Who was Valeriya Novodvorskaya?
Valeriya Novodvorskaya was a Russian politician who made a name for herself, at the age of nineteen. A student of French language, she started forming student organizations and trade unions, to fight for the fall of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia. She was arrested several times due to her involvement in insurgent activities and organization of underground unions. She was also restricted to psychiatric hospitals on various occasions, upon diagnosis of schizophrenia. The activist had written several articles for the Russian newspaper ‘Svobodnoye Slovo’, defaming the government and its leaders, particularly Mikhail Gorbachev. Her famous book ‘Beyond Despair’, talks about her fight for democracy, and her confinement in asylums. With the fall of the Soviet regime, she was made the Human Rights Advisor to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the President of Georgia, and was also offered Georgian citizenship. Novodvorskaya was known for being one of the most outspoken political figures in the history of Russia. The zealous politician spoke English and French fluently, and could read foreign languages like Italian, Latin, German and Ancient Greek. She received the ‘Starovoytova Award’, from the Russian government for her contribution to democracy and human rights. Ironically, however, her opinions always stirred controversy, particularly her comments about her homeland, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.
Childhood & Early Life
Valeriya Ilyinichna Novodvorskaya was born to Nina Fyodorovna, who was a doctor, and her engineer husband, on May 17, 1950, at Baranovichi, in present Belarus.
She completed her secondary education in 1968, and went on to pursue a course in French translation and teaching from the 'Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages'.
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In 1969, at the young age of 19, Novodvorskaya formed an association comprising students, whose main objective was to revolt against the Communist government in Czechoslovakia. She distributed pamphlets that said “Thank you, the Communist Party for our bitterness and despair, for our shameful silence, thank you the Party!”
This led to her arrest, and she was sent to the 'Soviet Psychiatric Hospital' in 1970 and she was confined there for two years, on claims of being schizophrenic.
In 1972 Valeriya helped in publishing papers for the underground press in Moscow. The next three years, she was employed as a teacher at a children's medical establishment.
During 1977-1978 this political activist tried to form a party that would protest against the Soviet regime. She also formed a trade guild called ‘Free Inter-Professional Union of Workers’, which vehemently fought for labour rights, leading to the arrest of all the members.
This Russian political activist was arrested for being a nonconformist, on three occasions from 1978-86. In the following years, she regularly held illegal meetings and protest marches, which caused the government to imprison her seventeen times.
In 1988, Novodvorskaya formed the ‘Democratic Union Party’, and started contributing articles to the underground publication ‘Svobodnoye Slovo’ (‘Free Word’).
Valeriya worked at the ‘Second Moscow Medical Institute’, till 1990 as a medical interpreter. Early that decade, the ‘Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia’ rebuffed allegations of the politician being mentally unstable.
An article written by the activist, titled ’Heil, Gorbachev!’ was published in 1990, by the newspaper ‘Svobodnoye Slovo’. The same year she shred the portrait of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in public, leading to several defamation cases against her.
In 1992, the Communist reign in the USSR ended and Valeriya was presented with Georgian citizenship; Georgian SSR was one of the republics which constituted the USSR. She was also appointed as the ‘Human Rights Advisor’ for the President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. During the same period, she established the ‘Democratic Union of Russia’, which aimed primarily at liberal reforms.
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During 1992-93, Russia was faced with a constitutional dilemma, when the President Boris Yeltsin decided to remove the 'Supreme Soviet (parliament) of the Russian Federation'. Valeriya was one of those political activists who strongly supported the President on this action.
Between the years 1993-96, the politician contested in the Russian legislative elections on two occasions, but lost in both.
During the same time, she published articles for the Russian newspaper ‘Novy Vzglyad’ (‘New View’). Following the release of these articles, charges were pressed against her, alleging that she was bringing about the “propaganda of the civil war and fomentation of ethnic dissention”.
After retiring from politics, Valeriya resided in the city of Moscow, and worked as a professor of journalism, history, religious studies, education and artistic ideology. She had also written several books, like ‘Beyond Despair’, ‘Карфаген обязан быть разрушен’, and ‘Валерия Новодворская. Над пропастью во лжи’.
Valeriya Novodvorskaya is known for her impassioned protests against the Soviet government which have often led her to trouble with the law, and intermittent stints at psychiatric institutions. Her most popular book ‘Beyond Despair’, describes these experiences, and her motivation behind the struggle for democracy in Russia.
Awards and Achievements
For her efforts in introducing democracy and human rights in Russia, Novodvorskaya was felicitated by the Russian government with the ‘Starovoytova Award’, named after politician Galina Starovoytova.
Personal Life & Legacy
The political activist never married, and blamed her sexual abstinence on her regular arrests by the Soviet government.
She was fond of cats, and in her leisure time, she like swimming, reading science fiction and watching theatre performances.
On July 12, 2014, Valeriya succumbed to ‘Toxic Shock Syndrome’, a fatal infection caused by accumulated pus in her left foot.
This Russian political activist, who fought for democracy and human rights, was regularly in the news for passing controversial opinions. Some of her most infamous statements are, “Apartheid is a normal thing” (talking about South Africa), and “human rights are not for everyone, but only for decent people”.