'Fascism is in fashion'

Murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya was fearless in
her pursuit of truth. In this shocking extract from
her final book, she chronicles the death of Russian

Saturday March 17, 2007
The Guardian 


December 7 2003
The day of the elections to the Duma, the [same] day
Putin began his campaign for re-election as president.
In the morning he manifested himself at a polling
station. He was cheerful, elated even, and a little
nervous. This was unusual: as a rule he is sullen.
With a broad smile, he informed those assembled that
his beloved labrador, Connie, had had puppies during
the night. "Vladimir Vladimirovich was so very
worried,' Mme Putina intoned behind her husband. "We
are in a hurry to get home," she added, anxious to
return to the bitch whose impeccable timing had
presented this gift to the United Russia party.

That morning in Yessentuki, a small resort in the
North Caucasus, the first 13 victims of a terrorist
train attack were being buried. It had been the
morning train, known as the student train, and young
people were on their way to college. When, after
voting, Putin went over to the journalists, it seemed
he would express his condolences. Perhaps even
apologise for the fact the government had again failed
to protect its citizens. Instead he told them how
pleased he was about his labrador's puppies.
My friends phoned me. "He's really put his foot in it
this time. Russian people are never going to vote for
United Russia now." Around midnight, when the results
started coming in, many people were in a state of
shock. Russia had mutely surrendered herself to Putin.

Reports we received from the regions show how this was
done. Outside one of the polling stations in Saratov,
a lady was dispensing free vodka at a table with a
banner reading "Vote for Tretiak", the United Russia
candidate. Tretiak won. One opposition candidate twice
had plastic bags containing body parts thrown through
his window: somebody's ears and a human heart.

December 8

Were we seeing a crisis of Russian parliamentary
democracy in the Putin era? No, we were witnessing its
death. In the first place, the legislative and
executive branches of government had merged and this
had meant the rebirth of the Soviet system. The Duma
was purely decorative, a forum for rubber-stamping
Putin's decisions.

In the second place the Russian people gave its
consent. There were no demonstrations. The electorate
agreed to be treated like an idiot. The electorate
said let's go back to the USSR - slightly retouched
and slicked up, modernised, but the good old Soviet
Union, now with bureaucratic capitalism where the
state official is the main oligarch, vastly richer
than any capitalist. The corollary was that, if we
were going back to the USSR, Putin was going to win in
March 2004. It was a foregone conclusion.

December 23

Ritual murders are taking place in Moscow. A second
severed head has been found in the past 24 hours, this
time in the eastern district of Golianovo. It was in a
rubbish container. Yesterday evening, a head in a
plastic bag was found on a table in the courtyard on
Krasnoyarskaya Street.

Both men had been dead for 24 hours. The circumstances
are almost identical: the victims are from the
Caucasus, aged 30-40 and have dark hair. Their
identities are unknown. Such are the results of racist
propaganda in the run-up to the parliamentary
elections. Our people are very susceptible and react

December 26

Putin does not simply lack competitors. The whole
background is an intellectual desert. The affair has
no logic, no reason, no sparkle of genuine, serious
thinking. Candidate No 1 knows best and requires no
advice. There is nobody to moderate his arrogance.
Russia has been humiliated.

December 28

Ivan Rybkin has announced he will stand [against
Putin]. He is the creature of Putin's main opponent,
Boris Berezovsky, now in exile abroad. Rybkin used to
be the speaker of the Duma and chairman of the
National Security Council. Who is he today? Time will

January 6 2004

Those at the top and bottom of our society might as
well be living on different planets. I set off to see
the most underprivileged of all: Psycho-Neurological
Orphanage No. 25 on the outskirts of Moscow. The
surroundings here are warm and clean. The patient
carers are kind, very tired, overworked women.
Everything here is good, except that the children
don't cry. They are silent or they howl. There is no

When he is not grinding his teeth, 15-month-old Danila
is silent, peering attentively at the strangers. He
does not look at you as you would expect of a
15-month-old baby; he peers straight into your eyes,
like an FSB interrogator. He has catastrophically
limited experience of human tenderness.

