“Good day! I’m calling Ana . . . I would like to give a report on recent events to her. Anya! It’s impossible to not be an admirer of yours. I was concerned for Shchekochikhin and IT happened. I was afraid for you and IT also happened. They will not name a star or a constellation after you. No matter, your name will shine brighter than all the stars named for respectable people on earth. [Your name] already serves as proof, an example and a warning.”
Such are the words of a certain Vasilii Vasilevich from Moscow in a call to Anna Politkovskaya’s cell phone. The call was not made a year ago. It’s barely a few days old. Vasilii phoned Politkovskaya on 1 October 2007 in response to Novaya gazeta’s announcement that the paper has reconnected her cell phone number. The paper is encouraging readers to call in and leave remembrances. The number, (495) 798-10-34, will be working until 7 October 6:00 pm Moscow time. The messages will be printed in a special edition of Novaya called “Ana’s Number” on 8 October.
“Ana’s Number” is not the only act to commemorate Politkovskaya’s murder. In Nizhni Novgorod the group Fund for the Support of Tolerance and Human Rights Watch are holding an international forum in the memory of slain reporter. Amnesty International organized as similar event in Brussels. Similar conferences are scheduled in New York, Washington, Prague, Stockholm, Hamburg, Paris, and London.
Politkovskaya memory is being enshrined in other ways. Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, presided over a ceremony naming a small square in the Villa Pamphili after Politkovskaya. The journalist’s daughter, Vera, was in attendance to accept the honor. “It feels strange being here and seeing the plaque with mum’s name a year after her death,” Vera Politkovskaya told reporters.
She better get used to it. Her mother’s name is all over the place these days. Numerous newspapers are using the anniversary to call for justice, decry the Russian government’s attacks on “free speech”, and draw attention to its poor human rights record. Sixty intellectuals from all over the world have signed a statement in support of RAW in WAR calling on the Russian government to bring her murders to justice. The group also gave Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist for Memorial and frequent colleague of Politikovskaya, their first award named after the Novaya gazeta correspondent. Estemirova works to stop abductions in Chechnya. The Nation published Estemirova’s remembrance of Politkovskaya.
The organization Committee to Protect Journalists used the anniversary to directly notify Putin that the “world is watching.” CPJ sent a letter to Putin saying that people the world over are expecting an “investigation [into her murder] that is diligent, transparent, and free of political influence.” “Thus far, CPJ writes, “the signals have not been encouraging.” I doubt Putin will lose any sleep over their objections.
There has been little progress in solving Politkovskaya’s murder since Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced the arrest of 10 suspects in late August. One twist in the investigation is the arrest late last month of Shamil Burayev, the former head of Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan Raion. Burayev’s arrest was leaked to Komsomolskaya pravda.
The most recent development occurred today. In its own remembrance of sorts, the state newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta says that authorities are holding a 49 year old mafia boss from Ukraine as a suspect with connections to Politkovskaya’s murder. This is after the paper reiterated Chaika’s claim that the murder was a provocation carried out by “forces intent on destabilizing the country, change the Constitution, and inflame a crisis.” The arrest was dismissed by Roman Shleinov, the investigative editor at Novaya gazeta as “complete nonsense” and said that the paper’s editors “don’t think [the arrest] is serious.
Serious or not, the announcement shows that even the Russian state isn’t going to pass up taking advantage of Politkovskaya’s memory. And why not? One year later, it seems that everyone is trying to claim her for their own. However insulting it may sound, especially considering how Putin declared her work as irrelevant, the Russian government might as well take its share.
Politkovskaya must be remembered if not simply for her will and courage. Few people speak truth to power. Even fewer do it so fervently that they pay the ultimate price for it. That said, memory is never neutral and no matter how sincere it may be it only captures a person’s living force in caricature. As I read her name across numerous articles I can’t help feeling a bit hollow. As the pundits and the world’s liberal intellectual class make Politkovskaya their cause celebrity, I can’t help notice how their memory of her flattens, contorts, and repackages her deep humanism into small consumable bites all ready to take its place in a conference title, plaque, editorial, press release, and petition. It’s no fault of theirs, I guess. Time is the mediation between life and memory of life. And with each ticking second, the latter overcomes the power of the former. Already I’m sensing what Politkovskaya was is already being subsumed into what she’s become: another casualty to the politics of the present.