Bill Criminalizing Mocking National Anthem Clears Russian Supreme Court

Ivan Sekretarev / AP
Ivan Sekretarev / AP

A bill that would make it a crime to mock the national anthem has passed Russia’s Supreme Court, awaiting only the signature of President Vladimir Putin to become law.

It is actually already an offense to mock the anthem, as Newsweek points out, with violators facing fines of between $45 and $2,200. The new law would add up to one year of jail time or public service.

The definition of “desecrating” the Russian national anthem sounds awfully broad, as it includes “deliberate distortion of the musical arrangement or lyrics of the national anthem of the Russian Federation during its public performance or when published in the media, in the press, including electronic and telecommunications networks such as the Internet.”

As Newsweek points out, the anthem has been rewritten a couple times, scrapped completely for a decade, and then rewritten by Putin’s order when he brought it back in 2000, with the cringe-worthy stuff about the “immortal ideas of Communism” scrapped. There are plenty of ways to imagine Russians being accused of “deliberately distorting” a song with that kind of history.

The authors of the bill had a specific provocation in mind, as the BBC reports they were “spurred into action” by the “scandalous events of 8 April in Sevastopol,” where “satirical verses appeared on a giant television screen during a rendering of the anthem at a government meeting.” The verses in question described Russia as “insane,” “slavish,” and “boastful.”

In what might be a grim harbinger of things to come, the individual responsible for this “scandalous event” apparently didn’t know he was putting up a parody on the screen. “The police said the video editor had put up the first set of words he found on the internet, not realizing that they mocked Russia,” the BBC writes.

The BBC quotes one Russian lawyer, Igor Trunov, who thinks the bill is mainly intended as a “public-relations exercise,” with parliamentary elections coming in September.

Russia’s – which euphemistically claims the bill is a “motion to introduce responsibility for insulting” the anthem, and claims the reason for the insulting lyrics displayed in Sevastopol is still unknown – writes that another bill to criminalize mockery of the national anthem was drafted in 2013 and cleared the Supreme Court in 2015, but was never passed into law. This would support the theory that the new law is primarily a political stunt.

Another bill introduced by a Communist member of Parliament in 2015 would have more specifically penalized the sale of the national anthem as a ringtone for cell phones.

The performance of the current anthem at the 2014 Winter Olympics has been hailed as one of the best renditions, with some excellent stagecraft to accompany the vocals: