International PEN, Canberra 1999
Darkening skies and cold were perhaps reminiscent last Sunday morning of a Russia where "the Tsar exiled both Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Osip Mandelstam died in a camp in eastern Siberia after satirising 'the Georgian mountaineer' and his cockroach moustaches" and in 1998 the editor of Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya, Larisa Yudina, and the human rights advocate and Parliamentarian, Galina Starovoitova, were both killed in apparently politically motivated attacks.
At a ceremony in Lennox Gardens, conducted by International PEN, to plant a tree to commemorate these two women's deaths, Peter Fuller noted that "Russia has changed since Soviet times, but life is no less perilous in the new Russia, which has gone from being a police state to being a lawless state."
ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell spoke movingly of the need for this memorial to remind us that it is easy in Australia to take our freedom of speech for granted. Larisa Yudina was the co-chairperson of the local branch of the pro-reform Yabloko party in Kalmykia and was investigating reports of corrupt business practices by regional officials when on June 8 1998 she was found dead with multiple knife wounds and a fractured skull. Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to take urgent measures to stop the persecution of journalists and government opponents in the Republic of Kalmykia and to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Larisa Yudina.
The murder of Galina Starovoitova received wide publicity in the western news media when on November 20 1998 two gunmen shot her as she walked up the steps to her apartment, also seriously wounding her press secretary, and casually left their weapons behind in perhaps the most brazen political assassination in the bloody 7-year history of the new Russia.
International PEN, founded in London in 1921, brings together poets, novelists, essayists, historians, critics, translators, editors, journalists, theatre and screenwriters "who share a common concern for the craft and art of writing and who are committed to freedom of expression through the written word". Since November 15 1998 PEN has recorded the murder of 21 writers in Iran, Sierra Leone, Turkey, Serbia, Nigeria, Kosovo, Angola, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Ivory Coast and East Timor.
Murder is the "ultimate form of censorship", but PEN's records show another 17 writers who since 1991 are still detained, exiled or have 'disappeared' in Burma, Guatemala, Slovenia, Syria, Bangladesh, Turkey, Ecuador, Russia, Mexico, Egypt, Peru, Cuba and Ethiopia.
The rain held off for the brief memorial ceremony, but fell steadily for the rest of the day.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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