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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politkovskaya Debate Unfair and Too Early

The last thing I wanted to do was to address the polemics over the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in the foreign and domestic media before 40 days had passed since her tragic death. According to Russian tradition, it is then that the last memorial services for the departed take place and the official mourning period ends; it is a time when it is much more proper to grieve in silence or indulge in reminiscences with friends. But a few days ago a Western colleague sent me an article from the Financial Times headlined "Propagandists Stay Mute Amidst the Mourning." The very first paragraph described Politkovskaya as "Russia's bravest reporter," while the remainder of the article lectured Russians -- and Russian journalists in particular, based on Western experience -- on how to grieve properly for fallen comrades.

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I could even have tolerated this had a disgraceful scandal not broken out in the domestic press. The journalist Yevgenia Albats, known for democratic sympathies that verge on Bolshevik intransigence, invited the young journalist Anna Arutunyan on to her show on Ekho Moskvy radio and rudely demanded public repentance for her deviation from the "democratic canon" of portraying Anna's image in an article for the English-language Moscow News. Oleg Kashin then took Arutunyan's side in the online journal Vzglyad, after which a heated discussion broke out on the Internet in which most participants expressed sympathy for Arutunyan.

Before my eyes, grief is turning into a dance on Anna's grave.

Her personality, from which all her work was derived, was worthy of the pen of Dostoevsky. Yet I think I knew her well enough to guess that she herself would not like what is being said about her posthumously.

First, she would be upset by all the superlatives like "bravest Russian reporter," or, as the Times of London wrote, "just about the only investigative journalist [in Russia]." We worked together for a number of years on the jury of the Sakharov Prize for journalism as an activity, presented by the Sakharov Museum and approved by his widow, Yelena Bonner -- so we read thousands of pages sent to us by dozens of investigative and advocacy journalists from all across the country. Anna was the first to say that investigating police brutality while working for a virtually unknown paper in a small town in the sticks demands more courage than when you have a national newspaper brand behind you, and that criticizing the factory manager in a company town is much more dangerous than criticizing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The journalists who take risks every day in the places where they live do not like to measure themselves in terms of glory. But this doesn't mean that outsiders have the right to pay homage to one hero at the expense of all the others.

Further, Anna, I think, would not have accepted all the consternation generated by Putin's inability to find any appropriate, human words after her death. For her it would probably have been the greatest acknowledgment of all. I also think she would have disapproved of all the petty politicking in her name. The most cynical example, in my opinion, was an article by Anders Aslund, an economist close to the Yeltsin-era "young reformers," that was published in The Weekly Standard under the headline "Putin Gets Away with Murder." The article contains precisely one paragraph about Politkovskaya, while the rest is all about how great, free and democratic Russia was under Boris Yeltsin, and how terrible everything has become under Putin. The author even found space to sing the praises of privatization.

Politkovskaya knew for sure who started the Chechen war and how many people have died in it ...

I repeat -- Anna Politkovskaya's greatness grew out of the complexities of her nature. Only a serious, engaged and objective discussion can be a worthy monument to her. And it should only really start when the 40 days are over.

Alexei Pankin is a freelance journalist in Moscow.