Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead Saturday, and it's sad and shocking, and it's hard to think of anything to say now.
Rest in peace, Anna.
This is what I wrote about Politkovskaya roughly four years ago, after the Dubrovka hostage crisis:
[...] Politkovskaya has so far dissected an incredible expanse of Chechnya's tissue, following blood streams from the battlegrounds in Grozny to the refugee camps in the neighboring Ingushetia; from the army barracks in Daghestan to the offices of corrupted generals in Moscow; from the war zone nursing homes to the out-of-the-way homes of bereaved families of the missing Russian soldiers.
She doesn't seek to be in the spotlight but gets caught in it anyway: either through her noble initiatives to help the most miserable among her sources, or through the government's clumsy yet menacing attempts to silence her. The last time she drew everyone's attention was during the hostage crisis, when the Chechen terrorists named her as one of those they would have liked to negotiate with.
Hours after Politkovskaya arrived in Los Angeles to receive a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation, she had to start planning her trip back to Moscow. Around noon Thursday, October 24, a Russian TV channel arranged a live phone conversation with her, and she explained that at the moment she was having problems exchanging her Delta ticket for an earlier date. I thought that was so ridiculous, having to worry about tickets when the lives of nearly 1,000 people were at stake. And only when my American colleague and I visited Politkovskaya at her Moscow apartment ten days after 10/23, did I understand that the time difference, not red tape, had been to blame: it was the middle of the night when the news of the siege reached LA, and many people were asleep.
Smiling ironically, she told us how she had wanted to see Hollywood and the celebrities' mansions while she was in California. That was when I first caught myself feeling as cozy and ordinary as if I were sitting in the kitchen with my landlady: a daughter greeting us at the door; a son stopping by briefly to say hello to us and tell his mother he was off to work; a dear old Doberman, so excited about the guests that we all worried he might have a stroke. But Politkovskaya then began telling us how hard it had been to think of something to write in the note for the award ceremony she was going to miss, and I knew I was back in the kitchen of a woman whose magnitude was close to Andrei Sakharov's.
In her LA note she wrote: "I have always believed that Russian journalism, first and foremost, is the journalism of action. The journalism of taking the step that you simply must take. Please pray for us, those who are directly affected by this crisis. And of course, say a prayer for me. I am ever more convinced that the war in Chechnya must be brought to an end. And today, the time has come for me to appeal to President Bush and plead with him to use his influence on President Putin to stop the bloodshed in Chechnya, and to prevent it in Moscow."
Back in Moscow, she did meet with the terrorists, and with some of the hostages, and she returned to the "Nord-Ost" building a few more times that day, October 25, carrying boxes of juice for the people inside. Journalists and firefighters contributed their own money to buy the first portion of juice; later - almost too late - the government decided to participate, too. (Some of the J-7 juice must have seeped inside the theater, while some of us, outside, were musing over the deeper meaning of the brand's slogan: "Everybody loves their freedom.")
In Politkovskaya's kitchen, we drank tea and did not talk about October 25 - by that time she had already described her errands in the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta and other publications. She told us about the people she knew among the hostages: her daughter's 24-year-old friend, a "Nord-Ost" orchestra member; her own childhood friend with her family. The young musician survived, and Politkovskaya published an interview with him later; her friend lost her son and husband, and Politkovskaya attended the double funeral, and wrote about it, too.
My colleague asked her about the current racist moods in Moscow, and Politkovskaya confirmed that they were on the rise. Regardless of whether we want it or not, she said, the hostage crisis has only made it worse for all those who've been demonized by the media and the President, those who are routinely called "the blacks" here. Two weeks on, in mid-November, she published the first two stories of a series documenting the newest wave of anti-Chechen abuses in Moscow.
It is a purely post-Soviet phenomenon that the war in Chechnya is nowhere near the end and the discrimination against Caucasians is rampant all over the country - all despite Anna Politkovskaya. Her brave reporting is easily accessible in print and on the Internet; her astonishing book, "A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya" (Harvill Press, London, 2001) is available not just in its English translation but in Russian as well. Her stories cannot have but the most profound impact, and yet, no major changes seem to occur.
Anna Akhmatova died on March 5, 1966 - the day of Stalin's death 13 years earlier.
Anna Politkovskaya was killed on October 7 - Putin's birthday.
The irony of such coincidences is so exquisitely dumb.