The war in Chechnya, about which Anna Politkovskaya wrote frequently, is one of those wars that rage on, almost unnoticed. Who in the West is interested in Chechnya? This is not to say that I think that most people here are really interested in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but at least you can find reports on these wars in your newspaper. From time to time, that is.
According to a reporter from the New York Times, President Putin commented on the killing of Ms. Politkovskaya with these words: “I think that journalists should be aware that her influence on political life was extremely insignificant in scale.” To be fair, Putin also said that the killing of Anna Politkovskaya was “a crime of loathsome brutality.” There is no doubt to me that the Kremlin is pleased with the enduring silence of Anna Politkovskaya.
At the same time, we apparently have chosen to believe that Vladimir Putin is a benevolent dictator.
It all depends on the question: how exactly do we define the word “benevolent"?

(Words Without Borders, October 13, 2006)