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Russian Politicians Doom Orphans as Orthodox Christmas Approaches

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Human Rights, Law, Politics, Youth, RuNet Echo

On December 26th, 2012 the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of Parliament, upheld a controversial new law [1] [GV] banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans. In the biting cold of Russian winter bloggers took to Twitter, rather than the streets, to vent about the unanimity of the vote. Echo Moskvy's Tonia Samsonova was particularly disappointed [2] [ru] by one of the Senators:

Я отказываюсь верить, что Светлана Журова голосовала ЗА. Мне плохо от этого.

I refuse to believe that [Olympic speed-skating champion] Svetlana Zhurova voted AYE. Makes me feel sick.

Others, like photographer Vladimir Ternovsky, turned to humor [3] [ru]:

В Совете Федерации только один разумный человек. Некто Ноль, проголосовавший против закона “Димы Яковлева”

In the Federation Council there is only one sensible person. Someone named Zero, who voted against the “Dima Yakovlev” law.

Since Vladimir Putin has signaled that he will sign the legislation, humor may be the only response left. After all, the unanimous vote throws into stark contrast the failure of the prolific online campaign against the law. People signed online petitions, activists threw eggs at the State Duma, social workers blogged first hand accounts of life in the Russian orphanages. Many hoped that as a result at least some politicians would be swayed to take a principled stance, all to no avail.

Of course, some blame the public campaign itself for the entrenchment of anti-adoption advocates. On December 23rd Maksim Kononenko, an opponent of the law, wrote a post titled “Good Defeats Good,” wherein he criticized [4] [ru] a new approach taken by online activists:

Вот правильно говорят, что страшнее дурака — дурак с инициативой. Во всей этой дискуссии вокруг запрета на усыновление на стороне противников запрета было колоссальное моральное преимущество. […] ради бессмысленного позерского фокуса дураки с инициативой загубили самую важную гражданскую кампанию в постсоветской истории.

It's true what they say, a fool with initiative is more dangerous than just a fool. In the debates over the adoption ban the opponents had a colossal moral advantage. […] for a pointless pretentious trick, fools with initiative destroyed the most important civic campaign in post-Soviet history.


We the People petition on whitehouse.gov Screenshot. December 27, 2012.

Kononenko was referring to a petition [5] [en] that was created on December 21st using the White House's direct-democracy “We the People” initiative. “We the People” guarantees review by the Administration of any petition that reaches 25,000 signatures within a month. The petition in question, written in somewhat awkward English, urges the United States to “Identify Russian law-makers jeopardizing lives of Russian orphans,” that is, any MP who votes for the adoption ban. Furthermore, the petition asks that these MPs be included in the list of Russian officials banned from travel to the US by the “Magnitsky Act. [6]” [GV]

Shortly after it was created, the petition was endorsed by popular opposition bloggers Rustem Adagamov [7] [ru] and Andrei Malgin [8] [ru], who pushed forth the idea that one does not have to be an American citizen to sign the petition. As Adagamov wrote [9] [ru] a day later:

В числе подписавших, в основном, россияне, однако, в правилах подписания петиции ничего не говорится о гражданстве подписавшего

The signers are mainly Russian, but, nowhere in the petition rules does it say anything about the citizenship of the undersigned

Such a petition is surreal on many levels. First, it is a fine irony that the Magnitsky Act is called to combat a law that was developed by Russian parliamentarians in direct retaliation to the Magnitsky Act in the first place. Second, quite obviously the White House did not foresee an occasion where foreigners would want lodge a petition with the US President, and so failed to include any citizenship limitations. This lead Roman Leibov, a University of Tartu professor and one of the first Russian users of LiveJournal, to exclaim [10] [ru] on Facebook:

Не надо подписывать дурацких петиций! И распространять на них ссылок тоже не надо! Сайт Белого Дома – это какой-то подвергшийся сексуальному надругательству стыд, там нет ни системы гражданской идентификации, ни системы борьбы с накрутками. В результате под петициями красуются подписи Вуглускра И., а телеящик в понедельник расскажет об этой комедии всем потребителям телеящика.

