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  • Galina Starovoitova (1946–1998)

On the evening of 20 November 1998, Galina Vasilievna Starovoitova was shot to death outside her St. Petersburg apartment. She was the sixth member of the Russian Duma to have been murdered since that body’s creation in 1993. Most observers agree that this was a political assassination.

Starovoitova was a tireless, persistent voice for freedom, democracy, and human rights. An ethnographer by training, she wrote two books on interethnic relations in her native St. Petersburg. She first gained national attention ten years ago, when she championed the cause of the Armenians of Karabakh. In 1989, she was elected from a district in Armenia to the Congress of Peoples’ Deputies. That body elected her to the Supreme Soviet, where she became one of the founders of the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, which called for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. She was a close associate of Andrei Sakharov and a co-founder of the Democratic Russia movement. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian president Boris Yeltsin named her as his chief ethnic affairs adviser, but she did not last long in a government apparatus dominated by the remnants of the old communist nomenklatura. She later became one of the most outspoken critics of the bloody war in Chechnya.

Starovoitova was elected to the State Duma in 1995 from a St. Petersburg constituency. In 1996, she was the only woman to be nominated for the Russian presidency. She had talked of running for president again in the year 2000, and at the time of her death, had declared her intention to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast.

Starovoitova was one of the most outspoken opponents of the communists and nationalists who dominate the Duma. Recently, she condemned the antisemitic remarks made by Communist deputy General Albert Makashov and harshly criticized her fellow deputies for failing to censure him.

Galina Starovoitova was buried as a national hero on 24 November 1998 in St. Petersburg. A kilometer-long line of people stood in the bitter cold, waiting to be let into the Russian State Ethnographic Museum, where her public viewing took place. Friends, family members, three former prime ministers, and other politicians eulogized her.

Starovoitova had a close relationship with the National Endowment [End Page 188] for Democracy (NED) and its International Forum for Democratic Studies, and participated in many of its conferences. On December 9, a memorial ceremony was held in her honor at the NED, attended by her many friends at the NED and elsewhere in Washington.

The Words of Galina Starovoitova

The danger of an extreme-nationalist revolution is real, as the state of things in Russia comes more and more to resemble the plight that Germany’s Weimar Republic faced in the 1920s. The widespread persistence of imperial thinking, the humiliation of a proud people, discrimination against its members living in bordering states, and the continual broadcasting of the concept of a “divided nation” all helped to pave the way for fascism. In the case of “Weimar Russia,” we may add to the list economic deterioration, indifference and misunderstanding on the part of the West, and the sinister union that extreme right-wingers have formed with ex-communist hard-liners.

Russians have been unwilling to heed the sad lesson of German history because of our unexamined conviction that our country, having defeated a fascist regime in war, has thereby automatically become immune to fascism. This conviction, alas, is not necessarily true. . .

It remains an open question whether the liberal reforms that have occurred in Russia are irreversible. . . . As Václav Havel has said, “We have learned how to destroy, we have learned how to build, and now we must learn how to wait.”

The majority of Russians seem prepared to wait to enjoy the fruits of their peaceful revolution. But for how long? The answer to this question will be of momentous importance not only for Russia, but for the world.

—“Weimar Russia?” Journal of Democracy 4 (July 1993): 108–9.

Tributes to Galina Starovoitova

“Thousands and thousands of people braved the cold for hours to pay their respects to Galina Vasilievna. This should tell us something at...

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