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Saturday, September 25, 2004

You're Next 

Via Zemblan patriots B.K. and A.L.: Wondering about the state of independent journalism in Russia under the newly-undemocratic regime of V. Putin? Check out this horror story from Anna Politkovskaya, whose reporting of the Beslan hostage crisis was critical of the government, and who was literally poisoned for her indiscretions:
The plane takes off. I ask for a tea. It is many hours by road from Rostov to Beslan and war has taught me that it's better not to eat. At 21:50 I drink it. At 22:00 I realise that I have to call the air stewardess as I am rapidly losing consciousness. My other memories are scrappy: the stewardess weeps and shouts: "We're landing, hold on!"

"Welcome back," said a woman bending over me in Rostov regional hospital. The nurse tells me that when they brought me in I was "almost hopeless". Then she whispers: "My dear, they tried to poison you." All the tests taken at the airport have been destroyed - on orders "from on high", say the doctors.

Meanwhile, the horror in Beslan continues. Something strange is going on there on September 2: no officials speak to the relatives of hostages, no one tells them anything. The relatives besiege journalists. They beg them to ask the authorities to give some sort of explanation. The families of the hostages are in an information vacuum. But why? . . . .

The events in Beslan have shown that the consequences of an information vacuum are disastrous. People dismiss the state that has left them in the lurch and try to act on their own, try to rescue their loved ones themselves, and to exact their own justice on the culprits. Later, Putin declared that the Beslan tragedy had nothing to do with the Chechen crisis, so the media stopped covering the topic. So Beslan is like September 11: all about al-Qaida. There is no more mention of the Chechen war, whose fifth anniversary falls this month. This is nonsense, but wasn't it the same in Soviet times when everyone knew the authorities were talking rubbish but pretended the emperor had his clothes on?

We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit.
Our own administration has its own techniques for discouraging pesky reporters, but we are pleased to announce that, as far as we know, poisoning is not among them.

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