Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Galina Starovoitova and Human Rights in Russia

Galina Starovoitova (1946-1998) was one of the bravest women politicians and human rights activists of our times. During the transitional and volatile post-Communist period she was one of the very few to voice concerns about human rights issues in Russian politics. Galina received her B.A. from Leningrad College of Military Engeneering in 1966 and her M.A. in social psychology from Leningrad University 1971. Her Ph.D. in social anthropology from the Institute of Ethnography, USSR Academy of Sciences (1980) explored ethnic groups in the modern Soviet city. She published extensively on anthropological theory and cross-cultural studies.

An early and outspoken critic of human rights abuses against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Starovoitova won a seat in the USSR Supreme Soviet from Yerevan, Armenia. In 1990, she was elected from Leningrad to the Russian Supreme Soviet, where she served that body until it was disbanded in 1993.
Starovoitova also served as Russian president Boris Yeltsin's advisor on ethnic issues in 1991 and 1992, though she resigned because of differences over Kremlin policy in the Caucasus.
In 1993-1994, Starovoitova was a Jennings Randolph senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she completed Sovereignty After Empire: Self-Determination Movements in the Former Soviet Union. In 1994-1995 Galina was the Thomas J. Watson distinguished visiting professor at Brown University.
Elected to the Russian State Duma in 1995, Galina represented the 209th parliamentary district in northern St. Petersburg. In 1997, Galina published National Self-Determination : Approaches and Case Studies, a scholarly book on ethnic relations.
A fearless critic of Russia's policy in Chechnya, she used to say, "If in accordance with international standards we recognize the rights of nations to self-determination, we must recognize it also [within Russia]." Galina was shot to death around her apartment in St. Petersburg, in November of 1998. Her murder case is still unsolved. Perhaps, she was the very reincarnation of Zoya Kosmodemianskaya-- never afraid and always ready to fight.

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