Moscow: Nature cried as mourners farewell "one of the bravest journalists any of us have ever known" Print E-mail

Wednesday, October 11, 2006. Issue 3516. Page 1.

Thousands Bid Farewell to Politkovskaya

By Carl Schreck
Staff Writer [Read MORE]

Mourners paying their respects Tuesday to Anna Politkovskaya at Troyekurovskoye Cemetery. The reporter's killing has provoked outrage around the world (Igor Tabakov / MT).
Thousands of people paid their final respects Tuesday to slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, praising her integrity, courage and relentless pursuit of the truth.

Family, friends, colleagues and admirers packed the funeral hall at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery, while at least 1,000 others waited in the rain as the memorial service began.

Politkovskaya was a "rights activist with a capital 'R,'" a "journalist with a capital 'J,'" and a "true person," federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said in his eulogy.

Lukin described how three years ago he was also forced to say goodbye to Novaya Gazeta's crusading editor and State Duma deputy Yury Shchekochikhin, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to an unknown substance in 2003. His colleagues suspected that he might have been poisoned.

"And so continues the never-ending procession of farewells with the very best and most talented people," Lukin said.

Tuesday's memorial service drew a wide range of public figures, including Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Ekho Moskvy editor Alexei Venediktov, as well as foreign government officials including U.S. Ambassador William Burns, German Ambassador Walter J rgen Schmid and British Ambassador Anthony Brenton.

Politkovskaya, a fierce Kremlin critic who chronicled military abuses against Chechen civilians and garnered accolades and awards from around the world, was gunned down in her apartment building Saturday in an apparent contract murder. She was 48.

In his eulogy, Burns described Politkovskaya as "tireless, fearless and passionate in her pursuit of the truth" and "one of the bravest journalists any of us have ever known."

"For the sake of Russia, I hope that Anna's death will remind people of the importance of telling the truth and seeking justice," Burns said. "For the sake of Russia, I hope that her death will not be in vain."

There were few tears among the mourners at Tuesday's service. The mood was more of somber reverence than anguish. But the steady drizzle that fell as hundreds waited to enter the funeral hall prompted one man to remark: "Nature is crying."

Many of the mourners said they did not know Politkovskaya personally, but that they had long admired her writing and human rights work.

"The intelligentsia has no outlet to express itself," said Leonid Lazutin, a nuclear physics professor at Moscow State University. "There are just a few people who speak for us. We are many, but our voices aren't heard. There's no freedom of speech. That's why she was dear to us."

One pensioner, who gave only his first name, Yury, said he was confident that neither Politkovskaya's killer, nor the person who ordered the murder, would be brought to justice.

Mourners bemoaned the erosion of free expression. As it rained outside, one man observed: "Nature is crying." (Igor Tabakov / MT)

Yury, who said he was a regular reader of Politkovskaya's work and "shared her views," said one thing puzzled him.

"She knew that her life was in danger," Yury said. "They had already tried to poison her. Why didn't she have any bodyguards?"

Politkovskaya's body was laid out in a casket resting on evergreen branches and surrounded by roses, her forehead covered in a white ribbon in the Russian Orthodox tradition.

Novaya Gazeta employees, including deputy editor Vitaly Yaroshevsky, regulated the flow of mourners into the building, stopping anyone with a camera from entering the main hall where the casket was on display. Other employees passed out copies of the newspaper's special issue commemorating Politkovskaya.

President Vladimir Putin's first public statement about Politkovskaya's death came on Monday, when he said in a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush that "all necessary efforts will be made for an objective investigation into the tragic death," the Kremlin said.

Speaking in Dresden at a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, Putin described Politkovskaya's murder as a "sickening" crime.

Waiting outside for Tuesday's funeral service to begin, Ekho Moskvy's Venediktov said Putin had "acted wrongly" in his statement regarding the murder in his conversation with Bush.

"He couldn't force himself to offer his condolences," Venediktov said. "It gave the impression that he was reporting to President Bush that everything would be taken care of. Like a lieutenant reporting to a colonel."

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also spoke out Tuesday, noting that in her work Politkovskaya criticized the authorities, and in this sense her murder "was a blow to the authorities," Interfax reported.

Venediktov said he had spoken with investigators Tuesday morning who said they were exploring a number of scenarios, including Chechen hitmen, Russian nationalists and even foreign provocateurs.

"The investigators will give their version to the authorities," Venediktov said. "And the authorities will decide which version to go to court with."