Outspoken Russian Lawmaker Expelled for Truth

In the tightly controlled and airproof “vertical of power” that is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, even a handful of dissenting voices in legislative institutions—especially when they are loud and persistent—can present a serious threat to the system. Such was the voice of the late Boris Nemtsov, who, during his short time in the Yaroslavl Regional Duma, successfully challenged official corruption and put the authorities on the defensive. Such is the voice of Lev Shlosberg, a regional lawmaker in Pskov, who has been a constant thorn in the side of the regime with his refusal to stay silent over its power abuses.

Elected to the legislature in 2011, Shlosberg has led the fight against “Herod’s Law,” which banned US adoptions of Russian orphans; published information about the secret burials of members of the Pskov 76th airborne paratrooper division killed in Ukraine—thus exposing the Kremlin’s lie about the absence of Russian troops in that country; and shed light on the alleged involvement of Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak in the 2010 beating of journalist Oleg Kashin. The authorities did not hide their hatred: Turchak has called Shlosberg a “traitor” for opposing Putin’s war in Ukraine; the regional government went to great lengths to prevent him from running in last year’s gubernatorial election; and last summer Shlosberg was brutally beaten steps away from his house.

It seems the regime could take no more. On September 24th, on the initiative of Putin’s United Russia party and the pro-Kremlin “opposition” parties (the Communists, A Just Russia, and the nationalist LDPR), the Pskov Regional Assembly voted to expel Lev Shlosberg from its ranks—a move clearly incompatible with the very idea of parliamentarism. The vote was 41 to 3. The official pretext was an alleged violation of the rules—the fact that Shlosberg represented an NGO he cofounded in a court, though Russian law mentions no such reason for annulling an elected lawmaker’s mandate, and though Shlosberg’s opponents themselves did not actually hide the political reasons for their move. During the debate before the vote, United Russia lawmaker Aleksei Sevastyanov denounced Shlosberg as “a mouthpiece of the US State Department in the [Pskov] region.”

“This is a lawless judgment, political revenge, and extrajudicial reprisal against one of the most decent and honest lawmakers in Russia,” independent State Duma member Dmitri Gudkov, who came to Pskov to attend the session, told the regional legislators. “Strong politicians do not fear discussions, do not bar opponents from elections, and do not engage in repressions.”

Lev Shlosberg is indeed on of the most decent and courageous political leaders in Russia. There is no doubt he has a big future in Russian politics. Those who voted to expel him, though, will remain a mere footnote in the chronicle of a stagnating authoritarian system.

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