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Andrey Novikov: “Who is this Anna Politkovskaya?”

[Editor’s note: Andrei Novikov is a Russian journalist, who at one point was subjected to involuntary psychiatric confinement after publishing articles critical of local government. His case first rose to international attention on this blog and was supported by Reporters without Borders. From time to time, he contributes opinion essays to us.] social_person_49_pict.jpgTHEY HAVEN’T KILLED YOU YET…. To the memory of Anna Politkovskaya Andrei Novikov Independent Political Columnist I proposed holding a rally in memory of Anna Politkovskaya in the city of Rybinsk. They shoved my proposal away. I proposed having at least a minute of silence in memory of Anna Politkovskaya. Then they told me: “We’re not interested in politics!”. Then I told them literally the following: “When they kill you, you’ll get interested in politics instantly.” Then those who aren’t interested in politics looked at me and said: “And who is this Anna Politkovskaya anyway?

You!” I told them.”What do you mean, us?” they marveled. “WHAT, HAVE THEY KILLED US ALREADY?“”No,” I said, “They haven’t killed you yet. But they certainly will kill you if things keep going the way they’re going.“I told them: “It seems to me that with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, they have in a way killed every Russian woman.“The officials didn’t say a word to me. They submerged themselves in pensive musing.Obviously I needed to consult some other, more expressive sources to capture this strange sense (or lack thereof) of the common Russian person’s reaction to the murder of journalists.I sought out one particular individual, a reputable member of the Rybinsk intelligentsia, who has asked to remain anonymous. This gentleman is one those kind members of the intelligentsia who is always seeking out the golden mean. Although in Russia, to find a mean – a middle ground – in certain questions is the same thing as looking for a middle ground in an abyss.But he was a member of the intelligentsia and sought a golden mean in all things. For example, I asked him: “Should people be held criminally liable for political essays?“Like the bureaucrats, he also submerged himself in pensive musing. It was obvious that they should, and they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t be executed, but neither should they get off with a pardon. This is a problem of political prisoners, mused.You’ve got to find a golden mean. Punish not pardon. [This is a well-known phrase used by Russian grammar teachers to illustrate the importance of punctuation, and is often presented as a dilemma faced by an official who receives a telegram from the tsar with these three words on it concerning a prisoner. On their own, the words are semantically ambiguous, and clearly need a comma someplace. But where? If between the first and second words, it means “lock him up”, but if between the second and third words, it means “release him”! It works a lot better in Russian than in English…—Trans.]Having thought it over, he said the following to me: “Depends on what kind of essay it was.” I understood that this might have just turned into a very interesting interview, and asked him another question.I asked him: “Should Anna Politkovskaya get killed?“This was a member of the intelligentsia, who sought a golden mean in everything. He thought, and he answered: “DEPENDS ON WHAT SHE WROTE“.I understood that I live in a world that has gone insane.I get asked who is this Anna Politkovskaya by people who know perfectly well who this Anna Politkovskaya is. But that’s how they always answer. They know everything, including what’s going on in Chechnya, but they make like they don’t know anything. Are the people sleeping? Or are they simply coming up with ingenious ways to escape questions that they fear?When the house next door will be blown up, they’ll come out on the balcony, they’ll chew on sunflower seeds (very popular in our town), and they’ll say: “But we don’t see what we’re seeing. This – is an advertisement!“But, not being interested in politics, they will get to a point where politics is going to get interested in them. It strikes me that Anna Politkovskaya, like so many others who will follow in her path of irrepressible curiosity, only committed the crime of getting interested precisely in those who aren’t interested in her.Trapped in our fear and ignorance, we have often refused to change and adapt to the Russian reality. But perhaps soon it will be the reality which forces the change upon us?