Russian ex-TV host spearheads 'mission' against domestic violence

by Anna MALPAS
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Pushkina's proposed law against domestic violence has been attacked for damaging 'traditional values'

Defying abuse from "haters" and opposition from political allies, a Russian former chat show host turned MP is leading an uphill struggle to create a law tackling domestic violence.

Ruling party lawmaker Oksana Pushkina has run into hostility from ultra-conservatives and the Russian Orthodox Church as she battles to force through legislation many see as overdue.

Yet even though Pushkina belongs to the dominant United Russia faction, there is no guarantee any bill will pass.

Russia currently has no law defining domestic violence and protecting victims, and first-time physical attacks by family members were recently decriminalised, with President Vladimir Putin's backing.

Putin said Thursday he had "mixed" feelings on the need for new legislation when questioned by an opponent of Pushkina's bill at his annual press conference.

"You can't use force to make someone love you," Putin said, stressing he opposes "any violence, including in the family and of course particularly towards women and children."

However he argued that "current legislation" on hooliganism and battery can be used against abusers.

"Let's calmly discuss this in public" before coming to a "final decision," Putin concluded.

Pushkina said in a comment sent to AFP afterwards that Putin's words showed a "normal, balanced position".

"The president, in essence, supported what we are doing," she said, while noting the questioner was an activist.

- 'A mission' -

The need for targeted legislation is acute, according to Pushkina, a vivacious 56-year-old who anchored Russia's equivalent of "Oprah" before entering politics.

"Eighty percent of Russian families encounter domestic violence," she said in an interview with AFP, citing research commissioned by parliament.

When it comes to legislation, "We're right at the back of the line out of all countries," said the ex-host of the popular TV show "A Woman's View," who now sits in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Along with lawyers and activists, she helped draw up a draft law introducing concepts such as restraining orders.

"We are really saving people, this is a mission," she said.

The upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, published the draft for public discussion after softening the terms.

Nevertheless most comments online called for it to be scrapped for damaging "traditional values," claiming it would lead to the state breaking up families.

Just 57 percent of men backed the draft law in a survey by state pollster VTsIOM, compared to 80 percent of women.

The Orthodox Church called the bill "incompatible with traditional Russian spiritual and moral values".

Pushkina admits she has "not yet" won the support of colleagues in the Duma -- where there are just 70 female MPs out of 450, or the ruling powers.

She has also received threats and her staff said that her email was flooded with near-identical messages opposing the bill.

"They are scary people," she said, of her "ultra-conservative" opponents, who accuse the bill's authors of backing "Western non-traditional values".

- Sparking debate -

As a celebrity member of United Russia -- which also counts former sports stars and the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova as MPs -- Pushkina could seem to be in a strong position.

United Russia usually steamrolls bills through parliament with little debate but "that won't work here", she acknowledged.

"We haven't yet managed to persuade people who take the decisions in the country, particularly the legal administration of the president," she said.

"I think it will be one of the most high-profile bills," even compared to reforms to increase the state pension age that divided the country and saw Putin's ratings plummet, she said.

"If the law isn't passed, it means society isn't ready to live differently."

- 'A lot of haters' -

Known for her confessional chats with stars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pushkina also fought a very public lengthy legal battle over botched cosmetic filler in her face.

She served as a regional children's ombudswoman before becoming an MP in 2016.

"I've been in the public eye a long time. I haven't always said popular things. I've always had a lot of haters," she said, indicating that threats over the bill were not the worst she had received.

She admitted that her generation was more tolerant of abusers, saying that some women took the view that: "I'll stay with him until the end, until he kills me," while she sees a new generation who "want respect from their partners".

"You can never totally end violence but we at least want to stop it in the home," she said, adding that, in this case, it falls to women to "save the world one more time".

Pushkina's proposed law against domestic violence has been attacked for damaging 'traditional values'

The Russian Orthodox Church says the proposed law is 'incompatible with traditional Russian spiritual and moral values'

'We are really saving people,' says Pushkina. 'This is a mission.'