April 19, 2024

politics of law

Politics and Law

There is polygamy in Russia, and here is how it works

10 min read

Ivan, a 46-year-old man from the town of Sergiyev Posad outside Moscow, has a VKontakte account full of photos of motorcycles and his wife. He has been married for six years. He says that he has a happy marriage, but in May 2021 he joined a small online community called “Looking for a second wife” and posted an ad there in search of one more wife, whom he is prepared to maintain.

“You will be provided with accommodation, food, clothes, cosmetics and, if you want, facials and other procedures. As for gifts, everything will be done individually and at will. Accommodation can be in a single or a shared room. There is a cinema hall and a swimming pool in the house,” Ivan wrote in response to my query.

Officially polygamy is banned in Russia but is not punishable, explains lawyer and family law specialist Yuri Kapshtyk.

“In the 1969 Family Code, polygamy was a criminal offence punishable by a prison term of up to two to three years, depending on the number of marriages. Later, that norm was abolished. Now the Family Code does not touch on this issue at all,” says Kapshtyk.

At the same time, there are over a dozen Russian-speaking communities on VKontakte and Instagram dedicated to polygamous marriages. There, men and women discuss and promote the ideas of group relationships, and look for second and third wives to join their families. Interestingly, ads for additional wives are posted not only by men, but also by their ‘first’ wives.

One might think that most of the members of these communities are Muslims, since Islam allows men to have up to four wives, however, the bulk of the group are Orthodox Russians. They believe that polygamy is an ancient Slavic custom that should be observed to this day.

Each woman should have a husband with a wife

One of the oldest polygamy communities, called “Polygamy as it is”, was created in 2013 by Oleg Pokrovsky, a St. Petersburg resident. He has been married since 1982 and is not looking for a second wife. He made several attempts to find one, but they failed for “physical reasons”. However, since childhood, he has been enthralled with  Arab fairy tales, in which men had several wives at once – so, the idea was imprinted on his mind from the age of 13 and has been with him since.

“In a long marriage, men go through different crises, they seek change. At the same time, a man may love his wife and have no intention of leaving her, so there arises the idea of inviting someone to the family. I have many married guys among my acquaintances, and they were very appreciative of my conversations about polygamy. It was to meet this demand that I have set up the group,” Oleg explains.

The main motto of the community is: “Every woman should have a good husband, even if she shares him with one or two other women.” The majority of the community’s subscribers are women (55 percent) aged 21 to 24 and 30 to 35; the rest are men aged 30 to 45 and older.

Between 1990 and 2019, the birth rate in Russia fell by 34.2 percent, according the official statistics agency, Rosstat; while the sex ratio in Russia is 866 men to 1,000 women. In their posts, the group administrators say polygamy will help improve the country’s demographic situation, bring happiness to single women who want to get married, resolve the issue of male adultery and combat female jealousy and selfishness. Oleg has even penned a 12-page treatise exploring these arguments.

“Women can get along well together if they feel like sisters. Furthermore, female bisexuality is the answer to the question of how women can share one man. They do not have to be lovers, but certain movements, touching should not be a problem for them. For all my male acquaintances, the best cure for female jealousy is to sleep with both women under one blanket,” Pokrovsky argues.

According to the community, polygamy was practiced in Ancient Rus until the  the reign of Peter the Great. According to the book by Natalia Mitsyuk, a PhD in History, “Brushing Taboos Aside: Essays on Russian Sexual Culture of 11th-20th Centuries”, historical sources do contain evidence of polygamy, but they are too fragmentary to claim that polygamy was widespread in Russia. Furthermore, bigamy was condemned by the Church.

Pokrovsky believes that the absence of polygamy in modern society is a kind of a global conspiracy. Companies benefit from single consumers, so that everyone buys a separate home, furnishes it and fills it with household appliances, and corporations make much more money on them than they’d make on family units that share housing and everything in it.

“That said, I don’t advocate polyamorous relationships (unlike polygamy, polyamory allows intimate relationships with several partners without formal marriage or children, meaning that women can have several lovers, too – ed.) because it makes life even more complicated. One has to be quite adventurous to opt for it, although there are people who also have a need for experiments like these. I am in favor of polygamy when people think about children, about the younger generation and about improving the demographic situation in the country,” Pokrovsky sums up.

“Duty to heaven”

In the majority of polygamy communities online, users, mostly men, post their profiles and share requirements that their future second or third wife will need to meet.

Oleg Nikolayevich Dymkovets, a 42-year-old building dismantler from Krasnodar, has been looking for a third wife for his family since January 2021. The requirements are: a “Slavic woman” from a large family, with blue eyes and long hair, who knows how to look after a house and is ready to give birth to “healthy offspring”. Additional requirements include ability to sing and play musical instruments.

According to Oleg Nikolayevich, his two existing wives had different reactions to his decision to take a third one. He did not elaborate on how he had persuaded them to enter into a polygamous relationship. During his search for a third wife, Oleg Nikolayevich rejected some 40 applicants and was himself rejected by two.

“I believe families should have many children, 20 or more. People in Russia are not yet ready for the correct understanding of polygamy. Most of them think that polygamy simply means more sex. But in fact, a polygamous union is a world in which everyone lives only of their own free will, otherwise it is impossible to keep a family like that together. A family like that can be strong if the concept is based on honesty, truth, order, discipline, cleanliness, respect,” says Oleg Nikolayevich.

