Last weekend, investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was found dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building -- shot in the head at close range. No one knows who killed her or why, though few doubt it had something to do with her documentation of human rights abuses. Dissident and journalist Boris Kagarlitsky tells Brooke that Politkovskaya's death may, contrary to claims, embolden the Russian press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Anna Politkovskaya was a reporter and human rights activist who was highly critical of the war in Chechnya. Last week, she was found dead in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow -- shot in the head at close range. Hers is the latest in a string of contract killings of Russian journalists over the past decade. No one, including colleagues at her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, knows who killed her or why, but few doubt it had something to do with her work. For years, she has doggedly tracked human rights abuses by pro-Kremlin forces in the province of Chechnya. Many of her colleagues say that her death has cast a pall over independent journalism in Moscow, but Boris Kagarlitsky, a writer and director of the Institute of Globalization Studies in Moscow, says that actually her death may have had the opposite effect.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Quite a lot of people have started speaking aloud and discussing certain topics they didn't discuss before. So I think people started feeling a kind of shame.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you say that they're discussing topics that they haven't discussed before, what are you talking about?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, let's have one example. Today we have a terrible problem with the Georgian population in Russian, which is now becoming victimized by Russian police, including those who are Russian citizens. Before Anna's death, pro-government media paid very little attention to these actions of the authorities. And now it is reporting these things, and I think that will be a very important change, because some of these practices will stop.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you feel that they were shamed by the mourners thronging the streets for Anna Politkovskaya?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Yes, exactly so, because just the day after Anna Politkovskaya was killed, there was a rally to protest against discrimination of ethnic Georgians, and among those people who showed up, I've seen some professional journalists who were actually working for pro-governmental publications, and they came to join the rally.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the political climate in general? Politkovskaya is the thirteenth journalist to be killed in this way since 2000, and that's two a year since Putin became president. You were imprisoned under Brezhnev and under Yeltsin. You haven't been imprisoned [LAUGHS] under Putin.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Fortunately not yet. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you see the situation as a return to fascism, as some in your own press have said?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, no, I don't agree with that. Let me say I think that Politkovskaya was not killed as a journalist, but she was killed first of all as a human rights activist who was involved in organizing human rights movement. When, as a journalist, you just keep writing, you just keep publishing articles, you can feel quite safe, because nothing changes. It's absolutely contrary to the general logic of Russian politics to kill journalists because of their writings. Usually, journalists get killed in Russia because they reveal something, mainly about money, you see? And if you are writing that a bureaucrat named Ivan Ivanovitch is stealing money, that's no problem. But when you're writing that Ivan Ivanovitch has stolen money which he had to share with Ivan Petrovitch and he didn't share that, then Ivan Ivanovitch will be the person to try to kill the journalist before he publishes the article. Right? So this is like a mafia thing. It's the United States in the '20s. And in that sense you shouldn't say that this is politics. It is just money.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah. I saw the rise of the mafia myself when I was reporting from Moscow from 1992 to 1995. But at that time I also saw what appeared to be a flowering of independent media. There were all sort of new magazines and newspapers and independent TV and radio stations. All that independence is gone.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, actually, I will not exactly agree with you, because, you know, when was the golden age for Russian media? There were two golden ages, which I remember [LAUGHING] myself. One was the late Soviet years when the Soviet censorship already collapsed, and new kind of self-censorship and new mechanisms of media control were not yet established, 1989 to '92 maybe. And, ironically, the first two years of Putin were also very good for Russian media for the very same reason, so that the old Yeltsin-style mechanism of control over the media also started eroding, and the Putin style, a more kind of traditional, more kind of heavy-handed system of control, was not yet in place. The very name of Politkovskaya and some other names emerged in the Russian media exactly during this period from '99 to 2001. These were the two or three years when the media was more or less free, or at least the journalists were able to deliver their own voices to the public.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you suggest, Anna Politkovskaya was a human rights activist, and it was because she actually was having an impact that she was killed. Did you anticipate that this would happen eventually?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, you know, I was afraid of her being killed in Chechnya, and I discussed it with her, and I asked her whether she was afraid of disappearing there. And I just remember she told me that, well, she was kind of more afraid, more scared of Moscow than of Chechnya, and I didn't take that very seriously, to be honest.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Boris, thank you very much.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies. He spoke to us from Moscow. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, Google gobbles YouTube, and libel laws loosen in Britain.