Natalia Estemirova’s Apoliticism

Writing in the New Republic, Usam Basyaev has some final words about the work and life of the human rights advocate Natalia Estemirova.  Basyaev points to the sometimes diverging viewpoints held by Estemirova and her colleague Anna Politkovskaya.

What motivated Natasha Estemirova? Why did she do this work that led eventually to her death? She did this for nearly 17 years, having started in 1992 during the Osset-Ingush conflict. I don’t think that patriotism, at least as it is generally understood, was her motivation. She didn’t have well-defined political views. She was neither a supporter nor an opponent of Chechen independence. She wanted political questions to be resolved without blood, without shooting, without suffering and killing. She was interested in politics only when this would help her to resolve her human rights cases successfully, to the small degree that this is still possible in Russia.

Natasha’sfather was Russian and her mother was Chechen and she loved both of hernations equally. For her consciousness, what she saw happening aroundher was as if one part of her was killing the other. She cried when theelected president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed. She refusedto walk on Victory Boulevard after it was renamed Putin Boulevard, eventhough, from our office to the center of Grozny, this was the mostconvenient route. The latter was responsible for killing the former,and for the former, she had cast her vote. It sounds naive, but, forher, this was very important.

She was anaive person in general. She would begin by saying, “now, listen to myidea,” and what would follow would be completely impractical, at leastin my view. For instance, there was her desire to reconcile everyonewith everyone else, by creating a reconciliation commission inChechnya, similar to one that had existed during Soviet times. Thedifference is that, back then, the government was reconciling peoplewho were involved in blood feuds, where one family had wronged another.Now, the crimes are being committed by the government, and aninstitution of this type could well become an additional form ofpressure against the victims, so that they would not appeal to thecourts or the police. What do you have to complain about if you havealready forgiven the offense? It did not take long to persuade Natasha.When she understood the argument against it, she gave up the idea.

Shewas a real human rights activist. If she took on a case, she gave ither full attention, and she didn’t transfer the work onto others. Shewrote the appeals to the prosecutors herself, carried them to theiroffices herself, and monitored them to be sure that criminal caseswould be opened. She gave information to the press, when it would poseno risk to the people she was defending. She valued the lives of otherpeople above all else, and for this, did not even spare her own.