Dumb in the Duma? Shock in Russia over lawmakers' 'absurd' bills

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Dumb in the Duma? Shock in Russia over lawmakers' 'absurd' bills
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Moscow (AFP) - If Russian lawmakers have their way, smoking for women under 40 will soon be banned, advertisement for condoms and pregnancy tests will be banished from the pages of mainstream media and using foreign words will result in a steep fine.

The latest string of initiatives by MPs have become so bizarre that Russians say they don't know whether to laugh or cry.

One lawmaker with the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, recently proposed introducing official standards for footwear, charging that high heels and ballet flats were bad for women's health.

A legislator from the ruling United Russia party, Elena Mizulina, has put forward so many controversial ideas including proposals to ban abortions and surrogate motherhood that Russians have launched an online petition calling for her sanity to be checked.

"It is no secret that Elena Mizulina, chairperson of the State Duma's family issues committee is coming forward with increasingly absurd bills," said the petition signed by more than 100,000 people.

"We request that the health ministry allocate its best experts to have Elena Mizulina's mental health examined," it said.

"Mentally ill people have no place in the State Duma."

While some of the bills may not pass muster, others are likely to sail through.

President Vladimir Putin has signed off on a ban on the use of swear words in films, theatre, media and art that will enter into force on July 1.

The initiatives come amid a fresh wave of anti-Western propaganda and the deadly crisis in Ukraine.

Many say some bills -- like the proposed ban on foreign words -- call to mind the infamous Stalin-era "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign that sought to root out all things bourgeois.

-- 'A new level of idiocy' --

Everyday Russians don't mince words, saying the parliament has gone off the deep end.

"When I heard about a ban on trainers and high heels I was puzzled," said Elizaveta Krasnopevtseva, a 17-year-old Muscovite.

"I had thought you can't reach such level of idiocy. You can't impose all these bans on an entire people," she added.

Russian lawmakers insist though that they are deadly serious.

Ivan Nikitchuk, a Communist Party deputy, vigorously defended his bill to ban smoking for women under 40 and in the presence of children under 14.

"We don't want to ban everything," the 70-year-old told AFP. "What we want is to leave behind a healthy generation."

Mikhail Degtyaryov of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party who is promoting the foreign words ban said Russians need to be prodded in the right direction.

"If people are allowed to do everything they want, we would return to the Stone Age," the 32-year-old deputy told AFP.

The State Duma in its current make-up was elected in 2011 amid claims of rampant fraud in favour of the ruling party.

Widespread electoral violations triggered huge anti-Kremlin protests but Putin dismissed calls to disband the parliament.

-- 'Lawmakers are no fools' --

Perhaps, analysts say, it is not surprising then that the compliance of the rubber-stamp parliament reached new heights during Putin's third term.

"Lawmakers are not fools or psychopaths. They are trying to guess what the system -- that is Putin -- wants from them," said pro-opposition analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.

"What would appear completely absurd five years ago today is being discussed and sometimes adopted."

Soon after Putin was inaugurated for the new term, Russian legislators moved to unleash a crackdown on dissenters. Then they pushed through bills banning gay propaganda to minors in a bid to promote the country as a bastion of family values.

The new eyebrow-raising initiatives, critics say, reflect a severe crisis of ideas in a country whose authorities brook no dissent.

"There is almost no need for lawmakers to write normal bills: everything that should be passed gets submitted to the Duma from the Kremlin or the government," wrote mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

The newspaper suggested that the lawmakers proposing seemingly absurd initiatives were guided by an ulterior motive and sought to raise their profile ahead of parliamentary polls in 2016.

"The only hope is that the Kremlin's patience will one day run out and the Duma will get a bill banning lawmakers from writing bills themselves," the daily quipped.

Russians say there is little they can do, especially now that the parliament has all but outlawed opposition rallies and curtailed freedom of speech.

And like many times in the past they fall back on gallows humour to tough it out.

"It is 2015," goes a joke posted by Twitter user Alexei Fedotov. "A woman who wore trainers, smoked at a bus stop and publicly pronounced the foreign word 'management' was burnt on Red Square."

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