May.23, 2014 RUSSIAN GLAS•NOT

The Importance of Being Earnestly Russian

State Duma, the Russian lower house of parliament, Kremlin's vouching automaton, has of late been merrily accelerating the tightening of the noose around liberties and rights of its citizens, be that through restrictions on their (a) identity (e.g. gay propaganda laws & dual passport registration laws, more of which below), (b) actions (e.g. freedom of assembly) or (c) expression (e.g. internet and media censorship), all of course in the name of national integrity. And underlying all these strangling regulations, a backbone of sorts, is the Kremlin's voracious appetite for surveillance.

 

It is by no means far-fetched to speculate that NSA-levels of surveillance are already the norm for the Federal Security Services (FSB), KGB's successor with domestic jurisdiction. It is of course ironic that the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has found his safe haven in Russia where his Russian doppelganger would have been sent packing in Siberia (in the best case scenario), but that's another story. Even more worrying than the almost certain widespread, covert surveillance by the FSB, is that Kremlin has been also been devising and implementing overt, Big-Brother-favored, "legal" measures.

 

The Foreign Agent Law of 2012 requires all non-profit organizations in Russia to register as "foreign agents", and if that isn't ominous enough, the law gave FSB the right to "audit" (i.e. confiscate documents & records) any of them as it pleases, which it has, frequently. 

 

A new draft law to be appended on the existing internet restriction bills (that have pretty much obliterated free speech for the domestic content generators) will force foreign internet platforms that provide services to Russians (Gmail, Facebook, etc) to either host data in Russia territory or use the local domain name extension, therefore ringing the death knell for internet freedom in Russia and destroying the last haven of anonymity for domestic internet users. Considering the ease and unaccountability that the authorities can access provider's stored data with, users can rest assured that all their online data will be lovingly embraced by the State and catalogued in the most efficient manner for their level of dissent and unpatriotism.

 

More egregious still, a new law forcing citizens to register with the authorities in case of dual citizenship, presently going through the Duma and echoing the Foreign Agent Law, is yet another example of Russia's blatant attempt to pigeonhole every citizen. Stoking nationalistic fervor, a favorite of any authoritative regime in need to divert discontent away from its own track record towards external foes and specters, is an extra bonus. And what better way to accomplish the latter than by implying that citizens with foreign liaisons are somehow not to be trusted (same applies to citizens with "abnormal", meaning non-traditionally-Russian, sexual life styles). And if the message was too subtle for some to grasp it, the law's sponsor made it very clear: "Obviously having dual citizenship reduces the significance of Russian nationality and respect for one's country." With its almost fascist undertones, this law exemplifies the unapologetically flagrant approach the Kremlin has adopted in reigning in its dominion.

 

In Putin's mind of course the prestige of the Russian passport is above all else the desired outcome of his plan to restore (and surpass) the country to its past Soviet glory. So people should be clamoring for getting one, like the Crimeans who, once the opportunity arose, leapt onto the Russian-passport-bandwagon and never looked back, inspiring with their determination their fellow ex-countrymen in Donetsk and Luhansk now vying for the same. But lest you think that the Kremlin is giving away passports like bread crumbs in a duck pond, be aware that the criteria for getting one are actually quite whimsically demanding. Just ask most South Ossetians and Abkhazians, still waiting after a couple of decades for theirs (they did receive a commemorative I♥PUTIN vodka shot-glass though).

 

Namely to earn a coveted Russian passport one is required to be: (1) a renown thespian with penchant for solid character performances (e.g. Rasputin) and a dislike of high taxation, (2) a citizen of a region with proven gas reserves either inland or inside the territory's exclusive economic maritime zone (applicable only if the entire region is handed over as collateral), (3) a double agent with allegiance to Russia, (4) a high caliber athlete with Olympic Games aspirations, (5) any of the historical figures in Stephen Sondheim musical "Assassins".