IS JOURNALISM WORTH DYING FOR?: FINAL DISPATCHES
By Anna Politkovskaya
Melville House, $19.95, 480 pages
The creation of the European Union and its leadership was supposed to offer an authoritative answer to the famous question of Henry Kissinger: Who do I call if I want to call Europe?
But the previously unpublished work of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya - finally translated into English - reveals a more troubling answer. In Politkovskaya’s interviews with European leaders, one person is pulling all the strings: Vladimir Putin.
In 2001, Politkovskaya had the opportunity to ask then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair why he showed such affection for the man who was responsible for the second Chechen war and was ruthlessly consolidating power while systematically erasing the civil liberties the Russian people had so briefly tasted.
“It’s my job as prime minister to like Mr. Putin,” was Mr. Blair’s response.
How far Britain had fallen. But it wasn’t just Mr. Blair; Politkovskaya also cornered French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin during his campaign for the presidency and asked if he had spoken with Mr. Putin about the human rights abuses in Chechnya. Here is their conversation, with Jospin’s response first:
“Oh no, not that. Lord, that’s all we need.”
“But why haven’t you?”
“Why are you asking me about these things in Lorient?”
“I am a journalist from Russia, and I was invited here by your Press Office specifically to ask you about these things.”
“No, no, and again no. It’s all so complicated.”
“But prime minister, please tell us how relations between Jospin and Putin will differ from relations between [then-French President Jacques] Chirac and Putin if you do in fact become president. What could Russia expect from France in that event?”
“Oh these questions. Putin … Lord. Oh no, not that. Today I shall only be talking about the sea. Ask me something about the sea!”
Politkovskaya’s final collection is titled “Is Journalism Worth Dying For?” To Polit-kovskaya it clearly was; she had been threatened repeatedly by the henchmen of Mr. Putin’s handpicked warlord-turned-satrap in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov - a frequent subject of Politkovskaya’s investigative pieces - before she finally was gunned down in Moscow. She decided the truth was more important than her own life.
The book has been available in Russian and finally was translated into English last month. The section of the book that contains the above anecdotes also includes a story about her visit with the grieving mother of Ingeborg Foss, a Norwegian nurse who was killed on a Red Cross mission in Chechnya.
Ingeborg’s mother, Sigrid, refused to cry - even though the interview took place at her daughter’s grave. (One wonders if the theatrical setting for their conversation, while evocative and sentimentally appropriate, wasn’t a measure too cruel.) But Sigrid’s daughter’s courage was met by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s cowardice - the ministry would not even ask if Russia was conducting an investigation into Ingeborg’s death.
In fact, Politkovskaya was informed she was the first Russian to visit Ingeborg’s grave. “But what about Norwegians?” Polit-kovskaya asked Sigrid. “No Norwegians have come either,” Sigrid responded.
Politkovskaya asked a Norwegian news reporter why Norway wouldn’t press the case with Russia. The answer basically came down to this: Russia is different.
“Alas, this is an all too typical European attitude,” Politkovskaya wrote. “Russia has today been categorized as a maverick territory where, with the tacit agreement of the heads of the European states, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the OSCE all lumped together, it is apparently acceptable for citizens to live under laws quite different from those which apply to the rest of the European continent, laws which the rest of Europe couldn’t imagine living under in its worst nightmare.”
I suppose Europeans can take solace in the fact that they weren’t alone in their craven cowering before the Russian bear. As Ray Takeyh pointed out in “Hidden Iran,” the Muslim world was alight with rage at the Russian human rights abuses and the tales of massacres of Chechnya’s proud Muslims - yet Iran was silent.
Apparently, the export of the Islamic revolution stopped at the Russian border. “Given that Iran had calculated that its national interest lay in not excessively antagonizing the Russian Federation, it largely ignored the plight of the Chechens despite the Islamic appeal of their cause,” Mr. Takeyh writes.
Mr. Putin called the shots, period. The only country that would even suggest otherwise was the United States. George W. Bush even met with Politkovskaya during his presidency, going straight from a meeting at the Kremlin to speak with some of the Kremlin’s most formidable intellectual opponents.
But that all ended with President Obama’s “reset.” We were now to defer to Russia’s prized “sphere of influence.” Out went missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland; in came the New START.
Anna Politkovskaya gave her life trying to reveal to the world the true nature of the terror state that Mr. Putin had been carefully crafting while the world looked the other way. This posthumous collection of her stories shows just how reckless and naive the reset policy really is.
Seth Mandel is an associate editor of NewsReal Blog and former managing editor of the Jewish State, an independent weekly newspaper in New Jersey.