Don't sign any foolish petitions! And don't disseminate links either! The White House website is a sexually desecrated disgrace, there is no system of citizen ID, no system of fighting fraud. As a result petitions are signed by the proverbial Mike Rotch [11], and come Monday the TV well make sure to tell all TV consumers of this joke.

DemVybor's Kirill Shulika latched on to yet a third issue [12] [ru]:

Я занимаюсь политикой в России и поэтому решать свои внутренние проблемы я буду сам. И вам советую. Депутатов, что приняли людоедский закон надо не в Америку не пускать, а переизбирать и выгонять отовсюду в России с волчьим билетом.

I do politics in Russia, and I will solve my internal problems on my own. And I suggest you do too. Deputies who adopted the inhumane law shouldn't be banned from America, but should rather stand for reelection and be expelled from Russia with no chance of return.

The dissident ecologist Suren Gazaryan, on the run from law for trespassing on government property, agreed [13] [ru]:

Это именно то, что бесит меня в нашем обществе. Наивная и необоснованная надежда на помощь Обамы, который накажет наших идиотов-депутатов.

This is what drives me insane about your society. A naive and unsubstantiated hope for help from Obama, who will punish our idiot deputies.

On the other hand, Dmitry Olshansky, until recently a staunch defender of the status quo, argued [14] [ru] that lodging a complaint can be a good thing, even if it subverts the “chain of command”:

Вероятность, что жалобу там рассмотрят так, как хотели бы здесь, весьма мала – там тоже сидят бюрократы и лицемеры, – но это все равно лучше, чем ничего. […] “Суверенитет” здесь – это типичная бандитская ловушка. “Не смей говорить родителям, не смей говорить завучу, не смей говорить милиции, сиди и молчи, у нашего класса в школе суверенитет, и поэтому мы и дальше будем бить тебя ногами”.

The possibility that the complaint will be examined the way people would want it to is rather small – there they are also bureaucrats and hypocrites, – but it's still better than nothing. […] “Sovereignty” here is a classic gangster trap. “Don't you dare tell your parents, or the dean, or the police, sit down and shut up, our classroom has sovereignty at this school, and so we will continue to beat you.”

In the comments to his post Olshansky was attacked by conservative publicists Egor Kholmogorov and Maksim Sokolov, who accused him of being a flip-flopper or worse, a provocateur. Kholmogorov insinuated [15] [ru] that people who sign the petition would be in danger from the Russian secret services if a list of their names ever got out.

That would be quite a list, since the petition reached 54,521 signatures by the time the signing process was closed by website administrators, thus passing the 25,000 mark required for review. Shortly afterward, a statement by the National Security Staff appeared on the page:

The United States shares your concerns regarding the bill passed by the Russian Duma […] We will continue to raise these concerns with Russian government.

This amused [16] [ru] publicist Stanislav Yakovlev to no end:

Хохочу. Извините. Кстати, подобные ответы со стороны российского правительства принято называть – в определенной среде – “циничными отписками”.

Roaring with laughter. Sorry. By the way, in some circles such responses from the Russian government are known as “cynical come-offs”.

Unfortunately it looks like Russia won't be able to borrow American democracy or create a civil society from scratch. It will have to develop its own — as painful as the process has proven to be so far.

Update: On December 28th Putin signed the law, disappointing some, like DemVybor's leader Vladimir Milov [17] [ru], who until the last moment believed that he wouldn't. Many, like Echo Moskvy's Vladmir Varfolomeev have noted [18] [ru] that:

Царь Путин подписал антисиротский закон в день, когда чтят память младенцев, убитых по приказу царя Ирода. Это он специально?

King Putin signed the anti-orphan law on the day, when we honor the memory of the infants slaughtered at the behest of King Herod. Was that on purpose?