In her article published in International Herald Tribune and entitled "For the Love of Country", a Russian-American NYT columnist Masha Gessen explains why she does not love Mother Russia. She writes from Moscow:
"Why can't you just love Russia?" a member of Parliament demanded of me during a recent talk show on Russian television after I said something about the difficulty of covering President Vladimir Putin. This is one of those questions that presumes the respondent is guilty. It is also a question that has become central to Russian political rhetoric.
Primitive patriotic rhetoric exists everywhere: Russia is not particularly original on this score. But the way people use the rhetoric of love for one's country reflects basic assumptions that shape the nation's politics. In this case, more often than not, when people say Russia, they mean the Russian state.
Officials, who are particularly prone to raising the love question, think of themselves not as civil servants but as Russia itself. They believe they deserve to be loved by virtue of being in power. And because it is love they expect from their constituents, criticism rankles them and protest feels like betrayal.
So strong is this feeling that on Friday 449 of the 450 members of the Duma voted to amend the law on high treason to make it easier to apply - so much easier, in fact, that it could be used against virtually anyone who is politically active or outspoken in the media.
The amendments were proposed by the F.S.B., the secret police, which explained in an accompanying note that the law as it existed made the crime of treason too difficult to prove because "lack of proof of hostile intent was used by defense as an argument to release suspects and defendants from criminal responsibility".
Now, if the law makes it through two more readings - which it certainly will - it will no longer be necessary to prove hostile intent to sentence someone to 12 to 20 years behind bars.
The law will criminalize providing "financial, material, consultative, or other assistance" to foreign or international organizations if the court rules that these activities are damaging to Russia's security (the current wording is "international security," but the word "international" will be dropped to make the law easier to apply). As part of the same package, the Duma also voted to amend the laws on espionage and on state secrets.
Among other things, it will now be illegal to obtain classified information even if it has not been shared with a foreign power or anyone else - a terrifying prospect considering that Russia has a long-standing tradition of classifying all sorts of information that would be publicly available in many countries (precise road maps are one example).
Nongovernmental organizations are already sounding an alarm: The amended laws, they feel, will expose them to the threat of prosecution for things they do in the course of their regular work, such as collecting information on the environment or reporting on Russia's politics. The amendments come on the heels of a new law that obligates NGOs that receive foreign funding to label themselves "foreign agents" and of U.S.A.I.D.'s expulsion from Russia.
All of these measures reflect Russia's peculiar view of patriotism, which makes me think less of Lenin's maxim "If you are not with us, then you are against us" than of my teenage son Vova's response to my request that he take out the garbage right now: "You just don't love me!"
Fortunately, Vova can't send me to jail for demanding that he do his chores", writes Masha Gessen.
Department of Monitoring