Internationally renowned for her work, respected for her courage and still mourned by thousands around the world five years after her murder, Anna Politkovsakya has become an iconic symbol in the global human rights struggle. But Sunday night, family, friends, colleagues and others came together to share a more personal picture.
The event “Remembering Anna Politkovskaya” at London’s Frontline Club was organized by Reach All Women in War (RAW) to mark the five-year anniversary of Politkovskaya’s murder and RAW’s annual Anna Politkovskaya Award, created in her honor. This year’s recipient, Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, lives in hiding and was not able to attend.
An emotional evening – one man sitting next to me told me “I’ve been on the verge of tears the whole time”– was chaired by John Sweeney of BBC’s Panorama and included readings of excerpts from Politkovskaya’s books, “Is Journalism Worth Dying For?; Final Dispatches” and “Nothing But the Truth: Selected Dispatches, cellist performances, and a screening of a documentary on Politkovskaya’s life, followed by a panel discussion with among others Politkovskaya’s sister, the filmmaker, and Iranian activist Leila Alikarami, 2010 recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award.
The 2011 film “A Bitter Taste of Freedom” was made by Russian filmmaker Marina Goldovskaya, a close friend and one of Politkovskaya’s journalism professors. Goldovskaya had featured Politkovskaya in a documentary (“A Taste of Freedom”) which she started two decades previously. It follows Politkovskaya’s family among other “characters” over time to show a multi-dimensional Russia in transition. The filmmaker combines this with recent interviews with friends, family, colleagues and Politkovskaya, before her death. The result is a remarkable fusion of past and current footage that documents Politkovskaya’s personal and professional life but also captures pivotal moments in Russia: from the early hopeful years of Perestroika, to the Moscow theatre hostage crisis and through two Chechen wars.
While much of the world is familiar with Politkovskaya as compassionate, brave, unyielding and prolific reporter, the Politkovskaya which emerges is also a woman of great humour, modesty, warmth and devotion to her family – one who struggles with an oversized dog, is excited about a new boyfriend or complains about cooking borscht. Watching a vibrant Politkovskaya casually breeze in and out of the halls of her apartment building, the scene of her killing, is chilling.
In the film we see Politkovskaya’s growth from documenter of Caucasus refugees’ struggles in Moscow to the voice of all victims of the wars in Chechnya, motivated by an indomitable desire to hear and tell people’s stories. Toward the end she tells Goldovskaya, “I’ve seen so many men’s tears that I no longer cry myself.”
Among the audience was Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom and spoke of a long friendship with Politkovskaya. On the documentary he said, “I knew her as she was in this film. Now the world will know her too.”