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MOSCOW, September 18. /ITAR-TASS/. The idea of re-instituting capital punishment remains high on Russia's social agenda. Experts see some solid explanations why this is so, such as the feeling of insecurity and distrust towards social institutions. Also, sociologists are certain that many people just have no idea of how to go about the business of punishing those responsible for grave crimes.
That most Russians are still in favor of restoring capital punishment has been discovered by a recent survey conducted by the Public Opinion Fund (POF). As many as 55% said Russia should start using the death penalty again, while 24% replied that the current moratorium should be left in effect, 6% believing it should be cancelled altogether, 15% remaining undecided and 63% saying death sentences were permissible in certain cases.
Capital punishment, Russians believe, should be applied first and foremost to those found guilty of paedophilia, murder and terrorism.
Russia suspended death sentences in 1997. The last death verdict was carried out in 1996. Moscow assumed an extra obligation to cancel the death penalty when it signed Protocol 6 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms in April 1997. On that condition, it was admitted to the Council of Europe.
Debates over whether punishment by death should be reinstated have never ceased since the moratorium took effect. Society’s attitude is mixed.
Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said last year that as an ordinary citizen, he saw nothing wrong with the re-introduction of capital punishment for some crimes. He described it as a “normal reaction by society”.
Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin earlier this year said the death penalty “must be present in our legislation as a hypothetical possibility”.
In the State Duma, two parties are for the restoration of capital punishment - the Communist Party and the Liberal Democrats. Among members of the ruling United Russia Party, there are supporters of such a measure, too, although officially the party is for keeping the moratorium in force.
Senior researcher Leonty Byzov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, told the daily Kommersant that such sentiment was due to the “generally conservative mentality of the population”. “Most people think the harsher the punishment, the greater security they will enjoy,” he added.
Another scholar, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Psychology Timofey Nestik told ITAR-TASS he saw three main factors that determined Russians’ attitude to the death penalty. Firstly, there was growing concern over personal and collective security — in other words, fears that made people have a primitive, black-and-white picture of the world. “When we feel anxiety, we stop seeing shades and colors,” he said.
Secondly, he said, the level of trust towards such social institutions as the judicial and penitentiary systems was very low. And thirdly, people had no faith in their ability to change something; their only hope was that the death penalty would result in the eventual triumph of justice. “True, most people would like to have absolute guarantees of justice and they hope that such a radical measure as capital punishment will push crime rates down and compensate for the ineffectiveness of social systems," he said, adding that effectiveness of the death penalty was a highly debatable issue.
But there were some other reasons why such sentiment was so strong in Russian society, he said. “Russia’s culture is sometimes referred to as ‘masculine’; society is in no mood to take care of those who have gone astray; once you have done something wrong, it is your own headache.”
In contrast to this, Scandinavian countries’ culture was milder, more feminine, more compassionate, more oriented to helping the wrongdoer back on the track to normal life, Nestik added. This was precisely the reason why Norwegians, instead of taking to the streets to demand mass killer Anders Breivik’s blood, were gathering in front of the windows of his prison cell to sing songs that he hated the most, he said.
At the same time, it is not true that Russians were cruel, the sociologist said. “Severity and cruelty are miles apart,” he added.
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