ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA Journalist & Human Rights ActivistCOLD OPENOnce upon a time, in Russia many books were forbidden.Once upon a fallwinter afternoon, in October, on the western edge of Moscow – in the biggest city of Russia – lots and lots of people had gathered, perhaps in their hundreds.From the expressions on their faces and in their hushed tones; some times breaking into tears, sometimes staring blankly at one another; you could definitely tell, a big bad thing had happened. They walked, one step at a time, as if unsure of the future, as if afraid of what was to come; many spoke to feeling hopeless. And to echo their somber mood, the dark grey skies opened with heavy rains. It was a altogether a very wet Tuesday afternoon.
The skies above were crying. The people were grieving, everywhere. In Russia, in Chechnya; all across European cities and the US, gatherings had formed in front Russian embassies’ gates to perform rituals of mourning a loved one. People were inconsolable.
For them, a modern day, real life superhero, had died. Anna Politkovskaya, a world renowned female Russian Journalist, was being laid to rest in a Cemetery in Moscow, Russia. Survived was by her ex-husband and their grown two children. Anna had a lived a life not unlike one of your favourite fictional superhero characters. Except she was real. <>With no superhero cape or magic lasso on hand, Anna marched into war wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, a one woman army facing masked men, and submachine guns, armed with simply a pen and notebook, seeking truths, from all sides and none, of the effects of a meaningless war on ordinary people.
She was fearless. Or rather, she felt a sense of duty to tell the truth, no matter who got upset by it. In one of her articles she states;”The consequences of an Information vacuum are disastrous”.So, to all those people, braving the heavy rains to pay their respect, Anna was a reminder that we as humans, can possess extraordinary abilities. Show Intro
A fairytale podcast about the rebellious women that Inspire us.This week: ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA
She displayed bravery like no one else in her profession could. She was reporting on a gruesome war and a creeping dictatorship. And yet she neither sentimentalised one side nor demonised another. Her truth was unbiased.
The people in her profession regarded her as “the conscience of journalism”. Her admirers labeled her, “the honour and conscience of Russia”. Largely, she was known as a journalist and a human rights activist. But she was far more than just a journalist and a human rights activist really. Like all superheroes, she had extraordinary abilities.Anna had an enhanced sense of empathy. Her ability to understand and share feelings with people who were suffering; suffering out of no reason of their own doing was extraordinary. She was helping mothers reconcile with their children lost in war.
She negotiated on behalf of kidnapped civilians. Chechen women spoke of praying for her, as one would a relative. She also had a strong moral code; Anna told the truth no matter what was at stake. She was strongly against what she called, “the conspiracy of silence” within Russia. Anna wrote moving exposes of the worst of Russian life; like, the plight of drafted young men being bullied in the army, forgotten retired soldiers living in dire conditions during their retirement, forgotten in dying cities. Anna wrote how Russian soldiers, and Chechen separatists, misbehaved in the war in Chechnya, exposing the kidnappings and torture and theft which was destroying the lives of ordinary people. <>Born in New York city, USA, during the summer of 1958, her parents named her Anna Mazepa.
Politkovskaya, a name she was more well known by, was her marital name which she kept even after her divorce.Her parents were Soviet Ukrainian diplomats (part of former USSR) who worked at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. Living out her childhood in New York, Anna would learn both English and Russian. She had an American passport but never gave up her Russian citizenship or lived outside of Russia -except during childhood – for longer than only a couple of weeks; even at the worst times. Keep in mind that while Anna’s work as a journalist earned her a lot of support, praise and admiration from different kinds of people worldwide, especially in Europe and America; by the nature of what she wrote about and how she wrote it, she had also upset some people and made a couple of arch enemies. She was a strong critic of the Russian state policies and particularly critical Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, who sent Russian troops back into Chechnya in 1999 when he was prime minister.
She never stopped calling out the leaders of Chechnya, particularly, Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov for human rights abuses. These are the people she had upset. These were very important people to upset and indeed, very powerful arch enemies. They had powers to make her disappear. But Anna was not afraid. Show Intro
A fairytale podcast about the rebellious women that Inspire us.This week: ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA
Her passion for the written word led her to study journalism at Moscow State University. She graduated in 1980 with a journalism degree. She would also meet her husband and father of their two children, Vera and IIya. Politkovskaya began her journalism career in ‘Izvestia’, a leading Soviet paper of the time, then worked as correspondent for Aeroflot Soviet Airlines, which came with an all-access airline pass. She got the opportunity to fly domestically, to, anywhere Aeroflot touched down.
During this time, she traveled extensively all over the former Soviet Union. The experience transformed her from a member of the privileged class familiar with only the main urban centers and summer resort areas of the Soviet sphere to a well-informed journalist. “Thanks to this I saw the whole of our huge country,” she said in an interview with the Guardian. “I was a girl from a diplomatic family, a reader, a bit of a swot to mean, nerd; I didn’t know life at all.”<>After the collapse of the USSR, she worked for Independent, liberal newspapers. As a woman living in Moscow, she observed, in her own words, “Soviet Union at its most disgraceful” in the 1970s and 1980s, and never wanted to find herself back in that era.
<>Energized by the era of reform ushered in after 1985 by new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev (also part owner of the newspaper she later worked for), Anna eagerly returned to daily journalism when press censorship began to cease, taking a job with a pro-democracy newspaper Obshchaya gazeta founded in August of 1991—the same month that the Soviet communist regime finally crumbled.The weekly newspaper was an ideal platform for Politkovskaya. She made her mark as a journalist in the late 1990s when she began reporting from Chechnya. Chechnya is a mountainous region in the North part of Russia.