The wave of charitable giving in Russia stopped in
2002 when the Putin administration revoked tax
privileges for charities. Until 2002, children in our
orphanages were showered with gifts and new year
presents. Now the rich no longer give them presents.
Pensioners bring them their old, tattered shawls.

Meanwhile, our nouveau riche are skiing this Christmas
in Courchevel. More than 2,000 Russians, each earning
over half a million roubles [10,000] a month,
congregate for the "Saison russe". The menu offers
eight kinds of oysters, the wine list includes bottles
at 1,500, and in the retinue of every nouveau riche
you can be sure of finding the government officials,
our true oligarchs, who deliver these vast incomes to
the favoured 2,000. The talk is of success, of the
firebird of happiness caught by its tail feathers, of
being trusted by the state authorities. The "charity"
of officialdom, otherwise known as corruption, is the
quickest route to Courchevel.

January 16

The body of Aslam Davletukaev, abducted from his home
on January 10, has been found showing signs of
torture. He has been shot in the back of the head.
Aslan was a well-known Chechen human rights
campaigner. Our democracy continues its decline.
Nothing in Russia depends on the people; Putin is
resuscitating our stereotype: "Let us wait until our
feudal lord comes back. He will tell us how everything
should be." It has to be admitted that this is how the
Russian people likes it, which means that soon Putin
will throw away the mask of a defender of human
rights. He won't need it anymore.

February 6

8.32am: there has been an explosion in the Moscow
metro. The train was heading into the city centre
during the rush hour when a bomb exploded beside the
first door of the second carriage. Thirty people died
at the scene, and another nine died later from their
burns. There are 140 injured. There are dozens of
tiny, unidentifiable fragments of bodies. More than
700 people emerged from the tunnel, having evacuated
themselves without any assistance. In the streets
there is chaos and fear, the wailing sirens of the
emergency services, millions of people terrorised.

At 10.44 the Volcano-5 Contingency Plan for capturing
the culprits was implemented, more than two hours
after the explosion. Who do they think they are going
to catch? If there were any accomplices they will have
fled long ago. At 12.12 the police started searching
for a man aged 30-35, "of Caucasian appearance". Very

February 7

Ivan Rybkin has disappeared. A bit of excitement in
the election at last. His wife is going crazy. On
February 2, Rybkin harshly criticised Putin and his
wife believes that did for him.

February 9

No details have yet been established of the type of
bomb used in the metro. Putin keeps repeating, as he
did after Nord-Ost [the attack by Chechen militants on
a Moscow theatre in 2002, which ended with 130
hostages killed when special forces gassed and stormed
the building], that nobody inside Russia was
responsible. Everything was planned abroad. A day of
mourning has been declared but the television stations
barely observe it. Loud pop music and cheerful TV
advertisements make you feel ashamed.

Two of those who died are being buried today. One is
Alexander Ishunkin, a 25-year-old lieutenant in the
armed forces. His Uncle Mikhail identified his body in
the mortuary. Seven years ago Alexander's father was
killed, and since then Alexander had been the very
dependable head of the family. Even in issuing his
death certificate the state can't refrain from
dishonesty: the box for "Cause of death" has been
crossed through. Not a word about terrorism.

February 10

Rybkin has been found. A very strange episode. At
midday he announced he was in Kiev. He said he had
just been on holiday there with friends and that,
after all, a human being has a right to a private
life! Kseniya Ponomaryova promptly resigned as leader
of his election team. His wife is refusing to talk to
him. In late evening he flew into Moscow from Kiev,
looking half-dead and not at all like someone who has
been having a good time on holiday. He was wearing
women's sunglasses and was escorted by an enormous
bodyguard. "Who was detaining you?" he was asked, but
gave no reply. He also refused to talk to the
investigators from the Procurator's Office who had
been searching for him. It was later announced he
might withdraw his candidacy. In St Petersburg,
skinheads have stabbed to death nine-year-old
Khursheda Sultanova in the courtyard of the flats
where her family lived. Her father, 35-year-old Yusuf
Sultanov, a Tadjik, has been working in St Petersburg
for many years. That evening he was bringing the
children back from the Yusupov Park ice slope when
some aggressive youths started following them.

