20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Kremlin’s decision to retaliate against Russian orphans after the passage of the U.S. Magnitsky Act was a continuation of Soviet traditions. IMR Advisor Ekaterina Mishina, a prominent Russian legal expert, notes that the entire history of the USSR was marked by a hypocritical “care for children.”


This 1930s propaganda poster reads: “Thank you, dear Stalin, for our happy childhood!”


“You are animals, gentlemen. You will be cursed by your country.”

From the Soviet-era movie Slave of Love


Homo Sovieticus is alive and well, like King Kong—or even worse. King Kong, after all, was mortal, whereas Homo Sovieticus lives, mutates, adapts to new environments, and sometimes even wins his battles. The passage of the “Dima Yakovlev Law” marks yet another triumph of the Soviet mentality, which is based on a strict prioritization of state interests over individual ones. One’s attitude toward this law has become a sort of litmus test that defines not only the individual’s basic moral principles but also his or her understanding of current events. The problem is far more than the inappropriateness of “our reply to Lord Curzon” in the cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face style. By passing this statute, our lawmakers, like the sergeant’s wife from Gogol’s Government Inspector, have flogged themselves in front of an amazed global public, not only “exceeding the limits of necessary defense,” but also showing their ignorance of (or disregard for) international law, primarily the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I will not accuse the whole corps of lawmakers of this ignorance, because some of its representatives can picture parallel bars or a punching bag much better than they can the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it seems that it was not these individuals who wrote this bill. As for the authors, they should have provided an acceptable alternative to American adoptions of Russian citizens if they wanted to make such a move decently and humanely. But “decently and humanely” did not work out, as usual.

I have some questions on this point. If the authors had realized that they were aggravating the situation of disabled children, then what did they intend to do about Article 55, Part 2 of the Constitution, which states that  “in the Russian Federation no laws must be adopted which abolish or diminish human and civil rights and freedoms”? The ban on adoptions by Americans diminishes the opportunity for disabled Russian children to exercise their right to health protection and medical help.

The passage of the “Dima Yakovlev Law” marks yet another triumph of the Soviet mentality, which is based on a strict prioritization of state interests over individual ones.

One could try to think better of people and assume that the authors were sincerely misled by the statistics provided by some government officials, which assured them that the possibilities for treatment and gradual social adjustment of disabled children in Russian orphanages were no worse than they would be in American families. In this case, how come these unpleasant government officials who provided lawmakers with incorrect data have still not been punished in accordance with Article 41, Part 3 of the Russian Constitution, which says:   “The concealment by officials of facts and circumstances, which pose a threat to the life and health of people, shall result in liability according to federal law”?

If, however, the authors of the bill did not use any statistics on the situation in Russian orphanages, then they should be ousted from their positions. No matter how you slice it, the whole incident looks disgusting and most strongly impacts those sick and defenseless children. But such actions are well within the traditions of Homo Sovieticus. This is not the first time in our history that a law has been used to turn children into hostages or objects of manipulation.


On January 13, between 50,000 and 80,000 people marched through downtown Moscow in protest at the anti-orphan law.


Throughout its existence, the USSR promoted its image as a tireless protector of children. This effort began rather well. The original Bolshevik policy that aimed to destroy all middle-class prejudices had a few merits, especially in regards to the laws on marriage and family. In September 1918, the new Code on Marriage, the Family, and Guardianship was adopted. Article 133 of this code stated that actual provenance is to be considered a family cornerstone and that no distinction is to be made between registered and informal relationships. A note to this article stipulated that its provisions applied to “children born outside wedlock before the publication of the Decree on Civil Marriage” in December 1917.

