Saturday, July 12, 2014

Valeriya Novodvorskaya (1950-2014)


Valeriya Novodvorskaya passed away on July 12, 2014.  I met Novodvorskaya for the first time in front of Embassy Moscow during the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in March 2003.  She was one of the more reasonable and likable Russians I ever knew. Strangely enough we were on opposite sides of the issue.  I was officially supporting our Iraq policy, while privately being against it, while she was actually leading one of the few Russian demonstrations in favor of the Iraq war. 

                                                        U.S. Embassy Moscow

                                  Russia Update: Thursday, March 27, 2003  

                                        No. 040 Reporting from Moscow

                            Turnabout is Fair Play: For Once, a Pro-U.S. Demonstration

On Thursday afternoon, followers of two miniscule political movements, the Trans-National Radical Party and the Democratic Union, took their turn to demonstrate across the street from the Old American Embassy Building.  In contrast to nearly everyone else, however, the twenty followers of Democratic Union leader Valeriya Novodvorskaya (Note 1) and Radical Party leader Nikolay Khramov (Note 2) actually demonstrated in favor of U.S. actions in Iraq. 

• A pro-American demonstration, for once.  There were only 20 of 
them, but I suppose short help is better than no help at all.
The day started off normally enough.  At noon, about a dozen LDPR volunteers and half a dozen "Working Russia" supporters took up their customary positions at Novinskiy Bulvar 18 to conduct an unsanctioned protest against the Iraq war.  The Communists (Note 3) were once again absent.  Around 2:00 p.m., however, the Radical and Democratic Union supporters arrived and began putting up their banners.  LDPR and "Working Russia" were miffed: first, because the competing demonstrators were outnumbered by cameramen from the local TV stations, and second because the militia came up to the unsanctioned demonstrators and told them they would have to leave.  The LDPR protesters did so quietly, but the more fanatical "Working Russia" types hung around outside the barriers and hurled insults at the Radicals and Democratic Unionists.  On their way out, a couple of LDPR protesters turned to one Radical and asked snidely, "Who paid you to do this?" to which the Radical replied, "Who paid you?"

With the situation under firm police control (there were lots more of them than everyone else put together), the Radicals and Democratic Unionists got their show on the road, unfurling banners that read "There is no peace without democracy," and "No to Saddam."  While giving TV interviews at a mile a minute, Novodvorskaya stood with a sign around her neck that said "America is fighting for humanity, including Russia."  Other demonstrators, including Khramov, carried American and British Flags or Radical Party banners.  Both parties also passed out "manifestos" that stated their support for the United States and the United Kingdom, and condemned all those who had conducted anti-American and antiwar protests, and thus given Saddam Hussein false hope.  The demonstration broke up peacefully at 3:00 p.m.

Outside the narrow confines of Novinskiy Bulvar 18, antiwar demonstrations have continued in other parts of Moscow as well, though not with the same pace and fervor as in the first week of the war.  On March 25, Gennadiy Raykov's pro-Putin "People's Party"  (Note 4) conducted an antiwar protest on Slavyanksaya Square.  About a thousand people watched as ten demonstrators dressed in camouflage uniforms covered a large globe with the American, British and Spanish flags as other demonstrators yelled out "Occupiers!" and explosive sound effects reverberated through the square.  The American/British occupiers were then "ousted" by other demonstrators, who carried placards proclaiming "Stop the Expansionist War in Iraq" and "What Goes Around Comes Around." (Note 5) Another demonstrator bore a placard with a picture of President Bush.  Unfortunately, the demonstrators had also thoughtfully painted a beard and a white cap on the picture to make the President look like Osama bin Laden.  The placard included the caption "Terrorist Number One."  In keeping with the demonstrations run by pro-Putin organizations, the protest meeting appeared to be well choreographed and lacked most of the inflammatory rhetoric that characterizes LDPR and Communist Party protest meetings.

