United Russia, the parliamentary majority party, is urging preventative measures against the possible revival of Nazism and militant nationalism after a controversial TV poll that split the community.
Despite the fact that Russia suffered the heaviest casualties in the Second World War, it has not yet introduced a law against those who attempt to justify Nazism, said the head of the Duma Committee for Security, Irina Yarovaya.
She noted that similar laws exist in other countries, such as Germany, Austria and Belgium for a long time already. She urged fellow members of the United Russia party to prepare and pass the bill as fast as possible.
The politician also noted that many recent events can be seen as proof that the Nazi rehabilitation ban is necessary. These are attempts to resurrect the nationalist visions and movements, Yarovaya said, noting that the future bill must include preventative measures.
Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Zheleznyak told Izvestia daily that United Russia has already started to prepare the bill proposing a new article in the Criminal Code. According to the bill, denial of Nazi crimes and glorification of Nazi regimes should be punished with heavy fines or up to three years in prison. A similar offence committed by public officials or through the mass media should be punished by up to five years behind bars.
Russian legislators have previously prepared and discussed such bills, but they were rejected by government experts for two reasons – most of the crucial terms used in the documents lacked clear legal definition and many points of the bill duplicate existing legal norms.
At present Russia qualifies public propaganda of Nazi ideas and demonstration of Nazi symbols as extremism – a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison. The Justice Ministry also maintains a list of banned extremist literature that includes, for example, Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’.
Zheleznyak also told reporters that the new work over the bill was prompted by the intense public reaction caused by the recent media scandal.
Earlier this week, as Russia was celebrating the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Nazi blockade of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the Dozhd (Rain) TV Channel ran a poll in which it asked the audience if Leningrad should have been surrendered in order to save people’s lives.
This caused almost immediate outrage. Politicians, journalists and members of the public accused the Dozhd team of disrespecting the memory of the war victims, and demanded an apology. St. Petersburg prosecutors said they planned a probe into how the poll was created, and at least one veterans’ group threatened to sue the channel for moral damages.
In addition, many people pointed out that documents exist which prove that Nazis planned to completely exterminate the population of Leningrad and raise the city to the ground and this made the poll not only offensive, but also pointless.
As the outrage spread, Dozhd removed the poll from its website and published an apology, however its directors refused to fire the responsible persons, saying that in their view posing questions was not a crime for a reporter. The channel’s chief editor and general director also accused United Russia and the authorities of “political baiting” and started a fundraising campaign among the audience to prevent the channel from closure.
Russian consumer rights agency Rospotrebnadzor sent a letter to Dozhd calling on it to pay more attention to ethical side of its work, but said it would not issue it an official warning (three official warnings can lead to the revocation of the mass media license).
St. Petersburg prosecutors told the press on Friday that although their probe was still in progress it was already clear that the channel cannot and will not be closed.
Several Russian cable providers took Dozhd off their networks in protest. The channel accused its business partners of political pressure, but chose not to take the case to court. Instead Dozhd called on its viewers to boycott the providers.
The Presidential Council for Human Rights asked the Prosecutor General’s office to probe the situation on Friday, but the prosecutors did not immediately report their reaction.