A number of the code’s provisions clearly indicated that its authors gave careful consideration to the problems of motherhood and childhood protection. According to Article 140, “a woman who is pregnant and not legally married should, not later than 3 months before giving birth, submit an application to the registry office at the place of residence, with the time of conception, the father’s name and place of residence. . . . A legally married woman can submit the same application if the child conceived by her is not her legal husband's.” The Registry Office obligingly notified the person mentioned in the application, and the latter had the right to challenge the mother’s application in court (Article 141). Article 144 of the code stipulated that “if the court finds that, at the time of conception, the person mentioned as the father had sexual relations with the child’s mother, but also with other women, the court brings the latter as respondents and demands that they participate in expenses” related to (as mentioned in Article 143) “pregnancy, childbirth and child support.”

As for orphans, the code treated them much more severely. Article 183 stipulated, “Since the moment of the entry into force of the present law, the adoption of either one’s own or someone else’s children is not allowed. Any such adoption made after the moment specified in this Article does not bring forth any responsibilities or rights for [either] the adoptive parent [or] the adoptee.” The abolition of the institution of adoption in a country where hundreds of thousands of children had been left orphans as a result of the First World War, the revolution, and the Civil War was not only unreasonable and cruel, but also primarily ideological. Russia was then a largely agrarian country, and it was claimed that peasants often adopted orphans in order to exploit them in farm labor. In this context, the abolition of adoption was labeled a necessary and temporary measure for the prevention of child exploitation. This justification did not, however, prevent the authorities from extending universal labor duty to all children aged 16 or older. Per Article 4 of the 1918 Labor Code, students had to exercise their labor duty in the schools.  The ideological explanation for this discrepancy was that the Soviet state aimed to abolish child labor, but in view of the Civil War and a severe shortage of schools and orphanages, the prohibition of child labor would inevitably result in a rise in juvenile crime. No one explained why it was acceptable for children to be assigned labor duty but unacceptable for them to live in an adoptive family in the countryside and work on a farm.

The abolition of the institution of adoption in a country where hundreds of thousands of children had been left orphans was not only unreasonable and cruel, but also primarily ideological.

Government “care” for children expanded along with the strengthening of the Soviet state. In 1935, the age of criminal discretion was lowered from 14 (as set in Soviet Russia’s Criminal Code of 1926) to 12 years. From this point on, the decree of the USSR Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars “On the protection of property of state enterprises, kolkhozes and cooperatives, and the protection of public property” from August 7, 1932 (more commonly known as the “Law of Three Spikelets”), applied to 12-year-old children. Railroad and water transport cargo as well as kolkhoz and cooperative property (including livestock and harvest) were considered state property. The punishment for theft of such property was execution by shooting and confiscation of personal property. Those convicted of crimes covered by this law were not subject to amnesty. The size of the theft was of no importance—a person who collected as little as a handful of grain or "spikelets" could be prosecuted.

In 1944, when the male population dramatically decreased as a result of Stalin’s purges and losses during the Second World War, and a great number of children were left fatherless, the state—for some reason—chose to aggravate the situation of children raised by single mothers. A July 8, 1944 decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet abolished the previous equality between registered and informal marriages. The November 10, 1944 decree “On the procedure of recognizing informal marriage in the event of one of the partners dying or going missing” stipulated that a preexisting informal marriage could be legally acknowledged.  But this provision was hypocritical, because not many people knew about it, only a few could provide evidence of a preexisting informal marriage, and even fewer were ready to take their case to the courts, which usually acted as punitive agencies. Meanwhile, only those children whose deceased military parents had been legally married were eligible to receive a state pension.

At the same time, the previous equality between illegitimate children and children born into a registered marriage was abolished. It was no longer possible to establish paternity from a registry or by a court order. A single mother’s right to file a judicial claim for the recovery of alimony for a child born outside of wedlock was annulled as well. As Stalin famously declared, “Life has become better, comrades, life has become merrier.”

By banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, our state has dealt another blow to the poor and the vulnerable, justifying its strike on ideological grounds. The Spartans, who used to throw weak and crippled infants from cliffs, were fairer—they did not claim to be punishing the babies by doing so. As for Russian orphans, they are doomed to face a life of deprivation and suffering for the sake of politics. And they will never realize that Soviet/Russian children have always been and will always be the happiest children in the world.