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A Russian Diary: With a Foreword by Jon Snow Paperback – 3 Apr 2008
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"Passionate... Devastating... Powerful" (Guardian)
"Politkovskaya is a Solzhenitsyn for the 21st century... Very few were telling a similar truth in her lifetime and even fewer will tell it now that she is dead" (Observer)
"Politkovskaya gives an account of life as it is lived under Putin, fearlessly detailing the chaos and corruption she saw around her" (Independent on Sunday)
"Brilliant... she reminds us what journalism can be" (Herald)
"This is her testimony... it makes for impressive and immediate reading" (Independent)
A collection of writings on recent Russian politics, focusing on Vladimir Putin's government and the 2003 parliamentary elections, by one of the greatest and bravest journalists of our time.See all Product description
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"This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people, can operate only if nobody protests. That is the Kremlin's secret weapon and the most striking feature of life in Russia today. That is the secret of spin doctor Surkov's genius: apathy, rooted in an almost universal certainty among the populace that the state authorities will fix everything, including elections, to their own advantage. It is a vicious circle. People react only when something affects them personally: old Judge Boris Ozdoev when his son Rashid was abducted, the same as the Mutsolgovs. Until then, if my hut is out of harm's way, why worry? We have emerged from socialism as thoroughly self-centered people" (124-5).
People looking for a light, upbeat read should probably keep looking, but Politkovskaya was the voice of conscience, and then the martyr, of her generation for a reason. These diary entries are not quite as "polished" on some levels as her articles, but they are an honest and compelling portrait of her own thoughts, as well as an insightful look into the Russia of the early 2000s, as she shreds both the growing authoritarianism of Putin and United Russia, and the dithering and self-centered jockeying for position amongst the liberal opposition. Bizarrely, she ends up sympathizing with the National Bolsheviks, the left-wing nationalist party, as being one of the few groups capable of producing an organized and vigorous resistance. What she would make of Russia today...can probably be guessed, but it wouldn't be pretty. I can't say it's good that she's not here to see it, because her voice is sorely missed, but it most likely would have confirmed all her most pessimistic speculations.
Tellingly, the last entry is called "Am I Afraid?", in which she responds to accusations that she is indeed a pessimist with the words:
"I see everything, and that is the whole problem. I see both what is good and what is bad. I see that people would like life to change for the better but are incapable of making that happen, and that in order to conceal this truth they concentrate on the positive and pretend the negative isn't there" (341). She ends with the warning that this is "a death sentence for our grandchildren" (342).
Politkovskaya's warnings were often startlingly prescient, and could be applied not just to Russia but to the rest of the world. A keen observer of human nature, she was capable of facing what so many people could not, both when it came to grim conclusions and when it came to physical danger. It is tragic that her courage led, fairly directly, to her death, but she would not have been Anna Politkovskaya if she had taken the easy, safe way out.
Covering the period from the Russian parliamentary elections of 2003 to the dreadful conclusion of the Beslan siege in 2005 A Russian diary is devoid of personal detail so it less a diary and more a terrible narrative of Russian political life over a two year period. It's a staggering indictment of Putins presidency as the reforms of the 1990,s are swept away to be replaced by a system that facilitates ballot rigging, suppression of the media and the illegal marginalisation of all political opposition. This is an oligarchy that is not shy of ruthlessly removing resistance to their rule with extreme force. This explains why characters in her book suddenly disappear never to be mentioned again , just like in real Russian life. And if they do disappear only to return mysteriously a few days later as in the case of Parliamentary candidate Ivan Rybkin( Who former Russian spy, the assassinated Alexander Litvinenko claims was dosed with psychotropic drugs) they are a shadow of their former selves and have to withdraw from political life.
Much of what Politkovskaya writes about is second hand and it's something her critics used to decry her work. Because she didn't witness most of the events recounted here they say it's a work of fiction and as most of her witnesses are the downtrodden- Russian war widows living on a pittance every month, Russians soldiers injured in Chechnya then forsaken by the state- and societal pariahs -traumatised war veterans , human rights campaigners- it lacks credence, after all you are only as reliable as the witnesses you use. But the fact remains if Plitkovskaya hadn't told this story it wouldn't have been told at all and she is also scathing of the democrats . liberals and the Russian population for not mounting a more effective challenge to Putin, though of course what happened to her is hardly likely to change that.
Not many people are capable of the bravery of Anna Politkovskaya though. She even see's fit in one instance in this book to badger a Chechen warlord and then accuses the interpreter of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov-who is suspected of involvement in her death- of making up his own answers. She refused to bow or be intimidated ,never resorted to obsequiousness . We all like to think we would be the same should we have the opportunity to questions those who misuse power but the truth is very few of us would. That's the most overwhelming reason why this book deservers to be read by as many people as possible