Anna Politkovskaya was an intractable woman from birth. Born in New York City to Soviet diplomats for parents, the circumstances of her life marked her as different. She was afforded certain texts that natural-born Russians were not, and when she went to live in the Federation, she refused to conform through re-education. Indeed, one of her earliest publications displays her outspoken nature: At the Moscow State University (where she studied journalism), Politkovskaya wrote a dissertation on the Soviet poet Marina Tsvetaeva, whose work was previously banned under Joseph Stalin’s regime. She would not abide by anyone’s standards other than her own. From this experience, she emerged as a dauntless reporter.
Politkovskaya began the work she is known for today at Novaya Gazeta in 1999, where she mainly covered and commented on Russia’s role in the Second Chechen War. She would travel to her Motherland’s federal subject nearly forty times until her death in 2006, each visit compromising her safety more so than the last. While there, she’d document the human rights abuses–such as widespread abduction, the poisoning of schoolchildren, and mass murder–committed mainly by Russian military forces, Chechen rebel groups, and the Kadyrovtsy, the private army of the Kadyrov presidential family, alike. As she interviewed victims on the ground, Politkovskaya began to openly criticize the then-rising influences of Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming his practices, as well as those of his security agency, placed Russia at risk of “hurtling back into a Soviet abyss.”
Over her seven-year tenure at Novaya Gazeta, as well as posthumously, Politkovskaya’s reportage received several international awards. She had garnered praise specifically in the Western countries. In Russia and Chechnya, however, she was vilified and threatened by the country’s major outlets of power, from the government and police. She received countless threats of rape and murder; she was given a mock execution following her arrest and brutal beatings by Russian forces in 2001; and she was reportedly poisoned as she traveled to take on the role of mediator in the 2004 Beslan school siege. In an interview conducted personally with President Ramzan Kadyrov, her subject ominously told her, “You’re an enemy. To be shot…” She disregarded this remark and continued on with the meeting.
There were many instances in which she was warned to flee, which, as an American citizen by birthright with a passport, she held as a viable option. Her family, including her two children, begged her to take the route to livelihood. She refused. Aside from the first few years of her life in America, Politkovskaya was never away from Russia for more than a few weeks at a time. Ultimately, she stayed and continued her work. Her last article spoke on the anti-terrorist politics of torture in the North Caucasus. Any other article she was intent upon publishing afterward was confiscated with her computer by Russian police at the scene of her murder.
On October 7–the date of Putin’s birthday, as well as two days after Kadyrov’s (facts that didn’t go unnoticed at the time)–of the year 2006, 48-year-old Politkovskaya was found dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She was shot four times in what was believed to be a contract killing. Her death was the ultimate form of silencing.
Her murder sparked international outrage, leading several governments to call for a thorough investigation into both the Russian and Chechen administration. Five men were found guilty of her assassination in 2014, though they have yet to divulge the identity of their commissioner. The European Court of Human Rights only recently ruled that Russia failed to properly investigate the killing, but no resolution to this issue has been announced.
Twelve years later, and the case remains unsolved. Given the state of international journalism, we cannot cease discussion of Politkovskaya’s murder, nor the legacy of her critical writing. In the coming weeks, The Play Company will be discussing issues relevant to this tragic case as we build up to the production opening of Stefano Massini’s theatrical memo Intractable Woman.