Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Some Russian laws
are hard to bear

NOW that the Iron Curtain has been drawn and we can view that peculiar country Russia in the glare of daylight, it is easy to understand why Russian leaders kept their country under wraps for so long.

They are strange birds, those bears.

To wit: A recent newspaper item stated a Russian "adventure club" stormed a village in Belarus and held villagers prisoner for two hours before telling them it was only a game.

This would be something like a couple of squads of those Kualoa paintball weekend warriors suddenly invading Hauula and taking everyone hostage.

Except in Russia, those rascally game players actually beat up villagers who failed to get into the spirit of the sport.

After the game ended, club leader Anatoly Slivonchik promised loads of vodka to the unwitting participants.

The villagers were not amused and reported the incident to authorities. Now, this is the interesting part and the main reason I bring up the subject of Russia at all: The club president was arrested and charged with "aggravated hooliganism."

What a cool charge. Aggravated hooliganism. It makes you wonder what kind of other great criminal charges Russia has that we don't.

Obviously, being a hooligan is against the law. But there apparently are various levels of hooliganism. If you are charged with "aggravated hooliganism," can you plea bargain it down to "unmitigated thuggery?" Or how about "second-degree ruffianism?"

The fact that hooliganism is a crime in Russia is interesting. In the United States, we make certain actions and activities criminal, like murder, robbery, assault and, I suppose, spitting on the sidewalk. There is a verb involved. The Russians, however, turn a noun -- hooligan -- into the crime. It's like, "You're a jerk, you're under arrest. You are charged with aggravated jerkiness."

You could have an entire chapter of offenses like "hooligan," "thug," "jerk," "punk" or "butthead." You enforce those laws when people do things that are stupid or annoying, even if they don't specifically rob, rape or pillage.

"What's the charge, officer?"

"You're a butthead."

"But I didn't actually do anything wrong!"

"You were acting in a buttheadedness manner, thereby committing the offense of being a butthead."

If an "adventure club" took over a U.S. town, the perpetrators would be called "loners from Montana" or "right-wing wackos" but they would be charged with crimes like kidnapping, assault, possession of firearm-like objects and wearing jungle camouflage fatigues in a non-jungle environment. They wouldn't be charged with "lonerism" or "wacko-ishness."

The news story didn't say what the punishment for aggravated hooliganism is, but you have to assume it is worse than straightforward hooliganism or individual hooliganistic acts, like spewing vodka out of your nose at small animals.

The adventure club involved actually comes from Siberia, so Russia's favorite form of punishment is out. I mean, can you send someone to Siberia as punishment if they already live there? Or do you have send them someplace like the Caribbean, where they'd be really miserable?

It's all very strange, exotic and Russian-like. It kind of makes you yearn for the old days when the curtain was closed.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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