Yesterday, October 7th, was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s birthday. It’s also, I discovered, Anna Politkovskaya memorial day.
Anna Politkovskaya was a Ukrainian-born Russian journalist and human rights activist. Between 1996 and 2002, she worked as a journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, known for its hard-nosed, outspoken investigative journalism. She became particularly renowned for her commentary on the Chechen wars in which she often criticised the Russian government and military forces, accusing them of committing atrocious abuses of human rights against ethnic minority groups and refugees.
Though Anna received numerous international awards for her investigative reporting and humanitarian efforts, she was blacklisted in her own country. She was banned from attending press events involving anyone from the Kremlin, and spoke openly about receiving death threats, being beaten, tortured, and surviving several attempts on her life.
Finally, Anna was murdered in the elevator to her apartment – shot four times at close range. It was a contract killing. Ten men men were tried for their role in the murder, but only three were found guilty and the person who ordered her death was never found or brought to justice. The fact that she was killed on Putin’s birthday has roused suspicions that the death was ordered from a high-ranking government official as a “birthday gift” to the President.
What has this got to do with handmade flowers?
I’ll confess, I knew nothing about Anna Politkovskaya before today, and only became aware of the Anna Politkovskaya memorial after browsing my ‘paper flowers’ search stream on Twitter. I came across this tweet by a French political correspondent in Russia called Julia Lyubova:
— Julia Lyubova (@julialyubova) October 7, 2014
Every year a vigil is organised by the human rights group Amnesty International, held at the Moscow headquarters of the newspaper company where Anna worked. This year, the eighth anniversary of her death, and against a tense Russian-Ukrainian political background, hundreds of people attended to demonstrate “the solidarity of the international media community with their Russian counterparts who continue to work under the restrictions of freedom of speech and amid the lack of protection from the state”.
The handmade paper flowers laid at the Anna Politkovskaya memorial were made from the front pages of newspapers from media outlets supportive of the vigil. What a beautiful tribute to an incredible woman.