Anna Politkovskaya in conversation with Jonathan Steele

“This is life, this is the reality in Russia today”

The author signing books

The author

signing books

Anna Politkovskaya was in conversation with Jonathan Steele, Senior Foreign Editor of the Guardian recently, to discuss her new book Putin’s Russia, the first title to be supported by English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme.  The event took place at the Frontline Club (in collaboration with whom the event was arranged), and saw a sell-out crowd eager to listen to the views of one of Russia’s leading journalists.

Steele began by asking Politkovskaya what the reception of the book had been in Russia.  Politkovskaya explained that the book was not published in Russian, and that the book’s subject matter [a critical appraisal of the Russia that has emerged under Putin’s leadership] meant that it was unlikely to ever find a publisher in Russia.  In fact, the English edition (published by Harvill), is currently the only edition available in the world, although rights have now been sold into eight other languages.

Anyone who has read the book will agree that its defining characteristic is the level of pessimism which pervades it.  Steele was keen to gage whether Politkovskaya could see any cause at all for hope in Russia.  Politkovskaya explained that the tone of her writing was something that she thought about and discussed with other Russian journalists endlessly: to what extent should they try to show some light at the end of the tunnel? 

With interpreter Elena Cook

With interpreter

Elena Cook

The problem was, she explained, that the stories people told her were pessimistic; ordinary people would queue up outside the offices of Novaya Gazeta [the Moscow-based newspaper for which Politkovskaya writes] to talk to her and tell her their stories, and she therefore felt a responsibility to write about them.  Her task was not, she said, to write entertaining (and therefore more upbeat) stories about famous people, but rather to write about the very gloomy situations that she claimed were representative of 95% of the population.

Steele wondered what Politkovskaya felt about the oft-cited view that at least Putin has managed to introduce a period of stability to the country: a sharp contrast to the more chaotic Yeltsin years.  Politkovskaya was adament that this was not the case, questioning how one could possibly have stability under a President who planned to scrap the direct elections of provincial governors, replacing them instead with governors that he nominated himself.  Things were worse now than under communism she said, with fewer children in school, people starving, and elderly people left to die by themselves. 



Not surprisingly, a lively question and answer session followed, during which members of PEN and the Frontline Club

Anna Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya

quizzed  Anna further.  A full transcript of the evening, including these questions, will be available shortly: please check back soon.

We are grateful to the Frontline Club for their partnership in this event, and for the assistance of Elena Cook who interpreted for Anna during the evening.

This event was organised through Writers in Translation, which chose Putin’s Russia as the inaugural title for the programme to support.


Report by Catherine Speller


We are grateful to Edward Zaslavsky for the photographs.  All images are subject to copyright, and may not be reproduced.

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