On Friday 4 October 2013, RAW in War hosted the seventh annual Anna Politkovskaya Award. Josh Black reports on a moving ceremony.
Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated outside of her Moscow apartment on 7 October 2006. The journalist who did most to uncover the horrors of the Second Chechen War, she was a hero to many in Russia and in the West. She endured threats, extra-judicial detention and may have been poisoned. When her bravery caught up with her, Vladimir Putin felt the need to say at a press conference that he thought Politkovskaya’s work was ‘extremely insignificant’, and that her impact on Russian political life had been ‘minimal’.
The irony, as in all cases of governments trying not to listen to journalists, is that Politkovskaya’s work was significant. Above all, she inspired a new generation of journalists who were unafraid of prying in dark places. Oleg Kashin was beaten to within an inch of his life for his criticism of the pro-Putin youth group, Nashi (Ours). The group has subsequently lost practically all of the support it enjoyed from the Kremlin. Others, such as Mikhail Beketov, never got to finish their investigations, while tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a police cell for daring to do his job honestly. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Russia ninth on its impunity index – a marked improvement on the Yeltsin and early Putin eras, but still distressing.
It is in the spirit of Politkovskaya’s legacy that her friends organised an annual award in her name. Given by the charity, Reach All Women in War (RAW in War), the award commemorates a woman actively engaged in pursuing the welfare of women in dangerous territories. To date, the award has been won by women who have recorded human rights abuses in Chechnya (Natalia Estemirova), the recovery of rape victims in Sudan (Dr Halima Bashir) and collected signatures to end legal discrimination against women in Iran (One Million Signatures). As the host of 2013’s award ceremony, Lyse Doucet puts it, “if you reach the women, you reach the children and you reach the men.”
This year, RAW in War chose to reward Malala Yousefazi, the schoolgirl who survived an attempt by the Taliban to silence her pro-education campaign. The award was given by Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged the Kindertransport that saved the lives of 699 Jewish schoolchildren from Prewar Czechoslovakia. In that gesture lay a reminder of challenges still to be met, and a moving demonstration of the hope that springs in every age.
Malala spoke with a maturity way beyond her 16 years. She spoke of the ultimate victory of collective action and the spoken word over ignorance, and most revealingly of all said of her father that he did not give her any advantages but simply refused to take from her the right to an education.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Malala’s story is that she so often talks over the heads of her audience to her own peer group. Education is precious, she says, and should not be taken for granted, as it is in the United Kingdom. Thanks to organisations like RAW in War, less high-profile campaigners get financial support to take university courses in journalism. For all who care about Anna’s legacy, she is extremely significant indeed.