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An independent creative unit
Written by Елена Морозова   
Четверг, 16 Ноябрь 2006

Анна Политковская

By Elena Morozova

In ‘Novaya Gazeta’

MLAN (Masha-Lena-Anya) was a remarkable union that marked its 40th anniversary and then was dissolved on October 7th, 2006. Bullets from a Makarov pistol hit their mark, the very heart of the union, Anya.

We had been friends since childhood. We befriended each other not to unite against someone, as is often the case these days, but simply because we were close to each other in all the situations that followed. Friendship, especially the friendship of our younger years, is a living organism. We were like the molecules in a cell: sometimes attracting one another, sometimes repelling, and sometimes existing autonomously in order to come together once again.

We always asked Anya to write about us, after all, so many interesting things happened, and life had invented such subjects that the writers of soap operas could only envy us. She never took our request seriously, however. She said that when she got old she would sit down with her grandkids and just stay around the house and think, but for the last few decades she never managed to just stay around the house.

Periodically she would disappear from our comfortable, orderly life in the center of Moscow, and, like a stalker, over and over again she would return to another life, a terrible life where there was war, where people were dying, and where there was pain and suffering. She flew there in order to help, to save, to give hope, and to resurrect the truth. Trying to preserve the peace of our families, we instinctively avoided letting this war into our hearts. We told her that she only had but one life, that she should think about her own children and parents, that she simply could not risk herself so. Anya did not even try to argue. She considered it her duty to ameliorate a stranger’s pain. In traditional photographs made during our happy get-togethers during these last years she always had sad eyes. Apparently when she was back in her Moscow life, that other life never fully left her.

Anya was absolutely certain that she had made the right choice in life. The choice to fight for the restoration of justice, to defend the interests of the weak and ill starred. This is how ascetics live. As we learn from history, however, they do not live this way for very long. Because she will never again write anything, we will write about her.

The idea to start our own union came to us while after our umpteenth leap with conjoined hands from a garage roof down into a deep snowdrift (I doubt there are any garage owners left who would put up with this anymore). A few months before, we had ended up together in Class 1-B, where each of us was a leader in competition with each other. Obviously, our children’s intuition suggested that rather than fighting with one another for supremacy in the new collective, it would be better to unite, to form a nucleus, which, like a magnet, would attract the other classmates. We were disposed towards good deeds, and it was not without reason that we were been raised on tales by Osseva, Gaidar (the children’s writer), and stories about hero Pioneers (Russian Boy Scouts).

Our first good deed was to help an eternal ‘D’-student named Vova to get ready for tests, and to forever correct his shameful grades. We got together at Anya’s. She came up with a remarkable means of encouragement: for every mistake in a math problem, Vova had to eat a cranberry candy. The candy quickly disappeared, but the mistakes did not, and Vova did not come to school the next day. It turned out that he was not to have sweets and got an awful rash, which did not go away for quite awhile.

Soon we outgrew of our aspiration to help people, and decided to catch criminals. On the way to school each day we walked past the stand with the ‘wanted by the police’ posters, and this inspired us to feats of heroism. For several days we dogged the heels of a suspicious man who lived somewhere near our apartment building. Perhaps he really did have a criminal past; he spent a large part of the day with the local alcoholics, or aimlessly wandering the streets. We were convinced that we were following a terrible saboteur, and that the Motherland would never forget us.

We would always remember how the police seated us in their motorcycle sidecars and drove us about the commons, with our eyes shining and our Pioneer scarves waving in the wind, in search of our ‘objective’. We never found out what the police said to him, but for the next several years our presumed criminal, whenever he saw us coming, would cross to the other side of the street.

We got good grades in school and were always the organizers of class shows. We published the classroom paper, bought presents for the boys on February 23rd, and participated in initiatives. We live, in general, according to the principle: “out of spite to the enemy, but in joy to mama”. Anya was an ‘A’ student for all ten years. Before exams and essays, our classmates would shove each other out of the way to try and sit a little closer to her desk, which was a guarantee of good grades. If Anya came to class in the morning and said that she could not solve the homework problem, then we were absolutely certain that there was no solution. Anya did well in music school, but had a lot less free time to play carefree in the commons like her classmates. Ever since childhood, she had known the meaning of discipline and hard work.

