Thousands of demonstrators opposed to a law banning U.S. families from… (Sergei Loiko / Los Angeles…)
MOSCOW -- In the largest show of public discontent since President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration last May, thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Moscow to protest a new law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. families.
The crowd, holding portraits of Putin and about 600 lawmakers who voted for the controversial bill, filled Moscow’s Boulevard Ring, a procession that resembled old-time Communist May Day celebrations. In this case, though, the portraits had the word “shame” written across the faces. At the end of the route, the portraits were dumped into a huge garbage bin.
Moscow police, many dressed in bulky overcoats and fur hats, did not interfere with the peaceful march. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Sunday night that “every point of view had a right to exist” but reminded that “the law that came into effect should be regarded as law.”
The adoption law signed by Putin in late December has split Russian society and re-galvanized the Russian protest movement, which fell dormant after Putin took office following a controversial election.
The law, rushed through parliament in record time, is seen as retribution for the Sergei Magnitsky Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama in December, which imposed visa restrictions and financial sanctions on Russian officials believed involved in the death of an imprisoned lawyer who blew the whistle on Russian officials allegedly involved in a multimillion-dollar tax refund scam.
The Kremlin, which called the U.S. measure “an unfriendly act,” moved to annul as of Jan. 1 an adoption agreement signed with the U.S. in June.
In the last two decades, Americans have adopted more than 60,000 orphans from Russia, a significant number of them with mental and physical disabilities. Despite more than 600,000 orphans in Russia, the adoption rate within Russia has not exceeded more than 7,000 in recent years.
In speedily passing the law, Russian lawmakers cited the death of several adopted children while under the care of American families.
The Russian bill raised an outcry of bewildered protest inside Russia and in the West. On Thursday, Putin’s spokesman Peskov said the law allowing Americans to adopt Russian children would remain valid for another year. But a day later, he pulled back, saying that only children whose cases have already been ruled on by Russian courts “will go to their new parents.”
Participants in Sunday protest action didn’t spare words to express their indignation at the law they called ”cannibalistic.” The opposition officially called their procession, “The March against Scoundrels.”
“Indignation brought me here and I can no longer live with that,” schoolteacher Valentina Volkova, 66, said in an interview. “I remember the lies and crimes of the Soviet regime quite well, but today the Kremlin’s cynicism and hypocrisy break every record for me.”
“The Kremlin didn’t expect to learn that there are so many people in the country who are not afraid to shout 'Shame!' to them, who can openly call them scoundrels,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said in an interview during the march. “It is very cold out here but thousands of people who came out today make it quite comfortable for all of us as we make the Kremlin leaders very uncomfortable and very scared.”