Does the Donbas represent the stronghold of Russian separatism? Since Russia’s military intervention in the Donbas (following its occupation of the Crimea), this view of the Donbas as un-Ukrainian or anti-Ukrainian has gained wide circulation in and outside Ukraine. Yet it is patently wrong. In the Donbas, there have never been ethnic, linguistic, or religious (sectarian) conflicts to speak of, nor did its population consistently manifest strong pro-Russian or pro-Union sentiments. True, such sentiments existed in the Donbas, like elsewhere in much of Dnieper Ukraine, but they never dominated the political scene of the Donbas. Instead, until the twenty-first century this region always tended to be anti-imperialist and anti-metropolitan. What is remarkable is that in 1991 the Donbas overwhelmingly supported the independence of Ukraine. What followed in the wake of Ukraine’s independence was an attempt by the Donbas power holders, in particular Viktor Yanukovych, to take over all of Ukraine. Moscow helped this attempt, which failed ultimately. The “free steppe” of the Donbas undeniably attracted, among others, radical Russian nationalists from outside and provided them with space for action. It is this historical characteristic of the Donbas as the “free steppe” that has colored the popular view of this region as a stronghold of Russian separatism. In the rest of Ukraine, a strong prejudice against the Donbas as a culturally dark region has only helped to boost this popular misconception.
This introduction offers an overview of the 2002 Russian anti-extremism law and a summary of the contributions by individual authors to this special journal issue. The authors detail the significant impact of the law, particularly for religious minorities. They note that the authors approach the law from different angles, ranging from the evolving rhetoric of extremism in Russia and the law’s application to particular religious minority cases to the censorship of the online world and the politicized and partisan nature of the Russian legal system. In doing so, they draw out the contradictions, inconsistencies, and arbitrariness of the law's application and some unexpected continuities with earlier historical periods. Overall, they conclude that the anti-extremism law represents a serious impediment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in contemporary Russia.
This article contributes to the growing body of research on the increasing role of judicial systems in regulating politics and religion (‘judicialization of politics and religion’) across the globe. By examining how academic expertise is deployed in anti-extremist litigation involving Russia’s minority religions, this article reveals important processes involved in this judicial regulation, in particular when legal and academic institutions lack autonomy and consistency of operation. It focuses on the selection of experts and the validation of their opinion within Russia’s academia and the judiciary, and identifies patterns in the experts’ approach to evidence and how they validate their conclusions in the eyes of the judiciary. Academic expertise provides an aura of legitimacy to judicial decisions in which anti-extremist legislation is used as a means to control unpopular minority religions and to regulate Russia’s religious diversity. As one of the few systematic explorations of this subject and the first focused on Russia, this article reveals important processes that produce religious discrimination and the role that anti-extremist legislation plays in these processes.
In 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Justice banned a nineteenth-century book written by the German rabbi Markus Lehmann, labeling it extremist literature. This article places current Russian efforts to stamp out religious extremism in a broader historical context of imperial productions of tolerance and intolerance and the impact on religious minorities. It examines the case of Jews in the Russian Empire and post-Soviet Russia through the lens of religious conversion, forced baptisms, and freedom of conscience in the realm of apostasy. Lehmann’s book, characteristic of nineteenth-century Orthodox Jewish historical fiction in German, used the historical memory of forced conversions of Jews in medieval and early modern Europe to forge a new path to integration in tolerant, Protestant environs. This article offers a historical and literary reading of Lehmann’s banned book against the longer arc of imperial Russian toleration and conservative appropriations of toleration for discrimination against minorities.
This article examines the history of marginalizing rhetoric in Russia as applied to evangelizing faiths, particularly the Jehovah’s Witnesses, from the postwar period to the present day. Such churches have been portrayed as presenting a distinct threat to Russian society, even as the cited reasons for this perceived danger have shifted over time. While obviously connected to legal definitions of toleration, the language of religious (in)tolerance existed apart from state policy. Moreover, public rhetoric frequently adopted a hostile tone toward evangelizing churches regardless of their legal status. Seen from this perspective, the recent “extremism” label is part of a broader history of sustained marginalization of evangelizing faiths in modern Russia. The article argues that Russian media has not fully embraced the rhetoric of “extremism” as applied to evangelizing communities, but has also done little to challenge the underlying state policy it represents.
This article examines the Russian Supreme Court’s 2017 decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.” The decision will bring Russia’s anti-extremism law before the Council of Europe via the European Court of Human Rights. The article considers why this particular religious minority group became a test case by examining the unique beliefs and practices of Witnesses and their history of episodic conflict with the state. It also highlights the role of the Orthodox Church in shaping attitudes, popular and political, toward religious pluralism in Russia. In the Putin era, an increasingly illiberal rhetoric about totalitarian cults and traditional values connected nontraditional faiths to national security threats, a link made clear in the Putin regime’s promotion of spiritual security. Overall, the article argues that the 2017 ban signals the repudiation of European human rights norms by Russian governmental authorities, lawmakers, and religious elites.
This article is focused on the enforcement of Russian anti-extremist legislation through web regulation. Russian law enforcement has shifted from a focus on preventing terrorist violence to a focus on prosecuting online hate speech and anti-authority rhetoric under current anti-extremist and anti-terrorist laws. The vague definition of extremist activity in federal law has been broadly interpreted by law enforcement agencies. Through the idea of public security, Russian law enforcement agencies have overestimated the threat of online content without regard for the context, audience, and impact of online statements. The result has been a steady increase in blocked access to web pages and sanctions on web users and providers. The article analyzes the legal norms pertaining to web content control, and details law enforcement practice and major trends. It also identifies the most common publications, people, and organizations targeted by Russian law enforcement for sanctions based on online statements.
This article is an analysis of metadata from 955 closed trials of Soviet people accused of being collaborators during World War ii. The trials reveal Soviet officials’ understandings of who was capable of collaboration and what kinds of acts were collaboration. At the same time, the aggregate data from trials demonstrates that the accusations were grounded in the realities of the war and were not falsifications like the investigations of the Great Terror in the 1930s.