Staunton, November 19 – Although a Duma committee has now rejected a United Russia proposal to impose criminal penalties on any calls for separatism, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has introduced a proposal to do the same thing, arguing that liberals are using separatism as a political tool against the national interests of Russia.
In a press release yesterday, the KPRF said that a law making any call for separatism a crime was needed because “many representatives of the liberal portion of the political spectrum not infrequently use separatism instrumentally,” thus making it unclear whether they are liberals using separatism or separatists using liberalism (kprf.ru/dep/gosduma/activities/125384.html).
This situation must be ended, the Russian communists say, and their bill calls for fines of up to 60,000 rubles (2000 US dollars) for individuals and 300,000 rubles (15,000 US dollars) for Russian citizens who disseminate separatist ideas including via the Internet. The KPRF measure sets three years imprisonment as the most severe punishment for what it defines as a crime.
Those punishments are significantly less than the ones called for in the bill that was offered by several United Russia deputies and that has now been killed in committee. The United Russia version called for truly draconian punishments of up to 20 years imprisonment for separatist activity.
The KPRF press release said that the Communists “do not intend” to have such a law become “a guillotine to be applied according to the taste” of those in power. “But at the same time, the provisions of the bill must be strict, not subject to misinterpretation and capable of depending the interests of the country.”
Two aspects of the KPRF proposal are worth noting. On the one hand, the fact that it has been made at all shows that the Moscow political class thinks there is support for such a measure even if it is clear that the original proposal sought to impose punishments far beyond what its members thought appropriate.
Consequently, this may be the beginning of serious talks about what an actual law in this area should look like rather than just a public relations stunt.
And on the other, the KPRF argument that liberals and separatists are interpenetrated shows that the Communists like the members of the ruling United Russia Party who offered the original bill view the struggle against separatism as a useful cover for struggling against other things they don’t like.
That in turn means that in this area as in so many others, the declared purpose of what the Russian authorities are doing may be far less important than the ways in which they apply any such measure, yet another indication of the weakness of Russian jurisprudence and an approach that undermines any hope for genuine rule of law in that country anytime soon.