A Good Judge

Several days ago, we posted the live blog transcript from a trial in St. Petersburg accusing American pop diva Madonna of violating the city’s ban on “homosexual propaganda.” Even though the case itself was shoddily prepared – using Wikipedia for reference material is a gaffe even young university students are embarrassed to admit – Judge Barkovsky’s ruling to throw it out came as a surprise. While there is no question that honest judges who want to make a difference exist within Russia’s thoroughly corrupt justice system, sham verdicts against figures deemed undesirable to the state are the norm. In this column for Yezhednevny Zhurnal, noted columnist Anton Orekh praises Barkovsky for not only his honesty, but also his attempt to make the case as unpleasant for the plaintiffs as possible. Considering the backlash judges sometimes face in cases like this, his efforts are notable indeed.

A Good Judge
By Anton Orekh
November 27, 2012
Yezhednevny Zhurnal

“…We have many more of them – remember them” – these are lyrics from a song about good people. And it seems these days there actually is reason to remember such good people.

It was Natalia Pereverzeva who unexpectedly uttered these words about our home country at a recent and utterly banal beauty pageant. As it turned out, the words were her own; composed without the advice of any talent agent. And indeed, what young talent agent would advise a beautiful pageant hopeful to write about poor, pillaged Russia? You do not build a career with lyrics like that. But while Natalia did not win the competition, she instead left with something much more valuable than a prop-room tiara.

In St. Petersburg, we find among our ranks another such good person – local Judge Vitaly Barkovsky, who was chosen to preside over a truly idiotic, comical and by all accounts shameful lawsuit. I am, of course, referring to the suit brought by the “gentlemen” of the so-called Union of Russian Citizens against pop-music star Madonna. While one might accuse the union representatives of “intellectual deficiencies,” they nonetheless filed quite a brazen lawsuit, all the more relevant since it dealt with the so-called “struggle against homosexuals.” In St. Petersburg, this struggle is indeed mainstream; it is the official ideology in the house of the “governor-goon.”

The hearing was scheduled and rescheduled numerous times, due to the explainable truancy of the “defendant.” In the pop-star’s absence, the plaintiffs maintained their arrogance and smugness as best they could, and though only one of the ten present had actually attended the concert in question, they priced their incomprehensible moral outrage and collective suffering at 333 million rubles ($10.7 million). After the investigation began, the union even expanded their charges of “propagandizing homosexual love” to also include “undermining the Russian demographic” and “compromising Russia’s defense capacity.”

Judge Barkovsky could easily have encouraged this kind of nonsense. He could have requested a whole new set of hearings or further examinations. He could have called witnesses, giving the stage and a circus spotlight to a whole new group of contemptible idiots. In this way, Judge Barkovsky could have easily shown the powers that be what a helpful and diligent defender he was of the rubbish passing for Petersburg law.

But Barkovsky unexpectedly turned out to be a different kind of judge. Oddly enough, he turned out to be a judge of the levelheaded variety. He turned out to be the type of judge who would dare make the only truly logical ruling, even within the confines of illogical laws. The court was adjourned after only a single hearing, but due process was not constrained by the rigid truism that “rubbish is always rubbish.” Barkovsky’s well-developed sense of humor shined through and he did not deny himself the pleasure of mocking the “citizens” from the Union filing the lawsuit.

Thanks to Judge Barkovsky, the case hearing turned out to be a thrilling, captivating, and brilliantly hilarious affair. Highlighting that many see phallic symbols even in everyday kielbasa, that the embrace and passionate kiss shared by sailors in Petersburg on Navy Day each year did not seem to bother any of the plaintiffs, and that none among the union representatives could produce any chart that defined moral suffering by level of intensity, Barkovsky not only denied the plaintiffs the satisfaction of a victory, he actually fined them! And what a fantastic sum – 22 thousand, 22 rubbles and 22 kopeks ($710.39), and 16 thousand rubbles and 16 kopeks ($51.62)! A great judge! Well done!

Of course, this was not some heroic deed. And the case in question is not equal in scope to, say, the Yukos affair. But it would have been so much easier for Judge Barkovsky to rule in the style of thousands of his peers across the country, handing down a ridiculous sentence that contradicted all common sense, logic, factual evidence, and legal norms. These judges, Barkovsky’s peers, are not afraid to be spat upon and cursed. They do not fear mockery. In order to please their superiors, they are prepared to do almost anything. Barkovsky, however, was not prepared to follow suit. What is more, and I must reiterate this, Barkovsky did not simply quietly throw out the case. He took pleasure in making the hearing a spectacle to the greatest degree possible, and for Petersburg, this is an especially notable demonstration.

Translation by theotherrussia.org.