Monday, October 09, 2006

Death In Moscow

The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken journalist, is also a blow against freedom of speech in Russia.

Ms. Politkovskaya’s journalism was distinctive. Not for her the waffly, fawning and self-satisfied essays of the Moscow commentariat. Nor the well-paid advertorial now so pervasive as to be barely noticeable. She reported from the wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, talking to those on all sides and none, with endless patience and gritty determination.

She suffered death threats aplenty. On more than one occasion, Russian special forces threatened to rape and kill her, leaving her body in a ditch. Each time she talked them out of it. In 2001, she fled to Austria after receiving a direct warning to leave Russia or else. In 2004, on her way to the siege of a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, where she hoped to mediate between the Chechen hostage-takers and the Russian military, she was poisoned, and nearly died. Whoever killed her on Saturday October 7th was a professional, intending not to warn her, but to end the problem she presented. She was shot in the body and the head; the pistol was a Makarov, the assassin’s favourite. It was left by her side: in that trade, weapons are used only once.

She will go down as a martyr, in the beleaguered causes of free speech and public spirit. It would be nice to think that Russians will find her example inspiring. Sadly, they may well conclude that speaking out on unpopular topics is best avoided. It hoped that this is indeed not the case, however as recent Supreme Court battles atest and daily news of legal suites announce the most renowned Western democracy faces war between the government and fourth estate that Mr. Politkovskaya knew only too well.

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