"We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit." - Anna Politkovskaya, 2004Russia has come a long way in twenty years...and it still has much further to go. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "Russia is the fourth-deadliest country in the world for journalists, and the ninth worst in solving those crimes." One crime that remains unsolved is the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.
Last photo of Anna Politkovskaya taken outside her Moscow apartmentAnna told the truth and died for it. She was shot in the middle of the forehead, the "controlling shot" as the special forces call it here in Russia. She crossed too many of Putin's red lines by unflinchingly reporting on the Chechen war in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Along the way she was beaten, poisoned and had her life threatened numerous times. Then on October 7, 2006, Putin received a bloody gift for his 54th birthday - Anna was assassinated. She was 48. As she wrote during the Beslan hostage crisis in 2004:
"Official lies continue. The media promote official views. They call it "taking a state-friendly position", meaning a position of approval of Vladimir Putin's actions. The media don't have a critical word to say about him. The same applies to the president's personal friends, who happen to be the heads of FSB, the defence ministry and the interior ministry."Yuko and I took the metro out to Anna's grave at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery to pay our respects. After twenty minutes we arrived at the Slavyansky Bulvar station and hopped into a cab for the rest of the way. When we arrived we asked a man in charge where she was buried. He knew exactly who she was and seemed determined that we find her, offering long, detailed directions in Russian. We did our best to cipher the route, but needed to ask a woman along the way. She directed us in the general area and Yuko finally found it looking quite differently from photos we'd seen. Anna's photo was there, but the wooden cross was replaced with a cement stone carved in the image of a blank page blasted with five bullet holes.
Very powerful. At the precise moment we arrived the sky began to rain and a drop splashed on Anna's photo. Someone had left an Italian bio, Anna è Viva by Andrea Riscassi, an Italian journalist. It had been signed by a few others and we added our names and “Thank you for your life.”
I pulled some weeds away from the grave and found that I was shaking a bit. Now Anna seemed alive in death, exerting an influence I never anticipated. I took Yuko's hand and offered a little prayer and a "sayonara" before running back to our cab. I felt compelled to come here and was grateful for the chance to pay my respects to a genuine Russian hero.
I feel as Swiss director Eric Bergkraut says in this trailer to his 2008 documentary, Letter To Anna:
"Would anything have surprised you about what happened after your assassination? Maybe the fact that so many people from around the world are moved by your destiny? They haven't forgotten. And they want to know the truth. Just as you did."