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PUBLIC: Galina Starovoitova
I still think that we should keep doing some postings only "for
This weekend Galina Starovoitova, one of the best Russian politicians and
human rights activists was murdered in front of her house. I am sending
the obituary from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Daily News published
By that I want to remind all of us that there are still heroes in our
This one will be missed very much by our Russian friends.
May God give us peace, joy and courage in our struggle for prosperity in
and may God bless Russia by giving her many courageous individuals like
THE DEATH OF A DEMOCRAT
by Paul Goble
The brutal murder of State Duma deputy Galina
Starovoitova has deprived Russia of its most consistent defender of
human rights, and interethnic cooperation.
But more than that, her death on 20 November in St.
Petersburg threatens the possibilities of debate in Russia's still fragile
democracy, to the same extent that the August 1998 devaluation of the ruble
undermined the country's economy.
And that threat explains both the vehemence of the
reaction of Russian political leaders and Starovoitova's recent
of her own fate and her understanding of the likelihood that those who had
made the democratic revolution might soon be cast aside.
In the decade before her death, at the age of 52,
Starovoitova went from being an ethnographer to being a leader of the
democratic movement in Moscow. In both capacities, she was never afraid to
criticize others who called themselves democrats if they failed to defend
Earlier than almost anyone else, Starovoitova spoke
out in defense of the rights of the Karabakh Armenians, a position that led
her 1988 election to the USSR Supreme Soviet from Yerevan and membership in
that body's Human Rights Committee.
And even before the Soviet Union collapsed, she
showed both her courage and commitment: In 1990, she won a libel suit
the Communist newspaper "Pravda," which had accused her of urging
extraconstitutional means to change the government. But her concern for
human rights and constitutional rules was not, as some thought at the time,
merely a reflection of her ethnographic interests. Instead, it arose from
deeply held belief that every individual and every group has certain rights
that must be protected.
In 1991-1992, she combined her passion for both
ethnography and democracy by serving as President Boris Yeltsin's senior
adviser on nationality issues and as co-president of the Democratic Russia
Party. And at that time, she also worked closely with reformers like Yegor
Gaidar, Anatolii Chubais, and Anatolii Sobchak.
But her relations with all of these leaders, as
well as others were often stormy, precisely because of her uncompromising
commitment to principle. She was among the most outspoken critics of
ill-fated war against Chechnya. She condemned Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's
to expel "persons of Caucasian nationality" from the Russian capital. And
recently, she denounced her colleagues in the Duma and some members of the
Russian government for failing to take a tougher line against the vicious
anti-Semitic remarks and activities of Albert Makashov and other Russian
But perhaps because of her willingness to break
with allies when they backed away from their principles, Starovoitova had
greater moral than political success. She failed in her bid to run for
president in 1996, supposedly for "technical reasons," but more probably
because Yeltsin forces did not want her to draw off any reformist votes
felt they needed to defeat communist challenger Gennadii Zyuganov. At the
of her murder, Starovoitova was in St. Petersburg to take part in the
Capital political movement, a group she hoped to lead in a liberal
to that region's communist governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, in upcoming
Reaction to Starovoitova's death was swift and
angry. Her former ally Gaidar, speaking for many who had worked with her,
that Starovoitova had "paid with her life" to advance the cause of
in Russia. She believed that "democracy in Russia is possible," Gaidar
arguing that while this belief might seem "trivial" to some, her death
that it "still needs to be demonstrated."
In a statement, Yeltsin professed himself to be
"deeply outraged" by her murder. He pledged that the killers would be
to justice because "the shots that have interrupted her life have wounded
every Russian for whom democratic ideas are dear."
The Russian president dispatched his interior
minister, Sergei Stepashin, to St. Petersburg to investigate Starovoitova's
murder. And Stepashin indicated that her death would be investigated under
country's terrorism statute.
But as so often in her short but brilliant life,
Starovoitova herself appears to have described what her murder--the sixth
Duma deputy since 1993--means.
In an interview on Ekho Moskvy a few days before
her death, she gave what many are certain to see as her last testament to
country, people, and principles about which she cared most.
"Any revolution inevitably devours its own
children," Starovoitova said. "We, the democrats, should recognize that
is true even of our peaceful one. But now we want to do what we can to save
the gains of our revolution from being erased--the freedom to vote, the
parliamentary system, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press."
Those who killed her would like to kill those
things as well. Those who remember her best will do what they can, now that
she is gone, to prevent such efforts from succeeding.
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