In the past two weeks the Russian Duma and President Putin have carried out an act so bad, and so brazen, that doing that thing and admitting one is doing it for that reason would be inconceivable in American politics today. I hold no brief for American Democrat politicians; indeed, I consider them to be my cultural enemies and capable of all manner of evil and cynical behavior. But I will venture to say that not a single Democrat currently in either house of Congress would openly give the reason for an act which undeniably harms orphans that has been openly and proudly given by Putin and other supporters of the bill they have just passed. American pols would know that such a reason would not play in Peoria, or anywhere else, for that matter.
In case you haven't heard the story, here's a short version: The U.S. Congress recently passed a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It attempts to prevent Russians who have allegedly been complicit in gross human rights violations from coming to the U.S. or using the U.S. banking system, and it involves freezing their assets if they attempt to do so. There are specific Russian politicians in view who are believed to have been involved in the torture death in prison of a lawyer named Magnitsky and who have not been punished in Russia. Whatever one thinks of this law, the important thing to have clearly in view is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with adoptions or with the treatment of orphans. Got that? Keep it in mind.
Putin and Russian politicians felt themselves insulted by the passage of the Magnitsky Act, so insulted that they determined that they must do something in retaliation. Evidently it occurred to them that merely passing a parallel law to prevent Americans suspected of gross human rights abuses from traveling to or banking in Russia wouldn't have a huge effect on Americans (ahem), so they cast about for something else. And thought of...orphan adoption. What a brilliant idea! Punish Americans by implying that they are unfit parents, which can be done by preventing them from adopting Russian orphans. That'll show 'em.
Lest there be the slightest doubt, Putin himself was in no way ashamed of his motive for signing what is known openly as anti-Magnitsky Law--that is the law banning U.S. adoptions in retaliation for the (remember) utterly unrelated Magnitsky Law. On the contrary, he snarled at a critic of the law, “Do you think this is normal? What’s normal if you are humiliated? Are you a sadomasochist?” Got that? Putin believes, and evidently expects his fellow Russians to believe, that it is normal to make draconian legal changes affecting the future well-being and harming the best interests of orphans on the basis of anger at unrelated legislation in another country. Why is this normal? Because it's a matter of honor. If you are "humiliated," you have to do something in return, and if passing a law directly harming the helpless and innocent is the best tit-for-tat you can think of, well, they are just collateral damage.
The adoption ban halts not only adoptions initiated in the future but 46 pending adoptions, including some of children with serious disabilities. See here for some perspective, from a pediatrician who has been following this for many years, on the dreadful conditions in Russian orphanages. She says,
From the perspective of the orphans, the disaster is even more profound and tragic. They remain in orphanages in Eastern Europe—which are the worst in the world—with Russia and Romania taking the lead in disgraceful and outrageous conditions. These institutions are not habitable; children are malnourished and in some cases starving and emaciated. They lie in their own feces and urine and in clothes that are old, torn, and not fitted to their bodies. Orphans lie still and untouched in their cribs, all day and all night. They are in pain from hunger, cold, and a host of undefined medical conditions.
Babies and toddlers who do not “behave” are medicated and sedated with drugs such as Phenobarbital, a common antiseizure drug. This drug’s side effects can cause exhaustion and disengagement. They have no toys and not one iota of affection and connections with staff, which leads to attachment issues. With no touch, affection, and play, the children begin to provide their own stimulation because they need it to survive. If and when they stand up, they rock from side to side and bang their heads. They stare emptily into space and appear to be dull and delayed. Bottle propping and speed-feeding gruel causes them to choke and aspirate their food—sometimes causing pneumonia and death.
It is not at all an exaggeration to say that adoption is the only hope for some of these children to be saved from death.
Any assertion that halting all American adoptions of Russian children is in the best interests of Russian orphans does not pass the laugh test. I shall treat any such assertions with the dismissal they deserve if anyone tries them in the comments. As one petition (see here) says, "Of the nearly 60,000 children who had been adopted from Russia in the past 20 years, 19 have died, while in Russia hundreds of children die in Russian families and Russian orphanages regularly."
One might, of course, be as delusional or as bizarrely misinformed as Duma member Svetlana Goryacheva. She evidently thought her insane blood-libel against Americans (that they are systematically adopting children to harvest their organs, to use them for "sexual pleasure," or to send them back to Russia as an invading army) would play in whatever the Russian equivalent is of Peoria:
According to her theory, the U.S. is using these children to form an army to invade Russia. In her speech in the Duma on Wednesday, Goryacheva said that "60,000 children have been taken to the U.S. from Russia. And if even one-tenth of these orphans were used for organ transplants or sexual pleasure, there will remain 50,000 who can be recruited for war against Russia."
But let's hope one isn't.
It's also worth noting the continued relevance of Solzhenitsyn's injunction to "live not by lies" in today's Russia. I wonder if the very few Duma members who had the courage to oppose this Herodian bill had a copy of that essay by their sides. One member, Alexander Sidyakin, responded to his party's ultimatum that he must vote for the law by abstaining instead. Even that minimal gesture was deemed unacceptable. The United Russia party has demanded that Sidyakin lie and say that his voting apparatus broke and that this explained his abstention on the vote. He has refused and may be ousted as a result.
Truly, this was a law only King Herod would sign--utterly indefensible and inexcusable. It makes me both sad and angry to reflect that there are those even in America who will engage in spin-doctoring to distract attention from the sheer, paralyzing evil of this law.
It is understandable that my readers should wonder what they can do about this, besides praying for Russian orphans. I'm glad you asked. There are various Christian organizations that facilitate Western adoptions from foreign countries, and whether these are from Russia or not, the children involved are greatly helped and benefited (it would not be an exaggeration to say that they are rescued) by getting out of orphanages and into loving homes where they can receive the care they desperately need. The new Russian adoption ban is a sign that the window of opportunity for such adoptions is always in peril and can be closed at any time. Please consider supporting such organizations as Bethany Christian Services and Reece's Rainbow (which focuses on children with Down Syndrome) with your charitable giving.