The Duma ethics committee voted last week to clear their fellow member Leonid Slutsky of a series of sexual harassment allegations made by multiple female journalists. Journalists have had enough, and much of the Russian media has retaliated by launching a reporting boycott on the Russian parliament.
Who is Leonid Slutsky (and is that seriously his real name)?
Leonid Slutsky, a near twenty-year veteran of the Duma, is the chairman of the Committee on International Affairs.
He is also a prominent member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) which, despite its name, favours leftist intervention in the economy and an ultra-nationalist foreign policy aimed at restoring Russian imperial glory. Its leader, recent presidential candidate Leonid Zhirinovsky, is often described as the “clown prince of Russian politics.” He has his own track-record with misogyny and sexual harassment. He once explained on Russian television, “All men hate you, ladies, they hate you. Because you prevent men from thriving… This is why all the crimes committed in the world are women’s fault.”
Despite the antics of his party leader, Slutsky has an impressive sounding resumé. He holds a doctorate in economics, has held senior banking positions, and is dean of the international relations department at Moscow State University.
Slutsky also has the dubious distinction of being one of the Russian officials sanctioned by an executive order from President Obama following the annexation of Crimea.
“You can be his wife, and my mistress.”
In late February female journalists who cover the Duma began to come forward with allegations against Leonid Slutsky.
Speaking to the BBC Russian service, BBC journalist Farida Rustamova recounted the following conversation with Slutsky from March 2017:
During an interview given in private, Slutsky said, “[You] do not want to kiss me. You hurt my feelings.”
Rustamova replied, “I have boyfriend, Leonid Eduardovich.”
“I do not want to.”
“I want to marry him.”
“Excellent, you can be his wife, and my mistress.”
Rutamova asserts that at this point Slutsky approached her and began to run his hands along her body before explaining, “I’m ready to really help you.”
“He pushed me to the wall and tried to kiss me”
RTVI journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze (pictured top) was one of the first women to come forward to accuse Leonid Slutsky. She spoke to CNN recently about her experience covering the Duma for a Georgian television station:
The boycott begins
Following an investigation by the Duma Ethics Committee, Slutsky was cleared of all charges.
This was despite a weak admission of guilt of sorts, included in a weak apology by the deputy on Facebook on International Women’s Day. He said, “sorry to those of you I’ve caused any discomfort, consciously or unconsciously.”
The decision to exonerate Slutsky has been condemned by at least some of the Russian media. Radio Ekho Moskvy has pulled their reporting of the Duma, declaring it an “an unsafe workplace for journalists of both sexes.”
Russian news service RBC has pulled all of its media coverage (which includes online, radio, newspaper, and television journalists) from the Duma, explaining that the Ethics Committee had “recognized the norm as the possibility of sexual harassment of journalists by newsmakers.”
Other media outlets have announced limited boycotts that cover Leonid Slutsky only. These include the prestigious Kommersant business newspaper, Lenta.ru, and the Vedomosti newspaper.
The Kremlin tries to fight back
Not all media have upheld the boycott, however. The state-owned TASS news agency has suggested Slutsky’s accusers were trying to disrupt last week’s election and were selective in their reporting.
But Kotrikadze is encouraged that much of the media are refusing to follow orders from the Putin regime an are supporting the boycott.
Speaking to CNN again, she said: