A Kingdom of crooked mirrors: law on evil’s secret service

Kremlin's web
Kremlin's web, Shutterstock

One can be fined there for a poster, a badge on a bag, blue jeans, and a yellow sweater, for holding a blank sheet of paper, Orwell’s book, and for “no war” as a profile picture.

There, gatherings near cultural, educational, medical, or entertainment facilities are prohibited even in the tiny village. Moreover, even at public transport stops. As a matter of fact, anywhere. Over the past 16 years, the State Duma has adopted as many as 13 amendments to the laws, which, step by step, limited the right to freedom of assembly. Any peaceful protest not approved by the Russian authorities today is criminalized. What is the point of the authorized protest?

According to the federal level rules, rallies in Russia cannot take place near courts, prisons, and presidential residences, as well as emergency services.

There, the chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, interprets historical artifacts from the XVIIth century instead of caring about the rule of law. The de facto head of the Russian judiciary seems to have solved all problems in the field of constitutionality, so he began to explain how to read the map of the time of Louis XIV. And let the law wait.

There, the law justifies the looting of other countries’ cultural heritage. Museum pieces of the occupied territories belong to Russia automatically. First come, first served.

They are not ready to think about their own responsibility.

And the world has already seen and swallowed such audacity.

In January 1942, in London, representatives of nine occupied states signed a declaration that laid the foundations of the Nuremberg Tribunal, and in the XXIst century, the precedent may repeat itself.

From November 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946, the leaders of Nazi Germany were tried at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. Last surviving Nuremberg Trials prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz said in an interview with The Mirror that he could not believe that at the age of 102, “he’s lived long enough to see the threat of history repeating itself, despite everything Nuremberg stood for and enforced.” “The Einsatzgruppen was very active in Ukraine and Kyiv, and now we’re back at the same old game… I thought WW2 would be enough. We had hoped the Nuremberg precedent would deter them, but apparently, it’s not been as effective as we hoped,” – Benjamin Ferencz said.

In Lithuania, members of the Seimas drafted the bill which equates Russia’s war in Ukraine with the crimes of the USSR and Nazi Germany. They propose adding the word “Russia” to the article of the Criminal Code of Lithuania, criminalizing public condonation of international crimes by the USSR or Nazi Germany and denying or gross trivializing these crimes. “Although Russia’s aggression and occupation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory […] does not constitute a direct crime against the Republic of Lithuania or its citizens, the consequences of this event for the country’s national security are obvious,” the initiators claimed.

In a hybrid war, the law also becomes a weapon. And struggle, when narratives are fought against facts, also requires courage, knowledge, and effort. It also takes explanations and understanding of what is going on.

On May 3, 2023, the Parliament of Ukraine explained in its resolution what “ruscism” is and called on the international community to condemn it. Based on the materials by Timothy Snyder, Anne Applebaum, Mark Lipovetsky, and other researchers, this document was the world’s first regulatory act featuring this term and its definition. This ideology has been talked about for a long time. Back in 1995, during the First Chechen War, this term began to be used (Dzhokhar Dudayev said: “Ruscism is more terrible than fascism, Nazism, racism, all human-hating ideologies”). It has been mentioned more frequently after the occupation of parts of Georgia and Ukraine.

The features of ruscism, according to the resolution, are, in particular, systematic violations of human rights and freedoms, disregard for international law, and the systematic commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is worth adding: that illegal acts are hidden beneath the mask of alternative pseudo-law. And therefore, a specific understanding of the law is an integral part of ruscism.

Due to confusing terminology, the word is rarely used worldwide (even spelling differs: is it ruscism, russism, rashism?). “Russian fascism,” “Putinism,” and “Russian imperialism” blur the boundaries. The favourite propaganda narrative about Ukrainian “Nazis” or “fascists” also influences perception. “Preemptive strike,” as well as the ambiguity favoured by ruscism, make many swallow the idea of another crazy dictator. However, the philosophy of ruscism spoils all state practices, regardless of the leader’s figure.

The Holocaust began with the “Nuremberg Race Laws,” the Holodomor (the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine – the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, is treated by Ukrainians and other countries as a genocide – author’s note) started with the “Law of Spikelets” – a decree to protect the grain from desperate, hungry peasants. Physical extermination is preceded by the tacit consent of the occupying power to commit a crime. It is easier for an angry populace to kill with a permit from above. But there is also an advantage: pseudo-legislation or court decisions are the most apparent evidence because they are published with signatures. Thanks to such proof, in 1947, judges and top lawyers of the Third Reich were convicted

The US Department of State listed historical revisionism among Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives. According to it, Russia has its own twisted version of the history of Ukraine’s statehood, NATO’s conduct during the collapse of the Soviet Union, the GULAG prison system, the famine in Ukraine, and many other events. Anyone who disagrees with the Russian vision is definitely labelled as a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. Meanwhile, modern Russia and Nazi Germany have surprisingly similar approaches to law. An uneasy conscience betrays itself, doesn’t it? We will analyze these and other cases in the following materials of the media project “Russian Narratives: Law as a Weapon.” 

Olha Nykorak, German Marshall Fund of the United States research fellow, postgraduate researcher in constitutional law

The project is implemented with the support of the Ukreate Hub program from the Open Lithuania Foundation.

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