Anna Politkovskaya A Russian Diary

ISBN 13: 9780099523451

A Russian Diary

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9780099523451: A Russian Diary

A devastating account of contemporary Russia by a great and brave writer.

A Russian Diary is the book that Anna Politkovskaya had recently completed when she was murdered in a contract killing in Moscow. It covers the period from the Russian elections of December 2003 to the tragic aftermath of the Beslan school siege in late 2005. The book is an unflinching record of the plight of millions of Russians and a pitiless report on the cynicism and corruption of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

She interviews people whose lives have been devastated by Putin’s policies, including the mothers of children who died in the Beslan siege, those of Russian soldiers maimed in Chechnya then abandoned by the State, and of “disappeared” young men and women. Elsewhere she meets traumatized and dangerous veterans of the Chechen wars, and a notorious Chechen warlord in his fortified lair.

Putin is re-elected as President in farcically undemocratic circumstances and yet Western leaders, reliant on Russia’s oil and gas reserves, continue to pay him homage. Politkovskaya offers a chilling account of his dismantling of the democratic reforms made in the 1990s. She also criticizes the inability of liberals and democrats to provide a united, effective opposition and a population slow to protest against government legislative outrages.

A Russian Diary is clear-sighted, passionate and marked with the humanity that made Anna Politkovskaya known to many as “Russia’s lost moral conscience” and a heroine to readers throughout the world.

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About the Author:

Anna Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the recipient of many honours for her writing.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART ONE

The Death of Russian Parliamentary Democracy

December 2003–March 2004

How Did Putin Get ReElected?

According to the census of october 2002, there are 145.2 million people living in Russia, making us the seventh most populous country in the world. Just under 116 million people, 79.8 percent of the population, describe themselves as ethnically Russian. We have an electorate of 109 million voters.

December 7, 2003

The day of the parliamentary elections to the Duma,* the day Putin* began his campaign for reelection as president. In the morning he manifested himself to the peoples of Russia at a polling station. He was cheerful, elated even, and a little nervous. This was unusual: as a rule he is sullen. With a broad smile, he informed those assembled that his beloved Labrador, Connie, had had puppies during the night. “Vladimir Vladimirovich was so very worried,” Madame Putina intoned from behind her husband. “We are in a hurry to get home,” she added, anxious to return to the bitch whose impeccable political timing had presented this gift to the United Russia Party.*

That same morning in Yessentuki, a small resort in the North Caucasus, the first thirteen victims of a terrorist attack on a local train were being buried. It had been the morning train, known as the student train, and young people were on their way to college.

When, after voting, Putin went over to the journalists, it seemed he would surely express his condolences to the families of the dead. Perhaps even apologize for the fact that the government had once again failed to protect its citizens. Instead he told them how pleased he was about his Labrador’s new puppies.

My friends phoned me. “He’s really put his foot in it this time. Rus- sian people are never going to vote for United Russia now.”

Around midnight, however, when the results started coming in, initially from the Far East, then from Siberia, the Urals, and so on westward, many people were in a state of shock. All my pro-democracy friends and acquaintances were again calling each other and saying, “It can’t be true. We voted for Yavlinsky,* even though. . . .” Some had voted for Khakamada.*

By morning there was no more incredulity. Russia, rejecting the lies and arrogance of the democrats, had mutely surrendered herself to Putin. A majority had voted for the phantom United Russia Party, whose sole political program was to support Putin. United Russia had rallied Russia’s bureaucrats to its banner—all the former Soviet Communist Party and Young Communist League functionaries now employed by myriad government agencies—and they had jointly allocated huge sums of money to promote its electoral deceptions.

Reports we received from the regions show how this was done. Outside one of the polling stations in Saratov, a lady was dispensing free vodka at a table with a banner reading “Vote for Tretiak,” the United Russia candidate. Tretiak won. The Duma deputies from the entire province were swept away by United Russia candidates, except for a few who switched to the party shortly before the elections. The Saratov election campaign was marked by violence, with candidates not approved of by United Russia being beaten up by “unidentified assailants” and choosing to pull out of the race. One who continued to campaign against a prominent United Russia candidate twice had plastic bags containing body parts thrown through his window: somebody’s ears and a human heart. The province’s electoral commission had a hotline to take reports of irregularities during the campaign and the voting, but 80 percent of the calls were simply attempts to blackmail the local utility companies. People threatened not to vote unless their leaking pipes were mended or their radiators repaired. This worked very well. The inhabitants of the Zavod and Lenin districts had their heating and main water supply restored. A number of villages in the Atkar District finally had their electricity and telephones reconnected after several years of waiting. The people were seduced. More than 60 percent of the electorate in the city voted, and in the province the turnout was 53 percent. More than enough for the elections to be valid.

