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By Mikhail Vinogradov

Duma Abolishes Skinheads

Izvestia, June 7, 2002

A controversial presidential bill on combating extremism was pushed through the State Duma by On June 6 the Duma resolutely voted in favour of a law to counter extremism in the first reading. The law was passed despite its clearly draft" nature and the views of some parties that this law could be used to put pressure on parties and social movements. The political situation in Russia was seen to demand it.

The president's annual address to parliament this April represented the first time that the issue of countering such an aspect of contemporary youth culture as the radically xenophobic skinhead movement had been raised at the highest level. Within a month, the law was ready and was submitted to the Duma under the "presidential" stamp. This stamp actually means one thing: that the law had been drawn up by the Presidential Administration. However, this magic word exerts considerable influence on Duma deputies and senators, and such laws are almost always passed.

Many deputies (both left and right) were indignant that the law had been modified from its focus on extremists to a law against parties and social movements. During the debate, Duma deputies reminded presidential representative Alexander Kotenkov 24 times of the need to define precisely the "flexible" concept of extremism by the second reading.

At present, in the current version of the law, "hindering the legal activity of federal and local authorities" is interpreted as extremism. The Communists offered extremely strong resistance to this. They cited possible examples of a broad interpretation of such a law: "What if people strike for a pay rise, and then we and the trade unions join them - what will follow? Shall our party be shut down then?"

The paragraph establishing the bodies that can issue warnings to organizations, or submit evidence in favour of banning a party to courts, was challenged; as besides the judiciary, the prosecutor's office, and the Interior Ministry (optional), there was also the phrase "other bodies". However, Kotenkov clarified that this referred to the courts - only the courts would have the power to ban an organization from operating, and not the Justice Ministry. Neither the

methods nor the terms were specified in the section on suspending a movement's operation. Vadim Bulavinov of the People's Deputy faction expressed concern about legislative measures to avoid abuse of power by the authorities when banning organizations.

The Union of RIght-Wing Forces deputy leader Boris Nadezhdin pointed out to his colleagues another clause of the bill, which didn't escape his lawyer's eye: the elimination of all organizations assisting a banned party or movement.

In his opinion, this means "the bank where an extremist organization has its account, a company which leases office space to it, or media outlets which provide broadcasting time or print space" could be prohibited. During the debate, some perplexed deputies kept saying:

"So it seems we are to pass a law against ourselves?"

Sergei Popov of the Yabloko faction, a lawyer from St. Petersburg, was the only one to note that the law is not as indispensable as it seems, as its basic standards are already set out in the Criminal Code and the Criminal-Procedural Code. However, for some reason they are not applied.

Nevertheless, the factions voted in favour of the law, as they perceived some positive aspects: "the problems have been defined for the first time", "the lack of an integral law until now", "the law is designed to warn, rather than suppress extremism." Eventually, the lower house was convinced: and 271 deputies voted in favour of the bill (a minimum of 226 was required).

The Communists and Agrarians voted against: there was also a split in the ranks of the right. The centrist factions didn't hesitate. Vladislav Reznik, a member of the Unity faction, said: "No time should be spent on discussions about rising fascism; it is high time to use power."

Izvestia, June 7, 2002

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