Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2007
Volume 18
Issue 1
Page Numbers 183-85
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation


On October 7, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken advocate for human rights and an end to the war in Chechnya, was murdered in Moscow. On October 16, a memorial in her honor was held at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. Speakers included Ilyas Akhmadov, Andrei Babitsky, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paula Dobriansky, Susan Glasser, Don Jensen, Garry Kasparov, Mariana Katzarova, Andrei Piontkovsky, and David Satter. Remarks given by Brzezinski (former U.S. national security advisor), Piontkovsky (Russian scholar and journalist), and Kasparov (Russian democracy activist and former chess champion) are excerpted below:

Zbigniew Brzezinski: To me there is no heroism more impressive than “lonely heroism”. . . . Anna Politkovskaya was a lonely hero. Yes, there are many other Russians who have shared her views and who have stood with her, but by and large, she did what she did in a sea of indifference, and facing a government which is cynical, brutal, and increasingly creating conditions in Russia that smack of fascism. . . . I could not help but think that her death—even if not ordered from on high—was encouraged by a politics that smacks of fascism, of the ugly hatred based on nationalism and chauvinism. But yet, there is redemption. Because what she stood for reflects ultimately the beliefs and values of many Russians, who may not have the same degree of heroism to stand up, but whose views over time I am convinced will prevail, and will help to redeem that Russia which is good, those Russians who aspire for something so much more decent than what they have had over much of the last century.

Andrei Piontkovsky: Working as a columnist at the same Nova Gazeta with which Anna was associated during all her professional life, I watched how this ordinary, good-natured woman turned into a person dedicated to one noble mission, sacrificing everything else in her life. . . . [W]hat made her unique was her enormous moral and spiritual courage. For me it was very difficult to read Anna’s articles. Her lines were full of such [End Page 183] unbearable pain and suffering that sometimes I couldn’t even read them until the end. Sometimes I would ask myself, what did she feel while she was writing it? Every one of her trips to Chechnya was like stepping down into hell, and she returned there again and again to save the dignity and memory of the most unfortunate of those who disappeared or were tortured to death, and this truth was rejected by the majority of us because it was unbearable to sustain.

Garry Kasparov: It is a very popular conventional wisdom now in Russia that you should be within the system, you should try to expose some of the wrongdoings, but without colliding with the powerful regime. [Politkovskaya] did not understand such logic. She always exposed wrong, and the Chechen war as the power base for Putin. . . . Was she insignificant in Russia, as Putin said? The fact that President Putin had to speak about Politkovskaya, had to mention her name, which I believe he hated as much as he hated her, shows that she was not insignificant. . . . I can only hope that Politkovskaya’s murder is a turning point, also for Russians. For many of us, it is a point of no return. You cannot negotiate with the regime. There are no deals that can be made and respected by those in power. I do not want to speculate on who killed Anna. She was killed by the system built by Putin and his cronies.


On September 19, a military coup ousted the regime of Thaksin Sinawatra in Thailand. The Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong–based NGO, condemned the coup in the statement excerpted below:

The September 19 military coup has been described by some persons as benign. Their reasoning goes that the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was bad and intransigent. Whatever way it could be removed was good. Even normally well-informed news media have evoked images of a quiet and nonviolent coup. . . . The Asian Human Rights Commission rejects these arguments as naive and confused.

The Thaksin government was a civilian autocracy. It did not respect human rights, the rule of law, or democratic principles. . . . But a military autocracy is worse than a civilian autocracy. Within hours of taking power, the army abrogated the constitution, banned political assemblies, commenced extralegal arrests, and authorized censorship. The Thaksin government sought to undermine the constitution, harass gatherings of political opponents, and control the media through advertising revenue and criminal defamation. But by its very nature, it did not have the audacity to abandon the country’s supreme law and ban civil rights. By contrast, and by its very nature, the army has already done so. . . . The question is not whether the coup is benign or malign. The question is, how much damage has it already caused, and how can it be mitigated? [End Page 184]

The Asian Human Rights Commission reiterates its call to the Royal Thai Army for an immediate return to civilian control and restoration of the constitution, without any amendment other than that to pave the way for prompt and fair elections. It reiterates its call for continued strong international condemnation of the takeover, including from the United Nations. And it makes a special call to the international news media not to misunderstand and misrepresent the coup in Thailand through glib summations from casual observations.


On December 1, Felipe Calderón delivered his first speech as Mexico’s president. His inauguration came after months of political controversy following the closely fought July 2 election. (For more information, see the articles on pp. 73–112 of this issue.) The excerpts below were translated from the Spanish by Mary Ann Shepherd.

Today I accept the duty to be president of all Mexicans, regardless of their political preference, the religion that they practice, their ethnic origin, their gender, their level of income, their social position, or where they live in this great country. . . . For those who voted for me, I thank you for your support and I tell you that I will fulfill your mandate. And to those who legitimately voted for other options, I tell you that I will not ignore the reasons or the causes of your vote, and I ask that you allow me to win your confidence with deeds. . . .

It is clear that Mexico is living in a moment of tension between major political forces. I am aware of the seriousness of our differences and I fully assume the responsibility that falls upon me to resolve them and to reunite Mexico. But what has been emphatically signaled is that the country demands we move beyond our political differences for the greater interest of the nation. While we remain trapped in our disagreements, we are not fulfilling the responsibility assigned to us by the Mexican people. . . . I formally reiterate my invitation to a dialogue with all political forces. For the good of Mexico this dialogue cannot wait. We will speak with all who are willing and we will work with all who want to work, but I will always seek to govern for all.

I know that one cannot invoke democratic ideas to threaten democracy itself and its representation. The solution to our problems should be constructed peacefully and legally, within the laws and institutions that we have been given by the Mexican people, and not outside of them. Politics is not simply a battle where one party wins and the other loses; such battles belong only in the arena of electoral contests. Politics is the collaboration between parties, political forces, and citizens to improve the conditions of life for the people. Politics is an obligation to understand one another to resolve the problems of Mexico.