It feels totally weird to be back in Russia.
Elderly people across the country are protesting the replacement of benefits with money, the authorities are threatening to persecute them, and the TV keeps reminding us of the approaching 60th anniversary of our victory in WWII and of how precious the "children of the war" are, meaning not some kids from Grozny or Beslan, but the very elderly who are out in the streets now, calling Putin "an enemy worse than Hitler."
And then there're the Russian parliament members with their ridiculous ideas. Here're parts of the Moscow Times story on yesterday's vote in the Duma (though, honestly, it was a lot more amusing and somewhat more shocking to hear and watch them talk about it yesterday than read this text):
Duma Asks Foreigners for Respect
By Carl Schreck
Thursday, January 13, 2005. Page 1
The State Duma on Wednesday tentatively approved legislation that would allow authorities to deny a visa to foreigners who show disrespect toward Russia, are sick or use illegal drugs.
Political analysts said the bill falls short of democratic norms and that President Vladimir Putin may reject it in an attempt to flash democratic credentials in the faces of critics worried about a rollback on free speech and human rights.
Duma deputies passed the amendment to the law "On Exit From the Russian Federation and Entry Into the Russian Federation" in the first of three readings by a vote of 353 to 44 with six abstentions.
The amendment says foreigners could be denied entry if they "commit actions of a clearly disrespectful nature toward the Russian Federation or the federal organs of the government of the Russian Federation."
Denial of entry could also result from actions that disrespect "spiritual, cultural or public values," bring about "significant material harm," or are harming or have harmed "the international prestige of the Russian Federation."
"Other disrespectful or unfriendly actions" could also result in a foreigner being barred from entering the country, the bill says.
The bill does not spell out what specific behavior could lead to being denied entry, but states that such a judgment would be in the hands of the president, the Federation Council, the State Duma, the government or a court.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said the Duma and Federation Council will easily pass the legislation and send it to Putin for his signature. Putin, however, may soften its language or scrap it all together in some democratic grandstanding, he said.
"This gives the president a chance to play the role of the liberal," Pribylovsky said. "He's done this before. But, of course, it's just a show."
In March, the Duma passed in a first reading a bill banning rallies in virtually all public places. The bill was widely condemned as an attack on constitutionally protected democratic freedoms, and while the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which controls the Duma, was reviled by critics at home and abroad as being indifferent to democracy, Putin capitalized on the opportunity to appear enlightened in contrast to parliament. "To whom is it necessary today to limit the rights and freedoms of citizens to demonstrate and march?" Putin told members of his government on April 13. "There shouldn't be any such unhealthy restrictions in this respect."
Putin subsequently requested changes to the bill that would allow protests outside government buildings, lower the age requirement for organizers, and shorten the period of advance notice needed to be given for some events.