A Kremlin Christmas Carol: Russia’s Scrooge Against The Orphans?

Posted December 22nd, 2012 at 1:11 pm (UTC+0)

An orphan child looks out from a window at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don

No American adoption in sight for this orphaned Russian girl looking out a window at an orphanage in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, on December 19. Two days later Russia’s parliament gave final approval to a bill banning all adoptions from the United States, historically the major source of foster parents for expensive Russian adoptions. The bill is now before President Putin to sign. Photo: Reuters/Vladimir Konstantinov

A light snow covers Moscow, subzero temperatures provide bright sunshine and Jingle Bells wafts through malls filled with happy shoppers.
And, befitting, the holiday season, Russian politicians and American parents are acting out a real life version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
But this is no high school play.

This is…geopolitics!

Guess who landed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly millionaire?
(Hint: type ‘World Richest Head of State Wiki’ into your Google search window)

Guess who landed the role of Bob Cratchit, the heart-of-gold, but financially strapped father of Tiny Tim?
(Clue: What country adopts the most orphans every year from Russia, 60,000 in the last 20 years?)

Guess who landed the role this Christmas of Tiny Tim, the plucky, disabled boy? As you remember, he warms hearts in the first act, by crying out at Christmas dinner “God Bless Us, Everyone!” Then, he disappears from the tale, leaving behind his crutch.
(Clue: What country has 633,000 orphans and abandoned children living in state institutions, possibly the most since World War II?)

Guess who plays the four ghosts who torment Scrooge? That’s easy – Russian journalists!

By now you have an outline of the Kremlin’s Christmas Carol, the December 2012 edition.

On Friday, the Duma’s lower house voted 470 to seven to ban American parents from adopting Russian children. The Duma’s upper house is expected to vote to pass the bill on Dec. 26, the day after the Western Christmas.

The Duma bill is known as the anti-Magnitsky bill. It was drawn up in response to an American bill signed into law Dec. 14 by President Obama. The U.S. law normalizes trade relations with Russia. It also directs the president to bar known Russian human rights violators from entering the United States or from holding American bank accounts. Initially, the law is to target 60 Russian officials implicated in the imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer.

In recent weeks, the Kremlin adroitly shifted perceptions of the law here. Instead of being seen as an attack on corrupt government officials, many Russians see it as an attack on Russia.

Realizing that few American officials have property in Russia, the Duma decided to hit Americans where it would hurt – the adoptions of Russian orphans.

Last year, American families adopted almost 1,000 orphans. American families are often seen as the only possibility for orphans with disabilities to escape institutions that are often called “Dickensian.”

On Wednesday, the day of the first Duma vote, dozens of protesters picketed outside in Arctic weather.

Mainly women, they carried signs with such slogans as:
“Why are you taking vengeance on children?”
“Children as a Strategic Weapon. Are you kidding?”
“How many children with disabilities have deputies adopted?
“Don’t deprive children of the chance to live.”

Police said the protest was not authorized. They detained about 30 protesters, mainly women. (You could almost hear a voice grumbling from inside the frost-covered Kremlin walls: ‘Bah! Humbug!’)

Inside the Duma, the vote was lopsided in part because Russia’s parliament is still largely a men’s club, almost as exclusive as the London clubs Dickens so despised in the 1840s.

Women account for only 11 percent of both Duma chambers. In contrast, the European average is 24 percent. The Nordic average is 42 percent.

In a suitably Dickensian twist, one of the legislators, Vyacheslav K. Osipov, actually voted for the anti-Magnitsky bill while dead.

Duma rules allow proxy voting, where a member votes in the absence of another member. In this case, several ballots were cast Wednesday in the name of Osipov, before legislators learned that their 75-year-old colleague had expired in a Moscow hospital.

Prior to the Duma vote, Russia’s ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov, a former television reporter with political ambitions, had briefed Duma deputies.

Orphan children play in their bedroom at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don

Orphaned boys and girls play in the Rostov-on-Don orphanage. Most Russian orphans are never adopted and are released to society at age 16. Follow up studies show that they suffer from high rates of addiction and incarceration.
Photo: Reuters/Vladimir Konstantinov

“Do not believe the myths and hysterical warnings of those who try to convince us that foreign adoptions must not be banned because that would leave Russian orphans without a future – these are all lies,” he said at a Duma hearing on human rights problems in the United States. “Those who spin us tales about the happy lives that Russian children have in America and their bright future there, are either involved in this business or are simply unscrupulous.”

