Russians respond to 'disabled should die straight away' row
A leading Russian journalist has faced a public backlash to an opinion piece in which he appeared, to many readers, to put forward the view that disabled people should not have children and would ideally "die straight away". But the article's author says that his words have been misinterpreted and taken out of context.
The article appeared in the pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, and was seemingly prompted by a visit to Russia by Australian, Nick Vujicic, who was born with Phocomelia, a rare condition which means he has no arms or legs.
Many people find Vujicic's upbeat attitude towards life inspiring and he has built a career as a motivational speaker, travelling the world and sharing his stories. His trip to Russia inspired Yevgeniy Arsyukhin, to write an op-ed entitled "Nick Vujicic and rejecting evolution".
In the piece, Arsyukhin - who is chief editor of the newspaper's sister radio station - presented his view of how society's attitude towards disabled people had changed over the centuries. "Our disgust towards ugliness, sickness and to death is hardwired into us by evolution and natural selection," he wrote, going on to add "defective individuals should not produce offspring, it's better that they die straight away. And we should never let disabled people get to the top of the social pyramid."
Many Russians were outraged as they believed these views to be Arsyukhin's personal opinions. A pro-Kremlin blogger, Kristina Potupchik launched an online petition on Change.org, demanding that Arsyukhin be dismissed from his post. The petition rapidly picked up more than 90,000 signatures. Others labelled the newspaper article "disgusting" and called Arsyukhin himself a "fascist".
"The furnaces of Auschwitz are firing up," wrote one on Facebook.
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But not everyone denounced the piece, and a number of campaign groups argue that in Russia, attitudes towards disabled people can be very different from those in the West.
Last year, BBC Trending wrote about Oksana, the autistic sister of supermodel Natalia Vodyanova, who was thrown out of a cafe for "scaring all the customers away". In response to that incident, Irina Dolotova of Road to World - a Russian charity for people with special needs - told BBC Trending there was "little awareness in Russian society" about disabled people, who had been kept largely hidden from mainstream society until at least the 1990s.
So what was in Arsyukhin's mind when he sat down to write his column? He did not respond to BBC Trending's request for comment. But he has responded to the controversy by claiming that the opinions he was describing were not his own, and that he was simply paraphrasing attitudes towards disabled people that were prevalent in ancient times.
Speaking to news website Meduza, he said "I don't think I offended anybody. The text might have been too complicated for an online audience. But to call me a fascist is way too much." And addressing Nick Vujicic he said "If he is offended, I would be really sad. And if he wants me to apologise, I will."
BBC Trending contacted Vujicic through his charity, Life Without Limbs, and received a statement from his team that said "Nick was not offended".
Arsyukhin remains in post despite the petition for his removal. But his article itself has suffered an unusual fate.
It was first deleted entirely from the newspaper's website, with only a note to say it was removed due to a "negative reaction" by many readers. But several days later it re-appeared with an editorial introduction, explaining that many readers had misinterpreted it, and had not read past the first paragraph. Arsyukhin himself made an addition, to say he had merely been pondering on the "progress of humanity".
And now? Well at the time of publication, the article has been removed for a second time, and replaced by a new note, to say that even the modified version had prompted a negative response.
Blog by Dmytro Zotsenko
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