Defiant Russians throng slain reformer's funeral Her death inspires huge show of support for ideals now in peril

November 25, 1998|By WILL ENGLUND | WILL ENGLUND,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - An outpouring not of grief so much as of defiance brought thousands to the Marble Hall here yesterday to say farewell to Galina Starovoitova, to lay flowers on her bier and to touch her coffin.

The line of mourners, three and four abreast, stretched for about a mile through the cold damp streets of the city she represented in parliament. Some people waited three or four hours in the 20-degree chill for a chance to see Starovoitova - killed Friday in what everyone takes to be a political murder - one last time.

"Let those who contracted the murder see how many people are here today," said Sergei Lebedev, 43, an engineer. "It's impossible to do away with all of us."

But as three former prime ministers and the leading lights of the first wave of Russian democracy gathered - voicing words of anger and resolve - it became more and more evident that this was, after all, not a revival but a funeral.

Unlike so many of the high-profile murders that have come before, Starovoitova's had nothing to do with private business or personal struggles. She was a leader of Russia's democratic movement, going back to Soviet days, and one of the few democrats whose reputation remained intact through the first troubled decade of post-Soviet Russia.

Yesterday, people saw her killing as a direct blow against society itself. They saw it as confirmation that things have gone terribly wrong here. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, who represented Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, told the mourners: "Forgive us who hold power, forgive us, your colleagues who were unable to protect you. It is terrible that it has become normal to kill priests, journalists and now deputies."

Irina Khakamada, who served in parliament alongside Starovoitova, was another of the speakers in the Marble Hall. She said of her colleague:

"After the tragic death of Galina Vasiliyevna we woke up in another country. We all understood it, and we even expected it, but nobody could predict that it would happen so soon. So now we are in a country where the state cannot protect its citizens.

"If the crime is solved, that will be good. It will be a sign, a symbol. But anyway the retribution and punishment of the criminals will not calm the spirit of Galina Vasiliyevna. Her spirit will be happy only when her grandson can live in a normal free country."

"We didn't expect that the way to freedom would so hard," said Vladimir Lukin, a member of parliament from the liberal Yabloko faction. "At the end of the '80s it looked so simple and natural."

"Our people are being killed," said Anatoly B. Chubais, who until recently was in charge of Russia's privatization program.

Yet the speakers struck a carry-on-the-fight chord when they could. And after her burial at the Alexander Nevsky monastery, Chubais, Grigory A. Yavlinsky, Yegor T. Gaidar and other liberal politicians met privately and agreed in principle to form a united front against the Communists, nationalists and their allies. Chubais said the details of the union would be worked out next week.

"If the democrats could unite and stop squabbling, they would be able to confront the reds and browns," said Rostislav Balobolko, a 63-year-old pensioner who had come to pay his last respects to Starovoitova. "Look around. These are her people."

At midday the line of mourners doubled back on itself, circled jTC through a park, and doubled back again. Police put the number at 20,000. Post-Soviet Russia has witnessed nothing like this turnout.

"People will turn to common sense," said Irina Mamaichuk, a member of the psychology faculty of St. Petersburg University, as her section of the line did a U-turn by the Griboyedov Canal. "There's little enough of it today in Russia, but they will."

Mamaichuk had known Starovoitova since their days together in the Komsomol, or Young Communist League.

"When I heard Galya had been killed," she said, "I realized a dark cloud was over us, and dark forces were flying over us. We can't be indifferent to them."

Last in line was a lawyer, Lyubova Vinogradova, who is eight months pregnant. Asked if it was prudent to be out in such weather, she replied, "It's not the cold we should be afraid of."

The line led to the Marble Hall of the Ethnographic Museum, an old palace with magnificent marble columns and an immense skylight. There Starovoitova, in a black shawl according to Russian tradition, lay in state in an open coffin, while funeral music played and an honor guard kept watch. A black and white portrait of her stood on an easel; gauzy black material hung from the shields of Russia and St. Petersburg.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.