Astakhov and others say that 19 Russian children have died following abuse by American foster parents since the international adoptions began, in the early 1990s.
Nineteen children killed by foster parents out of 60,000 is 19 too many. But Astakhov neglected to mention that from 1991 to 2006, 1,200 Russian adopted children were killed by their Russian foster parents.

Astakhov cited the case of an American woman who placed her seven-year-old adopted son alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow in 2010.But he neglected to mention that last year Russian foster parents returned 4,500 children to orphanages.

Nor did he mention, that during the first nine months of this year, 1,291 Russian children were killed, largely by a parent. Nor did he mention that Russian ranks third in the world for suicides by minors, about 1,700 a year. One boy committed suicide because a Russian judge refused to allow him to be adopted by a Spanish couple.

Despite the Duma’s overwhelming support for the adoption ban, more rational views are appearing in Russian society.

More than 100,000 Russians have signed an online petition organized by Novaya Gazeta newspaper demanding that the Kremlin review the law.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a veteran liberal politician popular in Moscow, tweeted this week: “Because some bureaucratic scum will not be allowed into the U.S. for shopping, thousands of tiny children will be denied a normal life,”

On Thursday, at Vladimir Putin’s annual marathon press conference, the Russian president’s bravura performance before 1,000 journalists was marred by repeated questions about the adoption ban.

“I understand that the response of the State Duma is emotional. But I also think it is appropriate,” Putin said of a law that deems all of America’s 150 million parents unfit to adopt a Russian child.

“This is how we see it,” continued the Russian president. “American lawmakers sort of showed everyone who is the real master of the house, so that we don’t get relaxed. Had there been no Magnitsky, they would have found another pretext.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the defensive about the Duma’s adoption ban — the top topic for questions at his 4.5 hour marathon press conference on Thursday. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Slumped in my seat in row 23, I watched one Russian journalist and after another needle their president about the adoption ban. Slowly, Putin started to sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, tossing in bed as he is haunted by visits from The Ghost of Jacob Marley, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

“Do you consider this normal?” Putin finally blurted out at one journalist. “You like this? What are you? A sado-masochist? There is no need to humiliate the country! We do not forbid the adoption by foreigners in general. There are other countries besides the United States.”

Every Orthodox Christmas Eve, Mr. Putin goes to church. He appears on national television, crossing himself and lighting a candle. But Mr. Putin was not in the Christmas spirit when the adoption ban came up yet again at his press conference.

“But we are not – or, probably, I am not a very good Christian, because when you are slapped on one cheek, you are supposed to turn the other,” said Mr. Putin, black belt judo athlete. “I am not morally prepared for this so far. If we are slapped, we should respond, or otherwise we will always be slapped.”

But, in many people’s eyes, those who are getting slapped here are the kids.

In October, the Kremlin kicked out USAID, the American aid program.
A U.S. Embassy fact sheet described one program: “USAID’s child welfare program has provided over 80,000 at-risk children and their parents with innovative services designed to reduce abandonment, resulting in a 33 percent increase in family reunification and an 85 percent increase in the number of foster families in target regions.”

Created in 1957, the Grinch, now aged 55, suffered at birth from a heart “two sizes too small.” Despite this alarming condition, he eventually embraced Christmas and his heart grew three times in size.

Next up? UNICEF.

On Dec. 31, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund is to close all activities in Russia, per Kremlin order.

One of UNICEF’s goals in Russia: reducing the number of orphans.

For Christmas season readers who find Charles Dickens’ 1843 story a little heavy going, an eminent American analyst, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has written a hipper, simpler – although equally scary — analysis of Kremlin politics.

It’s called “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

8 responses to “A Kremlin Christmas Carol: Russia’s Scrooge Against The Orphans?”

