Find your own way'
V. Vysotsky, the Russian poet
I apologize in advance for the tone of the article. It will be harsh and maybe even unfair. But the stakes are high and timing is everything.
Death is good. Everyone loves the dead. Anna Politkovskaya is dead. She was 48 years old and that means that she started her media career under the Soviet Power. Then she was alive. In 1999 she joined the "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper and engaged in Robert Fisk kind of investigative journalism (and I admire and love Robert for his work). She specialized in the atrocities against the civilian population during, primarily, the Second Chechen war, also in helping people there as much as possible. That made her famous in the West (see the link above) and mixed famous/notorious in her own country.
Such a combination leads to death fairly frequently. And now she is dead and the Italian Terzani literature award for the Y2007 is presented to her post-mortem. Death is good for publicity. Now we all say how good she was and how courageous, how honest and how blunt. And we say things like Katrina vanden Heuvel above that 'this brave and honest journalist never compromised on the fundamental ideas....' blah, blah, blah. I have nothing against Katrina vanden Heuvel but I would really prefer to hear an answer to a simple question: when Anna was alive, did you help her? For example, now they say that one of the motives for murder could be her on-going investigation of the circumstances of the Nord- Ost terrorist incident in the Y2002. For some strange reason, then, during the storming of the theater more than 100 hostages were killed by poison gas all the terrorists were killed also. I remember. It was the time when GW looked into the eyes of Putin and saw a soul mate.
So the question is again: how did all our Western folks support the quest for truth by Anna at that time? What means had she received, what information from the much more informed and much more connected western sources did she obtain about friends and enemies, what measures were taken to protect her besides the rhetoric at the ritualistic dinners. Who offered her not an asylum, no but a calm place to stay, maybe a vacation home, safe haven if necessary. Who cared? I want to know. So far I do not hear the answer.
On the contrary. During the Beslan events, Politkovskaya on her own, was flying to the place of the horrific school attack and apparently collapsed after being served tea in the plane. Why was she alone? Hey, people, if our guy goes to Iraq to seek the truth, does he go alone? Any backup, any witness, any friendly hand? Maybe I am mistaken? Daniel Pearl was alone when he went on his mission for the story. He was also killed. Did we learn our lessons? It doesn't seem that way to me.
In her last unfinished story Anna discussed the issue of the 'designated terrorists'. That would be people picked up by the authorities and forced to confess to being terrorists. The 'designation' is not really a Russian thing. Russians are using the language from here. GW did say that he could 'designate' a person as an 'unlawful combatant'. Thus the Russian federalists and their loyal Chechen allies picked that up and made it better. They don't need Putin's, word; any little person of power can 'designate' anyone as a terrorist. That is as if we see our future. Do we see it, really? Now, when Anna is dead, her book is printed here and we all, of course, are urged to read it. But reading it will not help Anna anymore. We better start helping ourselves by looking around. And then we will see that there are a lot of 'designated terrorists' already here, in the US. Remember professor Al Arian? Where is he now? Remember that woman-lawyer who was sentenced to jail for helping her client? What was her name? Remember John Walker Lindt? He was sentenced with gross violations of the due process and Mr. Chertoff himself allegedly was involved. Since that time Mr. Chertoff became a Cabinet man. He must have forgotten everything. Or maybe we have forgotten. At least I haven't heard anyone interviewing Mr. Chertoff on this issue or just asking one question about it. Praising the courage of the dead is easy. Helping them when they are alive is much tougher.
If there are lessons we can learn from the fate of Anna, those are the lessons of sobriety and compassion at the same time. Whenever we see a person who dedicates his or her life to the cause of pursuing the truth we need to extend as much a protection as possible to that individual so that he /she does not feel alone and is not alone facing the odds.
And by protection I do not mean forums, laws or petitions. I mean watching, warning, taking care, preventing, stopping, dissuading. This is, of course, my opinion only, but if Anna would not be on her own in her pursuit for 'designated terrorists' she might be alive today. And take it or leave it, let's acknowledge that we love martyrs. That's wrong. Martyrs are not needed. They are an anomaly. We have to learn to love the living. We have to find our own way to protect them and not to let the injustice to triumph. That takes perseverance.
There is one more lesson we have to learn from that tragedy- a lesson of reflection. You look around yourself and from now on include into the circle of the loved ones the people who you know are doing more than you do on the quest to goodness. They are usually not saints. They can be difficult and incommunicado. They make mistakes and are frequently wrong. But they carry the Divine Spark. Protect them. Care for them. Warn them and watch them. Do not let them go alone no matter how much they want to. Preserve the Ariadna's thread and offer your support. Forever, whenever, ever. Recognize them and keep them alive. We all need them.