In memory of Anna Politkovskaya: the woman who frightened the Russian state

When I woke up this morning and logged on to my computer, I was relieved to find a radical feminist analysis of the Pussy Riot posted at the Radical Hub.

When the malestream media pays any attention to feminists it is important to ask why. Chances are it’s not because they’re interested in feminism.

Invisibility is the order of the day when it comes to political women. Women’s voices are censored and disappeared, unless they serve men in some way. The Hub article points out the reason why these particular women have gained so much attention: it is because their movement revels in, thrives on, and is indeed based on the degradation, pornification and subordination of women. This is the way that “anarchists” and the “state” –two groups of men– communicate with each other i.e via their mutual contempt of women. The hatred that anarchist men play out on women’s bodies (their wives and girlifriends) is fully sanctioned by the state because the latter legitimizes the use of pornography.

I have lived and worked in Russia and let me tell you a little bit about it. If the government doesn’t like your politics, or is threatened by you in any way, you don’t end up in jail with the world’s media watching your every move.  Other… things happen to you instead. And if you’re lucky a few people might pay attention to the incident.

In 2006 Anna Politovskaya, writer, journalist and human rights activists was found shot dead in the elevator of her appartment. At the age of 48, she had been assassinated. Poiltkovskaya is known for her incredibly brave writing on Chechnya, but what is often overlooked is that the basis of her work was feminism. On the back cover of her book “A Dirty War” she lays out her motivations for her activism, which was her desire to “excoriate male stupidity and brutality“, and to ease women’s suffering.

“In these courageous reports, Politkovskaya excoriates male stupidity and brutality on both sides of the conflict and interviews the civilians whose homes and communities have been laid waste, leaving them nowhere to live and nothing and no one to believe in.” [A Dirty War, 2002]

Excoriate male stupidity and brutality.

These are the type of words that enrage, and indeed frighten, men, and governments. And Politkovskaya  was going about her task very efficiently, and possibly even effectively.

The focus of her book, A Dirty War, is mothers. Or at least it read that way to me. She details the contempt with which the Russian government treats the mothers of the sons that have been ground up by the war.

“The regime couldn’t solve the conflict itself so it decided to go to war. Now we must hand over our children to correct other peoples’ mistakes…my eldest boy was bullied quite unmercifully in the army and returned home not entirely in his right mind.. So now they want my next son? Not for anything in this world.” Lydia Burmistrova, Moscow

She researches in painstaking detail how the state deals with the dead bodies of both the civilians and the soldiers, because their mothers are waiting, every day, for news of what has happened to their children. She reveals that the government cannot even be bothered to exhume the corpses from the mass graves in order to let the waiting women know that, “Yes, your child is indeed dead.”

And, being a woman, she was able to empathize with the Chechens. The Russian state propaganda machine depicts Chechens as little more than rats, Muslim rats to boot– and that Chechen women are deserving of rape. To write a book about war without taking sides requires extraordinary empathy. Not many of such books exist, as far as I have seen.

Politkovskaya’s death was recognized because she had received international awards. The deaths of many others, such has her friend and colleague Natalia Estemirova, who was found shot dead in 2009, are merely footnoted, if they are reported at all.

An investigation took place in 2007:

Before the trial ended, Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who had investigated many of the abuses documented by Politkovskaya, was assassinated in Moscow on 19 January 2009[57] Journalist Anastasia Baburova, who was with Markelov at the time, died later of injuries sustained while trying to intervene.[57] Baburova was a freelance contributor to Novaya gazeta, and Markelov represented the newspaper on many occasions. In November 2009, the first public results of the investigation into the double shooting suggested that the murders had no immediate connection to the Politkovskaya assassination.[58]

More closely related to Politkovskaya’s work as a journalist was the 15 July 2009 murder of Natalia Estemirova. A board member of the Memorial human rights society and one of Politkovskaya’s key informants, guides, and colleagues in Chechnya, Estemirova was abducted in Grozny and found dead, several hours later, in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia.[59]

And back to the Pussy Riot. Never in all my life have I come across a country so awash with pornography as Russia. It is a frightening place to be a woman. When I lived there ( 2001-2002) if you walked into police station, or police “box” porn would be playing on the TV screen in the background. Pornographic images were seen on posters on buses and coaches. Russian MTV was nothing like US or Japanese music channels; it was riddled with necrophiliac images that would not have been acceptable in Europe. Not only Russian bands, but also Western bands (such as Rammstein) had found a market for their extreme misogyny . Even the most innocuous-looking restaurant or bar would inevitably have “stripper time” at 9:oo pm and you would find a  young woman girating naked next to you as you ate your soup.

I spoke with female Russian students, who casually told me about their experiences of being attacked and raped. A girl I had befriended was attacked on her way home from having coffee with me until her attacker was scared off by a passer-by. I was flashed at many times. One flasher, after standing next to us on the subway with his erect penis in my face, followed my friend and I out onto our stop and began chasing us, shouting, “Girls, Girls, Stop. Come here.”  I would say it was a monthly occurence. The regularity with which these incidents took place was like nothing I had experienced– before or since.

