If you can get to it, read the Independent’s profile of Anna Politkovskaya. She is a Russian dissident, dur et pur.
There are many reminders in the profile, actuated by the publication of a collection of pieces on Putin’s Russia, of just why Putin and Bush do see soul to soul. They are the same dreary blend of blinking, staring autocrat. Theirs are the souls that bloom like ragweed among cockeyed schemes for the big killing, the failure of which is inevitably narcotized by the intervention of some family friend, or bloat in the declining era of the organs of repression, looking for patrons. They both had their big chances not because of who they were, but because of who they weren’t. Bush wasn’t a Gingrich Republican; Putin was a policeman, but not the type to nab his boss (Yeltsin) for stealing the billion or so dollars his family made off with. A pair made in heaven.
"My heroes are those people who want to be individuals but are being forced to be cogs again," she [A.P.] said. "In an Empire there are only cogs." Once upon a time, the individuals who were sent to salt mines by the cogs, bugged by the cogs, imprisoned in mental asylums by the cogs, or exiled by the cogs, found an audience in the West. No longer. Probably not one person in one hundred, even among the readers of the NYRB, are aware of Politkovskaya’s existence. We are, because we read her book of reportage about the war in Chechnya. Never averse to the Zola trick, the j’accuse, Politskovskaya had the guts to show that the Russian military’s operation in Chechnya was little more than a war crime. We’d love some American reporter who would do the same in reporting on the American ‘strategy’ in Sadr City or Fallujah. It is little more than Grozny with a chocolate bar – or, I forgot, a paint job on the local school, after one has kindly blown up the local fathers and strewed the brains of some little juniors about on the street.
Here’s one of Ms. Politkovskaya’s observations:
"Because Putin, a product of the country's murkiest intelligence service, has failed to transcend his origins and stop behaving like a lieutenant- colonel in the KGB. He is still busy sorting out his freedom-loving fellow countrymen; he persists in crushing liberty just as he did earlier in his career."
"We no longer want to be slaves, even if that is what best suits the West. We demand our right to be free." Poking fun at Mr Putin, she compares him to the humble Tsarist clerk, Akaky Akakievich, a famous literary creation of Russian author Nikolay Gogol. The wretched Akakievich believed the key to being successful and popular lay with his expensive overcoat. He was concerned only with his own image but when the overcoat was stolen he discovered that his own soul was empty. Politkovskaya told The Independent: "Putin is like Gogol's Akaky Akakievich. He is a small grey person who really wants not to be grey. Putin had a historic chance to be great and not to be grey but he is still grey."
LI’d previously linked to a story about how she’d been poisoned in the days around the Beslan crisis. There’s more on that story in the profile:
“On 1 September she phoned her rebel contacts and pleaded with them to allow Aslan Maskhadov, former Chechen president and rebel leader, to journey to Beslan and persuade the hostage-takers to release their captives. Having agreed to fly to Beslan and negotiate a safe passage for Maskhadov she set off for the airport. "My last contact with Maskhadov's people was ten minutes before I got on the plane. I suppose I did more than a journalist normally does. I then got on the plane and drank some tea and then ... nothing."