Russia Needs Human Rights
Liberty, not license, is the platform from which Russians can best oppose tyranny.

Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks at a Moscow rally in 2012.


Robert Zubrin

Item: In the year 2000, Russia had a vibrant free mass media, but over the past decade the regime of Vladimir Putin has used various pretexts to take over or close down nearly all of it. On Monday, Russia’s last independent TV network, Dozhd, was eliminated.

Item: The Sochi Olympics are a display of world-historic corruption, with 25 times the actual cost of holding such an event (as demonstrated repeatedly elsewhere) drained off by regime cronies. Yet when Russian activists dare to speak the truth about this, they face years in prison.

Item: Last month, Vladimir Putin misappropriated $15 billion from the Russian people’s National Welfare Fund and used it to provide fellow dictator Viktor Yanukovych the cash necessary to crush — in some cases, to crucify or kill — Ukrainians voicing a desire for liberty.

One would think that such direct assaults on political freedom would merit the forcible and sustained protest of Western media and political elites. But these events have been hardly mentioned. Instead, virtually all critical attention has been focused on Russia’s laws constraining the promotion of gay lifestyles.

To read the press, one might be led to believe that LBGT rights are the only rights that the West stands for. And that is exactly the propaganda message that the regime wishes to promote.

There is a valid gay-rights issue to be taken up in Russia, but it is not that country’s law forbidding propaganda promoting homosexual lifestyles to minors. That law has over 90 percent popular support in Russia and is no more stringent than laws that prevailed in many Western nations until fairly recently. What is of much greater concern is the frequent failure of police to protect gays from violent attacks by skinheads and other criminal elements. But this is part of a larger problem — namely, the denial of effective police protection to all kinds of ethnic, religious, and political minorities, hundreds of whom are assaulted or murdered every year. What Russia really needs is not gay rights but human rights, and the rule of law. By fixating on gays as the sole victims of oppression, the international LGBT lobby has served to narrow the base for an effective reform campaign, while assisting the efforts of the regime to portray itself as the defender of decency.

The problem with Russia is not that it has laws restricting promotion of the gay lifestyle. The problem with Russia is that it has no laws that effectively constrain the strong or protect the weak.

The problem with Russia is not corruption per se, or even Putin per se. Russian government is not corrupt because Vladimir Putin has absolute power. Russian government has been corrupt, and will always be as long as anyone has absolute power.

The key issue is not who is in charge but what. Russia’s problem is constitutional. There is no division of powers. The judges, the police, and the legislature all work for the same people, and there is essentially no trial by jury. As a result, anyone can be arrested and accused of anything, and conviction is almost guaranteed. (The actual conviction rate in Russia today is over 99 percent. When prominent regime opponent Aleksei Navalny went on trial in Moscow last summer on phony embezzlement charges, he was judged by a magistrate who has never found anyone innocent.) This means that no one’s life, liberty, or property is secure. Anyone can be imprisoned and expropriated at any time by those in control of the state.

Article 29 of Magna Carta, enacted in 1215, stated: “No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be dispossessed of his Freehold, or Liberties, of free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land.”


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