CBSN

Russia Democracy In Crosshairs

After months spent focusing on an economic crisis that nearly bankrupted the country, there are ominous signs in Russia of a political crisis, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Koffman.
The murder of an outspoken liberal member of parliament this weekend by two masked gunmen in St. Petersburg could mark a deadly beginning to next year's election campaign, which will pit Communists against democrats.

Galina Starovoitova made a career out of her contempt for Communism and defense of democracy and individual liberty.

"Nobody can make a real compromise with the Communists because they will deceive you," she once said.

When the tanks rolled into Moscow during an attempted coup by hardline Communists in 1991, it was Starovoitova who helped rally support for Boris Yeltsin.

More recently, as liberals lost seats in the parliament she became a lonely -- but loud -- advocate for democratic principles.

Just this month, she lead the effort to censure a senior communist deputy for anti-Jewish remarks.

"The shots which tore away the life of Galina Starovoitova wounded every Russian to whom democratic principals are dear," says Oleg Sysuyev, an aid to President Boris Yeltsin.

Police haven't confirmed that this was a political murder, but many liberals don't need the police to confirm what they already know: politics in this country is a dangerous business.

Since the Duma, the Russian parliament, was established in 1993, six deputies have been murdered. This weekend's murder was the second this year.