It had a long history of enmity with its Russian overlords from as far back as two hundred and some, years ago. In the early years of post-Soviet Russia, there had been a small war for independence that pitted Chechen rebels against Russian federal troops. But public pressure on Russian president, Boris Yelstin, pushed by the press freedoms freshly available to media outlets like Obshchaya gazeta , resulted in a withdrawal of Russia’s troops and a 1997 peace agreement that recognized Chechnya as an independent republic. Succeeding Yeltsin in late 1999, new leader Vladimir Putin sent troops to stabilise the internal disorder within Chechnya between the government and Islamic extremists; there had also been a series of Moscow bombings in 1999 which were blamed on Chechen terrorists.Journalists like Anna Politkovskaya however, began to suspect that these instabilities, the bombings had been set up as an excuse subdue Chechnya for good. Anna is quoted to have said; “…
It was clear to me this was going to be a total war, whose victims were first and foremost going to be civilians”.This renewal of hostilities came to be known as the Second Chechen War.By the time of the second Chechen war, Anna was already columnist for Novaya gazeta, another liberal newspaper co-owned by former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just before she embarked on covering full-time the stories of war ravaged Chechnya, she had already been investigating and exposing problems related to the country’s orphanages and elderly. She is quoted as saying, “I was interested in reviving Russia’s pre revolutionary tradition of writing about our social problems. That led me to writing about the seven million refugees in our country. When the war started, it was that that led me down to Chechnya”. She continued her reporting from Chechnya, known as the most dangerous place on the planet for a journalist.
Very few Moscow based journalist could brave the trip there. And even on the rare occasions that they did go, they went only during daylight and were always well guarded. Anna was unfazed, she made over 50 round trips there and, many times for days at a time.Ordinary Chechens, and many Russians, loved her. Piles of mail and non-stop phone calls came, some offering information, more often wanting her help. Could she negotiate with a kidnapper? Help to find a loved one? She always tried, she said, to do what she could.Her stories were critical of human rights abuses on both sides.
She loathed the warlords who had misruled Chechnya during its brief spells of semi-independence; the Islamic extremists who exploited the conflict; the Russian goons and generals, and their local collaborators. She despised the Chechen leaders installed by Russia: they looted reconstruction money, she said, using torture and kidnapping as a weapon. The worst effect of the Chechen wars, she said, was on Russia itself. Her reporting from all over her native country made her see it in what many regarded as an unfairly negative light. Today, her so-called pessimism seems less extreme. She would say call out president Putin’s regime as utterly brutal and corrupt.
She said that he represented the worst demons of the Soviet past, revived in modern form. In one of her published stories she wrote a gripping account of the mystery surrounding a mass grave discovered near a Russian military base; the bodies were possibly civilian casualties, and land mines had been planted to prevent their retrieval. As already mentioned, Anna had made some prominent arch enemies because of her exposés, but for this one she was taken into custody and accused of spying on behalf of a Chechen warlord.
For three days in February of 2001 she was kept in a pit with no food or water. Later that year she was forced to flee Russia for some time when rumors reached her that one police captain, accused of human rights abuses in her stories, wanted her dead. Her aptly titled first book, A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya , appeared in English translation that same year.Anna Politkovskaya survived at least three attempts on her life, including a severe poisoning in 2004, that happened when she was on a plane to Chechnya. During the last two years she was limited in her travels there, however she continued her search for truth no matter how unpleasant it was. Politkovskaya was killed on Putin’s birthday, October 7, 2006, in the afternoon, in an elevator at her apartment building in central Moscow. Just a few before her murder Politkovskaya had been shopping with her daughter. Buying groceries and looking for a sink for her soon to arrive grandchild.
Over the course of her career, award-winning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya dedicated herself to exploring the untold stories of her part of the world. She wrote about government corruption and human-rights abuses but her favorite topic was Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya amidst the Chechen fight for independence. Known as a voice for truth and human decency, Anna was the author of ‘Journey to hell.
A Chechen diary’, an award-winning documentary book in Russian. She was also the author of two books in English, ‘A Dirty War’ (2001), and ‘Putin’s Russia’ (2004). She covered a broad range of topics, such as human rights abuses, brutality in the army, the failures of the judicial system, the problems in the South of Russia, the Caucasus, especially the conflict in Chechnya, and the struggling democracy in Russia. Anna Politkovskaya won numerous awards for her reports and books, including the prestigious Prize for Freedom and Future of the Media (2005), ‘Olof Palme Prize’ (2004), OSCE Award (2003), “Golden Pen of Russia” (2000), and the “Golden Gong” (2000). She was also awarded for helping mothers of killed Russian soldiers by investigating their cases and representing them in courts.Anna Politkovskaya had to postpone her reception of award for ‘Courage in Journalism’ (2002) in Los Angeles, because on that day she received an urgent call from Moscow, where people were held hostage in a theatre. Anna frequently angered Russia’s political establishment with her unabashed criticism. Her quest to record truth in her homeland ultimately cost her her life.
CREDITSGoodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is produced by Darby Maloney and Elyssa Dudley. With original theme music and mixing by Elettra Bargiacchi, writing from Phoebe Mutetsi, and fact checking by Janice Weaver.The Executive Producers are Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. This podcast is a production of Timbuktu Labs. For more fairy tales about rebel girls, check out our books “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: Volumes 1 and 2”. You can buy them on www.rebelgirls.co or in your local bookstore!