Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Memoriam

From Radio Liberty [my tr.]:

Dutch television has shown the premiere of the film In Memoriam: Aleksander Litvinenko, by directors Masha Novikova and Jos de Putter. The film contains a unique interview with Litvinenko shot by the Dutch film-makers two years ago. The film was broadcast in prime time on the second state channel of Netherlands TV, at 9pm on Monday. The authors compiled it from video recordings they made in Litvinenko’s London apartment in 2004, in Moscow with Anna Politkovskaya, and there are also new interviews with Litvinenko’s father, Walter, and Litvinenko’s friends Akhmed Zakayev and Vladimir Bukovsky.

After the offensively trivial and one-sided image of the “fugitive KGB man” and spy (something which Litvinenko, incidentally, never was), as he is profiled today in the newspapers in schematic fashion, as if he were Spider Man or even the hero of some sinister fairy-tale for grown-ups, the screen finally showed Litvinenko the human being, with all his doubts and fears. A human being who had slowly come to a realization of what kind of organization he had ended up in.

Masha Novikova, the director of the project, talks to Radio Liberty about the film:

“It’s very interesting. I asked his father - right, so he went to work for the KGB, and what did he think about that, what did you think of it? And his father replied frankly - ‘Well, why not? We’d watched Stirlitz [a Russian television series about a WW2 spy], and we thought it was good.’ And Alexander himself, in his interview with Jos, also says that it all started out as something totally naive, some heroic thing about catching spies. A boy’s sort of thing. But then gradually, gradually… First the disillusionment, when he was in Chechnya, and then the disillusionment he called the ‘red line’, which can’t be crossed - killing people. He realized that executing people without a trial, without a legal process, was something he would never be able to do, and that was the beginning of an enormous turning-point in his life. When he changed from being a an officer of the KGB to a prisoner of Lefortovo and Butyrki, he was able to savour the ‘charm’ of it in its entirety.”

Alexander Litvinenko (excerpt from In memoriam: Alexander Litvinenko): “You know, I spent the first war in Chechnya. I passed though all the hotspots in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Soldiers died in my arms. I remember this 18-year-old lad… I remember I was still taking his pulse, and it stopped. And during all that time not one leader, not one politician ever explained to us what we were doing there. Who or what we were protecting there. And what we were fighting for […] By then I already knew that it was a gang of bandits. And I couldn’t see any difference between the officers and the bandits. Against whom we were fighting, by the way. With the sole difference that the bandits had no state authority, but our officers had.. And I realized that I’d ended up in a gang, I became aware of that. I’d already realized it from 1996 onwards. But it’s very difficult to leave a gang, any gang. Even in the West, if you end up in a gang, it’s very hard to leave.”

Jos de Putter filmed Litvinenko in his own home. And when Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, and Litvinenko fell ill, we thought that… When he brought the films to me that day, I examined them, and it turned out that it was unique material. Because this is him at home, is rather intimate. He sits there, watching pictures of himself being arrested in the courtroom, and comments on it all. It was somehow very moving, especially after his death, to see it all again…


In the film Alexander Litvinenko shows the Dutch film-makers video cassettes, one after the other. On one of them he is listening to his acquittal after having spent several months behind bars on trumped-up charges. At that moment, men in masks burst into the courtroom and arrest him again, taking him off to Butyrka Prison. On another cassette a man with an altered voice admits that he received an order to kill Litvinenko.

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