It's been a year to the day since Anna Politkovskaja was gunned down in a Moscow stairwell, allegedly for her activities as a journalist in Putin's Russia. The authorities have stressed a Chechen connection to the hit, and Politkovskaja was best known for her coverage of that conflict.
But it is perhaps more interesting that Politkovskaja's death has resounded more greatly in Europe and North America than in Russia. Here in the Baltic Sea region, the anniversary did not go unnoticed by Postimees, Helsingin Sanomat, or Aftonbladet.
While the political implications here are heavy and handily used by opponents of Putin's 'sovereign democracy', I would argue that Politkovskaja's death is being used by the West to reinforce an image of an inferior East that is not free, an East where one can be killed even for writing articles.
In the Cold War period, the image of the east became one of lower living standards and overwhelming political interference -- one-party states that were decades behind in development. In the new construct, Putin's Russia is the new east and the Baltic Sea region is part of the West. Whereas in the Baltic Sea region journalists need not fear the state, and media is seen as an integral part of the social contract between citizens and those that govern them, in Russia, the media is seen as less important, especially should it threaten the ultimate value, which is not freedom but stability.
It is this clash between values of stability in Russia and freedom in Estonia that could lead Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to write to his Finnish colleague Ilkka Kanerva in May that Estonian society was disintegrating because youths broke windows and looted stores for two nights. Whereas in the West, such things are known to happen in Paris and Los Angeles and Copenhagen, in the east, such things are a sign of instability and question the legitimacy of the regime. Lavrov foolishly looked at Estonia and thought it was like Russia. It might be worth it for high ranking Russian officials to visit from time to time.
Therefore, Politkovskaja's death is important to us not because who she was or what she wrote, but because the circumstances of her death reinforce our opinions -- in Tallinn, in Helsinki, in London, in Ottawa -- that our way of life is the way of life, and none other. In Moscow though, images of youth clashing with police in Tallinn or Heiligendamm or Paris say the exact same thing, "Who needs the chaos of freedom, when one can breathe in the state-controlled air of stability ?"