During the Christmas holidays, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning adoptions of Russian children by American parents. Russia’s legislature overwhelmingly passed the law, retaliating for a new U.S. law that blocks Russian officials accused of corruption and human rights violations from obtaining American visas or bank accounts.
With Russia’s long New Year’s break over, Russians responded Sunday to the adoption ban with the largest protest rally in Moscow since President Putin’s inauguration last May.
This time they braved freezing temperatures, tough new laws against protests, and a heavy police presence, complete with low-flying helicopters. Police say 9,000 people turned out - about two protesters for every policeman. Opposition activists said they counted 24,000 people passing through police metal detectors.
Job-search specialist Andrei Kazakevich was in one of the two long, parallel columns that walked in light snow up Moscow’s boulevard ring. "I think It is crazy," he said of the new law. "I think it is ridiculous, outrageous. It is hurting our children."
Anastasia, aged 17, came with her father, Yuri, and her two little brothers - both adopted. She spoke as marchers derided Russia's Duma with shouts of "Shame!" "I think that in every American family they will be in better situation and atmosphere than in Russian houses where there are orphans," she said.
Protests were also held Sunday in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinaburg and Omsk.
Last month, all but one of Russia’s political parties voted in a single bloc for the law in the Duma. On Sunday, the Moscow protest appeared to be composed largely of independent voters. Many marchers identified themselves as parents or grandparents.
Katia, a 39-year-old mother of a son, walked carrying a homemade sign. It criticized the government "for taking revenge on children."
“I am here against this bad, cannibalistic law,” she said. She added she is distressed the legislation was introduced by one of the few women in the Duma, Yekaterina Lakhova.
As the march started, Lakhova told a Moscow radio station she was surprised to see so many people turn out in support of what she called, "baby selling" to the United States. She said in two decades Russia had lost 100,000 children to the United States. American officials put the number of adoptions at 60,000.
As the debate turns increasingly to Russia's aging population, little mention is made of statistics that Russian women terminate more than one million pregnancies annually through induced abortions.
Independent city councilman Maxim Motin spoke as a police helicopter hovered overhead. He said the Duma reacted harshly out of fear European Union countries will pass similar laws, banning visas and bank accounts for Russian officials suspected of corruption and human rights violations.
The American law was adopted in response to Russia’s inaction after the death three years ago in a Moscow prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for an American hedge fund.
Anna Glukhova, the 40-year-old mother of a daughter, came with her husband. She said: "I think that is very bad to defend murderers of Magnitsky with our orphaned children."
Russia has 120,000 children awaiting adoption. For years, the process has been blocked by bureaucracy. Now it is blocked by nationalism.