Starovoitova, Galina Vasilievna

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(19461998), martyred political figure and human rights activist.

Galina Starovoitova was one of Russia's leading human rights advocates and served in the first post-Soviet Russian government. Murdered by unknown assailants on November 20, 1998, in St. Petersburg, she was eulogized as "a symbol of courage and outspokenness," "one of the brightest lights of Russian independence and reform movement," and a leader with an "uncompromising dedication to democracy."

Starovoitova was born in Chelyabinsk, earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in social psychology, and in 1980 received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Ethnography, USSR Academy of Sciences. She worked as an ethnographer and psychologist, and published scientific works in both fields, with a specialization in inter-ethnic relations and cross-cultural studies.

Her political activities began in the late 1980s with the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights organization led by Andrei Sakharov and other prominent dissident leaders. She joined with Sakharov to campaign for the rights of Armenians in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, and in 1989, in appreciation, was elected to the USSR Congress of Peoples' Deputies from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The Congress elected her to serve in the Supreme Soviet, where she became one of the cofounders of the pro-reform Inter-Regional Group of Deputies. A year later, she was elected to the Russian parliament from a constituency in St. Petersburg and became a co-chair of the Democratic Russia Party.

After the USSR collapsed, Starovoitova became an adviser to President Boris Yeltsin on interethnic affairs, but she resigned in 1992 because of disagreements over policy in the Caucasus region and frustration with a government still beholden to elements of the old Soviet system. From 1993 to 1994 she was a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., and the following year she taught at Brown University.

In 1995 Starovoitova was elected to the Russian Duma, where she became a prominent spokes-woman on human rights, the war in Chechnya, the environment, women's rights, wage issues, housing, antisemitism, and religious freedom. In 1996, she ran for the presidency, the first Russian woman to do so. She talked of running again in 2000, and before her death announced that she would run for governor of Leningrad oblast. Starovoitova saw Russia's communists and nationalists as standing in the way of democratization, and they in turn were her main opponents. Shortly before her death, she spoke out forcefully about political corruption, and many speculate that her investigations in this area precipitated her murder.

Millions of Russians mourned Galina Starovoitova's death, and a kilometer-long line of people waited in the cold to pay their respects. The investigation

of her murder was turned over to the highest authorities, but despite the interrogation of hundreds of witnesses, the detention of hundreds of suspects, and pledges to catch those guilty of the crime, no one was charged. Several Russians view the murder as a political assassination perpetrated either by organized crime or corrupt political officials.

See also: organized crime; sakharov, andrei dmitrievich


Diuk, Nadia. (1999). "Galina Starovoitova." Journal of Democracy 10:188190.

Powell, B. (1998). "Requiem for Reform." Newsweek. December 7, 1998, p. 38.

Paul J. Kubicek