Little about President Putin has been scrutinized more than his remarks on the tragic murder of Anna Politkovskaya. Interpretations vary and seem to reflect more what one thinks about Putin than what Putin has really said.
London Review of Books has just published a piece, "Russia’s Managed Democracy," by Perry Anderson who teaches history at UCLA. Here is what Prof. Anderson heard when listening to the Russian president:
"The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life."
The following is a full transcript of Putin’s remark during his joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dresden on October 10, 2006:
" VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to say a few words on this subject. First of all, I would like to say that no matter who committed this crime and no matter what the motives behind it, it was a horribly cruel crime and it cannot go unpunished. There could have been a number of different motives. This journalist was indeed a fierce critic of the current authorities in Russia. But, as the experts know, and as journalists should realise, I think, her impact on Russian political life was only very slight. She was well known in the media community, in human rights circles and in the West, but her influence on political life within Russia was very minimal. The murder of someone like her, the brutal murder of a woman and mother, was in itself an act directed against our country and against the Russian authorities. This murder deals a far greater blow to the authorities in Russia, and in Chechnya, to which she devoted much of her recent professional work, than did any of her publications. This is very clear to everyone in Russia. But, as I said, no matter what the motives behind the perpetrators’ actions, they are criminals and they must be identified, caught and punished. We will do everything necessary to ensure that this is done."
As Russians would observe: speaking of dead, say good or nothing. A purist would grumble that Putin could choose his words more carefully if even under pressure of hostile questioning from a journalist. But to conclude from his remarks that he considered Anna Politkovskaya "a nobody" defies common sense and, perhaps, common decency.
Hopefully, Prof. Anderson’s treatment of Putin’s quote does not reflect how "pervoistochniki" are being treated at the history department of UCLA.