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When Vladimir Putin signed a law passed by the Russian Duma – “parliament” – forbidding adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens, he not only sent messages to groups around the world, he hurt Russian orphans.

A message was sent to Washington DC that fighting Russian organized crime and corruption comes with asymetrical consequences.

A message was sent around the world that engaging in defending human rights in Russia is not allowed, especially if you are not from Russia (being from Russia was always considered to be a life-threatening condition).

A message was sent to those who fought the old Soviet regime, received American citizenship, and are now engaged once again in protesting the latest Russian dictatorship.

And a message was sent to the Russian electorate, stating that the Government (or as it is historically known in Russia – “Power”), remains staunchly anti-American.  After all, wagging finger at the West has  been a popular way all over the world, to redirect frustration one’s own populus has with its government, and Russians are very frustrated with their government.

But what this law really does, is punish the one group that has the least organized protection in Russia – its orphans.

It may seem surprising at first that there have been protests against this legislation in Russia – why would Russians care about the rights of Americans to adopt Russian children?  They don’t, really.  But the reality is that leaving Russia has always been compared to winning a lottery, almost regardless of the destination point.  Imagine for a second, living in a country where a person who left and lives abroad, is considered to have achieved something in life, a success story.  In that mindset, for an orphan child to be able to leave Russia to go not just to any country, but to AMERICA, is as much a blessing as being an orphan in Russia, is a curse.  

This should make it easier to understand why this law - and which has already become known as the “anti-orphan law” - is opposed by many in Russia.  In fact, in just a matter of days, Russia’s popular Novaya Gazeta (New Paper), collected over 100,000 digital signatures for a petition, calling for new elections, and for the dismissal of the current parliament.

The passion with which Russians are angry and not just with the anti-orphan law, but with their own lawmakers (whom they have traditionally regarded, and seemingly accepted, as non-entities), for signing off quickly and quietly on this attack on children, is new and underlines the protests seen in Russia throughout 2012.  Yes, the Russians of the early 21st century have embraced the plight of orphans, but it is certainly worth noting that this frustration seems to trump even the fear Russians have of their own government.  

Is it the rise of the middle class?  Is it about the children?  Is it about the length of time since the last murderous government repression, or is it about the betrayal many Russians feel towards the “democratic” reforms of the last quarter century?  Only time can tell, but in a way, I see a parallel between the Newtown tragedy and the Russian anti-orphan law in that it is the attack on children that appears as likely as anything, to awake a sleeping giant.

The message I want to pass to all those yearning to bring an orphan Russian child into your American home is this: the Russian people are on your side, even if their government isn’t, because the people understand that Russia is not a country.  It’s a punishment.  

Originally published at www.YuriRashkin.com

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yuri, thanks for your perspective on this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    splashy

    I've been reading about this story over the past several days and this inherently seemed like a selfish attack by Putin's "government" that punished potentially adopted orphans solely out of spite for Americans.  Sadly, yet thankfully, I can't even imagine what fear still lurks in the heads and hearts of those who very publicly speak out against the tyrannical reign in Russia, especially after the Pussy Riot debacle.  Your ability to speak on Russian culture from experience is critical on an issue of such import as the Anti-Adoption law.  

    Forgive my ignorance, but could you elaborate on the background of the Russian mafia with regards to the orphanages?:

    A message was sent to Washington DC that fighting Russian organized crime and corruption comes with asymetrical consequences.
    •  Russian organized crime and orphans (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby

      Wisco Wherls, to answer your question about connection between Russian organized crime and Russian orphans:

      A foreign company doing business in Russia, was accused of underpaying its taxes, which was weird because the company was just given a letter stating that it overpaid its taxes in Russia.  Then this company was told it owed hundreds of millions of dollars in fines because of a lawsuit against it, it never knew existed.  The company hired an attorney named Sergey Magnitsky to investigate this matter.  Attorney uncovered major corruption, was arrested and died in prison one week before the year-long deadline the government in Russia has, to produce charges.  This became a very big deal.