When she was a teenager, Anya started to demonstrate those qualities that later became the basis of her personality: she could not physically tolerate injustice, and for her there existed no absolute authorities. She always spoke the truth to a person’s face and never regarded the consequences. Anya would toss her report card on the teacher’s desk, if, in her opinion, the teacher had given the wrong grade. She would argue with the school director, whom the teacher was afraid of, to defend the interests of another student who was being treated unfairly. She was a ‘maximalist’ in all things. When she argued, red spots would cover her cheeks, and she could be very abrupt. “Ostap just bolted,” we would joke. At first we were offended by her uncompromising ways, but later we simply stopped paying attention to them, and, by giving in or changing the subject, we tried to avoid bringing Anya to the boiling point. We maintained this habit for the rest of our lives.

Soon the civic activities of our girlfriend entered a new level. Anya began to ponder the injustices of the form of socialism, which then existed in our country. She painfully perceived that it was rotten to the core. We were surprised and did not understand why she would wish to change the rules instead of simply living with them as the majority did. After all, it was obvious to everyone that it was useless to try, but Anya could not understand our indifference and reluctance to better society. Her very first newspaper articles were pointed, and posed burning questions. She considered the main aim of her journalistic activities to be the need to correct the situation she was writing about, and to find, and punish, the guilty.

We grew up. Still very young, Anya got married first, and was also the first to become a mother. Her parents worried that she had taken on the everyday complexities of family life too early. I will never forget how she came to visit me at my dacha once, to relax for a few days. She arrived holding her three-year-old son by the hand and her one-year-old daughter in her arms. She was also carrying a collapsible baby carriage, potty chairs, extra clothing, baby food, and children’s books. And all this without a car: first she took the subway, then the bus, then the E-train, then, finally, went by foot the rest of the way to the dacha. Not every young mother could manage this, but Anya in general was not afraid of difficulties. To save up money to buy the children a piano, she took a second job as a cleaning woman in a studio on the first floor of her apartment building. Soon the ‘antique’ instrument was purchased and served not just for the creation of music, but as a bookshelf, writing table, ironing board, and the stand for the parrot’s cage.

The family of these two beginning journalists lived very humbly. There were endless breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to prepare, cleaning and washing, children’s music lessons and drawing, and general education subjects. Anya noted: “I am an independent creative unit.” There was practically no time left for creativity, however, and Anya could only do her writing at night, after the children were abed, and the domestic chores were done. We always joked that the more difficult life’s circumstances, the better Anya looked. She was beautiful and was proof of the chauvinistic masculine statement that “difficulties enrich women”. Problems never caught her unawares. She was able to gather her wits in an instant and form up, like an athlete does before a jump, then leap into the fray.

Anya her whole life was undemanding in her domestic ways. She had not enough time, or money, to remodel her new apartment in a building on Forest Street, which unexpectedly became a wretchedly famous Moscow address. She dressed simply, yet tastefully. She was indifferent to jewelry and fancy clothing. The handle of her favorite black purse, which she carried with her on all her numerous trips to Chechnya, had been fixed with bandage tape, and it took a lot to force her to buy a new one. A hole of unknown origin gaped from the side of her ‘Zhiguli’ automobile, but she never wanted to buy a newer one. She loved to “master” new dishes, and followed the recipe’s demands of scrupulously and step by step. Unfortunately, she had little time to cook for herself. The only food in her house was always honey, cheese, bread, and tea.

Our lives passed in front of our eyes, but for us it is still a mystery how Anya was able to exist in two parallel worlds. One was the usual one, where the majority of women live. Her other one was the world of a journalist involved in investigations and writing about painful topics, on the imperfections of society in its various manifestations, perceiving a stranger’s pain as her own, and exerting herself as much as she could to make at least one person a tiny bit happier. Anya devoted her “peaceful” life to her children, and was for them a true friend and adviser, and rushed to their class shows. We often sat in her kitchen together, drinking endless cups of tea and chatting about everything in the world, but trying never to touch that, which was her other life.

Anya was a remarkable conversationalist. She knew how to colorfully tell a tale, and also how to listen. One could always come to her for help. When my son was born, she left guests who had come for her birthday party in order to run by the maternity hospital and send me a congratulatory note (we had no cell phones back then). Anya could not stand indecisiveness and spinelessness. She treasured personal freedom. She was a very complex person, but we always understood that standing next to us was a true individual.

Anna WAS… It is impossible to get used to putting this sentence in the past tense. The pain of the waste that we are to endure still lies before us. For now it seems as if Anya has just gone away on yet another trip, but soon our answering machine will ring with her old: “Greetings, this is Anya Politkovskaya, I live across the street, call me”. Unfortunately now, no one can ever call her, not anywhere, but we are always talking to her in our thoughts. We miss you, Anyuta.


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