The March of Moscow’s Silent Majority?

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 10:13 am (UTC+0)

Yuri, aged 42, marches with his daughter Anastasia, aged 17, and his adopted son and daughter. Anastasia urged her father to come out to protest Russia’s new ban on Americans adopting Russian children. VOA Photo: James Brooke

During my two-week vacation in the United States, American friends again and again looked at me intently, and then asked: How do Russians see the new ban on Americans adopting Russian children?

During the last three months of 2012, the Kremlin read out a steady drumroll of American and international organizations or programs expelled from Russia: USAID, NDI, IRI, UNICEF and Nunn-Lugar. But, for the Americans I talked to in New York and New England, the Kremlin’s clear anti-America message got lost in this murky alphabet soup.

The breakthrough came with the adoption ban. That put a human face on the Kremlin’s calculated xenophobia.

In simple terms, Russian politicians are sacrificing the futures of 1,000 Russian orphans – the number adopted by American parents last year – to make a political point.
Take that, America!

Long lines of young policemen did not intimidate protesters twice their age. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Over eggnog at a New Year’s Day party and over breakfast at my sons’ New England college, Americans gingerly asked me: What kind of people would do that?

To my relief, I found insights Sunday afternoon while walking in an immense column of Muscovites protesting the adoption ban.

After interviewing half a dozen walkers, I concluded that I was covering “The March of the Normal People.”

In contrast to earlier demonstrations, these were Moms and Dads, Grandmothers and Grandfathers.

This was not “the creative class” that spiced up past demonstrations with costumes and skits.

Nor were these the chronically unhappy, brandishing red or black flags tacked on baseball bats.

Sunday’s protesters were middle aged and middle class, the mainstream, the building blocks of society. They were people deeply involved in what is often the world’s most challenging profession: parent.

Grandmothers and granddaughters unite against the new law that will deprive an estimated 1,000 Russian orphans from finding homes with American families this year. VOA Photo: James Brooke

In American terms, they could have stepped out of a meeting of the Parent Teachers Associations, the volunteer groups that advise local schools in America.

These Russians had no problems with light snow and the -10C temperatures. In Moscow, parents know how to sensibly double fold their scarves, and don warm hats, boots, coats and gloves before stepping outside for two-hour walk on a mid-winter afternoon.
They did not chant the standard protest slogan of 2012: “Russia Without Putin.”

Instead, they chanted something more damning: “Pozor” – “Shame.” They carried posters with portraits of their parliamentarians, also stamped: “Shame.”

They chanted: “Take Your Hands off Children.”

“Duma, Federation Council, Putin: Scoundrels.” This woman seems to equate Russian politicians with wolves. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Ekaterina, the 39-year-old mother of a son, carried a sign reading: “Don’t take revenge on children.”

“I’m here because I am against yet another cannibalistic law voted for by the Duma,” she said, referring to Russia’s parliament. “The deputies used children as instruments in their political game.”

A few minutes later, Anna Glukhova, the 40-year-old mother of a daughter, said she found it shocking that the Duma banned adoptions to retaliate against the United States Congress for passing a bill demanding justice in the prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for an American hedge fund.

“I think that it’s very bad to defend murderers of Magnitsky with our orphaned children,” said Glukhova, the deputy director of a trading company who marched with her husband.

Flowing up out of metro stations, at least 25,000 people turned out for the “March Against Scoundrels,” the largest protest turnout since President Putin’s inauguration last May. Much of the population of Russia’s capital is indifferent or hostile to the President. In March presidential, Moscow was one of the few places where he did not win a majority of ballots cast, winning only 47 percent.

The moderate nature of Sunday’s protesters contrasted with the radical words of ruling party deputies. The deputies’ extremist views highlight a deepening divide between urban Russians and their government.

In advance of the march, Andrei Isayev, a leader of the United Russia ruling party, warned on the party website about citizen “hysteria” over the adoption ban.

“All the enemies of Russian sovereignty have revealed themselves as ardent supporters of American adoption,” Mr. Isayev, a member of the party’s general council, wrote before the protest. They “will go out to march for the right of unrestricted export of Russian children to America.”

“Let’s look attentively and remember the faces of the organizers and active participants of this march,” he wrote, calling Sunday’s event a “March of Child Sellers.” “Our task in the coming years is to drive them to the farthest edge of political and public life, to the middle of nowhere.”

Yekaterina Lakhova, the United Russia deputy who sponsored the adoption ban last month, told Kommersant FM as the march began: “I am especially surprised to see people gather at such a large action in support of American business – because for them, our children, Russian children, are factually, let’s put it this way, an object of trade.”

After the march, Evgeny Feodorov, a ruling party deputy, warned me in an interview that it is highly possible the Russian children are cut up in the United States for the organ trade.

