Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 9 discharged his children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, two months after the high-flying former lawyer submitted his resignation amid outrage over a verbal blunder. The now-50-year-old Astakhov shocked Russians and others alike in June when he quipped to child survivors of a deadly boating tragedy, "So how was the swim?"
But that seemingly callous remark was just the latest bizarre statement to emerge from Astakhov's seven-year tenure as the Kremlin's top advocate for young people. Here are details of his "swim" remark and some of his other more notable utterances.
'How Was The Swim?'
Meeting with survivors of a camp tragedy that killed 14 teens when two boats capsized on a lake in Karelia, Astakhov asked them casually, "So how was the swim?" Social and other media lit up with condemnation, and Astakhov's Instagram claim that he was quoted out of context -- in the face of video evidence to the contrary -- did little to deflect the criticism. He suggested that he was merely using "psychological tricks that help to open up scared children and let them speak out." A petition was nevertheless launched to demand Astakhov's dismissal.
Women And Age
After a viral video and related news stories showed a 17-year-old student being married off to a 47-year-old police official in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, children's rights ombudsman Astakhov defended the marriage as a reflection of allowable local practices, telling a radio station: "Let's not be hypocrites.... There are places where women, at age 27, you look at her and by our standards they look like they're 50. And, in general, the [Russian] constitution forbids interference in citizens' personal lives." To compound things, a published transcript embellished Astakhov's remark, quoting him as saying: "There are places where women are already shriveled at age 27, and by our standards they look like they're 50." Astakhov was widely ridiculed.
In April, Astakhov suggested a 13-year-old girl who was mauled by a tiger deserved her fate -- or worse -- after allegedly turning up at a western Siberian zoo after hours under the influence of alcohol. The girl reportedly tried to take a selfie after climbing over a protective barrier when the tiger reached through the bars of its cage and caught her by the leg. An unsympathetic Astakhov cited the Darwin Awards, which are handed out posthumously to mock recklessness that costs people their lives. He tweeted: "Too great a price is paid for 'un-childlike pranks.' To tease a tiger is to risk your life. Stupidity and hooliganism. The Darwin award is calling [your] name!”
When the relationship between Moscow and Ankara went south late in 2015 after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane, Astakhov said of Russian-Turkish families: "We live in a world without borders, the president said this today. We can't help falling in love. Love is blind, you may fall in love with a Turk." It was a play on a bit of Russian folk wisdom that declares: "Love is blind; you might even fall in love with a goat."
As the chill deepened between Russia and the United States -- over missile shields, human rights, espionage, the Arab Spring, and other topics -- Astakhov was a vocal backer of a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. The prohibition was widely regarded as retribution for the so-called Magnitsky Act in the United States (punishing perceived rights abusers and named after a Russian lawyer who uncovered official wrongdoing but died in pretrial custody) and Astakhov elevated it to a question of national pride. During debate over Russia's so-called Dima Yakovlev law -- named after a Russian-born toddler who died when his American adoptive father left him sitting in a hot car -- Astakhov said that adoption by foreigners "humiliates our country and equates it with Third World countries."
Fun With Castration
Astakhov has employed stark language in reference to pedophiles.
He once tweeted: "Let’s create an Anti-Pedophile Fund and finance operations to 'neutralize' maniacs and child molesters. The Fund's emblem -- "Faberge Scissors."
He also said that pedophiles "must be persecuted FOREVER."
Commenting on the kidnapping of a child from an orphanage in July 2015, Astakhov proposed a curious solution to strengthen security measures: "As for security measures, there can never be too much [security] in childcare institutions. We think that they have to be strengthened today, we should build opaque fences."
Astakhov has spoken out against providing sex education in schools. Children, he suggested, should learn about reproduction from "Russian literature." Moreover, he said schools should educate children to be "chaste" and grow up in "a spirit of understanding family values."
In a 2013 interview, Astakhov called "anarchy...the mother of the Internet and bloggers" in answer to a question about web users criticizing officials.
Astakhov earlier this year proposed the creation of "pensioner patrols" -- brigades of elderly men and women -- to keep watch over troubled families and report potentially dangerous health or safety circumstances. He was speaking after a fire blazed through a residential building in Tatarstan, killing a woman and five children. Russia's pool of retirees is "a huge resource," Astakhov said, adding, "if we mobilized them correctly, and used pensioners, who sit at home and simply do nothing, to make volunteer brigades that would go around, look out for security, for fire safety."
He then added cryptically, "They have this in America, by the way."