Nikolai Kuznetsov, a 37-year-old farmer from Vitebsk, is also looking for a second wife, despite having a happy marriage of 15 years and four children: three daughters and a son.

“I want a lot of children, 10. I feel it as my duty to heaven. And I don’t want to waste my life and at the end to say that I chickened out. My wife, of course, did not like this idea, but her reaction is changing since she understands that she herself will not be able to give birth to so many children. I am looking online, but so far I have not yet found a woman who would not be jealous of the first wife and would be serious about children,” says Kuznetsov.

One of the community members, Irina Ushakova, a mother of two and a third wife, met her husband in 2010, when she was 36. She worked in a canteen (Irina prefers not to specify the city), and he was one of the customers. They fell in love at first sight, and soon afterwards, the future husband told her that he already had two women living in his family and invited her to become a third.

“My husband gave me a choice. Love and respect for his choice overpowered jealousy and anger. Well, I also had to battle my jealousy. In the end, I came to the wise decision not to fight it but to accept it as something that should be,” says Ushakova.

The first wife gave birth to a daughter, but in the end she couldn’t stand a third woman in the family and divorced her husband, while the second wife died of a stroke. Irina herself was looking for new wives for her husband, but the search has so far been fruitless. She says that all the applicants have been either mercenary women or perverts.

“Men are very strong and smart, but they meet unsuitable women, brought up by matriarchy. They want to completely own and command their husband, and are not prepared to share him with anyone. So poor men suffer, although they could make many women happy,” Irina complains.

“With time you get used to anything”

Polygamy is also practiced by Muslims living in Russia. Instagram stories of 29-year-old Anisa are full of pictures of flowers, multi-colored scarves, occasionally her happy smile, but never her face. Anisa became a second wife four years ago. Since then, she has given birth to three daughters.

“I worked at a dressmaker’s in Chechnya. Once my colleague and I went out shopping, and my future husband noticed me in the crowd. He approached my colleague, found out my address from her, and several times came to my place with his cousin to ask for my hand. It was only after a few meetings that he said that he already had a wife and children. I was shocked and said that I didn’t want to hurt his first wife’s feelings and asked him not to bother me anymore,” Anisa recalled.

He still continued to seek her hand and persuaded her family to give permission for their marriage, Anisa said. His first wife also gave her consent for their wedding.

Anisa and the first wife live in different houses, and the husband visits each of them every other day. Anisa spends her time with her children, makes clothes to order and earns money from advertising on Instagram.

“When the husband is with the first wife, I try not to think about it. I go to bed early so that morning comes faster. With time you get used to anything,” Anisa said in her blog.

Khadidzha Utkina, who runs a TikTok blog about Islam, became a Muslim in 2020. She had spent several years looking for a religion that would work for her, started studying Islam, but soon fell ill with coronavirus. During the serious illness, Khadidzha converted to Islam, and after that, according to her, she soon got better.

“Then I decided to get married, and I started looking for a Muslim husband. I posted about it on TikTok and I heard from more than 1,000 men who wanted to get married. Suleyman Polishchuk, my trainer in Internet promotion, also asked for my hand. Next came a formal introduction with witnesses, it took us two meetings to discuss all the details,” says Khadidzha, explaining how she became a second wife.

She has not yet seen her husband’s first wife, since the latter is temporarily living in another city with her family, but they have spoken on the phone and have already divided their wifely responsibilities.

“I wish we all lived together. Firstly, both my husband and my sister and friend would be near me. Secondly, I’d have more time for creativity and personal development. In addition, Saida is a very talented person in various fields. By the will of the Almighty, in the near future we will start up not only a family, but also a creative union, we will launch new joint projects,” Khadidzha shares her plans.

According to Ali Kurbanov, a 27-year-old practicing Muslim who is also looking for a second wife, it is difficult for a woman to agree to her husband’s second marriage, however, if a woman manages to overcome her jealousy, she will be “rewarded in heaven” for this. If a man is allowed to have a second and third wife, he will be responsible for all the women with whom he has sex, moreover, he will satisfy his sexual appetite without cheating.

“A man can take a second wife in two cases: if the first wife has women’s health issues that prevent her from satisfying her husband’s needs, or if Our Creator has made the husband so lustful that he cannot control his urges and sleep with one woman all his life,” says Kurbanov.

“Is yours the first or the second case?”, I ask.

“The second”, he replies.

Freedom from taboos

Proposals to introduce polygamy in Russia or its regions, like the North Caucasus, have been voiced several times: by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in 2015; by the mufti of Moscow, Ildar Alyautdinov; and the leader of the LDPR party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in 2019.

All the characters featured in this article approve of making polygamy legal in Russia but do not put forward direct demands to this effect. They say the main thing is that the state does not interfere in their family affairs.

In the absence of a direct prohibition and criminal or administrative liability, men can live and sleep with several women at once, without being officially married to them and yet calling them wives. This is what Ivan, mentioned in the beginning of this article, is also seeking.

“My requirements include keeping things tidy and cooking together with the first wife, and sometimes with me,” he says listing his requirements for a second wife.

“And what about sex?”, I ask.

“We can have it as a threesome, or I can have it with one after the other. We are ok with either option, after all we are free people,” Ivan replies.

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