Galina Starovoitova, Heroic Psychologist

by Joanne Marrow, Ph.D., University of California, Sacramento

On a cold, dark night in St. Petersburg, Russia a famous feminist psychologist was assassinated. Galina Starovoitova fought passionately for human rights. She was a feminist and a democratic progressive in the Russian Parliament. On November 20, 1998 as she was walking up the stairs of her apartment, Dr. Starovoitova was shot in ambush. Her murder was in the manner of the gangland style killings now common in Russia.

Thousands of Russians, young, old, men and women stood for hours in the chill winter day to mourn the passing of a woman who was deeply loved and respected. When they buried Starovoitova who most recently had been fighting a criminal regime in her home town, Russians wondered if they had also buried what she stood for : Russia's experiment with liberalism and democracy. In an emotional eulogy, Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov said, "Gone with Starovoitova is people's faith in the government's ability to protect democracy in [our country]." (Newsweek Dec. 7, 1998, p. 38)

Starovoitova was 52 years old, a grandmother devoted to her family. Professionally she was both a psychologist and ethnographer. This writer was unable to research her work in these areas. Her funeral was held at the Russian Ethnography Museum.

Starovoitova brought her professional understanding of people to her work in politics. In this area she excelled where no Russian woman had before. "She worked with human rights activist Andrei Sakharov and was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. In 1989 She was elected a USSR Member of Parliament from Yerevan, although she had four male rivals for her position. In 1990, St. Petersburg also elected her to the Russian Parliament, so that Starovoitova simultaneously held positions in both parliaments: no other Russian woman had ever accomplished this before. Starovoitova beat 24 rivals for a position in the Russian Duma. "She focused on progressive issues: housing, wage issues, ecological concerns, religious freedom (including opposition to anti-Semitism) and dissent against the war in Chechnya." (Sojourner, February 1999, p. 11) She served as an advisor to President Yeltsin on matters of ethnicity and nationality.

At the time of her death, "Starovoitova was the moral force behind a group of liberal legislators in the midst of a bitter campaign for political control of [St. Petersburg's] government. " One of Starovoitova's allies, Aleksandr Shchelkanov, stated, "It shows that there exists another power structure in this country that can kill calmly and without fear of reprisal. The criminal organs are saying, 'We're in charge in Russia.'" Vicktor Chernomyrdin said that Galina " was at the source of the battle for democracy in Russia. And she was left undefended." (Newsweek, Dec. 7, 1998. p. 41).

According to Amy Knight, a researcher at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies At George Washington University," '[Starovoitova became] a martyr, an unintentional martyr. She's somebody who will be a symbol of courage and outspokenness, and [she's] someone who suffered because of it.' In this way, Starovoitova's maternal, caring image and honest political reputation only served to increase the degree of outrage felt by common citizens about her assassination." Her friend, Olga Lipovskaya, The director of the Petersburg Center for Gender Studies said, "She was always very open and maybe too sincere for a politician. She didn't have a sense of the kind of danger she was in." (Sojourner, February 1999, p. 11)

Feminists world-wide miss the courage and energy of a strong Russian woman who was murdered for her stand for women's and men's human rights.


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