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New Putin Law Punishing Those Who Insult Regime Backfiring – OpEd

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The first applications of the new Putin law imposing fines and potentially jail time on those who insult key Russian institutions and officials is backfiring in a variety of ways.

Polls show Russians oppose the law three to one, are forming flashmobs against it, are discussing just how to describe Putin, and are asking some inconvenient questions.

Perhaps the most inconvenient of these as far as the powers that be in Moscow are concerned is relayed by the Forum.MSK portal. In the wake of the Ukrainian presidential elections, it says, Russians are now asking: “If it were a choice between Zelensky and Putin, whom would you vote for?” (forum-msk.org/material/news/15595016.html).

The first conviction under the new law has sparked a flashmob with people using as their hashtag Putin is “a fairytale,” the actual term being unprintable.  It comes from a 2001 Russian film, Down House (based on Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot) in which it referred to someone with Down Syndrome (vedomosti.ru/newspaper/articles/2001/03/12/idiot-dlya-dembelskogo-alboma).

Participants in this action made the situation worse, at least for the regime, by speculating that the problem with the post may have been that it called Putin “a fairytale” unprintable rather than simply a real one. Others said that the law itself showed that only a fool could have signed it given that it used punishments to get respect.

One participant said that deciding what Putin is must be “an issue of state importance, while yet another said that the man who had been convicted hadn’t in fact insulted Putin but rather revealed a state secret, a reprise of a Soviet joke about Brezhnev (znak.com/2019-04-24/zhiteli_rossii_zapustili_v_socsetyah_fleshmob_na_temu_putin_skazochnyy and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5CC039A17DFC9).

Russia’s leading caricaturist has even proposed that the word “fairytale” should become the epithet for Putin, analogous to Terrible for Ivan or Great for Catherine (twitter.com/Sergey_Elkin/status/1120968732870942720). And in Yezhednevny zhurnal, Igor Yakovenko suggests this discussion will spread across the country (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33695).

Meanwhile, the man convicted has announced that he is going to appeal: he intends to appeal, all the way to the European Court for Human Rights (snob.ru/news/176084).  Russia and Putin are going to be dealing with this issue for some time. The question will soon become: can Putin unlike many other dictators survive if he is being laughed at by his own people?

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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