Friday, May 28, 2004
Sad jokes in the Russian parliament
According to this sarcastic report by gazeta.ru (in Russian), the last working day of the Russian parliament (the Duma) generated a few laughs. Since the last election cycle, the Duma has been completely controlled by the pro-Putin’s United Russia party that tends to pass only the laws that are proposed or at least actively supported either by the government or by the Presidential administration. The proposals that have not been cleared with the government, even those that are introduced by the members of United Russia, usually do not pass. This makes for a rather boring legislative routine. The boredom was somewhat relieved today by Mr. Raikov, a Duma member belonging to the United Russia faction. He proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that would punish consensual homosexuality by prison terms of one to five years. One of the first speakers during the debate was Mr. Zhirinovsky, the notorious vice-speaker of the Duma and the leader of the Liberal-Democratic party. He strongly objected to the softness of the proposed amendments. “Death penalty is needed here,” he said, “Only by adopting such an amendment would we be able to stop this depravity, the influence of the Western culture,” and so on. Next speaker was Mr. Raikov himself. He was brief. “I am proposing to end all the public aspects of this phenomenon in the streets, in the clubs, and everywhere. The amendments do not contradict the Constitution with respect to the right for privacy and personal and family secrets, but instead they are consistent with Article 55(3).” (Here is the text of this item: “Human and civil rights and liberties may be restricted by the federal law only to the extent required for the protection of the fundamentals of the constitutional system, morality, health, rights and lawful interests of other persons, for ensuring the defense of the country and the security of the state.”) Nobody had the time (or desire?) to object before another representative from United Russia, Ms. Barzhanova, moved for a vote without further debate.
The result was 58 votes for the originally proposed amendments, 34 against, and 1 abstention. According to the Duma rules, in order to pass, the proposed laws have to be supported by the majority of all members (i.e., 226 votes; see Art. 103(3) of the Russian Constitution). This particular set of amendments did not get the quorum and, therefore, was defeated essentially due to the apathy of the representatives. (It is possible, of course, that many of those who did not show up for a vote missed it on purpose.)
Mr. Raikov’s aides were upset. As one of them joked, the Duma revealed itself to have 58 “real men”, 34 homosexuals, and one bi-sexual. (It wasn’t clear if Ms. Barzhanova was one of those “real men” or whether she belonged one of the other two categories.) Mr. Raikov himself was no more subtle: “Those who did not take part in the voting assumed the position of an ostrich: buried their heads in the sand to avoid the problem and stuck out their … rear ends.”
This is laughter through tears indeed.