Individual pickets in Novosibirsk recently defended State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky, who has been accused by female journalists of sexual harassment. The picket signs read “Russia for Slutsky” and “Leonid Slutsky is a Patriot of Russia, an Enemy of the West, and a Real Man.” The organizer of the protest, a representative of the Public Foundation in Support of State Policy, told the press that “our goal is to show people that any attempt to discredit politics in Russia will be met with resistance.” The police in front of the State Duma have arrested women calling for Slutsky’s resignation.
The “Slutsky Case” has long moved beyond a discussion of the actual sexual harassment to reveal a profound crisis in the interaction of legislators and the public, a crisis in journalism and public trust in general. Not long before the presidential elections, Leonid Slutsky (LDPR party headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky), chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, was accused of sexual harassment by several journalists—Farida Rustamova, a BBC correspondent, Ekaterina Kotrikadze of RTVI, and Darya Zhuk, a producer at Rain TV, who presented a shocking audio recording of their encounter. The harassment that Russian official propaganda calls an attribute of the decaying West had come to Russia. Nothing surprising there. Everyone knows that Russian executives of every stripe take advantage of their position, secure in the knowledge that it will go unpunished. It’s as old as the classics of Russian literature, and it is recorded in memoirs of Soviet leaders and the confessions of Gulag prisoners. In the 1990s, female journalists of independent newspapers ran a media campaign against “new Russians” who demanded sex from their coworkers. At that time, public opinion was categorically against that practice.
Today, the Slutsky case shows that times have changed. Instead of investigating and seeking justice, his fellow deputies, with rare unanimity, accused the journalists. Members of the Duma Women’s Club suggested the reporters dress more modestly. Speaker of the lower house Vyacheslav Volodin said that women journalists who wanted to avoid unpleasantness should not work at the Duma. He pointed out that all the women complaining about the deputy worked for foreign or opposition media. The State Duma Ethics Commission, where the victims appealed, held a session and “found no violations of behavioral norms on the part of Leonid Slutsky,” according to its representative Otari Arshba. The women members of the commission repeated accusations about the “provocative dress” of the young reporters.
The commission decision outraged many journalists of both sexes. Two dozen media outlets, including Ekho Mokvy, RBK, Novaya Gazeta, Kommersant, and Moscow Speaking, as well as popular bloggers, announced a boycott of Slutsky and the deputies who supported him. In response, the parliament made up lists of the media rebels and closed their access to the State Duma. Feminists with posters reading “Don’t Come In, They Grope You Here” and “Shame on Slutsky” were in front of the main entrance to the Duma. The Free Word Association called for Slutsky to be punished, the Gender committee of the opposition Yabloko Party and feminist groups called for him to lose his parliamentary mandate, and the union of journalists and workers in mass media sent a letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe calling for a boycott of all Russian deputies. The media community attempted solidarity for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, workers of the numerous state media holdings did not join the protests. The state media spoke very little about the protests against Slutsky and the Duma decision, but gave a lot of time to “experts” who inevitably spoke of the “Western trace” and the “destructive influence” of the criticism, even bringing in Harvey Weinstein, who in their opinion was an innocent victim of intrigues and the aggression of vicious feminists.