On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya GazetaShe was shot dead at the entrance to her building in Moscow. She belonged to a generation who considered her journalistic path Perestroika began, a group that was actively building the new journalism. During the first war in Chechnya, she gave a profound account of the suffering and fate of ordinary people, soldiers and their mothers, Chechen women, children and the elderly. It showed the human dimension of war, a quality that some still mistakenly view as distinguishing women’s reporting from hot spots or theaters of war. Also, she sometimes helped the people she wrote about – she helped residents of a nursing home evacuate from Chechnya.
Their reports were largely based on information from human rights organizations in the Caucasus, particularly Memorial, and through their work Russia learned of the torture, disappearance and cruelty of this unnecessary war.
Politkovskaya’s letter also met with an enormous response outside of her country. Her book Putin’s Russia, published in the UK in 2004, was a huge hit, revealing the subjects that were very important to her – she interpreted contemporary Russia for western readers.
Politkovskaya’s funeral in 2006 drew enormous crowds. Shortly afterwards, women journalists organized a march through central Moscow, many of them with their children, and carried posters that read “Don’t shoot my mother”. The march ended in Pushkin Square, where the Moscow Glasnost Foundation’s list of the 211 journalists who died in 1990 was read out.
Her assassination stunned the international community, and in the same year, 2007, the International Union of Journalists launched a multi-year project to overcome impunity in Russia and created a database of violations of journalists’ rights; there were safety conferences and seminars and manuals were written. The Russian journalist community, once more atomized and passive, began to show solidarity.
Anna became a symbol of unwavering dedication to her job and the belief that an honest word can improve life. A square in the commercial center of Milan and one in Rome not far from Villa Borghese were named after her; Films and operas have been made about them. Her name is heard at rallies and forums in defense of peace and freedom of expression around the world.
Unfortunately, no street in Russia is named after her. The staff of Novaya Gazeta named a small garden in their building for Politkowskaja as well as the journalist award Kamerton (“tuning fork”), which was awarded by the newspaper in a ceremony with their family and Russian musicians. Last year, the award went to Elena Kostyuchenko for her coverage of Covid and the environmental disaster in the Arctic. She became a journalist on the model of Politkovskaya, whose articles she read in school. This year’s winner is Natalya Sindeyeva, the creator and general director of the independent cable broadcaster Dozhd (Rain TV). The state recently labeled Dozhd a “foreign agent” and added the station to a register that already includes dozens of independent media outlets and individual journalists.
The list of murdered journalists under Boris Yeltsin and Putin has now exceeded 350. The majority of the cases remain unresolved, including Anna’s. The investigation into Politkovskaya’s death lasted several years, in 2014 two men were sentenced to life imprisonment and three other men were sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison. However, Anna’s newspaper and her family believe the people who commissioned the murder have not yet been identified. Anna’s family and friends continue to hope that those responsible will be punished.
The 15 years since Politkovskaya’s death have shown the fragility of free speech and the importance of independent journalism and solidarity. Russian lawyers point out that more than 30 new laws and laws have been passed in those years restricting the rights of journalists and the media. This year set a record for restrictions and the selective application of repressive laws against independent voices. “At the same time,” says Galina Arapova, Director of the Media Rights Protection Center, “independent journalism has grown on new platforms in recent years.” A new generation of journalists has arrived. They continue the work of Anna Politkovskaya. It is important that your readers are aware of your work.