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Colleagues Mourn Death Of Russian Antiracism Campaigner Galina Kozhevnikova


Galina Kozhevnikova, shown here in a 2007 photo, "was a strong defender of all the foreign migrants and nonmigrants...who were victims of racial attacks."
MOSCOW -- In a country with few prominent voices speaking out against racism, Galina Kozhevnikova was a determined exception.

Kozhevnikova was the deputy director of SOVA, a Moscow-based group founded in 2002 that has proven one of the few reliable sources of information on xenophobia and racist attacks in post-Soviet Russia.

She died on March 5 from an unspecified illness at the age of 36.

Historian Vyacheslav Likhachev, a specialist on nationalist movements, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Kozhevnikova was "an honest, professional, and very good person."

"It was clear that this was work, but for her it was also very personal. It was more a matter of antifascist activism than plain professional motivation," Likhachev says. "It's known that she was received serious personal threats from neo-Nazis. But she understood the kind of sphere she was working in. She understood the ways in which it could be dangerous. And for her it was a conscious choice. It was her struggle, so to speak."

Russia has been plagued by growing racism in the years since the Soviet collapse, as social and economic uncertainty have fed both labor migration and a rising resentment of non-Slavic newcomers.

Outspoken Critic

A number of patriotic, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups have sprung up in recent years, the most extreme of which have sought to intimidate non-Slav residents and labor migrants, including many Central Asians and other former Soviet nationals.

It's actually pretty difficult to imagine how we're going to live without Galya.
Hundreds of migrants and other non-Russian residents are beaten and killed each year in Russia. SOVA was one of the few organizations to publish statistics on such attacks and to offer counsel to their victims.

Kozhevnikova was an outspoken critic of ultranationalist trends in Russia. In an interview with RFE/RL following the January 2010 contract killing of human rights lawyer Sergei Markelov and a young journalist, Anastasia Baburova, Kozhevnikova said the rising power of the far right threatened the security of the entire country.

"The ultra-right has openly turned to antistate terror and direct terror and have set themselves the aim of destabilizing the situation in the country, creating an all-out panic with which they then aim to start a military coup," she said.

Tatyana Lokshina, the deputy director of the Moscow office of the watchdog group Human Rights Watch, told Interfax that Kozhevnikova the "No. 1 expert" on radical nationalism.

Kozhevnikova's death is being mourned by many members of Russia's diaspora community, who saw in her a valuable ally and defender of migrants' rights.

'Big Loss'

Abdullo Davlatov, who heads the Tajiks in Russia association, the largest Tajik-diaspora group in Russia, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that his community had lost a powerful protector.

"Her death is a big loss. She was a strong defender of all the foreign migrants and nonmigrants, including Tajiks, who were victims of racial attacks," Davlatov says. "Diaspora groups always claim that we are the ones defending our migrants, but I believe that Tajik migrants got more support from Galina than from all of us."

In a statement, SOVA said Kozhevnikova "kept working until the last moment," despite suffering from what they described as a "grave disease."

Her latest report, on racism and xenophobia in Russia in 2010, is expected to be published soon.

Natalya Taubina, who heads the Public Verdict rights foundation, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that she was a rigorous researcher who was deeply committed to fighting racism in her country.

"Galya was probably one of the very few experts in our country who understood this problem really well and could speak about it in a very professional and thoughtful way, without hysterics, and very convincingly," Taubina says. "I'm sure that she could prevail in a dispute with any opponent on issues related to xenophobia and ethnic hatred.

"It's actually pretty difficult to imagine how we're going to live without Galya," she adds.

written by Daisy Sindelar, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian and Tajik services
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