Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006, but the trial of her supposed murderers began this Wednesday, a little over two years after her death. The new documentary Letter to Anna investigates the forces that led to her murder — and that may keep her murderers from justice. And a review of the film in the New York Review of Books reveals how deeply scary it is to be a journalist whose views don't jibe with those of your government — especially when that government includes former KGB spies.A vocal critic of Vladimir Putin and the Russian war with Chechnya, Politkovskaya wrote powerfully of Russian kidnappings of Chechen civilians:
Imagine that a group of strangers in uniform bursts into your house and takes away your loved one. And that is it, the end. First there was a man. Now he doesn't exist. He is wiped out of life, like a stick-figure from a school blackboard. You rage, you go mad. You beg for a piece of information. The ones who are supposed to search advise you to forget about it ... The most awful tragedy of current Chechnya is people disappearing without a trace.
She knew that her repeated trips to Chechnya and her criticisms of Putin (an ex-KGB spy whom one former associate accuses of using "Stalinist methods") and Russian-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov put her in danger; in Letter to Anna, she says, "why am I still live? If I speak seriously about this I would understand it as a miracle." It may be a miracle, too, if her real murderers are convicted. After her death, Putin said that Politkovskaya's influence in Russia was "negligible," and that she was probably killed to make the regime look bad. But the NYRB cites a 2006 poll [site in Russian] in which half of respondents knew of Politkovskaya and over a third were familiar with her work. And several other journalists critical of the Putin administration have been targeted — two have been murdered just since September 2008. Before the trial, a lawyer for the Politkovskaya family found mercury in her car. Even if the suspects in the trial are convicted, the person who actually ordered Politkovskaya's killing will remain unknown and at large. Russian exiles abroad believe the order came from Russia's Federal Security Service (Politkovskaya called them "Putin's guard dogs"), with the tacit approval of Putin himself. The trial is unlikely to reveal this or any other information, as it will probably be closed to the public. Meanwhile, Politkovskaya's son and her former newspaper are conducting their own investigation into her murder. Let's remember her as a woman, as a journalist, and as someone who tried to save her country from "an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance," a reality not specific to just Russia. Who Killed Anna Politkovskaya? [New York Review of Books] Politkovskaya's lawyer finds car filled with deadly mercury [International Herald Tribune] Anna Politkovskaya murder trial begins in Moscow [Guardian] Letter to Anna [Official Site]