      In November 2012, United States normalized trade relations with Russia, which used to be tied to human right violations.  The bill, signed into law by President Obama on December 14th 2012, contained a so-called Matnitsky Act, forbidding entry to the United States to Russian officials likely involved in the death of Mr. Magnitsky.  

      Weeks later, Russian Duma passed and President Putin - who described Magnitsky Act as "poisoning" Russian - American relations - signed into law, legislation that forbade Americans from adopting Russian children.  This was named for a Russian boy who suffocated in a car, while in the care of his American father.  This explanation given by Russian officials, made no sense to the Russians either, and is routinely considered to be the response to Magnitsky Act.  A particularly cruel one, as no other alternative seemed to have been considered.  

      Hope this helps.      

  •  The proposal enjoys majority support in Russia, (0+ / 0-)

    so I think you might be overstating the level of opposition. (link, in Russian)

    Let's be honest here: this isn't about America, or about protesting the law Obama signed.  This is nationalistic policy aimed at Russia's negative birth rate, the rise in immigration/workers from central Asia and Putin's promise to address it.  He announced a slate of proposals last summer as prime minister, he bragged about (the meager) rise in December, and one of his men made a public statement that cutting down on adoptions was about "keeping our children in our country."  The Magnitsky debacle makes for good political cover, but Russia's been making it harder to adopt for years.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 11:02:07 PM PST

  •  One more example of real change in Russia, I think (0+ / 0-)

    I had the privilege of working on one facet of the Megatons to Megawatts program in 2004 and 2005. The work took me to closed cities in Russia for weeks and months at a time, so I got to know my Russian colleagues well enough to discuss various things that were changing there, economic things mostly but political things also.

    At least some people I worked with seemed to be ready to believe that they would not always be oppressed and that faced with official obstacles of some sort, they could expect to overcome them with appropriate efforts.

    From what you write, it seems that progress is still being made along these lines.

    One thing that my coworkers did was bring in clothing and other items for local orphanages in the areas we worked in (Novouralsk, Seversk, Zelenogorsk, Ozersk) purchased with donations from many people associated with the program.

    Something else I noticed, and was told about, is that people with disabilities are not often seen in Russia but are mostly institutionalized. I don't know how true that is in general, but in the cumulative 6 months that I worked there over two years I only saw one person in a wheelchair, for example.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 11:07:17 PM PST

    •  Russian changes? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby, Wisco Wherls

      Dear billmosby,

      I used to live in Utah and was aware of the Russian inspectors who were supervising weapon distruction that was taking place here.  Even in the early 2000, these people ate the fish they caught and looked at shopping as the main reason they were sent here.

      It is pretty clear that financially speaking, things were getting better in 2004 and 2005.  The interesting thing is that as people get wealthier, they start to care about their rights, and also about the rights of those weaker then they are, like orphans.  Even in Russia.

      Your observation about people with disabilities is correct and I can testify to it from the other side - when I came to America, it felt extremely out of the ordinary to see so many people with disabilities all around me.  There are many reasons why peopel with disabilities are not out and about in Russia: from street bullying to infrastructure that is not designed to accommodate people with disabilities.  For instance (and as I'm sure you've noticed while there) vast majority of people in Russia live in apartment buildings frequently with elevators that are either not there or are broken, or are just too narrow to accommodate a wheel chair.  

      Thank you for your comment.

  •  AntiOrphan law called no big deal, like Pussy Riot (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, billmosby

    Dear pico,

    1. While supposedly 56% of Russians support this law (according to your citation), the fact that 44% of Russians do not, says a lot.  Then again, more people watch Fox news then CNN or MSNBC but Obama won re-election.  Numbers can be misleading and misinterpreted.

