Thirteen years ago, on October 7, 2006, journalist Anna Politkovskaya was returning home after a day – and a life – spent fighting corruption. She was 48 years old and had two children. She had won fights and had many more to win. She entered the elevator to get to her Moscow apartment, where her family was waiting for her. Then the elevator stopped.
Shortly after, she was found dead in the elevator, riddled with anonymous bullets. The murderer fired numerous bullets into her heart and at least one bullet in her head, as if making sure that Anna would forget everything she knew, and her heart would not feel any more.
Politkovskaya never felt anything again, but Russian society is no longer as it used to be. Yes, the corrupt continue to be corrupt, Russian money laundering has spread its tentacles abroad, activists have been increasingly oppressed and arrested.
However, everyone, including both the corrupt and the activists, always remember that there used to be an Anna Politkovskaya, who lived to uncover corruption, who was a woman, a mother, a person who wanted to live and write for the joy of her soul, but had to die at the age of 48, serving the interest of others.
I am sure that every journalist, activist and whistle-blower, from time to time, raises the question of the purpose of fighting great corruption and how far one can go, to what extent one can take risks, how loud one can shout about one’s findings.
I’m sure some will choose to go all the way; others will decide to stop. However, no one will forget that Anna existed and that her spirit will always break through, asking us: What shall we do? Do we let them steal and kill unpunished?
Anna Politkovskaya’s death shook the world and gave new meaning to the fight against corruption.
It has become clear that exposing high-level corruption equals death at times. And the murder of Natalia Estemirova, who was killed for the same cause, confirmed the risks for activists in Russia.
The latest deaths of journalist Daphne Caruana Galicia from Malta and of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak have confirmed that the corrupt world does not support transparency. From time to time, corruption becomes so thirsty for blood that it kills even in the European Union.
Jan was just 28 years old and was killed along with his girlfriend. Daphne was 53 years old and had three children.
Yet, is there a guarantee to a peaceful, long and happy life, where you don’t talk about corruption, where you know about it and hide it? To me, the people who know, participate, or benefit from acts of corruption and keep silent, seem dead inside.
The other day, another death shook the world. Aivar Rehe, former head of Danske Bank’s Estonian branch, was found dead in his vacation home. He was 56 years old. Theoretically, Aivar lived longer than Jan, Anna, or Daphne. He was better off too. He was head of a bank for many years. Aivar could have been one of the planet’s centenarians, he had all the money to take care of his health, nutrition, vacations, and other worldly happiness.
However, Aivar killed himself. He was the head of the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, which has been involved in the largest money-laundering scheme in recent years. He was a witness in the criminal prosecution investigating the “Russian Laundromat” case in Estonia – for the time being. But Aivar decided to leave before finding out the verdict of the case. What he knew was too hard to live with.
It would be too hard to ask what kind of death we would choose, dying while fighting against those abusers who are united in financial clans, or dying a death that serves those corrupt people.
Is it more fair, however, to ask ourselves what life we would like to live? Like Anna, Jan and Daphne? Or like Aivar and other assistants to money laundering?
This is a question addressed to judges, prosecutors, and politicians in Moldova and all over the world. No one is eternal unless they remain to live in the hearts of generations. And while bank accounts will not earn you a place in anyone’s heart, fighting for truth and equal rights will.
Daphne is gone, but her three sons, her husband and thousands of people who loved her, are still her spokespersons.
Jan is gone, but the Slovak people have taken revenge and ousted the government that did not investigate the crime against him.
Anna is gone, but she lives in the hearts of all the good-faith journalists in the world.
The meaning of such a life seems clear. Not everyone may succeed, but anyone can try.