An Historic Day

19 November 2009
Father Georgy Kochetkov comments on the decision of Russia’s Constitutional Court concerning the death penalty

On 19 November 2009 the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation banned the death penalty in Russia. Since 1997, there had been a moratorium on capital punishment, which was set to expire on 1 January 2010. The Transfiguration Brotherhood, alongside other church and state organizations, worked towards the abolition of the death penalty in Russia, believing this task to be a priority for its activity on the level of church and society.

Question: You know about the decision of the Constitutional Court. Can you comment on it?

Father Georgy Kochetkov: I think that the true significance of this event will not be immediately appreciated. I believe that today was an historic day. There have not been many historic days in the XXI century, although almost a decade has passed. For this, we have only to congratulate all those who live in Russia, the Church, state and social organizations – and, most importantly, we congratulate all the citizens of our country, because today we have in fact achieved the abolition of the death penalty in Russia. Russia has not been free of the death penalty since the XVIII century; all efforts to abolish the death penalty at the beginning of the XX century were doomed to failure due to the specific situation at that time, both inside and outside the country.

It is very important that today's decision was made not only at the suggestion of the European Union or foreign political and social forces and movements. It was not because of the ratification of the well-known protocol that includes a demand for the abolition of the death penalty, but rather from the inside, through the efforts of our internal systems, including the judicial system. The Constitutional Court has shown not only consistency and coherence with the government, but also a certain responsibility and independence. This is very good news.

Of course, I would like to thank all those who devoted time, effort and attention to make this decision possible. I would like to thank those who persuaded people – the government, their inner circle, their nearest and dearest (sometimes even those not so near) in every type of organization and from very different parties – that the death penalty in Russia can and must be abolished at this time.

One wants to hope that this is but the first step in a greater move, let’s say, towards the condemnation of the crimes of the Soviet regime, the spirit of which is quite at odds with what happened today. Another step, for example, might be the condemnation of abortions – not their outright ban, because this is clearly impossible and hardly necessary, as this is more of an ethical issue – but the condemnation of what diminishes the principle of life and kills life itself. And although it is always possible to counter that there are hopeless cases when abortions must be performed, I think that convincing people that this really should not happen will always help us to find a way out of the most difficult situations. Yes, this is more about ethics than legislation, but it has to be dealt with, albeit not all at once alongside the condemnation of divorce, or euthanasia, or suicide. These questions are related but have aspects which make them distinct from each other. It is very important that God's gift of life be respected and honored literally by all the people in our country. I do hope that henceforth we shall see just this, and that today we have seen the establishment of a solid foundation for this future in the legally established decision of the Constitutional Court.

Thank God for today’s decision.

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