State-controlled television chimed in with Soviet-style slant.
Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of “Vesti Nedelyi” or “News of the Week,” showed images of the march, warning viewers: “They urge everyone to protest against a ban on exporting children.”

This man was not star struck by the embrace that French tax exile Gerard Depardieu gave Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. VOA Photo: James Brooke

For the folks back home and around the world, here is what is happening in Moscow:

On one hand, the Kremlin is continuing its year-long anti-American campaign, believing it can shore up support among rural, small city and Soviet generation Russians, the people who get most of their news from state-controlled television.

On the other hand, the Kremlin seeks to focus attention on “foreign causes” for Russia’s looming demographic decline. Because of a dearth of babies born during chaotic years that followed the collapse of communism in 1991, the number of fertile age Russian women is starting to shrink.

A believer of Alice in Wonderland demographics, Lakhova, the ruling party deputy, warns that American adoptions over the last two decades represent a small city lost for Russia.

But in light of Russia’s sky high emigration and abortion rates, the American adoptions of 60,000 Russian orphans are, in reality, a drop in the bucket.

If 5 million Russians emigrated over the last 20 years (a conservative figure), American adoptions equal three months of emigration.
If 1 million pregnancies in Russia end in abortion each year (a conservative figure), two decades of American adoption equal three weeks of abortions.

It is increasingly unlikely that Russia’s television viewers will be exposed to this mathematical reality check. In a move that would bring television news closer to the Soviet model, Duma deputies are debating a law that would ban anyone with a foreign passport, including Russian citizens, from criticizing the Russian government on television.

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.

2 responses to “The March of Moscow’s Silent Majority?”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. Putin’s regime doesn’t tolerate my comments and blocks me from doing so. God bless people helping me to overcome this hurdle.

    2. The article looks as if it has undergone heavy censorship for it conveys people’s indignation at the March after the adoption ban with great restraint. Even the frost was greater than reported in the article. Author’s moderation is understandable when one remembers anti-Americanism of the regime and it’s seeing foreign influence in all anti-Putin’s protests. Recently, the almighty Federal Security Service (FSB) couldn’t find any trace of foreign influence on people’s mood. So this time the regime miscalculated when the March has become a success in terms of great number of people participating and involvement of people far remote from any political sympathies. So, the social basis of anti-Putin’s protests continues to grow contrary to all unprecedented restrictions imposed on the society.

    3. The cynicism of the regime towards Russian orphans and abandoned children is unparalleled when lawmakers promised to imposed adoption bans (similar to American) on any country that would enact its version of the Magnitsky Act. They don’t conceal that they use the about one mln unlucky children as a human shield.

    4. The regime and the Russian Orthodox Church cowardly hide the truth that in 12 years before the Magnitsky Act they weren’t interested and never deliberated fate and perspectives of about one mln children dumped in state orphanages, many of whom with severe genetic disorders and physically crippled. The regime isn’t brave enough to admit that Russia under Mr. Putin, being awashed with billions petrodollars has no modern medicine and sufficient monetary resources to deal with such children. The atmosphere in Russia isn’t favorable to fostering such children, wheel chaired person or a person with learning disabilities can access almost nothing in Putin’s Russia. Just recently a few ramps in some pavements started to appear in Russian cities. A few days ago a blind girl from Rostov suggested Mr Putin to show a personal example in adopting crippled orphans

    5. The article didn’t mention that thousands people at the March signed a petition and voted for the immediate dissolution of the illegitimate Duma that almost unanimously passed the adoption ban. The Duma exists after rigged election. The “arguments” of Mr Isayev, a leader of the United Russia ruling party, Ms Lakhova, and Mr Feodorov in defense of the adoption ban are absurd and absolutely out of the context. Let the entire world see the state of mind of the leading deputies of the party that rules Putin’s Russia!

  2. MIKEN90 says:

    /Yekaterina Lakhova, the United Russia deputy who sponsored the adoption ban last month, told Kommersant FM as the march began: “I am especially surprised to see people gather at such a large action in support of American business – because for them, our children, Russian children, are factually, let’s put it this way, an object of trade.”/

    It is hard to believe in the sincerity Lakhova, which, like other members of EP voted recently for making an adoption agreement between Russia and the United States, which came into force on 1 November 2012. Then Lakhova “somehow” did not care that she and her colleagues supported the “American business” and “trade in Russian children.” So, if there would be no Magnitsky Act, then “child trafficking” safely be continued. Lakhova would have to admit that she or any other member of the Russian parliament solve nothing. People in Russia, who took part in mass protests understand that the Duma would never have voted for the law of Herod, if the Russian Tsar Putin does not want to accept this law. People understand that in an authoritarian Russia parliament the decorations and all decisions are made by one person – Putin.



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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