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Grigory Pasko: Memento Mori

On 17 November, on the day of the start of the trial of the persons accused of the murder of the famous journalist, “Novaya gazeta” observer Anna Politkovskaya, an acquaintance telephoned me and said: “Have you heard!? The trial will be open!”

I had already gotten so much accustomed to closed trials in Russia that I inadvertently said: “It can’t be so!”

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Photo: Anna Politkovskaya’s grave at Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow (photo by Grigory Pasko)

Exactly in twenty-four hours, the Moscow district military court atthe first session of the consideration of the case on the meritsdecided that the trial must take place in closed regime. The judgepresiding at the trial, Yevgeny Zubov, clarified that this was done forthe reason that the jurors are refusing to enter the courtroom in thepresence of the press.

I have no words. It’s just plain nauseating. I am nauseous becauseof those who adopt such decisions. And I understand: that’s how it willbe in my country for a very long time yet.

Recently I paid a visit … to Anna. More precisely, to her grave, at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery.

At this cemetery I ended up for the first time. The pompousconstructions in front of the entrance impressed me: beautiful, solidlymade, for the ages… The flower kiosk, the little church for performingfuneral services for the deceased, the hall for farewells, thegravestones for sale – everything, absolutely everything has beenprovided for. There’s no skimping in the way this business is beingrun, everything has been well thought through. Even the mugs of thesecurity guards are so broad, as if though especially so that nobodywould question the seriousness and longevity of this business.

And then I saw the cemetery itself. A huge field of black andtasteless monuments, simply obtuse in their tastelessness. Like somefield of dead intentions of good architects. Like a dragon’s teeth thathave sprouted, sprung like seeds – and all black, like they had alreadygrown out rotten.

Nearly all the entombed – are military and cops. On the slabs areengraved their portraits in uniform, and from this the theatricalityand absurdity of the spectacle only intensifies. And if you theninadvertently start to read the inscriptions as well …

“Here rests …great… deserving… Awarded orders and medals …””Advisor-legate 3 class… diplomat…” Lord, who needs their regalia THERE?

This is certainly not the poet Batyushkov with his epitaph: “No needfor inscriptions on my stone, simply say here: he was and is no more!”

If we are to believe Mark Twain, the deceased adore readinggravestone inscriptions and epitaphs. Oh and how they no doubt sniggerand laugh at them!

I recalled the poem of one author:

Смех берет от надписей дебильных          They make you laugh, the moronic inscriptions,
И поэтов, сочинявших их,                         And the poets who composed them
Тех, что нам на камушках могильных        Those who for us on little gravestones
Пишут глупое: “Трагически погиб”.            Write stupidly: “Tragically died”.

And suddenly, among the black field of tastelessness – a littleisland of brightness. This – the grave of the journalist AnnaPolitkovskaya. A white border, white pebbles, a stone slab over thegrave, stylized to resemble a large sheet of paper, shot through inseveral places. Anna had been shot by a killer, whose hand had beendirected by those who were intensely irritated by the journalist’sarticles. She wrote about the Russian power, about Putin and hisaccomplices, about the war in Chechnya and the fates of the Chechens…About closed trials.

A bright gravestone – as a symbol of Anna’s bright soul. That’s howit should be: white – for the white, black – for the black.