15 May 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The Kremlin’s indefatigable warriors for human rights are preparing another antisocial law in Russia—on the fight against Russophobia. The law promises to be ideally content-free, inasmuch there is no legal definition of Russophobia, not that one is actually possible at all. This is the tastiest morsel for the repressive machine: to be able to put away almost anyone who speaks disrespectfully of Russia or Russians.
State Duma Deputy Chair Irina Yarovaya, speaking now at the XI Petersburg International Legal Forum, called for introducing criminal liability for Russophobia “as a prophylactic measure.” You can consider this the calling card of today’s Russian legislators: criminal punishment as prophylactic. One can’t help but recall the Soviet euphemism, “the supreme measure of social defense,” as the death penalty was coyly referred to in the 1922 RSFSR Constitution.
An essential “political gesture” now
The proposal by Yarovaya, who is so prolific with repressive bills, was immediately supported by Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov. But Valery Fadeev, head of the Human Rights Council, even outdid Yarovaya, declaring that introducing liability for Russophobia would be an essential “political gesture” now. As we see, the top human rights defender has no doubt that criminal punishment can be used as a “political gesture.” This is what human rights activity Kremlin-style is.
Kremlin lawyers and Kremlin human rights defenders look very organic in the same harness: perfect mutual understanding! Fadeev, outdoing the sluggish lawmakers, declares that “the work will soon be done.” It’s time for him to modify the famous Bolshevik toady:
“Comrade Putin, the hellish work will be and already is being done”an adaptation from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “Conversation with Comrade Lenin.” — Ed..
Probably any unbiased person might wonder, Why pass new repressive laws if the ones we have are quite sufficient for reviving mass repressions on the Stalinist example? If for example, someone can go to prison for six years for “insulting inscriptions” on banners propagandizing the war against Ukraine, then why multiply the points detailing the nature of their political crimes?
The law’s lobbyist, Irina Yarovaya, says that “Russophobia is a special scale of misanthropic ideology,” and introducing criminal liability for Russophobia “is aimed at preserving peace and security.” This is the standard justification: we are the most peaceful people and stand for the cause of peace. Unfortunately, everyone is already used to this demagoguery.
Wash away public responsibility for the repressions
On the formal side, the law is needed in order to defend the “Russian world” from Western trespasses. However, the formal justifications, as always, conceal the real ones: to give the punitive organs one more reason for political repressions inside the country. There is no doubt that, having begun with the defense against an external enemy, the new Chekists will quickly uncover a “fifth column” and secret “accomplices” of Western Russophobes. New arrests will not be long in coming.
There is probably another reason as well for the appearance of the Russophobia law. With the passage of yet another draconian law, its authors are hoping to wash away public responsibility for the repressions. Some write laws, others bring charges based on them, still others conduct trials based on them, and others yet carry out the sentence. As if no one in isolation is to blame. Each is just performing his professional duty.
There will be no shortage of defendants under this law. Write a foreign word instead of the Russian analog? Russophobe. Say that Venice is prettier than Petersburg? Russophobe. Went to the Maldives for vacation instead of Sochi? Russophobe.
The first defendant under this article would be—were he alive—Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, who wrote nearly 200 years ago to his wife: “…the devil had the notion to have me be born in Russia with a soul and talent!”
Translated by Marian Schwartz