Sunday, February 22, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘The Names of the Murderers Will Always Be Well-Known’

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 22 – A Moscow jury’s decision last week not to convict three men charged with being involved in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya has sparked public discussion about whether this verdict will hurt Russia’s standing in the world, whether it will seal the fate of trial by jury in that country, or whether the real killers will ever be found.
But the most passionate statement about this latest trial means was offered by a blogger, whose insistence that “the names of [Politkovskaya’s] murderers will always be well-known” has struck a chord with many and been reposted on some popular Internet portals. For the original, see; for a reposting,
Pavel Lyzakov begins his essay by observing that “state terror” is “when the state kills,” when it “kills its enemies, its critics, or simply those of its citizens it for some reason doesn’t like.” And because such killings reflect the fear those in power have of the people, they are always designed to prevent another citizen from becoming “a critic or an enemy of the state.”
Such “terror” has existed throughout history, he continues, but it was raised to a new level in Soviet times when “bureaucrats executed citizens for telling funny stories or anecdotes” about the state and about the bureaucrats themselves,” even though Moscow insisted it was “the most humane and just country” in the world.”
“When the state kills, this is done at a high professional level, sometimes with the aid of super-expensive and exotic means such as polonium,” a reference to the killing of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London. And Lyzakov continues, “the mark of state terror is the participation in the murders of all kinds of ‘former’ co-workers of the special services.”
Among the examples of this, the blogger continues, are “the murder of Dmitry Kholodov in Moscow and of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar, the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow, and now the murder of Stanislav Markelov.” Not to mention “thousands of similar but less well-known murders.
And Lyzakov says there is another specific characteristic of state terror: “the guilty will never be punished by a court. To that end, a special practice has been developed by the corresponding organs. Leaks of information, the disappearance of witnesses and suspects (as in the case of Anna [Politkovskaya], and the intentional violation of procedural norms” so that the guilty can escape should the courts and juries somehow get involved.
But “the most surprising thing” and it is something that should give some but not a great deal of comfort, the Russian blogger says, is this: “we always will find out the names of the murderers despite the fact that they will never be found guilty” by the courts -- at least in this life.
If Lyzakov’s words will strike some – but, of course, far from all – of his readers as over the top, three other more restrained comments in this week’s “Argumenty i fakty” provide both a broader context for considering the blogger’s conclusions and an indication of the ways in which the Politkovskaya case is going to continue to reverberate in Russia.
That news weekly’s editor Nikolay Zyatkov said that “at the political level,” the outcome of the case creates new problems for Russia because “Politkovskaya was a free journalist and many of our opponents in the West have attempted to use her name to show that there is no free speech in Russia” (
Despite what he said was an interest on the part of the Russian government and the Russian journalistic community to find the guilty, Zyatkov continued, some will likely use the not guilty verdict as evidence that “the authorities organized this case so as not to punish or even find the real killers.”
But however that may be, the editor continued, there was one consequence of this case that he was absolutely certain of: this verdict “will undermine” the jury system, assisting the Russian government in its efforts to eliminate the right of trial by jury in cases involving national security or high political interest.
Lev Ponomarev, a leading Russian human rights activist and a staunch supporter of jury trials, said he expected the Politkovskaya jury to bring in a guilty verdict given that independent investigators had concluded that there was sufficient evidence to convict these three as accessories.
But the prosecutors had failed to show this in a convincing fashion, he continued, adding that he “took off his hat” to the jurors for bringing back a “just verdict.” The behavior of the government side suggests, he said, that “the investigation worked” not so much to find the guilty but to deflect suspicions from those who truly are.
And Sergey Markelov, a Moscow political scientist, added that the future of the Politkovskaya case will depend less on the evidence available than on political decisions. Proceeding with it further, he said, would involve dealing with the links between her murder and the situation in Chechnya, something for which there is now “a taboo.”
As a result, he concluded, “the chief argument will be needed for this case to be reopened will be calls to consider it from the point of view of national [interests],” yet another concession that the consequences for those who committed the murders Lyzakov listed have less to do with justice than with political power in today’s Russia.

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