In a dark connecting courtyard leading to their home
the youths attacked them. Khursheda suffered 11 stab
wounds and died immediately. Yusuf's 11-year-old
nephew, Alabir, escaped in the darkness by hiding
under a parked car. Alabir says the skinheads kept
stabbing Khursheda until they were certain she was
dead. They were shouting, "Russia for the Russians!"
The Sultanovs are not illegal immigrants. They are
officially registered as citizens of St Petersburg,
but fascists are not interested in ID cards. When
Russia's leaders indulge in soundbites about cracking
down on immigrants and guest labourers, they incur the
responsibility for tragedies such as this.

Fifteen people were detained shortly afterwards, but
released. Many turned out to be the offspring of
people employed by the law-enforcement agencies of St
Petersburg. Today, 20,000 St Petersburg youths belong
to unofficial fascist or racist organisations. The St
Petersburg skinheads are among the most active in the
country and are constantly attacking Azerbaijanis,
Chinese and Africans. Nobody is ever punished, because
the law-enforcement agencies are themselves infected
with racism. You have only to switch off your audio
recorder for the militia to start telling you they
understand the skinheads, and as for those blacks ...
etc, etc. Fascism is in fashion.

February 11

The Candidate Rybkin soap opera continues. Before
this, Rybkin had the reputation of being a meticulous
person, not a heavy drinker and even slightly dull.
"Two days in Kiev" are very much out of character.
Rybkin reports that after he disappeared he spent a
certain amount of time in Moscow Province at Woodland
Retreat, the guest-house of the Presidential
Administration. He was taken from there and found
himself in Kiev. He says further that those
controlling him compelled him to call Moscow from Kiev
and talk lightheartedly about having a right to a
private life.

February 12

Alexander Litvinenko in London and Oleg Kalugin in
Washington, former FSB/KGB officers who have been
granted political asylum in the west, have suggested
that a psychotropic substance called SP117 may have
been used on Rybkin. [Litvinenko died in London last
November after being poisoned.] This compound was used
in the FSB's counter-intelligence sections and in
units combating terrorism, but only in exceptional
cases on "important targets". SP117 is a truth drug
that prevents an individual from having full
possession of his mind. He will tell everything he
knows. These statements will not save Rybkin. Putin
has won this round against Berezovsky, now his sworn
enemy, but his pal in the late 1990s.

February 13

Ivan Rybkin has announced that he will not be
returning from London. A defecting presidential
candidate is a first in our history. Nobody now has
any doubt that the regime drugged him.

February 15

The Sultanovs, the family of the little girl Khursheda
who was murdered by skinheads in St Petersburg, have
abandoned Russia and gone to live in Tajikistan. They
took a small coffin containing the child's remains.

March 5

Everything is being reduced to absurdity. The
appointment of [Mikhail] Fradkov as prime minister by
the Duma deserves an entry in the Guinness Book of
Records. 352 votes in favour of a man who, when asked
what his plans for the future were, could only blurt:
"I have just come out of the shadow into the light."
Fradkov is a man of the shadows because he is a spy.
We have a truly third-rate prime minister. The country
is sinking into a state of collective unconsciousness,
into unreason.

March 12-13

Silence and apathy. Nobody can be bothered to listen
to the drivel coming from the television. Let's just
get it over with.

March 14

Well, so he's been elected. By and large, the concept
of ruling the country by the same methods used in
conducting the "anti-terrorist operation" has been
vindicated: L'Etat, c'est Putin.

 In G2 on Monday: Politkovskaya's devastating report
on the Beslan school hostage disaster; and on Tuesday,
her interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen warlord
suspected of involvement in her murder. Extracted from
A Russian Diary, copyright  Anna Politkovskaya 2007.
English translation copyright  Arch Tait 2007.
Published by Harvill Secker next month at 17.99. To
order a copy for 16.99 with free UK p&p go to
guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875


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