Crime and PUTINshment
14 June, 2012
Crime and PUTINshment

The Marches of Millions, getting into the habit of the Russian opposition and gathering together thousands of protesting people in Moscow, now risk becoming the Million-Rubles-Marches. The new version of the federal law about meetings increases the maximum fine for violations up to one million Rubles which is about 30, 000 dollars. And not only this ... The updated version of the law was signed the 8th of June by President Putin – the day before it was approved by the upper and the lower chamber of the Parliament. The senators voted for the law hastely and almost unanimously.

The State Duma (Russia’s legislative body) was just boiling the day of its final readings. The oppositional MP’s – Communist and Just Russia parties – were trying to block the adoption of the law in the duration of 11 (!) hours. The leader of Just Russia stated after the discussion was over: ‘Our fraction has done everything to show all the absurdity and harmfulness of the discussed law that tries to gag people’s voice’. But the fight was lost by the opposition. The initiator of the law, the pro-Putin United Russia which has the majority in the State Duma, finally managed to rush it through. The adopted version of the law is really much tougher than the previous one. The prescribed punishments are often incommensurable to the small violations which usually take place during such mass actions. Some experts even say that it questions the 31st article of the Russian Constitution, declaring the freedom of meetings. Commentators, among which there are political analysts and notorious journalists, also agree that the modifications were passed in a hurry, just to be in time for the proximate big meeting in Moscow on the 12th June.
The novelties in the law mostly concern the sums of penalties for violations and the approval procedure for the mass meetings. From now on the sums of fines are increased ten times. If before the maximum fines were measured in thousands of rubles, currently they are measured in hundreds of thousands. For the private person they reach 300, 000 rubles and for the organizations one million rubles, which is the price, for instance, of a very good car. The new edition of the law also constricts the range of places, where the meeting can be conducted. It means that the authorities have now the power to decide, where the citizens can

get together and where not. The overall procedure of agreement is now conciliatory while previously it was notifying. The law also contains the article about the ‘mass stay of citizens in public places’. It forbids gathering in the public places, even if it violates the sanitary norms, which is a very well-oiled formula and can be used to limit the rights of protesters. This article was added specially for the case of festivities – the new form of protest practiced by citizens in May. Is it not curious?! I just wonder if the legislators from the United Russia will change the law again, if the protesters create some other way to express civil position. It is obvious that the law has a very concrete goal.
The President and his entourage are much disturbed by the uncontrolled protest wave in the society. And here is their response. Instead of giving more oxygen to the society and democratizing the political life, they are shutting of the air, which does not help the authorities to regain their melting popularity. After the law was signed, Vladimir Putin commented, that it did not have any point that is tougher than in the European countries. Even so, it does not soften the situation. The legal system in Russia is still imperfect and one cannot be sure about the correct administration of the law. The country still has people in jail, who are considered by the civil society as the political prisoners. The list in not so long but still … It proves, that the bandage on the Russian Themis’s face is still transparent, especially when the interests of the political elite are concerned. And the edited law creates the situation when a small or even missing crime can be unfairly penalized by the disproportionate punishments, listed in the text of the legal act.
The social and political situation in Russia is very fragile. The peaceful meetings were a very good way for people to let the steam out. But the new-coming restrictions can redirect the watercourse and radicalize the protest in a long-term prospect. The greater is the pressure the greater is the resistance – a very simply truth, isn’t it?