The journalist and writer Susanne Scholl is a longtime correspondent for the Austrian ORF TV channel in Moscow. On the anniversary of the murder of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, DW spoke with 72-year-old Scholl about how she remembered Politkovskaya, with whom she, among other things, crossed paths on the way to Chechnya, and why those who ordered the murder have not yet been found.
DW: On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was killed. It’s been 15 years, performers andthe organizers were convicted, some died in the colony. Until now, nothing is known about the customers. Now the statute of limitations of the crime expires and they can escape punishment. Russian justice failed?
Suzanne Scholl: Russian justice fails in many cases, but I don’t know if it’s a flaw or deliberate delay in order not to name the customers. I am inclined to believe that this is a conscious decision. There are a lot of assumptions about who could be the customer.
– Will the public ever know their names?
Suzanne Scholl, former correspondent for the Austrian ORF TV channel in Moscow
– I can’t make predictions, Russia is always unpredictable. I do not lose hope that when a new generation comes to power, it will try to deal with the dark spots of history. There is also the murder of Boris Nemtsov and others. It would be good if Russian history was studied better than Soviet history.
– 15 years later, do you think why was Politkovskaya killed?
– I think that somewhere in some kind of investigation, she reached a point that was unpleasant for the top leadership of Russia and, first of all, the top leadership of Chechnya. I think she was killed because of this.
– That is, its influence was still great, although Russian President Vladimir Putin in the first days after the assassination called him “minimal“?
– Yes, exactly, he said that they say that Politkovskaya was not that important. This was obviously not the case. She was uncomfortable. And, as in any authoritarian state, they do not want to have inconvenient people. If they cannot be silenced, they are killed.
– At what circumstances did you meet with Politkovskaya? What impression did she make on you?
– There were not many such meetings. In my opinion, the first time I saw her was when I came to the editorial office of Novaya Gazeta for an interview. Once we saw her on the way to Chechnya. She was obsessed – the desire to achieve justice, the desire to tell the public about what was happening; obsessed with the feeling that the new Russia should not be allowed to fall like that, and that it is time to put an end to Soviet habits. I think it sometimes made life difficult for her.
– Who she was more – journalist or human rights activist? Or is it difficult to draw the line?
– It is very difficult to separate, she was both. She was an excellent journalist, no doubt about it, but her inner feeling was that it was necessary to fight for human rights, especially as a journalist.
– How did Politkovskaya make the strongest impression on you?
– With its persistence during investigations and courage. She traveled to Chechnya very often, despite all the threats and what she experienced there.
– Was she afraid for her life?
“I don’t presume to judge whether she had a feeling of fear. If you measure it by yourself, then it should have been. But this did not stop her from doing what she wanted. In addition, people are not inclined to see the danger to life in such a situation. Perhaps she thought she was too famous to be in danger.
– You yourself worked in Chechnya and met the same people with whom Politkovskaya met. How hard was it to work there then?
– It was very difficult. Foreign journalists needed a special permit to travel to Chechnya. Chechnya was considered a special territory, there was still a so-called anti-terrorist operation. A few weeks after her murder, in November 2006, I went to Chechnya and actually followed in her footsteps, talking with many people whose relatives had been kidnapped. At the end of the trip, our film crew was detained because it was known that we were in contact with these people. The people who detained us wanted to get the footage. I was very lucky, I had a foreign passport. They were afraid to detain me for a long time and to search my personal belongings. Relatively quickly, after six hours, we were released and we left Chechnya. When Anna Politkovskaya was detained, she was threatened to do something with her children. This is a completely different level.
– V Russia has many courageous journalists, some were killed. Why does Anna Politkovskaya stand apart, becoming symbol?
– I think this is due to the fact that she is a woman who worked in such (dangerous) territory. And also with the fact that she was a charming person, an excellent journalist. In modern Russia, one does not often meet journalists with such courage.
– If Anna Politkovskaya lived today, what would she do?
– I’m afraid she would be in exile. I have a feeling that in Russia today it is impossible to work the way she could. I see how they dropped their hands, many went to internal immigration. Russia today is an open authoritarian state. No one can be accused of not having such courage as Politkovskaya. In her time, we all hoped for a radical change. I think there is no such hope today.
– Did Politkovskaya foresee this?
– No, we all did not foresee this. We feared this, but did not foresee it, and neither did she.