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4.6 out of 5 stars
A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya
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on 13 April 2017
Anyone tempted to say that heroes no longer exist need look no further than opposition Russian journalists to be proven wrong. Although there are many heroes and martyrs amongst that group, the name Anna Politkovskaya is particularly sacred. A furious truth-teller, Politkovskay always had the courage of her convictions, descending into chaos, corruption, and the hell of the Second Chechen War in order to shine the light of her reporting on the deserving and undeserving alike. Her murder, about which doubts still linger, was a tragedy, but it is heartening to see that even in death she could not be silenced. "A Dirty War" is a collection of her articles on the Second Chechen War, here translated into English and provided with an introduction, maps, and notes to help orient the reader.

"A Dirty War" is neither an exhaustive historical overview, nor the kind of "balanced" reporting American readers have come to expect from their own journalists. Politkovskaya was writing about contemporary issues for a Russian audience and expected them to be familiar with the cultural context of Russia in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The maps and notes will aid readers less familiar with the topic to keep track, but this is not a textbook survey of the situation and the players, so if you are looking for an introductory text on the Chechen wars, this is probably not the book for you. And American readers, used to the the fearful faux objectivity of much mainstream American news, may be taken aback by Politkovskaya's overt presence within the text. She has no fear of taking a position and making it clear, even if it means contradicting herself: the first article, "Grave Robbers," slams the agencies responsible for identifying the bodies of soldiers killed in action during the First Chechen War for incompetence and profiteering, while the second article, "Land of the Unknown Soldiers," written after she had interviewed those in charge of the process, sympathetically lays out all the obstacles facing them. American readers may find the strident outrage that is so evident in Politkovskaya's writing to be refreshing, or they may find it off-putting, but in either case they will find it striking.

Although Politkovskaya has no problem in staking a position and defending it, she does not shy away from presenting the voices of all sides of the issue. "A Dirty War" includes interviews with refugees, ordinary citizens, Chechen leaders, Russian functionaries, Russian soldiers of all ranks, including a surprisingly sympathetic interview with General Shamanov, and Chechen separatist fighters. The overall picture is of people drowning in confusion and incompetence, both their own and others'. Refugees are trapped in camps without food, water, or heating for months, but attempts to restore Grozny to habitability are stymied by looters who strip the water and sewage stations of parts, rendering them inoperable. OMON [kind of like American SWAT teams] troops are forced to live off meager supplies of spoiled meat as they man checkpoints. Doctors and the families of the wounded have to go barter on the black market for anesthetic to perform operations. Even the higher-ups are not immune to the soul-sucking nature of the conflict: Shamanov, after issuing a number of platitudes about the need to do the dirty work that no one else will, is last shown sitting by himself at a function honoring paratroopers, so lonely and depressed that "It was painful to look at him." No one reading this can be left with the impression that war, particularly this war, is a glorious business.

Politkovskaya was in the business of revealing the ills of society, not necessarily curing them, and so there's more here to infuriate the reader then to inspire them. Or rather, Politkovskaya wanted to inspire her readers by infuriating them into action. A number of the articles contain direct appeals to the readers to take specific actions to help Politkovskaya and her colleagues at Novaya Gazeta in their attempts to do at least a little good for the most wretched of the people she encounters. Although now, the better part of two decades after these events have taken place, and more than a decade after Politkovskaya's murder, there is not much that we can do about anything depicted in the book, we can still bear witness. And while "A Dirty War" may have much in it that is indeed dirty, not to mention depressing, it is also a testament to unrelenting heroism, not just Politkovskaya's, but that of the many doctors, teachers, volunteers, and others who stepped forward at great personal discomfort and risk in order to help out people whom their government and the world at large had abandoned. "A Dirty War" may leave you appalled at the depths to which humans can sink, but it will also leave you astounded at the heights of altruism and courage to which they can rise.
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on 23 December 2006
Anna Politkovskaya was very brave to publish the articles on the Second Chechen War from July 1999 to January 2001 which are now gathered into a book. The widespread violence of Federal troops against the civilian population and the equally mindless violence and gangsterism of the Chechen rebels is reported in harrowing detail. The demoralised state of Russian conscripts and the thuggery of Internal Security Service forces are revealed and it is clearly demonstrated that their actions are generating new rebels, not working towards a permanent peace. The reader will have to look elsewhere for a background into the history and causes of the First and Second Chechen wars, and contrary to newspaper reviews the book does not seek to portray the war as an aggressive adventure by the Putin government. The three star rating reflects the fact that the unremitting horrors described in chapter after chapter makes for very difficult reading, despite the excellence of the content and translation. An very good background read for those who are deeply concerned with the detailed prosecution of the war.
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on 17 March 2016
This book shows the evils of Putin and if it was not for Anna and my friend John Crowfoot the translator, we would not be aware of these terrible atrocities.
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on 3 October 2012
Brilliant translation and account of total devastation. Reading it with little knowledge on the Chechnya war, I left educated and impassioned and wanting to know a lot more.
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on 19 August 2004
This book is an eye-opener to the attrocities committed by the Russian 'democratic' state against innocent Chechens and also in the lack of humanity shown towards its own soldiers. Much of Politkovskaya's work is centred on original newspaper reports that she collated whilst in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and in Moscow. The book's layout is splendid and the short chapters on different aspects of the second Russo-Chechen conflcit keep you engrossed. The book certainly gives an important insight into all aspects of war, the political, social, economic and perhaps most importantly: the Human. Politkovskaya's work is testament to the bravery of the journalists, human rights groups, and surgeons who have tried to help the innocent civilians of Chechnya. This book has helped me enormously in my Master's dissertation on Chechnya and i would recommend it to academic and layman alike. The price is reasonable and unlike the many other books on the Chechen conflict this provides more than just a narrative, it strikes an overwhelmingly emotional chord. A must read!!
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on 22 November 2001
The book gives insight into the attrocities carried out in Chechnya by the Russian armed forces and also by some of the Chechen rebels. It is a must read for anyone who think that we live in a peaceful modern world, and that attrocitites carried out by great nations like Russia do not happen. It should serve as a serious reminder to the fact that Russia still denies foreign powers insight to their "internal affairs", and that the discrimination of Muslim minorities througout Central Asia is very much alive.
Especially nowadays, as Russia seeks to ally with the USA against Muslim aggressors, this book carries much weight.
As somebody noted: "If Tony Blair seeks to eliminate terrorism in Northern Ireland, he does not bomb Dublin to bits and pieces. So why does Putin obliterate Grozny in his fight against terrorists, killing tens and tens of thousands in his path?" That is certainly worth a thought.
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