Tribute to Anna Politkovskaya delivered by Musa Klebnikov
[Delivered 18 October, 2006, New York City]
Last year we were all riveted by Anna Politkovskaya as she stood right here and described the return of what she called gulags in Russia and the use of torture. Her words seemed quite incredible and provocative. She said: "It is in fact a miracle that I am alive today, and that I am not in prison. For that and for the Civil Courage Prize, which will help me stay free, I am deeply, deeply grateful." We all felt so excited to be part of her passionate quest to be a voice for truth, we felt committed to her dream of improving Russia. Sadly, neither this award, nor many others, was able to protect her.
Anna's horrific end reminds my family of the awful pain of bearing witness to murder, and the terrible sadness we all feel at the death of a remarkable person working for the public good. I think you all feel Anna's murder as a personal loss, and certainly journalists and Russians feel it as another proverbial nail being hammered into the coffin of civil society.
Many journalists' have been killed in Russia in the last 10 years, mostly in wars, but, shockingly, at least 13 were contract murders, including my husband Paul Klebnikov's. Even without knowing why Anna was killed or by whom, it feels like a major transgression has occurred because she was such a vocal opponent of the government. Was this a political murder?
President Putin's awkward reaction has enhanced Anna's status as an opposition hero. World reaction has been one of outrage, and in Russia the murder has been called the end of independent journalism. Will fear and self-censorship prevail even more, or will this be a turning point and independent views be protected?
It's been said that the media are a reflection of the society they serve. I sincerely hope Anna's murder will catalyze reforms in the system and that there are arrests and that the courts will work, and criminals who murder journalists will be brought to justice. We must encourage rule of law in Russia. I hope Anna's murder will create resolve within the Russian government to provide for a safe environment for independent journalists, regardless of their beliefs and opinions. If the opposite is true, and contract killings become the norm, we have to worry about a lot more than just freedom of the press in Russia. This is what Anna was telling us last year. She fought to make each individual life count, and that is what we will continue to do, in her memory and of so many others.
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