The Real Russia. Today. Jail time for online ‘disrespect,’ fines for ‘false information,’ and Russia's fight against Google
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
This day in history. On December 12, 1993 (roughly two months after army tanks shelled the House of Government), the current Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted by national referendum.
- Russian lawmakers want to jail Internet users who ‘blatantly disrespect the state’
- The Duma introduces legislation banning ‘false information’ online and in the news media
- Russia has spent the past two years trying to force Google to filter its search results. Here's the chronology.
- Russian state news network mistakes a guy in a costume for ‘advanced robotics’
- Elena Lukyanova says Russia's Constitution is better than Russians realize
- Pyotr Miloserdov paints a picture from inside the prison hospital where Sergey Magnitsky was slowly killed
- Ekaterina Schulmann says new forms of communication are changing Russians' trust habits and raising the public's expectations
- Vladimir Milov asks whether Anatoly Chubais is right about Russians ‘under-appreciating’ the contributions of Russia's oligarchs
Russia's unfree Internet 📡
Three federal lawmakers have drafted legislation that would tweak Russia’s misdemeanor statutes against disorderly conduct to ban the online publication of materials that “blatantly disrespect Russian society, the state, official state symbols, the Russian Constitution, and law enforcement agencies.” Perpetrators convicted under this new law would face fines as high as 5,000 rubles ($75) or up to 15 days in jail. The legislation’s sponsors say the punishment would apply when Internet users publish such “disrespect” without committing any criminal offense.
State Duma deputies have introduced draft legislation that would ban the news media and Internet users from publishing false information that endangers the lives of civilians or risks mass civil unrest. The legislation comprises two separate bills: one allowing regulators to block noncompliant online media outlets, and the other establishing administrative fines for noncompliant outlets in the media or online (as high as 5,000 rubles, or $75, for individuals and 1 million rubles, or $15,085, for businesses).
The Russian state news network Rossiya 24 has retracted a report about “one of the most advanced robots in the world” featured at the “Proektoriya” youth forum. The channel’s original story included footage of “Boris the Robot” and narration claiming that some of the students in the audience “might commit themselves to robotics.” In the segment, the narrator also noted that the robot had “already learned how to dance” and he “wasn’t half bad.”
Boris the Robot, however, is just a man in a robot costume. On the website “Robot Show,” the outfit is available for purchase at 250,000 rubles ($3,760). “The design and technical performance of this suit create the almost complete illusion that this is a real robot, and everyone will want a selfie with it,” the manufacturer claims.
Watching the footage from the “Proektoriya” youth forum (Boris showed up at roughly 92 minutes into the event), it’s clear that the organizers
Boris was part of the forum’s closing act, and it’s apparent from the footage that organizers weren’t trying to pass him off as a real robot, given that he appeared in a comedy sketch about the quirks of artificial intelligence and robotics (though Rossiya 24 reporters might have missed this due to the near total absence of laughter). After the website TJournal noticed the mistake, the network deleted the report from its YouTube channel.
The “Proektoriya” youth forum is staged with support from Russia’s Education Ministry. This year, Education Minister Olga Vasilyeva and Yaroslavl Governor Dmitry Mironov helped open the event. Last year, Vladimir Putin took part.
Opinions galore 💡
In an op-ed for Republic, Higher School of Economics professor Elena Lukyanova returns to points she made in a recent interview with Novaya Gazeta, arguing that the Russian Constitution (which is 25 years old today) is more “alive” than most people realize. She attributes this fact to Russia’s “defiant society,” the European Court of Human Rights, the remnants of the free press, and even (“sometimes”) the Constitutional Court. Despite growing restrictions, Lukyanova points out that Russians can still travel the world, stage public events, form political parties and public organizations, monitor elections, and enjoy access to “islands of independent media.” She calls this Russia’s “narrow democratic portal to the future.”
Lukyanova also argues that Russia doesn’t need a new constitution, though she does advocate a better distribution of power between different state institutions and more safeguards against seizures of power. (She describes this process as “healing the Constitution’s birth trauma.”) Lukyanova says Russia already has the constitution it needs for the courts, elections, laws, and news media of a healthy democracy. She also believes Russians today understand the Constitution better than when it was first adopted in 1993, saying it’s possible (but not assured) that “just six weeks of different television content” would be enough to swing public opinion against authoritarianism in Russia.
Pyotr Miloserdov (the political scientist arrested this January in Russia on hate crime charges and for allegedly plotting the creation of an extremist group in Kazakhstan that would lead a coup) has published a text in Novaya Gazeta describing the squalid living conditions at the Butyrka prison hospital in Moscow, where Sergey Magnitsky spent the last 39 days of his life. Miloserdov gave the text to his lawyer on December 5, after learning that the Russian Attorney General’s Office has accused financier and economist Bill Browder of orchestrating the supposed “poisoning” of Magnitsky, who worked for Browder’s investment fund and asset management company, Hermitage Capital Management, and uncovered a massive scheme by Russian law enforcement agents to steal 5.4 billion rubles (more than $81.9 million today).
“Up to the very ceiling, the walls are covered in stains and the remains of smashed mosquitoes, flies, and moths. [...] A cold draft blows into the cell: the glass in the window was broken, clearly in the summer, when whoever was in this room couldn’t stand the sweltering heat. We haven’t managed to fill the hole because of the bars,” Miloserdov writes, adding that he’s overheard guards refusing to give diabetic inmates their insulin shots. “I hope very much that these words reach the official in the Attorney General’s Office who made this outrageous claim [that Magnitsky was poisoned]. And then, maybe privately at least, he’ll answer the question: why and how did Sergey Magnitsky die?”
In an interview with Forbes, political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann argues that Russians aren’t the collectivists most believe them to be. In fact, she argues, Russian society is individualistic and trust is high only among friends and family. While the average Russian is a law-abiding citizen, tolerance for illegal activity and corruption is relatively high. Rising living standards and the explosion in communications technology, however, is changing the situation gradually, Schulmann says. New forms of communication have expanded Russians’ trust networks, as the public’s demands on state officials have shifted from strength and law and order to justice, competent resource allocation, and respect. Schulmann says it’s wrong to dismiss this shift as mere paternalism. “This is a significant transition,” she argues, adding that “the strong hand is losing popularity.”
In an op-ed for the website The Insider, politician and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov responds to recent comments by Rusnano chairman and former Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, who argued at this year’s All-Russia Civil Forum that Russians aren’t grateful enough to businessmen for “rebuilding the country” after the collapse of communism. Milov acknowledges that there’s been a lot of important progress in Russia since 1992, but he says most of these advances were “low hanging fruit” that oligarchs grabbed while extracting monopolistic and oligarchic rents along the way and performing at a higher cost and lower quality than free market conditions would have permitted.
Milov says post-Soviet Russia’s first liberal reformers hoped the country’s new business class would guard against a return to authoritarianism in defense of their own property rights and right to free enterprise, thus propping up democratic institutions. Instead, these individuals got even richer by selling their assets back to the state, forming an “inseparable symbiosis” built on protectionism and corruption. As a result, Russian entrepreneurs have largely failed to innovate, relying excessively and unnecessarily on a resource-economy that doesn’t benefit or employ most Russians. (Here, Milov takes a shot at Alfa Bank board chairman Petr Aven, “who continues to be a supporter of liberal democracy, while never forgetting to count the billions he made from Sechin for selling TNK-BP.”)
The Russian economy owes its “ugly picture” today to the reformers in the 1990s who failed to “commit to separating themselves from business” and instead cozied up to oligarchs, forging the unholy favoritism that still fuels the country’s worst dysfunction.