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Sunday, 4 January 2009

Politkovskaya's corrupt Russia owes the cause of its malaise to Vladimir Putin, now the country's prime minister.

Occasionally this disordered and episodic series of essays, chronicling truly fabulous levels of corrupt conduct in the army, and among the judiciary, the police, politicians, businessmen (who she calls mafia), all the way down to kindergarten mothers concerned about negative influences from a young Chechen boy, notes that 'we' must stop the rot.

She is pointing to the Russian middle class but that entity remains stubbornly silent, Politkovskaya avers, in the face of horrendous acts of civil, military, administrative and legal misbehaviour.

As long as Putin remains in place as the top poobah in the lodge, nothing, she says, will change.

We look in vain to Tolstoy or the nineteenth century novelists to show us how this sort of thing used to work before the Revolution of 1917. Politkovskaya's most often-repeated condemnation of the current regime (the book was published in 2004 before Putin 'abdicated') is that it resembles nothing so much as that of Stalin.

But her appeals to a middle class are grossly outnumbered by accusations aimed at what she characterises as the 'throne'. The top-down system of autarchy cannot be escaped, and Politkovskaya is as liable as the next person to point a querulous finger only up, never sideways.

People like Putin count on this type of behaviour for their stability.

The book's confused structure is possibly a sign that there was nobody to check facts and perform other essential editing functions required to produce it. Who could check stuff that would, two years after publication in English, lead to the author's death?

Scanning Wikipedia, it seems that Politkovskaya was warned, some years before the fatal Saturday, that death awaited her on a Moscow street. She was actually shot while standing in the elevator of her apartment building, but the message to other would-be investigative journalists is unambiguous: stay away.

She was furthermore targeted by members of the military police, OMON, who attempted to scare her with an arrest, exposure to a rocket launcher along with a death threat, and a poisoned cup of tea.

There is no shortage of candidates for her murder. A chapter that chronicles, with an hilarious type of disbelieving abandon, the corruption that allowed a Ural vodka bootlegger to become one of the country's leading industrialists, alternates between vituperative remarks about the courts and a kind of amplified sideline barracking, in which both teams are despised and spat on.

Certainly, no shortage of candidates.

The little people, whom Politkovskaya occasionally brings into the picture, especially after the Nort-Ost theatre terrorist attack, where she played a part as an intermediary with the terrorists, and had the opportunity to get close to some average people, infrequently enter her frame. The book is a personal challenge to the president.

He clearly has come off best from the match.

Chechnya is where Politkovskaya made her reputation, so it was not surprising that she was fingered by the freedom fighters to be their intermediary with the forces of order, gathered outside the Nord-Ost theatre. It remains to be seen whether that event will be adequately investigated, in time. The author obviously has reservations as to how it was instigated and executed.

Like the good investigative journalist she was, Politkovskaya believed that the book should not be closed yet.

It also remains to be seen if I can discover anything more about Russian atrocities, including thousands of 'disappearances', in the North Caucasus.

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