- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Though one might not know it from today’s headlines, Russia is more than an influencer of foreign elections and politics. It is also a country with its own people, leaders, and government. On Wednesday, that government came closer to decriminalizing domestic violence.
A bill decriminalizing domestic violence passed its first reading of the Duma on Wednesday, with 368 votes in its favor (one parliamentarian voted against it, and one abstained). Should the bill pass its second reading, now under preparation, domestic violence will only be a criminal offense if it’s considered an act of “hooliganism” or borne out of hatred.
If, however, the two parties involved are related (like, say, married), it will only be a criminal offense if “committed two or more times in the same year.” Instead, the perpetrator will be made to face a civil punishment: a fine of five to 30 thousand rubles, arrest for 10 to 15 days; or 60 to 120 hours of mandated work.
Official government statistics in Russia say 40 percent of all violent crimes are committed within families. This raises the question of who would introduce a piece of legislation that makes beating one’s spouse or children less of a crime.
The answer: Yelena Mizulina, the parliamentarian who proposed the law back in July. “Battery carried out toward family members should be an administrative offense,” she said at the time, adding, “You don’t want people to be imprisoned for two years and labeled a criminal for the rest of their lives for a slap.” This came after an amendment in June that made domestic violence in the home criminal, and therefore equal to hooliganism and hate crimes. Mizulina, also the sponsor of the “gay propaganda” law that renders it illegal to spread material equating gay and straight relationships or on gay rights, as well as the head of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs, felt that this amendment was “anti-family.”
She found an ally in the Russian Orthodox Church, which issued a statement in July saying, “if reasonable and carried out with love, corporal punishment is an essential right given to parents by God.”
If the bill passes its second reading, however, it will be the Duma that gives spouses and parents the “essential right” to beat their families without criminal punishment.
Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images