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Russia’s ultra-conservatives are not afraid to speak, either. Elena Mizulina, a senator known for promoting laws against “gay propaganda”, has pushed the latest changes, saying that “women are not offended when we see a man beating his wife.” But decriminalisation fans also argue that family affairs are not the state’s business. “The family is a delicate environment where people should sort things out themselves,” says Maria Mamikonyan, head of the All-Russian Parents Resistance movement, which collected thousands of signatures supporting the measure.

In a country scarred by communism—where the state was once all-intrusive and families had virtually no privacy—such sensitivities are understandable. Some of the opposition to domestic-violence laws stems from a rational fear of allowing Russia’s corrupt police and judiciary more power over family life. When critics charge that conservatives’ views hark back to the Domostroi, a set of household rules popular during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, Ms Mamikonyan objects. What they advocate is not a restoration of “the Middle Ages”, she says, but merely a return to the values “that European civilisation held in the 19th and 20th centuries”. To many Russian women, that still sounds like a giant step backwards.

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