Outside the capital, other anti-war demonstrations were also held.  In Vladivostok, Independent State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov and the People's Deputy Club led a demonstration paralleling that of the larger "People's Party" demonstration in Moscow on March 25.  American and British flags were burned, and passersby were asked to kick a dummy representing an American soldier.  Cherepkov, who is known for his eccentric behavior and his short-lived but successful term as Mayor of Vladivostok, is very popular in Primorye's capital city but is unpopular almost everywhere else in the Maritime Province.  He has taken numerous trips to Baghdad in recent years, and has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Iraq.  

While Cherepkov and his supporters were protesting, a group of veterans in Vladivostok was making trouble in its own way by preparing a legal complaint against President Bush for presentation to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal.  The veterans were apparently unswayed by arguments from media representatives that the Tribunal was created only to consider war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and maintained that they would demand that the Tribunal consider their "case" against the President for his war crimes against Iraq.  Apparently, folks in Vladivostok have nothing better to do these days.

Interfax also reported that on March 25 there was a large antiwar demonstration in the city of Cherkessk, the capital of the heavily Moslem republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia.  According to Interfax, the demonstration was organized by local youth groups, including the Republic's own Commission on Youth.  Reportedly, over 5,000 students marched down the main street of Cherkessk to Lenin Square and then to the Republic Government building, where they chanted anti-U.S. slogans and held up protest signs.  Organizers said that actually more than 15,000 participated, but in all likelihood the protest was far smaller than the 5,000 originally estimated by Interfax.  Virtually no one in this country can count, and when they do, they are prone to guess high.


Note 1. Valeriya Novodvorskaya.  Novodvorskaya is a well-known dissident from the Soviet era.  Born in 1950, she first came to the attention of the Soviet authorities at the age of 19, when, as a student at the Maurice Torres School of International Languages, she organized an underground student group calling for the overthrow of the Communist regime.  She was convicted under the all-purpose Article 70 (anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda) and sent to a mental institute where she was "treated' for schizophrenia.  After her release from psychiatric detention, she helped publish and distribute samizdat materials.  In 1977 she was one of the founders of  the "Free Interprofessional Union of Workers" (SMOT).  As a result of her political activities, she and other SMOT activists were repeatedly sent to psychiatric hospitals for additional treatment, and she was convicted for dissident activities in 1978, 1985 and 1986.  In 1988, she helped found the Democratic Union, a human rights group, and took part in numerous unsanctioned protests against the Soviet authorities.  In May 1991, she was jailed for seeking the overthrow of the Soviet regime, but then released on August 23, following the failure of the hardliner coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, Novodvorskaya continued her human rights activities, succeeding in earning the ire of Russia's new rulers.  In 1996, she was charged under Article 74 ("incitement of public discord") for her strident anti-Government statements on Chechnya.  In July 2000 she participated in a demonstration protesting the raid on Media-Most, the crown jewel in Vladimir Gusinskiy's financial empire, calling it an "anti-Semitic act" and comparing it to Kristallnacht.  Novodvorskaya has also endeared herself to the FSB, calling it "our Gestapo," and she has urged people to oppose President Vladimir Putin since he is a "butcher, murderer and fascist" who is "carrying out a genocide of the Chechen people."  In 1995, one of Novodvorskaya's friends characterized her as a perpetual revolutionary, and cites this as the reason why she and so many other dissidents of the Soviet era have been unable to adapt and prosper in the New Russia.  For additional biographic information on Novodvorskaya, see: 

Note 2.  Nikolay Khramov.  Some bio information, but not much, is available on Nikolay Khramov at the Trans-National Radical Party's website:  Often the site is blocked in Russia.   

Note 3. Communists.  KPRF officials have explained to media representatives that they have decided to continue their protest "by meeting with constituents," rather than by standing across the street from the U.S. Embassy.  

Note 4. People's Party.  Raykov's party controls the 53-member "People's Deputy" faction in the State Duma.  The faction is one of the centrist groups that make up the pro-Kremlin coalition in the Lower House. 

Note 5.  What Goes Around Comes Around.  This is the nearest I can get to the feeling expressed in a very colorful slogan "Как Иракнётся так и откликнётся."  

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