Anna Politkovskaya in conversation with Jonathan Steele
Politkovskaya was in conversation with Jonathan Steele, Senior
Foreign Editor of the Guardian recently, to discuss her new book Putin’s
Russia, the first title to be supported by English PEN’s Writers
in Translation programme. The event took place at the Frontline Club (in collaboration with whom the event was
arranged), and saw a sell-out crowd eager to listen to the views of
one of Russia’s
began by asking Politkovskaya what the reception of the book had been in Russia.
Politkovskaya explained that the book was not published in Russian, and
that the book’s subject matter [a critical appraisal of the Russia that has emerged under Putin's
leadership] meant that it was unlikely to ever find a publisher in Russia. In
fact, the English edition (published by Harvill), is currently the only edition
available in the world, although rights have now been sold into eight other
has read the book will agree that its defining characteristic is the level of
pessimism which pervades it. Steele was keen to gage whether
Politkovskaya could see any cause at all for hope in Russia.
Politkovskaya explained that the tone of her
writing was something that she thought about and discussed with
other Russian journalists endlessly: to what extent should they try
to show some light at the end of the tunnel?
problem was, she explained, that the stories people told her were
pessimistic; ordinary people would queue up outside the offices of Novaya
Gazeta [the Moscow-based newspaper for which Politkovskaya writes] to talk to
her and tell her their stories, and she therefore felt a responsibility
to write about them. Her task was not, she said, to
write entertaining (and therefore more upbeat) stories about famous
people, but rather to write about the very gloomy situations that she
claimed were representative of 95% of the population.
wondered what Politkovskaya felt about the oft-cited view that at least
Putin has managed to introduce a period of stability to the country:
a sharp contrast to the more chaotic Yeltsin years. Politkovskaya was
adament that this was not the case, questioning how one could possibly
have stability under a President who planned to scrap the direct elections of
provincial governors, replacing them instead with governors that
he nominated himself. Things were worse now than under
communism she said, with fewer children in school, people starving, and elderly
people left to die by themselves.
surprisingly, a lively question and answer session followed, during
which members of PEN and the Frontline Club
Anna further. A full transcript of the evening, including these
questions, will be available shortly: please check back soon.
grateful to the Frontline Club for their partnership in this event, and for the
assistance of Elena Cook who interpreted for Anna during the evening.
was organised through Writers in Translation, which chose Putin's Russia
as the inaugural title for the programme to support.
by Catherine Speller
grateful to Edward Zaslavsky for the photographs. All images are subject
to copyright, and may not be reproduced.