Anna Politkovskaya: the nation's conscience

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - Anna Politkovskaya was banned from Russian television - but, paradoxically, everyone knew her face.

She wrote mainly for the Novaya Gazeta broadsheet but, just as paradoxically, remained a household name even for those who read nothing but glossy magazines. Faces of popular television stars enter our homes every day but still remain alien to our hearts and minds. Anna's face reflected a brain and a personality far out of the ordinary. It takes many generations to produce such intellect-imbued features as hers.

It took satanic hatred to send three bullets through the head of that woman. No use to rage against the murderer - the man is beyond good and evil.

Anna's death shook the whole world but not the people who use the tragedy as a chance to appear once again on TV and show they are "in". They do not mean to demonstrate their political stances - they have none. All they say is:

"Yes, it's a pity, though I personally did not share her views, I always wanted to tell her that her writing harmed the country. But I was not her enemy, her enemies were in Chechnya, in the fishing mafia, in the government, in the military, in the terrorists' gangs. With so many enemies, how did she manage to survive so long?"

That is a good question. Anna lived on the razor's edge. She never made do with streaks of information leaking from the corridors of power. She based her sensational reports on her own investigations. A brave journalist, she fully realized the danger, unlike certain reporters-cum-parliament-members who bark at people they are set on in those corridors of power.

Politkovskaya relied on her own conscience and convictions to judge who was a scoundrel and who the righteous. She might have been wrong at times, but with the scarcity of the righteous nowadays, her mistakes were not frequent.

Anna knew the dangers of her position, and lived in fear, as every normal person would in her circumstances, yet her civic courage overcame it. And don't believe those who explain her courage with the money she allegedly received for her involvement in human rights activities. Let's leave it to those who in their rancor see nothing but mercenary motivations. But then, an honest professional of the writing guild has a quality that outweighs all fears.

Sick and hunted-down, the poet Osip Mandelstam lived in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, where the song, "I don't know another country to breathe so freely as mine," was officially supposed to epitomize the public mind. Yet he wrote a brave invective against Stalin, starting: "Our country's soil is slipping from our feet." Was it sheer desire to smear his country? Nothing of the kind! It was a conviction born of a penetrating mind that could not keep it inside. Wrathful words thunder far and wide as the people of genuine talent - those termed "the nation's conscience" - acquire the valor given by the truth they know, the valor that made Galileo exclaim to the Inquisition: "And yet it moves!"

The murder of Anna Politkovskaya blatantly challenged Russian authorities. In Anna's position, I would have been certain those authorities would never put me under legal persecution. Although a vulnerable creature of flesh and blood, as a political writer belonging to the most radical opposition I would have relied on my country's rulers to protect me. The powers-that-be need such writers, and are pragmatically aware of their benefit. Anna was for a long time the leader of the part of civil society that fiercely and scathingly criticizes the regime. Russia is presently referred to as "sovereign democratic state" - but democratic, nevertheless. It largely owes that reputation to Anna. The rulers might have turned a deaf ear to her fiery accusations, yet they knew full well those accusations had been made.

Today's Russia has a constellation of brilliant women political journalists. Everyone in the media, and all politically minded people - all whose intellectual interests go beyond inane TV shows - can mention a dozen names that make the glory of the Russian press. It is the duty we all share not to allow those women fall victim to someone's violent ambitions and dirty avarice.

Russian intellectuals have a formidable job ahead restoring their nation's links with the Caucasus. Anna was the first to attempt building a bridge between Russia and Chechnya, and that bridge will be an essential part of the road to travel on the noble cause.

Anna Politkovskaya was the conscience of a nation intoxicated with chauvinism. I firmly believe a street will be named after her some day in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and Chechens will come to bow to her grave.

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