    2. I found extremely interesting a quote from a political scientist who said that this will be a big deal in a narrow circle, and that for the most part this will be a non-issue like Pussy Riot.  'Tis true, Putin is not likely to get knocked off his throne for jailing Pussy Riot, but there's no question that both Pussy Riot and the Anti-Orphan law, will be part of his legacy.  And that's not a compliment.

    2. The article makes it clear that the Russian and American legislations are connected.  Even Putin's press secretary cited in your article (thanks again) states that the Anti-Orphan law is really "AntiMagnitsky law" because it includes a list of people (which will not be made public) who are now forbidden from enterting Russia.  Additionally, the story cites the fact that assistant superintendent of the prison where Magnitsky died, was just found not guilty of being involved.

    3. The story cites a very interesting graphic http://www.vz.ru/... which talks about the numbers of Russian orphans and who adopts them.  Green color is the number adopted by Russians and Blue signifies adopted by foreigners.  Red signifies foster care, which has been only recently introduced to Russia as a concept.  Note that in 2003 and 2004 the number of Russian orphans adopted by foreign parents actually exceeded the number of children adopted by Russians.  Russians don't like to adopt too much, you see.  Why?  Because in Russia, no self-respecting parent will give up their child for adoption.  

    4. Putin proposes to spend more money for Russian orphans and that's kind of insulting because a. few believe that the money will ever reach any orphans and b. if I told you that instead of letting you fly to the moon, I might give you a moon pie on semi-regular basis, you'd smack me, and you'd be right.  All this does is give talking points to ideologues.  

    5. The story agrees with my conclusion that the point here is to intimidate.  To show that Russia cannot be controlled by angry outbursts (as they see them) from the West.  

    Thank you for the comment and the link.

    •  Well, there's no doubt that this is (0+ / 0-)

      a bad policy, for political reasons, and it's being underplayed by the regime.  But I think it enjoys majority support not because of media smoke and mirrors, but because it appeals to two separate constituencies: Putin's United Russia bloc, and the parties that fall to the right of it (and are, as a general rule, more nationalistic, xenophobic, etc.)  Like I said, the foreign adoption process has been becoming more difficult for some time now.  I don't think Putin has any real interest in orphans outside of wanting to trumpet "good" population numbers as a policy success.

      I'm still convinced, just because of the way this law has rolled out in the context of Putin's policies, that the Magnitsky thing is just a convenient excuse for an adoption ban he's wanted for some time.  Keep Russians in Russia.  Наши.  etc.

      Being able to give Americans the finger is just a bonus.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 12:13:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The best outcome for Russian orphans... (0+ / 0-)

    ...is to be adopted in Russia. It would be great if the otherwise toxic energy of hurt national pride (politicized national pride, but then again it always is) could be put into developing adoption as an option for Russian families.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 03:57:30 AM PST

    •  Did you read my post? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby

      Dear Rich, thank you for your comment.  It'd be great if Russia was a country where people wanted to adopt their own Russian children, or wanted to make babies in the first place but the falling birth rate and the general desire to escape gets in the way of that.  

      •  Americans can't understand (0+ / 0-)

        It would be nice if every American could spend a few months living in the former Soviet Union.  They would be forced to open their eyes, and would come back with a new understanding.

        What struck me most about my few months there is that it's always been that way -- a place where the best thing you can do is flee.  As I wandered around and observed, I thought of my own grandparents and how they were lucky enough to flee a hundred years ago.  Who knows, if they hadn't, and had my family been lucky enough to survive the war, I might be there today, wondering how I could make it out.

        •  Most of the world sucks more than Russia (0+ / 0-)

          This notion that American parents have to rescue the children of the world by taking them to America, while pleasant individually, is messed-up as a large-scale phenomenon and the only surprising thing is that there are countries willing to go along with it.  

