Her Own Death, Foretold
Anna Politkovskaya imagined her own death long before it arrived. For years, she was Russia's most fearless journalist, reporting for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta from the killing fields of Chechnya and exposing the brutality of the Kremlin's war under President Vladimir Putin. She received one death threat after another, and was detained and beaten by Russian troops who threw her into a pit, threatened to rape her and performed a mock execution. "If it were up to me," an officer told her, "I'd shoot you."
Someone finally decided it was up to him. Politkovskaya's body was discovered in her Moscow apartment building last weekend with bullets in her head and chest, a Makarov pistol tossed at her feet. Her killing at age 48 came two months after she wrote this previously unpublished essay for "Another Sky," an English PEN book forthcoming from Profile Books in 2007.
I am a pariah.
That is the result of my journalism throughout the years of the Second Chechen War, and of publishing books abroad about life in Russia and the Chechen War. In Moscow, I am not invited to press conferences or gatherings that Kremlin officials might attend, in case the organizers are suspected of harboring sympathies toward me. Despite this, all the top officials talk to me, at my request, when I am writing articles or conducting investigations -- but only in secret, where they can't be observed, in the open air, in squares, in secret houses that we approach by different routes, like spies.
You don't get used to this, but you learn to live with it.
It is the way I have had to work throughout the Second War in Chechnya. First I was hiding from the Russian federal troops, but always able to make contact clandestinely with individuals through trusted intermediaries, so that my informants would not be denounced to the top generals. When President Vladimir Putin's plan of Chechenization succeeded (setting "good" Chechens loyal to the Kremlin to kill "bad" Chechens who opposed it), the same subterfuge extended to talking to "good" Chechen officials, many of whom, before they were "good" officials, had sheltered me in their homes in the most trying months of the war. Now we can meet only in secret because I am an incorrigible enemy, not amenable to re-education.
I'm not joking. Some time ago, Vladislav Surkov, Putin's deputy chief of staff, explained that there were people who were enemies but whom you could talk sense into, and there were incorrigible enemies who simply needed to be "cleansed" from the political arena.
So they are trying to cleanse it of me and others like me.
A few days ago, on Aug. 5, I was standing in a crowd of women in the central square of Kurchaloi, a dusty village in Chechnya. I was wearing a headscarf folded and tied in the manner favored by many women my age in Chechnya, not covering the head completely, but not leaving it uncovered, either. This was essential if I was not to be identified, in which case nobody could say what might happen.
To one side of the crowd a man's track suit pants were draped over the gas pipeline that runs the length of Kurchaloi. They were caked with blood. His severed head had been taken away.
During the night of July 27-28, two Chechen fighters had been ambushed on the outskirts of Kurchaloi by units of the Kremlin's anointed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. One, Adam Badaev, was captured and the other, Hoj-Ahmed Dushaev, a native of Kurchaloi, was killed. Toward dawn, no fewer than 20 Zhiguli cars, full of armed people, drove into the center of the village and up to the district police station. They had Dushaev's head with them. Two of the men suspended it in the center of the village from the pipeline, and beneath it they hung the bloodstained pants I was now seeing.
This display of medieval barbarity was orchestrated by Kadyrov's vice premier, Idris Gaibov, who was heard phoning Kadyrov to report that they had killed "Devil No. 1," and hung his head up as a warning to the rest of the village.