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Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 23:20 GMT

World: Europe

Russia loses an icon

Mrs Starovoitova and former premier Sergei Kiriyenko

By Russian affairs specialist Malcolm Haslett

Liberal Russian MP Galina Starovoitova was hugely respected outside the country - for her intelligence, honesty and genuine patriotism.

Galina Starovoitova - a formidable politician
She was seen as representing the real Russian intelligentsia, and her killing will greatly increase concern abroad at the direction Russian politics is taking.

Murders of public figures in Russia have become unfortunately common in recent years, but most of them have been linked by police with shady business dealings.

However, Galina Starovoitova had few business dealings. She was killed, it seems clear, for her political views alone.

[ image:  ]
That is what has shocked many people in Russia, and will equally shock those abroad who have learned to respect and like her.

She was one of the most outspoken Russian champions of democratic freedoms. She was also a severe critic of the xenophobic, anti-western and sometimes anti-semitic trends in Russian society which she saw as the inheritance of 70 years of national isolation during the Soviet period.

Her most recent argument with the Communists and nationalists came after the State Duma, the lower house, voted against censuring the openly anti-semitic remarks of Communist MP General Albert Makashov.

Mrs Starovoitova said: "I propose a decision to order a medical examination of deputies of the State Duma, especially in the light of yesterday's voting on the battle against anti-semitism, when many of our colleagues gave us reason to doubt their mental health."

Mrs Starovoitova intended to keep public attention focused on the Makashov episode.

She had many enemies

Earlier this summer she had accused the Communist/nationalist majority in the Duma of wanting to turn the clock back to the days of authoritarian communist rule before Mr Gorbachev opened up the Soviet Union.

[ image: The MP was shot in the entrance of her home]
The MP was shot in the entrance of her home
She told them: "You don't like anything that's happened since perestroika. You would like to return us to pre-perestroika days. I congratulate you today. You have succeeded."

But she also criticised the government for going too far to appease the chauvinistic tendencies of Duma deputies.

One target of her criticism was the policy developed by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, while he was foreign minister, of seeking links with countries which were "traditional allies".

But as Mrs Starovoitova pointed out, they were far from democratic. "We are announcing here that the Russian Federation is ready to co-operate with the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which tolerates ethnic cleansing,'' she said.

Mrs Starovoitova, in other words, had many enemies. Many of those she battled with in the Duma have roundly condemned her shooting.

Security services accused of assassination plot

Clearly it is the work of extremists - either from the nationalist right or the ultra-communist left. But the murder will particularly depress those in Russia and abroad who want to see the development of a normal, well-balanced democracy.

[ image: Mr Berezovsky says FSB wanted to kill him]
Mr Berezovsky says FSB wanted to kill him
And at the moment the signs are not good. The row over General Makashov's anti-semitism is only one of the increasingly bitter arguments currently dividing Russian opinion.

There is an unsavoury dispute going on, for example, between financier Boris Berezovsky and Mr Yeltsin's former bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov, about whether the former bribed the president with shares in the ORT television channel.

And Mr Berezovsky has accused elements within Russia's internal security service, the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or Federal Security Service) of planning to kill him.

Several former agents have said they can confirm his claim.

There will also be fears that rogue elements might have been involved in Mrs Starovoitova's killing.

If that were so, the question of who shot her could become as obscure and long-running as the question: Who shot John F Kennedy?

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