  1. […] A Kremlin Christmas Carol: Russia's Scrooge Against The Orphans?Voice of America (blog)A light snow covers Moscow, subzero temperatures provide bright sunshine and Jingle Bells wafts through malls filled with happy shoppers. And, befitting, the holiday season, Russian politicians and American parents are acting out a real life version of …Russia Moves a Step Closer to Banning Adoptions by US CitizensNew York TimesPutin offers alternative to Mayan prophecy for date of apocalypseThe GuardianUS adoption groups voice concern over Russia banAFPWall Street Journal?-Reuters?-CNNall 3,761 news articles?? […]

  2. John says:

    It is important not only that the American killing of 19 adopted children from Russia, as well as the fact that their deaths no one was punished.

    • marc says:

      I suggest you to lookat any usual murder rates (or accidental death) on any places in the world to realize that this number 19 is very low. If youare expecting a number zero then you are disconnected from reality.

    • Ivan says:

      This is simply not thrue. Court decided on each case sparatelly and in each of these 19 cases there was a court verdict. In most of the cases it was 15 years, 18years, up to life sentences. Tha fact that in 2 cases the sentences seems too small only means that such was a judge decision based on the events.

  3. […] A Kremlin Christmas Carol: Russia's Scrooge Against The Orphans?Voice of America (blog)A light snow covers Moscow, subzero temperatures provide bright sunshine and Jingle Bells wafts through malls filled with happy shoppers. And, befitting, the holiday season, Russian politicians and American parents are acting out a real life version of …Adoption Ban Puts Orphans At Center Of US-Russia DisputeNPRPutin hails Russian birth-rate bounceFinancial TimesPutin offers alternative to Mayan prophecy for date of apocalypseThe GuardianNew York Times -AFP -BBC Newsall 3,761 news articles » […]

  4. bill says:

    Russia don’t make any sense some times if not most of the time. To get back to Washington for a rule on Russian criminals entering the U.S or balking here, they stopped adoption of orphans to U.S citizens. Who is punished by the law? Russian orphans.

  5. James Brooke jbrooke says:

    From Gennady:

    1. I regard the article as a masterpiece for the convincing arguments and the excellent fictional parallels.
    When viewing the ban for adoption prompted by tit-for-tat reaction, the world should put the same question to the Duma and the President as brilliant Alexander Griboedov has put in his “The Mischief of Being Clever” comedy, the Masterpiece of the Slavonic literature, almost two hundred years ago: “Who are the judges?” Is the Duma representative while being still largely a billionaire men’s club? Is the male predominant Duma competent to vote on orphans’ related issues? Was the acting Duma legitimately elected, wasn’t its prestige marred by vote-rigging? The same question is relevant to the acting President. Do they have professionalism, competency, legitimacy and moral grounds to represent the national psyche and to decide on the behalf of Russia? Who has validated their claims?
    2. The Duma has seen the speck in “its brother’s” eye but failed to notice the beam in its own eye when it has accepted cast votes of the already dead deputy and has pretended not to notice that basic human rights were denied for dozens protesters who had picketed the Duma in Arctic weather trying to lobby against the absurd law. The Duma’s response is absolutely asymmetrical, out of context and against any sound-minded logic.
    3. Why the same Duma hasn’t concerned itself with about 2 million Russia’s abandoned children dumped in state orphanages with the prospect of becoming drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless, or put in prison after they have left the state orphanages? Why the same Duma hasn’t troubled itself with the horrible epidemic of HIV/AIDS ravaging Russia when thousands upon thousands Russia’s citizens die unseen annually from the disease that has long become preventable in the civilized world. Nowadays Russia has got record number of HIV infected people in the world directly competing with Africa. Those in legislative and executive power are completely unable to control the disease that has long ceased to be a severe health problem in the entire civilized world. Why the same Duma hasn’t worried itself that Russia dies out contrary to the already implemented measures?
    4. The same Duma is unaware with what is going on in its own backyard? Just one of the latest examples: a few hours ago an 18 year old university student abandoned her newly-born child in a plastic bag in subfreezing temperature in Saratov on the eve of Christmas

  6. jkhomme says:

    One big reason that the Russian (and other Eastern European countries) are uninterested in helping to solve the massive orphan problems is the use of the young mostly girls in prostitution, online porn, etc..



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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