I don’t enjoy stereotyping a country, and I always try to avoid doing so. There is so much about Russia that I loved. But it is impossible to deny the fact that the war on women is in full throttle over there–or at least it was when I left.

Pussy Riot women are conformist–so conformist. Because they’re frightened.

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13 thoughts on “In memory of Anna Politkovskaya: the woman who frightened the Russian state

  1. This whole Pussy Riot ordeal does really smell like women being sent in to do the dirty work for men. Ever the sacrificial lambs, women are (in patriarchy). I can only hope the women of Pussy Riot figure this one day and rebel against the *all* the men who control them, not just the ones in their government.

    Poor Anna Politovskaya. Have you read Masha Gessen’s latest book about…ummm…too afraid to type out his name? 😉

  2. Don’t want to sidetrack, of course, but I have to point out that Rammstein isn’t all that bad from what I’ve seen. Just the average all male metal band. Have you heard “The Game” by Disturbed? Too me, that’s out of the ordinary blunt hatred of women.

    • It’s important to remember that we’ve all become desensitized to porn over the past 10 years.
      How could we not have been, when it’s in our face 24/7. The fact that Rammstein seems mild and even gentle by 2012 standards is a sign of how far the rot has spread.

  3. Good post!

    I think porn culture underpins all authoritarian societies whether it is displayed in public or played out under the surface. I actually think Pussy Riot got so much attention because they protested in one of the most patriarchal institutions of them all, the church! I remember how much more publicity Peter Tatchell got when he protested for gay rights from the pulpit.

    Agree, that Pussy Riot are conforming to men’s sexual requirements because they are frightened, I think that is why all young women practice conformity through porn. but they are still brave enough to become political dissidents and try to face down authority; unchallenged authority is the most dangerous force in the world, the cause of untold genocides.
    I think we should keep hopeful that they will realise their exploitation by the men in their group. Just like Dworkin who was exploited through prostitution (which always includes doing pornographic sex), and Greer, who in her youth was persuaded to do some graphic shoots; they may turn round and absolutely nail the bastards someday.

    Anna Politkovskaya, good to see her name at the head of a post, what a brave woman she was.

    • Thanks Zeph.
      I suppose another question is, who is more of a dissenter: the woman who fights against the authorities, including the church, or the woman who openly fights against men’s “stupidity and brutality”, such as Rebecca Mott, , or Anna POlitkovskaya (who actually named men as her enemy)?

      I think dissent against pornography and men is far braver than dissent against any abstract power or authority. Which is why Dworkin received death rates throughout her life and was absolutely vilified. And it was only after she’d begun researching porn that she began to understand what a powerhouse it was, and that it was *the* key to unlocking the patriarchy.

      So you could even say that Putin, the abstract concept of him, is a softer and easier target for women’s rage than men and pornography. The men who make porn are as scary as fuck. No woman in their right mind would mess with them. Even when (or especially when) the men who are pimping them out are their “nearest and dearest” boyfriends and husbands.

      ETA: The communist regime all but got rid of the church’s power in Russia during the 20th century. It was in fact illegal to be religious and churches were all turned into museums. It cannot be compared to, say, Catholicism in Ireland. So again, the pornographers are where feminist energies need to go, not the church (which is on its way out already).

  4. Well, authorities are patriarchal and porn is an expression of patriarchal authority. But I don’t see such a clear divide between these women. Just as with Dworkin or Greer there may have been a time in Anna’s life when she was exploited pornographically by some man or another. Women are a work in progress, learning and changing all the time. Standing up to the orthodox church and Putin is quite a lot to be taking on just now, and when they are older (if they survive) they might become radfems and confront men on porn as well.

  5. I’m not criticizing the women, they are incredibly brave. I’m just very frustrated that they have got so much attention from the malestream media, when other more important causes get zilch, or worse, are censored. If they were old women (old women are very political in Russia), and therefore weren’t sexy, would anybody have noticed them at all?

  6. Yes, I know what you mean, but they may be somewhat dependant on that attention now. Putin said that if they had done that in a church in some of the Caucus areas they would not have survived. They have already served five months of their sentences, so lets hope they come home safe and sound.

    • I clearly remember, when I lived in RUssia, seeing a large group of old women with posters on the main street in St Petersburg. On the posters were written the words “Bring Back Stalin” (or words to that effect). Their point was that, under Stalin, they had been guaranteed pensions and other forms of social security… whereas under Putin’s capitalism they are now guaranteed nothing.

      Imagine! Declaring that living under STalin was preferable to living under Putin. And those women were old enough to have actually lived under STalin’s regime.

      Do you know what the reaction was? Were they thrown in jail? Turned into dissenting heroines? No. They were ridiculed and laughed at. The natural response towards anything women do, when it is not backed up by men. None of those women had any men with them, they were extreme dissenters… and yet not a peep about it in the media.

  7. Pingback: WAKE UP « How to be a Rad Fem

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