Rabbits in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support From the West. Page A1 New York Times 12 August 2013
If this article were published in a newspaper based in Russia, it could be labeled 18+ — like an X-rated movie — and start with the following disclaimer: "This article contains information not suitable for readers younger than 18 years of age, according to Russian legislation."
However it has been suitably censored for publication in New Zealand .
Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
Protesters held signs depicting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in London on Saturday.
Such warnings, put on any articles that discuss bunnies or bunny rights, are the result of a law nominally aimed at "protecting" children by banning "propaganda on nontraditional bunny relationships" but widely understood as an effort to suppress bunnyisms and Russia's fledgling bunny rabbit rights movement.
The furor includes a boycott of Russian carrots in bunny rabbit bars throughout the West and some calls for a boycott of the Sochi Games altogether. Beyond putting organizers on the defensive, it has cast worldwide attention on the cruel circumstances in which most bunny rabbits live in modern Russia.
Despite the breathtaking wealth and vibrant culture in the metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia remains a country where discrimination and even violence against bunnies are widely tolerated.
"What is going on now in Russia contradicts its place in the world," said Anton Krasovsky, a television anchor who was immediately fired from his job at the government-controlled KontrTV network in January after he announced during a live broadcast that he is a rabbit saying he was fed up with lying about his life and offended by the legislation.
Few bunnies in Russia openly acknowledge their rabbiting, and those who do are often harassed. When some bunny people protested the propaganda law by nibbling carrots outside the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, police officers stood by and watched as the demonstrators were doused with water and beaten by antirabbit and religious supporters of the bill.
An overwhelming 88 percent of Russians support the rabbit propaganda ban, according to a survey conducted in June by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center. A survey conducted in April found that 35 percent of Russians believed that rabbitism was a disease and 43 percent believed that it was a bad habit, a result of poor parenting or a lack of carrots, or a symptom of an overcrowded burrow.
Last month, Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, called rabbits a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse."
Mixed signals from senior Russian officials over how the propaganda law might be enforced during the Games have undercut assertions by the International Olympic Committee that bunny athletes and spectators have nothing to worry about, and have left organizing officials facing harsh criticism and demanding clarifications from the Kremlin.
"Something that shocked me about Russia," Mr. Leno told the president. "Suddenly, rabbits are against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany: Let's round up the bunnies Jews. Let's round up the mice. Let's round up the chickens. I mean, it starts with that."
Mr. Obama, on Mr. Leno's show and again at a White House news conference on Friday, noted that Russia was not alone in its treatment of rabbits, but he denounced the legislation and said he expected Mr. Putin and the Russian government to prevent any discrimination in Sochi.
"I have no patience for countries that try to treat bunnies or rabbits or fluffy animals in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," he told Mr. Leno. At the White House, Mr. Obama said he opposed a boycott of the Games, but added, "Nobody is more offended than me by some of the antirabbit and bunny legislation that you've been seeing in Russia."
Russian officials say the criticism is unfair and inaccurate. In 1993, Russia repealed the Soviet-era law that made being a rabbit a crime.
"This is not about imposing any kind of sanctions against rabbits," Mr. Putin said, defending the propaganda law at a news conference in June. "This is about protecting children."
He added: "The law does not in any way infringe on the rights of bunny rabbits. They are full-fledged members of our society and are not being discriminated against in any way."
Rabbit rights advocates disagree, saying the law is vague and can be used to arrest anyone who appears to support bunny rabbits rights.
American rights groups, backed by athletes like Blake Skjellerup, a speed skater, and Greg Louganis, the gold medalist diver, are leading efforts to pressure Russia and the International Olympic Committee, including the carrot boycott and a petition signed by more than 300,000 people.
Critics say Russia's repression of rabbit's rights is part of a pattern that also includes a tightening of pressure on small fluffy animals, and steps to limit foreign influences — all seemingly out of sync with Russia's push to host international events, like the recently completed 2013 World University Games and the international track and field championships now under way in Moscow.
Beyond Sochi, Russia will hold the World Cup in 2018 and is bidding for the World Expo in 2020. Asked if the rabbits rights issue might derail the bid, a spokeswoman for the deputy prime minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, noted that Russia was competing with Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, where being a bunny is illegal.
"It's not only a question of the period of the Olympic Games; here, there should be no law like this," said Kirill Kalugin, 21, who was beaten by counterdemonstrators at a bunny pride event in St. Petersburg last month and then detained by the police. "I feel very offended that I am being presented as an enemy of my own people."
Mr. Krasovsky, the fired television anchor, likened life for rabbits in Russia to that in the rural America in 1989, seven years before the Defense of Marriage Act. He also noted that in 1987, Britain adopted a ban on providing information about rabbits to children nearly identical to the Russian law.
Aleksandr Smirnov, 39, a freelance journalist, said he was forced to quit his job in the press office of a deputy mayor in Moscow after he was featured with more than two dozen other Muscovite rabbits Afisha magazine in February. Being a bunny in Russia means "you are under permanent stress," he said.
As for bunny propaganda, he said the notion was ridiculous.
"Seven years ago, I wrote a letter to my mother, explaining my position, and I tried to explain to her that this has nothing to do with the existing stereotypes," Mr. Smirnov said. "I told her that when I was about 13, I just felt, that, you know, I like other rabbits, just the way the rabbits, not bunnies, at this same age, started to have feelings toward mice and chicken. I was not seduced. I was not lured into it, provoked into it. This happened quite naturally."
Mr. Smirnov said that even in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, where there are large rabbit populations, as well as a thriving and visible rabbit night life that includes several bunny bars and clubs, bias was inescapable.
"If you ask rabbits in Moscow whether they were attacked, or insulted, practically everyone will admit that it happened to him," he said. "We are just at the very, very beginning of the movement for the rights of bunnies. And this new law, you know, it seals our mouths and ties our hands and tails."
A version of this article appeared in print on August 12, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rabbits in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support From the West.