Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 32

Boris Nadezhdin, a State Deputy with the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), announced on February 12 that his faction was drafting legislation that would, among other things, make “committing an outrage” against the Russian president subject to strict legal sanctions, up to and including the death penalty.

The SPS, of course, is not actually trying to achieve this. In fact, Nadezhdin and his colleagues are introducing this legislation, in his words, to demonstrate the “folly” of the State Duma majority that last month passed in a first reading an amendment to Russia’s Criminal Code that would make it a criminal offense to “commit an outrage” against Russia’s state hymn. That amendment, introduced last November by Sergei Apatenko, a deputy with the Duma’s pro-Kremlin Unity faction, would widen a statute of Russia’s Criminal Code that already outlaws “committing an outrage” against Russia’s state flag and coat-of-arms. It would make “committing an outrage” against the state hymn, flag and coat-of-arms punishable either by a fine or imprisonment for up to one year (, November 26, 2001). Apatenko’s amendment passed the Duma in its first reading thanks to support from the chamber’s centrist and leftist factions. It was opposed by the SPS and Yabloko, who, among other things, criticized the fact that the legislation includes no clear definition of “committing an outrage” against the state symbols (Moscow Times, January 17, Russian agencies, January 16). The liberal deputies are also unhappy over the state hymn itself. At the end of 2000, the Duma, at President Vladimir Putin’s urging, voted to revive the music of the Soviet-era national hymn, written in 1943 by Aleksandr Aleksandrov, as Russia’s state hymn. Putin subsequently selected lyrics written by the author of the hymn’s original words, Sergei Mikhalkov, as the revived hymn’s lyrics (see the Monitor, December 6, 8, 2000; January 2, 2001).

Nadezhdin said that in order to emphasize that the idea of “committing an outrage” against the revived hymn remains legally vague and undefined, the SPS’s counter amendment would include in its own definition of “committing an outrage” against the state hymn such things as listening to it while sitting, lying down, standing on one’s head, hop-scotching or in a squatting position while dancing, and playing it “at discotheques, parties, drunken gatherings” or other similar venues or events. It would also forbid “writing on a wall or a fence indecent or insulting words directly before or after the word ‘hymn’,” substituting the hymn’s real words with “indecent texts,” including those of “obscene ditties,” and playing the hymn “falsely, with significant deviations from the musical score and an equally obvious inappropriateness of tempo or tonality.” Proving conclusively that the Russian sense of humor remains alive and well, Nadezhdin, who became known last year for introducing a measure that would have greatly reduced the number of regional governors allowed to run for third terms, said that the SPS amendment would also stipulate punishment ranging from 15 years imprisonment to the death penalty for “committing an outrage” against the Russian president (Kommersant, February 12).