Staunton, July 26 – A group of Duma deputies want to make “anti-Russian” statements and actions a crime analogous to “anti-Soviet” ones in the time of the USSR, lawyer Genri Reznik says, and while they haven’t worked out the terminology completely, they have decided on a penalty – up to ten years in prison, the Stalin-era norm rather than the one maintained later.
Interviewed by Elena Masyuk of Novaya Gazeta, Reznik says that “over the course of recent years, we encountered a number of criminal laws,” but he argues that the proposed law on anti-Russian propaganda crosses a line and represents a fundamental violation and repudiation of the 1993 Constitution.
In Soviet times, he continues, laws against “’anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’…were ideological because the authorities and the country itself were ideological, that is, Soviet; and soviet in principle meant communist.” But the Russian constitution says that there cannot be a single obligatory state ideology.
What the Duma deputies are proposing in this instance, Reznik says, thus represent an unconstitutional act. More than that, because patriotism is not defined, it is an especially dangerous one because it does not define its terms and thus could be used against anyone the authorities don’t like or approve of.
Vadim Soloyev, the head of the legal affairs service of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, for example, says that the communists are not against this draft legislation but they are concerned” that in its current form, it might be deployed against them. Consequently, they are in the process of preparing “their own version of the law.”
In Soviet times, Reznik points out, “communist ideology was totalitarian,” and when the state decided not to be totalitarian in 1990, it annulled laws against anti-Soviet agitation. To recreate such laws is highly problematic because at least up to now, the Russian Federation is not an ideological state.
Thus, there can be laws against specific statements such as calls for overthrowing the government or changing the country’s borders, but a law that simply specifies that “anti-Russian” agitation and propaganda is subject to harsh punishment opens the doors to all kinds of horrific abuses, some of which are already on display, because it is so “elastic.”
If patriotism is to become an ideology, it must be defined so that people will know “what is pro-Russian and what is anti-Russian” rather than live in fear that the authorities will decide that this or that statement falls in the latter category. But it is impossible to define these terms legally, Reznik suggests, and so the entire project collapses of its own weight.
What those who are pushing for such laws are trying to do, he suggests, is “absolutely” a return to the notorious Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, an article that is unconstitutional on its face. And that opens the way, his interviewer suggests and he agrees to “the opening of colonies for those who don’t agree as was the case in the times of the USSR.”