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Some Plane-Crash Reactions Prompt Calls For Soviet-Style Law On Dissent

  • Lyubov Chizhova
  • Dmitry Volchek

As Russia mourns those who lost their lives in a military aviation disaster, a journalist and socialite have sparked outrage with their comments about some of the victims.

State Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov and some leading Kremlin-friendly Russian media outlets are pushing for a new law that could deprive a Russian journalist and a social-media celebrity of their citizenship and property and kick them out of the country.

Journalist Arkady Babchenko and socialite Bozhena Rynska each made controversial social-media posts in the wake of a military plane crash into the Black Sea on December 25 that left 92 people dead, including members of the Russian army's renowned Aleksandrov Ensemble.

Milonov wrote on his Facebook page that both Babchenko and Rynska should be "deprived of their citizenship and kicked out of the country and their property should be auctioned off with the proceeds given" to help children in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.

Loss of citizenship and deportation were common punishments for dissent during the Soviet period.

Now -- with Russian nationalism resurgent as Moscow wages war in Syria, foments a conflict in eastern Ukraine, and challenges the West at every turn -- more than 150,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Rynska's citizenship to be revoked.

Russian socialite Bozhena Rynska says she has been the victim of harassment since she posted comments on Facebook about the death of journalists in a military plane crash in the Black Sea (file photo).
Russian socialite Bozhena Rynska says she has been the victim of harassment since she posted comments on Facebook about the death of journalists in a military plane crash in the Black Sea (file photo).

Rynska angered many Russians with the post, since deleted, in which she expressed sympathy for the Aleksandrov Ensemble members and other victims but added that she regretted that only three employees of the state-controlled NTV television channel were among the dead. Rynska was sentenced to a year of community service in 2014 after a confrontation with NTV journalists during which she allegedly damaged their equipment.

Journalist Arkady Babchenko went even further, writing on Facebook on the day of the tragedy that he had "no sympathy, no pity" for any of the victims.

'Manifestation Of Madness'

The day after the plane crash, which is still being investigated, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Rynska's words were "an ugly manifestation of madness" and said the "public's" strong reaction was perfectly justifiable.

Maria Katasonova, a conservative activist who is an assistant to Duma Deputy Gennady Fyodorov, formally requested that prosecutors conduct a "psycholinguistic examination" of Rynska's post to determine if a criminal case should be filed under Russia's law against inciting hatred.

The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets published an editorial calling for a law that would deprive anyone "taking joy in blood" of their citizenship and would deny entry to Russia to any foreigners doing the same. The newspaper suggests the law be named the Glinka-Khalilov law, to honor Yelizaveta Glinka, a doctor who provided assistance to children in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, and Aleksandrov Ensemble art director Valery Khalilov.

Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko (file photo)
Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko (file photo)

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Babchenko said the reaction to his remarks is intended to send a signal to Russian society that "we must be in one line; we must express sadness; we must appear sad -- and anyone who doesn't must be destroyed."

"It isn't just Milonov," Babchenko said, "but Channel One is also chiming in, and Federation Council member Frants Klintsevich and LifeNews are stitching together some fake news.... A major effort is being organized. They aren't investigating why the plane crashed but instead are persecuting me and Bozhena Rynska."

Although Rynska deleted her Facebook post, she stands by what she said. She told RFE/RL that some unknown people glued photographs of the dead NTV employees on the window of her Moscow apartment.

"It is not news to me that our country is full of idiots and brutes," she said. "When they asked [dissident Soviet writer Sergei] Dovlatov, he answered, 'Stalin is Stalin, but who wrote the 4 million denunciations?' These people have not changed. After the [1917] revolution, the best people of this country were destroyed. Only the worst remained."

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story
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