In line with this demonisation, the language used by officials regarding the draft “LGBT propaganda” legislation is markedly religious – and ties together the military and the moral. At a 17 October parliamentary hearing on the legislation, one participant – President of the Chechen Academy of Sciences, Dzhambulat Umarov – directly linked the bills to the war on Ukraine, stating
that “sodomy is the core of Satanism, against which our brothers and sons are now dying on Ukrainian soil.” So, the push to ban “LGBT propaganda” is, apparently, a case of fighting Satanism at home, whereas the Russian military is fighting Satanism in Ukraine.
The State Duma is often used as the platform on which to perform set pieces of political theatre. And the choreography around the “LGBT propaganda” bills is no exception. Both bills were sponsored by nearly 400 Duma deputies (of 450 overall), including the speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, and all parliamentary party faction heads. And both bills were adopted unanimously by the State Duma in first reading
on 27 October; no deputies voted against the initiatives or abstained. The message being sent is one of societal unity behind the bills and the “traditional values” project, more broadly.
But not everything is so straightforward.Pulling a curtain in front of the “rubber stamp”
On 17 October – that is, the same day as the “LGBT propaganda” Duma hearing – a decision
was made by the Council of the State Duma (the lower chamber’s steering body) to stop the live-streaming of plenary sessions online. In addition, the Duma announced a number of closed sessions, including
with Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin on 18 October.
Why were these decisions taken?
The default is for Duma plenary sessions to be open – that is, on the record and transparent to external observers. According to Article 100
, point 2 of the 1993 Constitution, “[m]eetings of the Federation Council and the State Duma are open” – and, according to Article 37
, point 1 of the Duma’s standing orders, plenary sessions “are held openly, publicly and covered in the media”.
This formalised transparency marks out the legislature in comparison to other state bodies. And yet, the very visibility of State Duma plenary sessions is one reason why they are dismissed by many – as set pieces of political theatre, run according to a script signed off on by the Presidential Administration. United Russia's dominance allows the Kremlin to control the legislative agenda – and it also limits the access of authentic critics to a national, public platform.
There are certainly formal grounds and procedures for holding closed plenary sessions. But the task, then, is to work out whether the formal reasons given match up with the real motivations.
The official reason given for the Duma’s decisions to end live-streaming and to close certain sessions relates to the war on Ukraine. The head of the Duma’s United Russia faction, Vladimir Vasilyev, said
that “[t]hose questions that require sensitive discussion in a narrow professional circle should not be the property of our enemy”. In other words, blocking the flow of information from the legislature would prevent sensitive information regarding Russia’s war effort from ending up in the hands of the country’s adversaries.
That is certainly plausible. And it is consistent, for example, with the closed sessions that are held when Duma deputies discuss the classified
portions of annual state budget bills. But it is likely that something else was going on.
According to reporting
, sources within the Duma point elsewhere – to critical statements from deputies directed at the Ministry of Defence, particularly following the start of the “partial mobilisation” announced by Vladimir Putin on 21 September. For example, Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov – a United Russia deputy and Chairman of the Defence Committee – criticised the Ministry of Defence for “lying
” about the war when appearing on the channel “Solovyov Live” on 5 October.