It's been a particularly bad year for Russia's long-suffering orphans. First they became unwitting pawns in Russia's diplomatic spat with the US, and adoptions by Americans were banned [GV] in retaliation for the American “Magnitsky List” back in December 2012. Then, on May 30, 2013, Pavel Astakhov, the Russian Ombudsman for Children's Rights, proposed a ban [en] on adoptions by France, citing France's new laws on same-sex marriage. Perhaps eager to head off suggestions he was merely curtailing orphans’ opportunities for adoption, rather than expanding them, on June 7, Astakhov proposed a new, experimental programme [ru] where Russian orphans could be put up for adoption in different regions of the country.
“Странно, что итальянец, француз, немец приезжают в Россию и могут взять ребенка, а житель Северо-Кавказского или Дальневосточного федерального округа не может взять ребенка в Москве или Нижнем Новгороде. Это возможно.”
It's strange that an Italian, a Frenchman or a German can come to Russia and take a child, but someone living in the North Caucasus or the Far-East Federal District can't take a child from Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod. This is a possibility.
Astakhov went on to claim that “If we are talking about an experiment, then I'm not opposed to an experiment”. He should probably have chosen his words more carefully, as the idea of sending Russia's highly-politicized orphans to the restive North Caucasian Republics as a kind of social “experiment” was overwhelmingly condemned by netizens of all political stripes.
Russian nationalists were naturally incensed. One blogger, fotograf_1 (whose blog is simply called “Slav”), pulled no punches [ru].
Мои глаза меня обманывают?! Да этим детям сломают психику, их будут насиловать, их будут учить убивать, их будут воспитывать в ненависти к русским. А если нет, то что? они будут овец пасти в горах?! да к этим детям будут относиться как к рабам, если не хуже!
Are my eyes deceiving me!? These children will have their psyches broken, they'll be raped, they'll be taught to kill, they'll be brought up to hate ethnic Russians. And if not, then what? They'll tend sheep in the mountains?! These children will be treated like slaves, if not worse!
The theme of slavery was brought up by another nationalist blogger, belyaev [ru], who wrote [ru]
К примеру, не так давно в СМИ просочилась информация, что прямо на автобусной остановке в Махачкале был организован рынок рабов, который «крышевали» полицейские. Местный блогер Закир Магомедов, который и привлёк внимание к этому ужасу, даже приводил цены на живой товар – 15 тысяч рублей за мужчину и за 150 тысяч за девушку. Ну а сколько приходит сообщений про рабов, освобождённых с кирпичных заводов Кавказа, лучше вообще промолчать.
Look at the recent example exposed by the media [ru], where a slave market was organised at a bus stop in Makhachkala, which was “under the protection” of the police. Local blogger Zakir Magomedov, who brought this horrific story to public attention, even gave the prices for the living goods – 15,000 rubles [460 USD] for a man and up to 150,000 rubles [4,600 USD] for a girl. And I'll save my breath on the subject of how many slaves have been liberated from brick factories in the Caucasus.
Belyaev was referring to the case of Andrei Popov [en], a soldier who claims he was kidnapped and forced to work in a brick factory in Dagestan. Such fears are not the sole preserve of hard-line nationalists. News of the story prompted over 300 comments [ru] on Andrei Malgin's popular opposition blog [ru], the overwhelming majority of them negative and many of them xenophobic or Islamophobic.
Even otherwise liberal Russians were less than impressed. Blogger yttytt [ru] sarcastically tweeted [ru]:
А меня Астахов порадовал свежестью мысли: отдадим сирот на Северный Кавказ, обратим в мусульманство и дадим в руки по автомату “Борз”. Ура!
I'm pleased with Astakhov's original thinking: give orphans to the North Caucasus, convert them to Islam and put a “Borz” [en] machine gun in their hands. Hurray!
The announcement was also discussed on the popular liberal opposition Facebook group “We Were On Bolotnaya Square and We'll Come Again“[ru], where the reaction [ru] was entirely negative:
Diallo Marina: У них девочка считается женщиной лет с 12 . Об этом он подумал?
Diallo Marina: They consider a girl to be a woman when she turns 12. Has [Astakhov] thought about that?
Olga Leonova: А что? И вырастят…боевиков
Olga Leonova. So what? They'll raise them… to be [terrorist] fighters
Leonid Jerschow: Похоже, Астахов нашел способ подготовки террористов с европейской внешностью
Leonid Jerschow: Looks like Astakhov has found a means of creating terrorists with a European appearance
The Kremlin has expended a great deal of blood and treasure over the last 20 years ensuring that the North Caucasus remains within the Russian Federation and has broadly succeeded in this aim. But while the threat of secession now seems remote, for the vast majority of Russians the North Caucasus and her people remain decidedly hostile and alien. Opposition activists from across the ideological spectrum have come to associate the region with the worst excesses of corruption and lawlessness, and resent the massive subsidies that go to local despots like Leader of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov [en]. Perhaps Astakhov's proposal was designed to bridge this divide and bring ethnic Russians and the peoples of the North Caucasus closer together. If that's the case, then the public outcry shows it's going to take a lot more than a few adoptions to change xenophobic attitudes.