          You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

          by Rich in PA on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:55:55 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Most of the world? (0+ / 0-)

            Africa, yes.  They are subsistence farmers living in a sweltering land with dirt roads and unsafe water.  Russians have been reduced to living as subsistence farmers, living in a frozen land with dirt roads and unsafe water.  Oh, but they do have GazProm to sell them gas to keep warm in the winter, so that makes them better off than Africa.  

            One of the nice things about driving around in the former Soviet Union is that there is NO traffic.  For an American used to big city traffic jams, it seems like paradise.  Until you notice that on the few roads that are paved, there are traffic cops every 10km waiting for a bribe vigorously enforcing the speed limit.  

            Latin America, for all its poverty, is a lot better off than the former Soviet Union.  People have more cars and the public transportation is not as crowded.   The pace of development is slow, but year over year, things get better.  The former Soviet Union went over the cliff in '91, and for most people, they are still tumbling down, trying to hit bottom.  

            Eastern Europe is better off.  They rebuilt much faster after World War II so that they could be showplaces of Communist success.  Rebuilding at home, well that could wait.  As long as there was 5 square meters of housing per capita, the proletariat would have to be satisfied.

            There are a few Asian countries that Russians can look down on.  They are better off than the Afghanis and the North Koreans, but the list is longer of countries that have surpassed them: Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, maybe even China.  

            If you look at statistics, Russia has one of the highest death rates (11 out of 231) and one of the lowest birth rates (160 out of 231), which taken together doesn't indicate a very happy populace.

            While we can quibble exactly which country is on the bottom of the heap, I can totally agree with your sentiment that the world is not going to be saved by rich Westerners saving one orphan at a time, as if they were plucking gold nuggets out of the landfill.  

          •  Most Americans who adopt children from other (0+ / 0-)

            countries, simply want to be parents.  The fact that a child gets out of an orphanage is a bonus.  UNICEF estimates that there are 740,000 kids in state care in Russia.  Only 18,000 are listed as available for adoption, and at it's height, numbers wise, around 6,000 kids per year were adopted by Americans.  In the past few years, maybe 1,000 to 2,000 per year are adopted to American citizens.

            Russia has a huge problem:  The population is declining due to emigration and low birth rates, yet on a per capita basis, there are now more kids in institutions in Russia than there was after the devastation of WW2.  Adoption to the U.S. or any other nation hardly puts a dent in the total number of Russian orphans.  It is not meant to solve the whole problem, but to the individual children adopted, it means a world of difference for them.  That is why these adoptions should continue, it's in the individual children's best interests.

            Instead of Putin lashing out at the U.S., maybe he should get started on providing programs to keep children with their parents, support at risk families, develop national foster care programs, and encourage a society where adoption is accepted and done.  Westerners have been adopting Russian orphans for over twenty years, and Putin or his BFF Medvedev has been in charge for most of that time, so where is the accountability for him on how Russia treats it's vulnerable children?

      •  General desire to escape! (0+ / 0-)

        Proportionally, that's much more of an Irish thing but I don't hear people talking trash about Ireland or suggesting that there's some need to adopt their children.  

        You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

        by Rich in PA on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:56:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  General desire to escape... (0+ / 0-)

        I think that might explain one phenomenon I have observed when mentioning to Russians I sometimes meet around here (Salt Lake City) that I have worked in Russia- they seem to not want to talk about it at all. Much like our colleagues there would only occasionally talk about "Soviet Times", and then as if they were in some other century or millennium or had been only a bad dream.

        Being allowed to visit Russia as someone who kind of had a place there- the long-running program on which I worked along with the relationships that developed between us and our Russian colleagues - was one of the highlights of my life. I think it gave me a bit of a false impression of the country and how hard it really would be to live there in more normal circumstances.

        However, it is a fascinating and beautiful place which has remained largely undeveloped and undiscovered, perhaps even by Russians. I hope Russians someday have it as good as they deserve to. But it's really up to them to finish throwing off their chains, as it were. I think they are closer to accomplishing that than ever.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:05:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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