One of the democrats’ observers at a polling station in Arkadak noticed people voting twice, once in the booth and a second time by filling out a ballot slip under the direction of the chairman of the local electoral commission. She ran to phone the hotline, but was pulled away from the telephone by her hair.

Vyacheslav Volodin, one of the main United Russia functionaries who was standing in Balakov, won by a landslide, with 82.9 percent of the vote; an unprecedented victory for a politician devoid of charisma who is renowned only for his incoherent television speeches in support of Putin. He had announced no specific policies to promote the inter- ests of local people. Overall in Saratov Province, United Russia gained 48.2 percent of the vote without feeling the need to publish or defend a manifesto. The Communists got 15.7 percent, the Liberal Democrats* (Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s* party) 8.9 percent, the nationalistic Rodina (Motherland) Party* 5.7 percent. The only embarrassment was that more than 10 percent of the votes cast were for “None of the above.” One-tenth of the voters had come to the polling station, drunk the vodka, and told the lot of them to go to hell.

According to the National Electoral Commission’s figures, over 10 percent more votes were cast in Chechnya,* a territory totally under military control, than there are registered voters.

St. Petersburg held on to its reputation as Russia’s most progressive and democratically inclined city. Even there, though, United Russia gained 31 percent of the vote, Rodina about 14 percent. The democratic Union of Right Forces* and Yabloko* (Apple) Party got only 9 percent each, the Communists 8.5, and the Liberal Democrats 8 percent. Irina Khakamada, Alexander Golov, Igor Artemiev, and Grigorii Tomchin, democrats and liberals well known throughout Russia, went down to ignominious defeat.

Why? The state authorities are rubbing their hands with glee, tut- tutting and saying that “the democrats have only themselves to blame” for having lost their link with the people. The authorities suppose that, on the contrary, they now have the people on their side.

Here are some excerpts from essays written by St. Petersburg students on the topics of “How my family views the elections” and “Will the election of a new Duma help the president in his work?”:

“My family has given up voting. They don’t believe in elections anymore. The elections will not help the president. All the politicians promise to make life better, but unfortunately . . . I would like more truthfulness.”

“The elections are rubbish. It doesn’t matter who gets elected to the Duma because nothing will change, because we don’t elect people who are going to improve things in the country, but people who thieve. These elections will help no one—neither the president nor ordinary mortals.”

“Our government is just ridiculous. I wish people weren’t so crazy about money, that there was at least some sign of moral principle in our government, and that they would cheat the people as little as possible. The government is the servant of the people. We elect it, not the other way round. To tell the truth, I don’t know why we have been asked to write this essay. It has only interrupted our lessons. The government isn’t going to read this anyway.”

“How my family views the elections is they aren’t interested in them. All the laws the Duma adopted were senseless and did nothing useful for the people. If all this is not for the people, who is it for?”

“Will the elections help? It is an interesting question. We will have to wait and see. Most likely they won’t help in the slightest. I am not a politician, I don’t have the education you need for that, but the main thing is that we need to fight corruption. For as long as we have gangsters in the state institutions of our country, life will not get better. Do you know what is going on now in the army? It is just endless bullying. If in the past people used to say that the army made boys into men, now it makes them into cripples. My father says he refuses to let his son go into an army like that. ‘For my son to be a cripple after the army, or even worse—to be dead in a ditch somewhere in Chechnya, fighting for who knows what, so that somebody can gain power over this republic?’ For as long as the present government is in power I can see no way out of the present situation. I do not thank it for my unhappy childhood.”

These read like the thoughts of old people, not the future citizens of New Russia. Here is the real cost of political cynicism—rejection by the younger generation.

December 8

By morning it is finally clear that, while the left wing has more or less survived, the liberal and democratic “right wing” has been routed. The Yabloko Party and Grigorii Yavlinsky himself have not made it into the Duma, neither has the Union of Right Forces with Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, nor any of the independent candidates. There is now almost nobody in the Russian Parliament capable of lobbying for democratic ideals and providing constructive, intelligent opposition to the Kremlin. The triumph of the United Russia Party is not the worst of it, however.

By the end of the day, with more or less all the votes counted, it is evident that, for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has particularly favored the extreme nationalists, who promised the voters they would hang all the “enemies of Russia.”

This is dreadful, of course, but perhaps only to be ...

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