Staunton, October 16 – The Kremlin’s moves against the principles of the Russian Constitution and basic human rights are currentl coming at such a rapid pace that it is difficult to keep up with its assault on what remains of democracy in that country.
This week alone featured three initiatives that are particularly worrisome: a government-backed bill allowing the confiscation of property of relatives of those who engage in terrorism, another bill that shifts responsibility for maintaining ethnic peace away from Moscow and to governors and mayors, and new moves to increase the government’s censorship powers.
What makes each of these developments so disturbing is that they have been clothed in superficially noble terms, something that makes it more difficult to criticism them, but that they all too clearly open the way to further abuses of power. Indeed, one Tuvan commentator has suggested that they are removing the last vestiges of democracy from the Russian scene.
Yesterday, the Duma passed overwhelmingly on first reading, 430 to one, with one abstention, a bill that would allow the government to confiscate the property of relatives of those who engage in terrorist acts to compensate the victims, make it easier for the state to classify an organization as terrorist, and increase criminal responsibilities for those providing instruction leading to such acts (lenta.ru/news/2013/10/15/damage/).
Fighting terrorism, like the Soviet victory in World War II, is rapidly becoming a universal moral solvent that blocks any steps taken in its name. Confiscating the property of those who engage in terrorism is one thing; confiscating that of their relatives is quite another and undoubtedly will be used to intimidate extended families in the Caucasus.
Given how willing the Russian authorities have been to classify groups as terrorist, it is hard not to see that this new measure will mean that even more groups will be categorized as such and thus banned. And the third provision about instruction can also be extended to include anyone who sends a relative to study in a school where anyone has ever talked about terrorism.
Indeed, in each of these cases, the discredited Stalinist legal theory of extension by analogy threatens to make a further comeback in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Also yesterday, the Duma passedon first and second readings a bill that would place primary responsibility on governors and mayors for the struggle against xenophobia and ethnic conflicts and put the latter at risk of losing their positions if any violence of that kind breaks out (novayagazeta.ru/politics/60477.html
Again, as the experts cited in this extensive article argue, the Kremlin is using a nominally worthy cause for its own political purposes, winning support only from those who have not paid attention to what is going on or who are prepared to accept the assurances of the Russian government that what it is doing is all for the best.
One who does not accept that view is Sayana Mongush, a distinguished Tuvan journalist, who told RFE/RL yesterday that tragically, in Russia today, “there do not remain any signs of a democratic state” and that equally tragically, the Russian state is setting in train an even larger disaster ahead (rus.azattyk.org/content/kyrgyzstan_interview_mongush/25135962.html
In fact, she suggested, the recent violence in the Russian capital may be only “a training exercise” for more violence in order to crush the opposition. But Mongush added that such efforts will backfire, first and foremost in the non-Russian portions of the country like her native Tuva.
“Russia is always accusing the national regions of separatism and even of ethnocide while it with its own hands is leading the country to collapse and disintegration,” she said. “Skinhead who kill people on a racial basis in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg and remain unpunished do not completely recognize that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians living outside the major mono-national cities of central Russia may become hostages as a result of these actions.”
If Russians attack non-Russians in Moscow, then they are sending a message to non-Russians elsewhere that it is possible to attack Russians with impunity as well, she argued. That risk will be exploited by Moscow to increase repression of both Russians and non-Russian groups.
Mongush concluded by suggesting that everyone should remember where this tactic first arose in Russia and why Moscow may be trying it again: Does one need to be reminded “with what enthusiasm and over-fulfilling of the plan all the republics conducted the Stalinist purges and repressions in their own areas, doubling all the undertakings of the Elder Brother?”
That tragic history, she said, “has every chance to repeat itself” because it is not only in Moscow that there are “unhealthy and ambitious people.”