Valeriya Novodvorskaya, 64, a long-standing Russian human rights activist and founder of Russia’s Democratic Union Party, died of toxic shock linked to a chronic illness at a Moscow hospital on Saturday.
Up to 10,000 persons have come to say the last goodbye to Valeriya Novodvorskaya, ‘the Don Quichote’ of Russia’s human rights, Radio Liberty reports. People were chanting ‘Heroes do not die!’ in Ukrainian and ‘Russia will be free!’. Novodvorskaya is to be buried at Donskoye cemetery in Moscow.
She spent years protesting against the Soviet regime and remained a key opposition figure and staunch critic of the Kremlin until her death. Born in the Belarussian Soviet Republic in 1950, Novodvorskaya first became involved in opposition activities at the age of 19, when she formed an underground student association at the Moscow State Linguistics University. In protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, the young Novodvorskaya distributed flyers that condemned the Communist Party at the State Kremlin Palace in 1969.
“She was the most straightforward and sincere person I ever knew,” wrote former oligarch and Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “She said out loud the things we only whispered. She never reconciled herself to the things we reconciled ourselves to.”
The Russian dissident repeatedly brought up the Belarusian issue in her blog and public speeches:
‘The Belarusian patriots’ doctrine (mind that they are patriots, not nationalists) stems from the Great Principality of Lithuania, from the western vector of development, from the Polish influence. There was nothing wrong! Remember: you can find nationalists in a metropolitan country which occupies another territory. But with a view to miserable invaded folks, only a fair patriotism can arise among them.’
‘At Shushkevich’s [first leader of independent Belarus] times Belarus was making a good headway. It was in Lukashenka’s period when it did stumble: they started seeking liberty, equality and fraternity, fighting against corruption. They hoped a simple “collective farmer” [Lukashenka] would remain under their control. Quite respectable people like [opposition politician Viktar] Hanchar shared this opinion. And where is Hanchar now?’. [Victar Hanchar was kidnapped and allegedly killedby Lukashenka’s death squads in 1999].
‘Lukashenka is a cunning and experienced politician, like Mussolini, in this respect he is a teacher of Putin. He uses and milks Russia, but he doesn’t want deeper integration. I think in this case he would be afraid of Putin’s bringing troops into Belarus. But he shouldn’t fear: there is dictatorship and lack of rights and freedoms in Belarus – Putin is OK with it.’
‘When this gravestone in the shape of Russia fades away, nobody will support Lukashenka and Belarus will be ready to learn from Europe.’