Nick's Reviews > A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption & Death in Putin's Russia

A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya
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Jul 30, 11

Read in July, 2011

The late Anna Politkovskaya stares out from the photo on the cover the edition I read with a stare that is hard to gauge. In that photo, she has clear eyes, sensible glasses, gray hair combed in a functional way, and a certain tightness to the mouth that makes it look as if it had been a long time since she smiled. There was certainly not much to smile about in the years covered by the book--the steady march of Vladimir Putin and the party he created toward an electoral triumph: despite the bungling of the Muslim attacks on a theater in Moscow and a school in Beslan, where a lot of children died; the despite, and because of, the steady pressure on the independent press and the democratic opposition that marginalized both; despite the dismantling of what is said to have been Russia's most transparent corporation and the arrest of its owner; despite, and because of, the deep and cynical corruption. All this Politkovskaya chronicled with a prose that in this translation is clear and only occasionally sardonic. In a postcript titled "Am I Afraid?" she takes up the question of seeing in the larger sense--as in witnessing--in a way that explains the straight yet enigmatic expression on the cover: "People often call me a pessimist; that I do not believe in the strength of the Russian people; that I am obsessive in my opposition to Putin and see nothing beyond that. I see everything, and that is the whole problem." She never answered the question of whether she was afraid, at least not in that postscript. In the book itself she admitted to fear only once, while being driven back from the compound of the Muslim warlord to whom Putin entrusted the pacification of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. And then she wrote that she dismissed the fear, however deep, because she believed that the Kadyrovites want her to tell their story. This was after death threats, a mock execution, and what was very likely an attempt to poison her. She was murdered outside her apartment in 2006. Four men were charged in her death; all four were acquitted. Prosecutors said that the case would be appealed, but little progress seems to have been reported. I write this several days after the murder of a second reporter for the Mexican news outlet Notiver, located in Veracruz, not untouched by the cartel wars but not at the center of them, either. May we someday live in a world where the reporting the truth is not a capital offense.
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