Alksnis’ observation has been prompted by the case against Russian feminist Lyubov Kalugina who has been charged with what is now a crime, promoting hatred towards men, something that could not have happened before the adoption of Paragraph 282 by the Russian government.
The Kalugina case has sparked much discussion on the Internet, Alksnis says; but one important dimension of what it shows has seldom been addressed. And that is “the principled change of the national approach in the attitudes of Russian society when dealing with the state and law.”
In spite of the widespread “stereotypes about despotic Russia,” she continues, “historically in the zone of control of the Russian state has been included an extremely limited space of social and private life of people.” And that was true “even in the case of the Soviet period.”
Throughout Russian history, “an enormous part of the life of the individual always was defined by informal social regulation and related to the sphere of his or her personal responsibility. The state did not enter into many areas and in a yet larger number of them, its interference bore an absolutely formal character.”
“The consequences of this state of affairs,” she continues, “are well known, including the classic Russian view that ‘justice is higher than the law’ and a mass of sayings of the type ‘the strictness of Russian laws is softened by the fact that they are not necessarily enforced.”
As a result, Russians have historically laughed about lists of the most absurd laws or court cases abroad because “these ratings are compiled largely on the basis of Western experience of law and its application in areas which in the traditional Russian understanding should not be the subject of government regulation.”
But “the state in Russia actively now gets involved in spheres of social and personal life which in the past it was not interested in or was interested in only formally.” That shift is destroying the stereotypes of relationships between Russian society and the state, producing some good changes but also raising real problems as well.
The state can point to positive consequences of its entrance into these spheres like a reduction in the crime rate and in the use of hateful symbols of Nazism; but “the other side of this process is that now Russia, again on the model of the West may come up with ratings of the most ridiculous criminal cases or judicial decisions.”
The Kalugina case is one of them. In the past, she would not have been taken to court under the current problematic laws but rather have been subject to social sanctions by other Russians who would have denounced her views by posting comments on her own postings or directly criticizing her when possible.
But here we come to “the essence of the problem,” Alksnis says. “Everything that is occurring is a package deal which has to be taken as a whole.” When the state doesn’t get involved, society has to; but when the state does, society is relieved of the responsibility to take responsibility.
“Government regulation works to the general humanization of the country, secures a large number of positive trends in society, but now one can hardly breathe as a result of the rules, frameworks and restrictions” that it has imposed. And as a result, “questionable, absurd and simply unjust stories and decisions become in the eyes of the people part of the landscape.”
Again, Alksnis insists, “it isn’t that the state machine is bad but that the state has gone into a field which requires flexibility and an individual approach” and those things become almost impossible when there is a law on the books governing such questions and consequently when the state cannot back down.
There needs to be a search for “more effective instruments which will allow civil society to fulfill its function as a corrective instance” both those who violate social conventions and the state which adopts measures lacking in flexibility, conscious “and in places simply good sense,” the commentator concludes.