Originally written on Puck Drunk Love  |  Last updated 8/28/13

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 01: Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils celebrate Parise's goal at 14:14 of the first period against the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center on October 1, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I swear to be true to the Lord, Grand Prince, and his realm, to the young Grand Princes, and to the Grand Princess, and not to maintain silence about any evil that I may know or have heard or may hear which is being contemplated against the Tsar, his realms, the young princes or the Tsaritsa. I swear also not to eat or drink with the zemschina, and not to have anything in common with them. On this I kiss the cross. --Oath of the Oprichniki to Ivan the Terrible Let me preface this by saying that I oppose Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws. They’re a violation of what the rest of the Western world has come to know as basic civil rights, such as the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. They’re also a violation of the basic human right to not be beaten in the street or shot for your opinions or because you love someone against the Russian cultural norm. The Orthodox Church has held the same belief system for 2000 years, hence the name. They’re not going to change any time soon. They’ve become partners with Vladimir Putin, whether willing or not, in his desire to stomp out any opposition to any Russian cultural deviancy. He views contrarian beliefs as a challenge to his power. He always has. I don’t have to go in here in depth about his previous human rights transgressions – I like to believe that they’re all well known. People compare him to Josef Stalin, especially since Putin is an old KGB man himself. The Communist comparison is an easy one to make, but one does not have to limit oneself to recent history. Ivan The Terrible and his secret police, the Oprichniki, are probably a better parallel to the current situation in Russia. Ivan declared himself the “Hand of God,” and they were his weapon. Putin has not declared himself the “Hand of God” quite yet, but it is more than implied. The modern day Oprichniki are the police. They haven’t roasted anyone over an open fire yet, or blown up any dissenting monks to get them “closer to the angels,” but they’ve beaten people for their public protest of laws. They’ve targeted family members of protesters and those rumored to be gay. And there’s nothing to prevent them from doing the same thing to those who come out against the law while wearing the Russian national hockey uniform. I don’t agree with the following statements from Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk one iota. Here’s Kovalchuk, via Sports Illustrated: “I agree, of course,” said Ilya Kovalchuk. “I’m Russian and we all have to respect that. It’s personal and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.” And Datsyuk, via CBS Sports: “I'm an orthodox and that says it all.” Neither of those statements are in line with what athletes from other nations are saying. Would you expect them to be? Does anyone seriously expect members of the Russian national hockey team to be free to say what they want to, especially if what they feel goes against the government? Public dissent means not playing in an Olympics hosted in their home nation. Public dissent means arrest. Public dissent means political pressure on their KHL teams to invalidate contracts. Public dissent means that their families are targeted. The days of the Soviet Union may be done, but the current Russian regime is as oppressive as the Soviets and as bad as the pre-Romanov tsars. Ironically it’s not a “free world” over there, as much as Kovalchuk would like to think so – or may be told to say. As a historian with extensive studies in Russian history, it’s difficult for me to criticize the players despite completely disagreeing with their statements. Perhaps if they played for a nation with actual freedom of speech, criticism would be appropriate. Here? Ivan the Terrible may not be present to sic the dogs on them, but Putin has other ways to rip them limb from limb. [follow]

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