Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ten Years After Galina Starovoitova

"Not that she was perfect...She had an acid tongue, once offering mock praise for Communist lawmakers on the floor of the State Duma during the August 1998 financial collapse. 'You say you want to return to the Soviet Union. Well congratulations! You're fulfilling your plan. The shelves in all the stores are empty!'

...Less than a year after her death, the last remnants of democracy were being rooted out, Russian troops were back in Chechnya for a second time in a decade, and an obscure KGB officer named Vladimir Putin was riding a wave of xenophobia to the Kremlin.

These days, the only crowds allowed to pour out on the streets in Russia are those singing Putin's praises -- or denouncing and harassing his enemies."---Brian Whitmore RFE/RL (11-20-08)

I remember Galina Starovoitova with Valdimir Vysotsky's song "The Wolf Hunt." This song describes how the freedom-loving wolves are surrounded, hunted down, and killed by hunters. You can read a bit about Vysotsky and this song here.

Brian Whitmore remembers the Russian State Duma Deputy and human rights activist Galina Starovoitova on the tenth anniversary of her November 20, 1998 murder.

In an article posted on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (11-20-08) Brian Whitmore reports:

Most of all I remember the crowds. The angry and bewildered masses gathered on St. Petersburg's Palace Square the morning after the assassination. The throngs of grieving ordinary people lining up to view her open casket. The haunting scenes of shivering pensioners in shabby overcoats crashing the gates at Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery to watch the twilight burial.

Ten years ago, on November 20, 1998, State Duma Deputy and human rights activist Galina Starovoitova was gunned down in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment. Depressingly -- but not surprisingly -- those who ordered the killing are nowhere close to being brought to justice.

As a journalist working in St. Petersburg at the time, I knew Galina well, covered the aftermath of her assassination, and even endured a frightening interrogation at the hands of the Federal Security Security (FSB) as part of their so-called "investigation" into the killing.

Recent Russian history is littered with depressing watersheds and turning points as the country abandoned its clumsy, tentative, and half-hearted experiment with democracy in the 1990s.

For me, in hindsight, November 20, 1998 was truly the beginning of the end.

Shortly before she was killed, Starovoitova said she was deeply concerned that Yeltsin's successor could turn out to be a "potential dictator" with little interest in democracy.

How right you were, Galina. [Full text]

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