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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Remembering Galina




I t has been a year and a half since Galina Starovoitova, the State Duma deputy who was a champion of democratic freedom, was struck down by a bullet in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment. Her murder - which remains unsolved - was a shock to a nation that turned out to mourn the charismatic and compassionate woman, Russia's brightest female politician. On the occasion of her birthday (on May 17 Starovoitova would have turned 54), Galina Stolyarova spoke to the politician's sister, Olga Starovoitova.


Q:


How did you feel on Galina's birthday? Do you have any hope that her murder will be solved?


A:


It was a day of memories and recollections. There were many people with flowers at the cemetery and I invited a choir to sing spiritual music by her grave. It was more like a real birthday celebration than a day of mourning.


I often visit my sister's grave, and I feel such great support from the ordinary people who gather there. There are always people bringing flowers, especially on Sundays. Sometimes there are so many flowers it is difficult to approach the grave. I find it encouraging that so many people remember her.


Unfortunately, no one in the family really believes that Galina's murder will be solved quickly. Frankly, we don't even discuss it at home - we try not to think about it.


Q:


Former President Boris Yeltsin promised to find the killers and took the investigation under his personal control. Do you trust these promises?


A:


I did believe Yeltsin when he said he'd do his best to find the killers. But he had little control over the country by that time. I myself saw Sergei Stepashin crying, and this wasn't for the benefit of the reporters. Vladimir Putin sent us a condolence telegram last November [on the anniversary of Starovoitova's death]. The real question is whether or not their investigative efforts are going to be fruitful. I doubt it. After some offensive publications appeared in the media speculating that there could be some commercial motive behind the murder, I asked the police to publish a statement to quell this gossip. I wanted them to confirm that Galina wasn't involved in any kind of commercial activity. They know that it is the truth. But on May 17 [Galina's birthday], the head of the investigation called me and said that since they have not had any breakthroughs in the case, they would rather not publish any official statements. That would be premature, he said.


Q:


What can you say about the effect of Galina's death on the political environment?


A:


Galina always tried to link the country's democratic forces. Unfortunately, these forces [in spite of their promises] never united - even after her death.


Q:


What do you consider to be her greatest political achievement?


A:


We were always proud of Galina. She was such a bright politician who came into the political arena through her examination of the ethnic conflicts in Armenia and other former Soviet republics. When Yeltsin named her his adviser on ethnic issues in 1991, it was perceived as a natural continuation of her career.


During her tenure as Yeltsin's ethnic adviser [1991-1992], there was no bloodshed in Russia. She believed this to be her greatest achievement, and I agree with her. The bloody scenario came after Yeltsin made Galina go.


Little by little, Yeltsin paid less and less attention to her advice. He phoned less and less and their meetings became sporadic. Finally he stopped consulting her altogether, and one day she received an envelope containing her letter of resignation. He didn't even bother to meet her or call her about it, and this is what she found particularly insulting.


But she wasn't vindictive at all, nor was she a small-minded person. In an interview shortly after her resignation she was asked to name several contemporary politicians whom she considered to be above the use of dirty tricks. She named Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel and Boris Yeltsin.


Watching that interview, I silently applauded her and felt very proud. Yeltsin is by all means a tragic figure in Russian history, but he was also a powerful and important one.


Q:


Why was she murdered? What motivation could the killers have had?


A:


Our whole family has been considering this question for a long time, but it is very complicated. She tried hard to make the country's budget transparent and believed legislators should be able to trace where state money goes. This, of course, was rather irritating for those on the receiving end of improperly directed budgetary funds.


But Galina was impossible to bribe or to persuade. After she was murdered, [literary historian] Dmitry Likhachyov said of her: "She would never compromise with rascals. And that is why she was destined to die." At first his words gave me the shivers, but in the months that followed I realized that he was probably right.


There are enough corrupt people here - I wouldn't even try to guess who ordered the crime. I am also quite sure it is very easy to hire people who are ready to kill anyone.


Q:


Had she been receiving many threats?


A:


Of course. They started back in the fall of 1989 when a group of Azeri people called to tell her they would cut her throat, kill her family, set her flat on fire, etc. Most of the phone calls were anonymous, but she could guess who was hassling her. We didn't pay too much attention to these threats - we regarded them as a type of unavoidable political game.


Looking back through her articles and her references to [former Indian Prime Minister] Indira Ghandi's murder, and the threats made to [former Pakistani Prime Minister] Benazir Bhutto, I now realize that she was well aware of what could happen to her.


Q:


Did she ever regret anything about her political career?


A:


When the quota for women in the parliament was canceled, the female representation in the Duma dropped six times. She often repeated that they shouldn't have done that. She knew it was important to change society's attitude toward women in politics. This was the only reason she ran for president. She was a gambler by nature - smart and tough. She thrived in risky situations. But the game of politics was a dangerous one. Just a few days after her funeral our mother said that she had gotten in over her head.


Q:


Had she ever mentioned to you that she wanted to get out of politics?


A:


Yes. There were moments - such as when [Duma Deputy] Albert Makashov went unpunished for making his horrible anti-Semitic statements - when she simply felt helpless. The best thing that she could do would be to resign, she would say. But she never gave up; she kept fighting back.


Q:


In 1999 you started a nonprofit organization and museum in honor of your sister. How is that developing?


A:


We've published two of Galina's books and this year we'll introduce a new project that was Galina's brainchild: giving grants to the most talented St. Petersburg students in the humanitarian sphere for their work promoting tolerance in today's conflict zones.


Q:


What have we lost with Galina's death?


A:


You know what people tell me? They stopped watching Duma sessions. Many say that they are subconsciously looking for her until it finally occurs to them that she is not there anymore. It may be good for the state that the Duma is not in opposition to the president anymore, but the speeches are losing their meaning.


I think she was an unbeatable polemicist. She was a woman of excellent intelligence and remarkable intuition. Many politicians cowardly avoided debates with her on television. And they were right to do so because they would lose. Someone couldn't beat her with words, so he decided to shoot her ...


As for our family, we've lost our leader. Galina carried the uneasy burden of decision-making in the family. She was a born leader. Now that job has fallen on my shoulders, and I am learning how to be strong.