"Not even my newspaper...is eager to print my reports..."
Politskovskaya won numerous awards for her coverage of Chechnya, criticizing Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin, the Russian army, the security services, Chechen collaborators, Chechen terrorists, ideologues and apologists on both sides of the struggle while drawing attention to ordinary people, victims of a war they did not choose.
Her accounts are an endless repetition of horror, devastation and death – murder, torture, pillage, rape, greed, betrayal, injustice: families burned in their homes because real estate developers need their land; a teenage army conscript tortured to death and then hanged to create the appearance of suicide; families blackmailed to get information about what happened to parents and children and then having to pay additional money to get their corpses back for burial (Walter Benjamin’s comment about Fascism that “The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious” has ominous overtones here).
“Not even my newspaper...is eager to print my reports from Chechnya,” Politkovskaya notes, “And if they do, they sometimes cut out the toughest parts, not wanting to shock the public....It is more difficult than ever for me to publish the whole truth.” Her paper, Novaya Gazeta, a small Moscow newspaper, is, nevertheless, one of the few in Moscow that consistently opposes the Kremlin, and reporters writing for it should receive combat pay. One reporter died in mysterious circumstances and another was badly beaten. Before Politkovskaya was murdered – executed – she was poisoned on a flight to Chechnya. When asked about her death, Putin dismissed it as “Extremely insignificant.” (In one column, Politkovskaya writes, “There is nothing I can say. Because the time of Putin is the time of silence about what’s most important in this country.”)
Although her sympathy lies with ordinary people – wives of abducted men, grandfathers of sons betrayed by their leaders – she is also critical of them for their failure to strike back, protest, demonstrate. They “agreed to be treated like idiots,” she writes. Which, she also admits may be the only survival possible, “hereditary memory reminding people how to live if they want to survive.”
Why did Politkovskaya choose to live this way? To write of things most people don’t want to hear? To ask for justice where none will result? To put herself at almost certain daily risk of her life? She saw it less than altruistic, just or noble. “I’m thankful for this war,” she writes. “I got here by chance, and got stuck by chance as well. But now I know how to rise above all this nonsense. The war is horrible, but it has purified me of everything that was superfluous, unnecessary. How can I not be thankful?” To know what life is. We can ask nothing more.
Politkovskaya does give us something more. She is the witness we need to know who we are, even if not everyone wants to listen. Writing, the Native American saw as the advantage of Whites, “enables us to know what is done at a distance, to recall with the greatest accuracy, all that we or others have said, in past times.” Writing remembers what should not be forgotten.