Has the Stalinist Iron Hand Returned to the Former Soviet Union?

Last Friday, the State Duma passed a law criminalizing the spread of ‘fake news’ regarding the Russian military, prescribing penalties of up to 15 years in prison. 

Newsroom (14/03/2022 10:25 AM, Gaudium Press) As the invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, a Stalinist iron hand seems to have returned to the former Soviet Union.

As Gaudium Press reported the statements of a Russian Catholic professor, Catholic priests in Russia are afraid to speak out against the war of aggression on Ukraine. “We are back to a situation very similar to the atheistic Soviet Union when a priest had to turn on the radio or TV to avoid being heard by the special services. Priests don’t want to harm the Catholic community or be arrested, and their churches closed,” the professor warns, his identity kept secret for fear of reprisals. 

Of course, the fear of Catholics in Russia does not arise from an overly cautious or sensitive attitude but is based on solid facts: thousands of demonstrators were jailed for protesting against the war and other measures taken by Putin’s Government.

Media in various parts of the planet have reported the Orthodox priest Ioann Burdin’s arrest after he condemned the Russian invasion in a Sunday sermon. Burdin was officiating at the Church of the Resurrection in the Kostroma region. The arrest sends a strong message across the country.

According to the MediaZona website, Police reports state that Burdin “committed a public offence aimed at discrediting the Russian armed forces that are conducting a special military operation.”

In his sermon, the Orthodox priest said that “Russian troops in Ukraine bomb the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and kill citizens of Ukraine – brothers and sisters in Christ.”

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The priest also posted a link to an anti-war petition on his parish website that read, “We Christians cannot stand idly by when a brother kills a brother, a Christian kills a Christian. We will not repeat the crimes of those who saluted Hitler’s exploits on September 1, 1939.”

Complete control of the Media

The priest’s arrest remarks the total control that the Russian authorities have over the media in their country. A control that reaches even into minutiae, such as preventing the use of the word ‘war’ in Ukraine, substituting it for ‘conflict,’ or ‘military operation’ or ‘special military operations.’

The control of the media narrative already has a legislative blessing, with substantial consequences on the Penal Code. Last Friday, the State Duma passed a law criminalizing the spread of ‘fake news’ regarding the Russian military, prescribing penalties of up to 15 years in prison.

The new law already had a cascading effect, with several Western media outlets suspending their reporting from Russia to protect their journalists. Others are hiding their signatures to protect their identities. Most of the Russian non-government media have also suspended broadcasts.

Menwhile, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, has already place several media outlets on notice, including TV Rain, Ekho Moskvy, InoSMI, Mediazona, The New Times, Svobodnaya Pressa, Krym.Realii, Novaya Gazeta, Zhurnalist and Lenizdat.

Pyotr Verzilov, the publisher of the independent media website Mediazona, has been now added to Russia’s Wanted list

Compiled by Gustavo Kralj

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