Recently, Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization,
released its annual survey on freedom of the press. The current report
points to "particularly worrisome trends in the former Soviet Union,
Asia and sub-Saharan Africa."
The study reinforces the message
of a new documentary about suppression of the Russian media and the
slayings of hundreds of Russian journalists since the fall of the
Soviet Union. The film, 211: Anna, focuses on Russian journalist and
human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed in 2006. She
had reported extensively on alleged Russian links to war crimes in
Chechnya and was openly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
the middle of the Beslan school ruins, a former hostage of the school
massacre there, in the Beslan town of Chechnya, shows what's left of
the school. Five years ago, during a three-day siege, armed Chechens
held more than one thousand people, most of them children. The
terrorists demanded an end to the war in Checnhya. The Russian
government refused negotiations. Hundreds died in the siege and in the
Russian military's assault.
The attack features prominently in
Paolo Serbandini's documentary 211: Anna. Serbandini offers it as a
tragic example of an unyielding Russian government bent on continuing
Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Russian
newspaper Novaya Gazeta, says that the Russian regime did not want
negotiations to take place.
"It's the norm in our country," he
says. "In my opinion, there's a general doctrine that does not consist
of liberating the hostages, but of the eliminations of the terrorists."
The film shows how the tragedy bolstered the resolve of
journalist Anna Politkovskaya to criticize the Russian government for
the ongoing war in Chechnya and for human rights abuses there.
to the documentary, she had been doing that since the late '90s. In
archival footage, she says there was an attempt on her life in 2004.
She relates how during a flight en route to Chechnya she was served
Two years after this interview, in October 2006,
Politkovskaya was fatally shot. The perpetrators are still at large.
Ella Asoyan, Freedom House program manager on the Caucasus, says Russia
today is one of the most dangerous places for journalists and human
"Just this year, we saw two absolutely
brazen murders in broad daylight in Moscow - of Stanislav Markelov and
of Anastasia Baburova," she says. "Both worked on issues of human
rights. So, you see, with the rise of impunity towards reporters and
journalists in Russia, there is no indication that this trend may be
The documentary shows that Russians have become
apathetic and cynical about the oppression. Just two years after
Politkovskaya's death, many do not appear concerned.
the people in the street who was asked to comment about Politkovskaya's
death, shrugs his shoulders. He tells the interviewer, "You see, we're
probably less interested in this story here than you are."
The interviewer counters, "But she was the 211th journalist to be killed after the fall of the USSR."
the man on the street replies, "And there was probably the 212th, then
the 213th [journalist killed]. What difference does it make?"
Anna paints a bleak picture of a country it says is steeped in blood,
marred by corruption and stifled by the absence of civil liberties.
And although the viewer gets no relief, one is reminded that there are
still people willing to risk their lives for the truth.