David Calling

Murder Most Foul

There’s been another example of it in Moscow, where they specialize in violence and outrage. A man in his twenties, Stanislav Markelov, was walking down a central street in the middle of the morning when a gunman wearing a woollen balaclava came up and shot him in the head. Anastasia Baburova, a young freelance journalist accompanying Markelov, went to help him on the pavement, whereupon the gunman shot her dead as well. Then he walked away in his own time, apparently confident that nobody would interfere with him.
A photograph of Markelov shows him to have had the face of an idealistic student. In fact, he was a lawyer and human-rights activist. He’d taken up the case of a 19-year-old Chechen girl who had been arrested and murdered by a Colonel Yuri Budanov. Budanov confessed, and was sentenced to prison, only to be reprieved. Markelov was using legal procedures to try to keep Budanov in gaol. Nobody knows who shot Markelov and his companion, but it hardly takes Sherlock Holmes to figure out who had an interest in having them out of the way.
A young friend of mine from France has been living and working in Russia these past 18 months. He came round yesterday to ask advice about a book he intends to write. The social and ethnic mix of Russia fascinates him. He describes parts of the country that modernity, even in the form of Communism, couldn’t touch. Russians, he says, are good at putting up a Potemkin façade of being European, but they’re different underneath, they have their traditional codes, and know how to live within them. A network of family, friends, employers, patrons, has to protect you. He was shocked by the Markelov murder, and compared it to similar outrages such as the gunning down of the journalist Anna Politskovskaia. And yet it has its context, as he confirms. In the absence of law that can be enforced, there is a sort of balance of power that every group senses and whose limits they understand. The murderer of Markelov certainly had the backing of some very powerful people probably right at the top, so there’s absolutely no question of anyone ever being arrested for it. End of story, then. No man, no problem, as Stalin liked to say. That’s how they’ve always done things in the days of the czars and of the Bolsheviks, and they will go on doing them that way, my young friend said as though stating the simplest matter of fact.   

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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