ADOPTION: Russian civil society outraged by a law banning US families from adopting Russian orphans

[5 January 2013] - Standing outside the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, appealed to his compatriots with a traditional new year’s greeting, urging them to be more “charitable”, “sensitive” and “caring for those in need”.

Sincerity has never been Mr Putin’s forte, but this time his words risked being seen as a mockery of the virtues he preached. Only three days earlier, on December 28th, he signed a law that bans Russian orphans from being adopted by American families, depriving some of his most vulnerable citizens of their chance for a better life. The fact that Mr Putin signed it on the day marked by many Christian churches as the Massacre of the Innocents was a coincidence, but it added to the dark symbolism of the law, which has promptly been dubbed as “Herod’s law” and “cannibalistic”.

Formally, the ban is part of the Kremlin’s response to America’s Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012, which blacklists Russian officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, and, more broadly, those accused of rights abuses. Magnitsky, who worked for Hermitage Capital Management, a London-based investment fund, died in pre-trial detention three years ago, after exposing a $230m tax fraud by Russian police and tax officials. His death became a symbol of corruption and impunity.

Instead of investigating the crime exposed by Magnitsky and going after those who drove him to death, the Kremlin accused America of meddling in its domestic affairs and threatened retaliation. In fact its anti-Magnitsky law is aimed not so much at America as it is against its own citizens.

Other parts of the new law allow the Kremlin to ban any “politically engaged” non-governmental organisation that receives funds from America or participates in activity that “represents a threat to the interest of the Russian Federation” by which the Kremlin understands the interests of the ruling clan. The law bans anyone holding an American passport from participating in or heading any politically engaged organisation. The anti-Magnitsky law continues policies adopted by the Kremlin after a wave of protest a year ago.

However, the orphan amendment is harder to comprehend. The Committee for Civic Initiative, an organisation headed by Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, said in its statement: “This amendment is detrimental not to the American state or American adoptive parents but to Russian children who need help.”

Russian deputies who passed the law argued they were concerned for the safety of children, who might die in American families. Over the past 20 years American families adopted 60,000 Russian children with 19 recorded deaths among them. Adoption in Russia is relatively rare. Even so, in the same period 1,500 adopted children died in Russian families. America not only accounts for a third of all foreign adoptions, but also has the highest rate of adopting children with disabilities.

As Alexei Venediktov, editor of Echo Moskvy, a radio station, said on air: “This law is morally and ethically abominable. It is cannibalistic because it condemns a certain number of children—even if it is a small one—to death.” Mr Venediktov’s comment reflected not only the attitude of the opposition but also that of a large part of the Russian elite. Even some of Mr Putin’s own ministers objected to the law.

Since returning to the presidency in 2012, Mr Putin’s behaviour has been increasingly xenophobic—particularly towards America. With his support dropping, he needed a new way of appealing to voters.

This may explain why the Kremlin demanded that even the powerless regional parliaments show their support. Lev Shlosberg, an opposition deputy, told his colleagues, “We are offered to share full political responsibility for one of the most shameful laws in Russian history…and every deputy is personally invited to sign under this baseness.”

Having acquired considerable wealth and freedom of movement, Mr Putin’s elite is growing increasingly tired of his rule. Whereas before he offered wealth and impunity in exchange for loyalty, he now demands that they take sides in the Magnitsky case, a sacrifice that could yet jeopardise their position in the West. Instead of uniting the elite behind him, this could turn more people against him.

 

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pdf: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21569079-russian-civil-society-outr...

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