The Russian State Duma continues to put forth a parade of absurd (and widely discussed) legislative initiatives. On June 18, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia proposed the introduction of fines for the “unjustified use of foreign words.” The following day, Oleg Mikheev, a lawmaker from A Just Russia Party, came up with the idea of banning the importation of Keds, ballet flats, and high-heeled shoes into Russia because, according to him, they harm the health of Russian citizens. Author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek discusses the Duma’s latest initiatives.
Russian voters today face a choice: they can either view the State Duma as a madmen’s club or laugh until they cry. The bills discussed by the chamber could easily produce both reactions. It is interesting to observe nuances—how these bills are presented and which facial expression deputies members use when discussing them. Judging by public reaction, the people are more likely to see Duma members as madmen rather than clowns.
Yelena Mizulina, a lawmaker from A Just Russia Party, holds the number-one spot for extravagant legislative initiatives. A petition drive conducted through social media is currently underway to request that the Health Ministry assess Mizulina’s mental condition. To date, more than 100,000 signatures have already been collected.
Yet it is by now impossible to stop the flow of unbridled legislative fantasies. A Just Russia legislator Oleg Mikheev has proposed a ban on the importation of “incorrect” footwear, which he defines as high-heeled women’s shoes, Keds, and ballet flats. He has sent this proposal to Viktor Khristenko, head of the Eurasian Economic Commission, with the request that provisions concerning the orthopedic security of footwear be included in the technical rules of the Customs Union. According to Mikheev, wearing such shoes leads to flat-footedness, which can apparently harm the ability of Russia (which has already risen from its knees) to stand firmly on its own two feet. However, as the Eurasian Economic Commission announced last week, the possibility of including the new provision to the technical rules of the Customs Union equals zero.
Before the shoe legislation, Mikheev had already put forward such intellectually lightweight proposals as introducing criminal liability for “desecrating” the national anthem and insulting patriotic feelings. Wild legislative bills are springing forth from Mikheev with unbelievable speed—which can perhaps be explained by the looming prospect of his imprisonment. The lawmaker is accused of the theft of more than 2.5 million rubles (U.S.$74,000) and is apparently trying to win some popularity in order to claim that he is being persecuted for political reasons by unknown enemies of the state and to thus present himself to the public as a victim.
Another bill belonging to the same group of legislative errors was proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). On June 18, the Duma Committee on Culture recommended that the full chamber pass on the first reading a bill imposing fines for the “unjustified use of foreign words” in public speeches in the Russian language. The proposed fines are, for now, not too large: 2,500 rubles ($74) for private citizens and 5,000 rubles ($148) for government officials. Yet if a fine were imposed for every foreign word used, the total sum could end up being significant. For instance, a person who decided to quote the preamble to the Russian Constitution could be fined 7,500 rubles ($222) if he or she were a private citizen, or 15,000 rubles ($445) if he or she were a government official.
Not all bills become law, but the blatant idiocy of the proposals boggles the mind. The State Duma has seriously considered banning the advertisement of medical thermometers, pregnancy tests, condoms, fast food, and products of the sex industry.
The LDPR, whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is prone to empty babble, has long been known for its desire to regulate language and limit the freedom of speech. Last December, LDPR deputies Yan Zelinsky and Yelena Afanasyeva introduced a bill banning migrants from talking to each other in a “foreign language” in their workplace and during working hours. It is worth noting that such language is foreign to Russians, but native to the speakers themselves. These lawmakers justified their initiative as follows: “Currently, foreign citizens and stateless persons who are working in Russia under a contract often do not possess the use of the Russian language, that is, the language of the territory in which they work. Also, they talk among themselves in their workplace and during working hours in a language that is their own, which arouses indignation from the native population.”
I am not sure about the native population, but anyone who has graduated from high school should be offended not by the foreign workers, but by the explanations offered by these Duma members. How can people who use phrasing like “possessing the use of the Russian language” and “talking in a language that is their own” discuss linguistic questions? Or is it them who cannot speak Russian?
Not all bills become law, of course, but the blatant idiocy of the proposals boggles the mind. The State Duma has seriously considered proposals banning the advertisement of medical thermometers, pregnancy tests, condoms, fast food, and products of the sex industry. One LDPR lawmaker has proposed a bill entitled “On Noise and Children’s Shouting” that would—under the threat of a fine—prohibit children from crying and dogs from barking after ten o’clock in the evening.
Small people who have acquired great power look for ways to realize their fantasies. They are reminiscent of one of the main characters from H. G. Wells’s The Man Who Could Work Miracles, who acquired the ability to produce miracles but did know what to do with it. After a series of worthless household tricks, he stopped the rotation of the Earth, an action that caused everything on the planet’s surface to be blown into open space. At the last moment, the miracle-maker came to his senses and returned everything to the past, when he could not yet work miracles. It seems that members of the Russian State Duma will never come to their senses and renounce their power—even if they cause the whole world to fly into the abyss.