Staunton, November 12 – A measure being considered in the Russian Duma that would impose criminal penalties on anyone who called for separatism not only represents yet another limitation on freedom of speech but also is likely to produce more separatism, exactly the reverse of what its authors intend.
Such efforts constitute an eery echo of events of 1989-1991, a time when the Soviet Union fell apart not because of Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization but rather because following a certain liberalization during perestroika, the Soviet president turned to repression and ever more Russians and non-Russians questioned the continuing value of the USSR for themselves.
To the extent that such a process repeats itself now and in the near future, the authors of these laws who cast themselves as defenders of the Russian Federatioin will likely be viewed in the future as the gravediggers of country and many who had never thought of a separate existence in the past will pursue independence as a means of separating from Moscow.
Because the stakes of this counter-productive piece of legislation are so high, it is not surprising that the draft law has sparked a firestorm of discussion, In “Novaya gazeta” yesterday, Semyon Novoprodusky is explicit that the new measure represents “a step to the disintegration of the country”(novayagazeta.ru/columns/60894.html).
He suggests that the proximate cause of the introduction of this bill was the argument of Yevgeniya Albats, editor of “New Times,” about the inevitability of the disintegration of Russia along the Urals, a prediction that led the “hurrah-patriots” to conclude that “liberals are dreaming of the disintegration of the country,” including of its ethnic Russian core.
Introducing legal sanctions against the propaganda of separatism, he continues, will open “the broadest opportunities” for arbitrary actions, including not only calls for separatism by those who had not thought of it before but also discussions of what kind of a country Russia now is and what kind of a government it now has.
In the short term, discussion of the bill itself is certain to produce more discussion of separatism. In a comment on Grani.ru yesterday, Aleksandr Skobov says that he has always been a supporter of Chechen separatism and will use the regular media to propagandize it until the new law is passed (grani.ru/opinion/skobov/m.221064.html).
If the law is adopted, he continued, “officially registered media ill hardly offer me the chance to express my views.” But then, he said, he will distribute them “through blogs, social networks and illegal samizdat,” rather than changing his views as the authors of the legislation assume.
Human and media rights leaders echoed that argument. Igor Trunov, head of Democratic Legal Russia, said the new law was part of an effort to “build a big jail. This law in general isn’t needed. In a free country, one [should be able to] talk about anything without worrying about receiving a lengthy prison term” (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21197).
Those behind the bill, he suggested, “are engaged in political self-advertisement by proposing the simplest and most primitive solution for a potential problem,” and they resemble nothing so much as the Bolsheviks who wanted “to shoot all the bad people so that only the good would remain.”
Stalina Gurevich, a Moscow lawyer, said the proposed law’s reach was far too broad and would affect many who were not actually promoting separatism. And Aleksandr Cherkashov of Memorial said that the law’s most serious consequence would be to drive such discussions into the underground where they would fester and perhaps become stronger.
Speaking on Ekho Moskvy, Nikolay Svanidze pointed to an even bigger problem: the measure would highlight the split between Moscow and the regions and republics by suggesting that the center doesn’t have an interest in them beyond control and that they have no reason to be interested in Moscow (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/1193344-echo/).
Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, said that the proposed law was “an archaism,” that it was directed against a problem that no longer threatened the country as it had earlier, and that it would lead to “nothing good” because it would create “contradictions” within the criminal code (www.irekle.org/news/i1467.html
Grishvin said that what was especially disturbing about the recent development of separatist attitudes is that they now have appeared among many “nationalistically inclined” ethnic Russians. If they desert the center, as he implied they had in 1991, then the future of the Russian Federation will be very bleak indeed.