Writing for the Future

by Mark Chmiel

In winter-spring of 2015 I read every book I could find in English translation of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  She’s another writer who would be at home in the world of Kafka’s Axe (“But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”)

The following passages from 2001’s A Dirty War: A Russia Reporter in Chechnya deal with the Russian government’s war-making, its victims, the citizenry, the military,, the impunity of the powerful, and the profits for the greedy.  Come to think of it, Politkovskaya’s work may spark recognition in the alert U.S. reader about matters close to home…

These direct and unsophisticated  villagers are infinitely wiser and more principled than all of our Moscow politicians put together, no matter how many advisers crowd round them.  30  The present catastrophe in Daghestan has once again shown that ordinary people are a hundred times better and purer than our authorities. 33

The regime stresses that it has taken a decision to begin the war, but accepts no responsibility for the consequences. They owe us nothing, we owe them everything. 47

I thought how senseless everything happening here was. If you look at it from the State’s point of view, why scatter a vast number of mines around the city and receive in return an astronomic growth in the number of disabled people, who require tons of medicine, artificial limbs, and so on? … the reality is that the inhabitants of Grozny have been sentenced to this fate. Evidently, the ultimate aim is to ensure that as many people in the city as possible are either left without legs—or dead. Perhaps this is a new stage in the “anti-terrorist operation”, an unhurried punitive mission directed against one ethnic community, which now requires hardly any more ammunition, just the patience to wait for the inevitable outcome. 218-291

While others carried the dead off the battlefield, the quartermasters and their kind in supplies were lining their pockets. The longer the war, the fatter their wallets.  39

The country wants as few dependents as possible. But in pursuit of that goal it forgets that there are a few tests that very clearly reveal the moral health of a nation, i.e., how it treats the incurably ill, the destitute and the elderly.  The history of this latest war shows yet again that we do not pass these tests.  And it is a failure, furthermore, not of oversight but of our conscious decisions and convictions.  205

The army is not being reborn, but collapsing. Ordinary soldiers are fleeing ever more brutal mistreatment from their officers—even “battle bonuses,” now handed out each time they fight, are not enough to hold them.  244

Where are the human rights activists? The intelligentsia, the conscience of the nation? Where has all that army of socially active people gone? Why do we not hear their voices raised in defense of the victims of the war? Or at least in support of the truth.  49

Strong, brave, active and ambitious individuals have now gone into hiding to avoid facing the plight of the weakest, loneliest and most abandoned people. It does indeed disgrace the nation.  80

The men in uniform are today physically exhausted and psychologically worn out. They can no longer tolerate these inhuman conditions and begin, as a consequence, to behave inhumanly themselves. They’re not supermen, but ordinary people like you and me. So we must stop lying to ourselves: what is going on in Chechnya is not at all what many in Moscow dreamt of! 112

I can only say that no one’s peace of mind  is worth the  death of another human being. Retribution is sure to come. Moreover, it does not come to us together, which would be easier to bear, but to each individually. Then we have to face a single choice: either we end this war or it will be the end of us.  149-150

Meanwhile we must accept the fact that among the majors, colonels and generals that the country is praising, defending and decorating with awards there are also war criminals. Among the heroes are a percentage of unspeakable scum. And we all live together, side by side.  315

You probably think I’m writing all this to stir your pity. My fellow citizens have indeed proved a hard-hearted lot. You sit enjoying your breakfast, listening to stirring reports about the war in North Caucasus, in which the most terrible and disturbing facts are sanitized so that the voters don’t choke on their food. But my notes have a quite different purpose, they are written for the future. They are the testimony of the innocent victims of the new Chechen war, which is why I record all the detail I can. 64

 

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