Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Moscow to demonstrate against a new law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. families.
This is the largest demonstration of public discontent, since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration in May 2012. The police estimated that there were 9,000 participants in Sunday’s demonstration, while the opposition claimed there were more than 50,000.
The Russian document, called the Dima Yakovlev law after a Russian toddler died in Virginia in 2008, because his adoptive father left him in a locked care on a hot July day, comes in retaliation to the recently adopted U.S. bill, signed by President Obama in December 2012. While the American law ensures permanent normal trade relations for Russia, it is coupled with the Sergey Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Account, honoring the Russian whistleblower lawyer, who unveiled a $230m fraud and who died under mysterious circumstances in a Moscow jail in 2009. The bill establishes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in his death and in other perceived gross human rights
The adoption of the bill has been met with ample dissent from within Putin’s government and ruling circle as well as the opposition. The Ministry of Justice emphasized that the law violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Russia is a signatory. Moreover, prominent officials, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, have raised concerns over the law on legal grounds.
The opposition has also slammed the bill. In December 2012, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta handed the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, a petition against the adoption ban, which had been signed by over 100,000. Deputy Duma Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak promised that the petition would be considered in January 2013. Subsequently, Novaya Gazeta gathered over 100,000 signatures for another petition calling for the Duma’s dissolution and demanding that new elections be held.
Children’s rights campaigners emphasized that Russia’s orphans should not be used as a political bargaining chip and that they will suffer most as a result of the bill, since Russian orphanages are extremely overcrowded and the country is unable to take care of its orphans. Nevertheless, the Kremlin dismissed the opposition’s accusations as unpatriotic and as serving American interests.
The Sunday protest was authorized by Moscow’s leadership, which in part explains the high turnout, given the fact that, in an effort to stifle dissent, the Kremlin has imposed considerable fines on people participating in unauthorized protests and has opened criminal investigations against protest leaders.
On Thursday, Putin’s spokesmen strived to appease the growing public anger over the adoption ban by claiming that the law allowing U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children will remain valid for another year. The following day, he retracted his statement, by saying that only children whose cases had been decided on by the Russian courts could leave the country and join their U.S. adoptive parents.
While Sunday’s protest was officially aimed at opposing the adoption ban, many participants seemed to be more generally demonstrating against President Putin’s government, given that the adoption ban revived the anger over the December 2011 parliamentary election, which, according to independent observers, was won by Putin’s government through widespread fraud. Similar demonstrations were held in other Russian cities, but had lower turnouts. In Saint Petersburg, around 1,000 demonstrators came out to oppose the new law.
Although thousands of demonstrators may have denounced the adoption ban, without an official Kremlin response, the Russian orphans' situation will continue to remain precarious. There are currently around 740,000 children living in Russian orphanages. Adoptions by Russian families remain modest. In 2011, only 7,400 children were taken in by Russian parents, while 3,400 were adopted by families abroad. Over the past 20 years, U.S. citizens have adopted around 60,000 Russian children, making this the second largest number of inter-country adoptions to the U.S. after China. Around 9 percent of the number of the Russian adoptees had developmental disabilities.