Politkovskaya Day: Her Reporting on Blagoveshchensk

In the past this blog has featured translations of the work of one of Russia’s most brilliant human rights lawyers, Stanislav Markelov, on the filtration camps of Blagoveshchensk. In Anna’s memory, we are pleased to feature an exclusive translation of one of her investigatory articles from 2005 in Novaya Gazeta on the same topic – Russia’s version of holocaust denial. Given the length of the article, only the beginning is posted below – the full PDF can be downloaded here.

CITY THROWS ITSELF ON THE MERCY OF THE BEATERS Residents of Blagoveshchensk, who suffered during the time of a police special operation a year ago, have written denial statements en masse. Human rights advocates who arrived from Moscow were booed in an organized manner in front of television cameras By Anna Politkovskaya, Novaya Gazeta, 2005 A year ago (10—14 December 2004) there was a police pogrom in Blagoveshchensk, which received broad fame in the whole world as an operation completely identical with those mop-ups and filtropoints that have become an integral part of life in Chechnya. One year later, on 10 December 2005, human rights advocates arrived in Blagoveshchensk – member of the presidential council on contributing to the development of civil society in Russia and chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement «For human rights». Both had been here a year ago, when the tracks were still fresh from the events, the clarification of the circumstances of which is now taking place in court. (eight police officers are being held criminally liable.) The human rights advocates were eagerly awaited in Blagoveshchensk. True, different people awaited them in different ways. Yellow isn’t in fashion! A few minutes after 10 AM. In many countries and on many continents people are celebrating World Human Rights Day – the corresponding Declaration was adopted on 10 December 1948. The administration of Blagoveshchensk strongly resisted, but nevertheless did allocate the city House of Culture and Leisure – it is right in the center of the city – for the meeting of the mop-up victims with the human rights advocates. Alexeyeva and Ponomarev are climbing up to the stage. The hall is packed. A woman is running around – she is checking the microphones. You can get dizzy from the quantity of television cameras: even a group from Channel One has come to imprint the human rights advocates – that is a great rarity. 10:25. Ponomarev is just able to pronounce a few words when men in suits and neckties start to rapidly step out along the aisle to the stage. That same woman fluidly hands out the microphones to them, and Ponomarev will no longer be heard any more, he is “disconnected”. The goons, however, are “amplified” to the point where your ears are ringing. It is clear, first, that everything has been excellently prepared and second, that those who did the preparing are not for Ponomarev. “We’re no simpletons here for you! Not little boys! We don’t need no western inoculations!” “Shove off, you won’t make an orange revolution! We don’t need it!” “Did you come here for free? Whose money did you spend?” Ponomarev tries to reply, but answers have not been stipulated. Alexeyeva gathers air in the lungs and shouts something, but the gullets of the brave chaps turn out to be tin plated. The folks from the capital are no match for them! Lyudmila Mikhailovna stands on the stage with difficulty: she is 78 years old and her legs are ill. Anyone can see this who is in the hall. But it has been decided not to observe niceties. The hall boos, claps, stomps – not the whole hall, just the first few rows.. Time and again “Get out of here!” is heard. But the audience in the back of the hall is quiet for some reason. blago1007.jpg “Hey, you, yellow one! Yellow isn’t in fashion!” This is already the goons turning their attention to Veronika Shakhova, the now-legendary Blagoveshchensk journalist – she was the first to shout to the whole world what was happening in the mopped-up city, by which she stopped the police lawlessness. Then Veronika was the editor in chief of the city newspaper “Zerkalo”, from which she was soon ousted for manifesting honesty and assistance to the victims of the mop-up. “Hey, yellow one! Quit working off the money! You’ve got 10 thousand for each ‘victim’!” So Shakhova’s a billionaire now? There were hundreds of victims, after all… “We’re defending ourselves from your invasion — of the human rights organizations! This was the last time you came here! “You demanded that the lads write statements! You paid them for statements! And now they’re refusing!” “We won’t let you in the city any more! It must be admitted, the shouters weren’t insincere — they truly did despise the human rights advocates from the capital. The back of the hall starts to disperse — to leave the hall through the side doors. But you can hear a strong solo by the woman responsible for the microphones – this is the director of the House of Culture. The woman shouts: “Everybody back! Do not disperse! They have to leave here first! The cameras have to show how we’re casting them out!”. Lyudmila Alexeyeva descends the three steps down from the stage with difficulty, every movement comes to her with great physical labor. The Bashkirian human rights advocate Ildar Isangulov has disappeared someplace. No, he’s back, only now he’s wearing different clothes for some reason. By his side, content, leaning on a tripod like on a walking stick – Ruslan Sharafutdinov, head of the press service of the MVD of Bashkiria. It turns out that in the expulsion operation, Ildar got not only just boos, but also two liters of the local mayonnaise, thrown at him. No, these weren’t natsbols [National Bolsheviks], specializing in our country in such acts, but lads who after the dousing, as witnesses insist, jumped right into a car with license plates of the administration of the president of Bashkiria. In a word, the expulsion of the human rights advocates by the efforts of the people, recorded by the television cameras of all the main and republican television channels of the country, had taken place. And this is just the time to ask oneself several questions. First, who were “the people”? And second, where during this were the victims — the victims of last year’s mop-up, for the support of whom both Alexeyeva and Ponomarev had personally spent so much strength and energy in difficult times for them?