Putin plans to take citizenship away from his critics

animated even forced psychiatric “treatment” of dissidents, even if so far only isolated cases. None of this is new. After all, Putin not only served in the Soviet KGB, but according to new archival research personally attended in searches and interrogations of dissidents in Leningrad in the 1970s.

But there is one repressive Soviet practice that has yet to make a comeback – and it looks like that oversight will soon be rectified. One by one, high-ranking Russian lawmakers desire deprive citizenship of those whom they consider traitors, i.e. Russians who oppose Putin and the war. The speaker of the Russian parliament Vyacheslav Volodin recently lamented the lack of procedure.

Such a procedure existed in Soviet times and was widely used against opponents of the Kremlin whose imprisonment would be too “expensive” from a political point of view. The most famous case involved the Nobel laureate writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In February 1974, shortly after the publication of his major work, The Gulag Archipelago, in the West, Solzhenitsyn was arrested in his Moscow apartment, taken to the Lefortovo KGB prison, and charged with high treason. But the Politburo decided that imprisoning the world-famous author would be too much damage to the country’s international reputation, and the next day Solzhenitsyn was put on a plane and deported to West Germany. By By a special decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the author was deprived of citizenship “for systematically committing acts discrediting the title of citizen of the USSR.”

This tactic was considered effective and repeatedly used until the end of Soviet rule. Among those deemed unworthy of Soviet citizenship were writers Vasily Aksenov and Vladimir Voynovich, musicians Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya, grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi, theater director Yuri Lyubimov, physicist and human rights activist Yuri Orlov.

Defiantly rejecting this practice, Russia’s first Soviet constitution, adopted at the initiative of President Boris Yeltsin in 1993, explicitly forbade depriving anyone of citizenship. This position still applies today. But the same can be said for laws guaranteeing, say, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – which has not stopped the Putin regime from denying both. Nothing prevents the Kremlin from treating the principle of citizenship with the same contempt.

In fact, it has already been tried. In 2014 (the year Putin launched his attacks on Ukraine) Vladimir Bukovsky, a well-known writer, Soviet-era dissident and staunch critic of the Kremlin, wrote to the Russian embassy in London asking what he thought was ordinary passport renewal. Embassy staff told him that the Russian authorities could not “confirm” his citizenship and should therefore reject his application. In a word, they overcame the constitutional prohibition with the help of Soviet bureaucratic tricks: Bukowski’s citizenship was not canceled, but simply not “confirmed.” There is no doubt that experienced lawyers in the Kremlin will soon figure out how to neutralize constitutional guarantees of citizenship without formally violating them.

An opportunity will come soon. The Russian parliament will soon vote on Putin’s amendments extending the grounds for depriving naturalized Russian citizens of citizenship. Senior legislators have already proposed extending the measures to include this possibility for citizens by birth.

Dictatorships always equate loyalty to the regime with patriotism. In such a worldview, any political opponent is necessarily a “traitor” and citizenship is something to be acknowledged. as a reward and accept as punishment at the whim of the regime. And here Putin will probably follow the Soviet path. Soon we may see new lists of prominent figures of culture and politics that the Kremlin considers “defamatory of the title of citizen of Russia.”

But we also know how it ends. Just before the fall of Soviet power, all persons deprived of citizenship for political reasons, have been officially restored in their status and rights. After 1991, many former “non-citizens” – including Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich and Lyubimov – returned to Russia. Today, Solzhenitsyn Street and his monument are located in the center of Moscow; I doubt many people will remember the name of the Soviet official (Nikolai Podgorny) who in 1974 signed the decree annulling citizenship.

As he once said another famous writer Korney Chukovsky: “You have to live a long time in Russia.” He meant the historical seismic shifts that periodically occur in our country. However, the pace of change has accelerated significantly over the last few decades, and the next transformation could happen at any moment.

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