Theater of Cruelty

A mother's life and passion: Anna Politkovskaja

My mother would have called it war
Forfatter: Vera Politkovskaja med Sara Giudice
Forlag: Tropen, (Tyskland)
RUSSIA / Anna Politkovskaya's daughter: "My greatest wish is to experience Russia as a flourishing, free and developed country, not desolate, poor and militarized."


"Russia is plunging into an abyss created by Putin and his political myopia." This politically highly topical claim originates from the journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2004, two years before she was hit by five gunshots outside her apartment in Moscow. On Vladimir Putins birthday. In one fell swoop, her face became a world-famous symbol of press freedom and justice.

17 years later, her daughter Vera tries to describe this abyss. From his voluntary exile in an unknown place outside Russia she has, together with the journalist Sara Giudice, written the book about her mother. Anna Politkovskaja – activist, reporter and writer – committed herself unstoppably to the victims of the war in Chechnya, she exposed the corruption in the Russian Ministry of Defense and the regime's inhuman oppression of its own people. If the head of the Kremlin had only one arch-enemy, her name was Anna Politkovskaya. She knew that she was thus putting herself on a death list: "My life will hardly have a natural end."

There was little reason to wonder who was behind the murder, other than those who were vicariously put behind bars. But the fear of reprisals as well as the concealment and docility of Russian society led to Anna Politkovskaya's name slowly disappearing into a collective slumber of repression. Vera, the single mother, was also silent. “I wanted to take part in street demonstrations, but I couldn't put my daughter down to be left alone, with her mother in prison. In my country, freedom is a luxury only a few can afford."

"In my country, freedom is a luxury only a few can afford."

With Putin's war of aggression, everything changed, also for Vera Politkovskaya and her daughter Anna, who is named after her grandmother. Now the name was back. So were incitement and death threats. Thus the decision was made. Mother and teenage daughter crammed everything they could fit into their small car, drove and didn't stop until they crossed the border.

In the book My mother would have called it war she weaves two stories together: What drove the exceptional person Anna Politkovskaja to risk everything, also on behalf of her family – and what it was like to be part of this family. Neither professionally nor privately, she was an easy type, which led to disputes with colleagues as well as with her husband and two children. She began hers journalistpath in a time of perestroika and general belief in a better future for Russia. It meant fighting for openness and justice. A fateful shift followed with the succession of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. With Vladimir Putin, the environment became increasingly characterized by violence and the hunt for "traitors", i.e. anyone who contradicted or defied the leader.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with Russia's invasion of the North Caucasian republic of Chechnya in October 1999, war number two – with the official designation 'anti-terrorist operation' – broke out in the region. Both parties to the conflict committed serious war crimes and violations of human rights. Politkovskaja engaged herself unstoppably in support of war victims in Chechnya, through repeated trips to war zones and subsequent newspaper articles. This brought her both anguish and fame. During a terrorist drama in Moscow Dubrovka-teater, in which 40 armed Chechen separatists took 850 people hostage, Politkovskaja complied with the separatists' wishes as one of the negotiators. The demand was that all Russian troops should withdraw from Chechnya. The demand and any compromise were rejected. The hostages were given neither food nor drink, apart from some water and juice Anna had bought and brought in. After two and a half days, the Russian special forces introduced poisonous gas through the ventilation system. They then stormed the theater. The drugged Chechens were shot, 130 hostages died, most as a result of the poisoning.

Even as disillusioned as Politkovskaya already was, the incident deeply shocked her. The contempt for human life she witnessed here, she saw as symptomatic of the entire Russian state apparatus. She never expressed herself 'wisely' and cautiously. In her latest interview, Politkovskaya spoke about Chechnya's commander-in-chief, Ramzan Kadyrov, often called 'Putin's bloodhound': "Kadyrov is a liar through and through. On Chechen television, he says that they will expel these Russians, on the same day that he has licked the great tsar (Putin) on the back." Two days after the interview, she was killed.

The daughter's admiration

The daughter's admiration for her mother's courage in both word and deed runs like a red thread through the book. In the same vein, Vera herself objects to anyone who resorts to extenuating circumstances in the direction of Moscow. Likewise, she has clear words about her mother's upbringing of herself and her brother Ilja. The father, Aleksandr, plays a minor role in the narrative of the family. It was Anna who imposed the same ruthless discipline on the children that she imposed on herself. Even on holidays, Vera had to practice the violin, do homework and seek perfection, while her mother buried herself in work and saw less and less of friends and colleagues. Nor did she spare the children from the fate the family always had to be prepared for. She instructed them about where money and other important things were hidden, and what to do if she herself did not return home one day.

The mafia never forgets, warn those who know it. The same applies to the Russian criminal dynasty, which Vera and her daughter Anna noticed when the incitement against them began after the invasion of Ukraine. When they were safely out of reach of their pursuers, it was instead found to be good to burn the family's country house to the ground.

New Gazeta

Anna Politkovskaja worked for the newspaper from 1999 until her death Novaya newspaper#. After the murder, the editor called it quits and told the employees: "I give up." I cannot put you through this any longer.” They replied that no, they would continue the work. At a press conference in Rome in January 2023, Vera stated: "My mother wrote the naked, raw truth, about soldiers, bandits and civilians, who all ended up in the meat grinder of war."

Vera has written the book so that Anna Politkovskaya's granddaughter and the world at large "would remember the unique story of a woman who never hid her disagreement with Vladimir Putin's policies, who never failed to condemn violations of human rights in Russia, which are caused by a former KGB -officer-turned-architect for the mapping of a looming empire. [...] My greatest wish is to experience Russia as a flourishing, free and developed country, not desolate, poor and militarized".

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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