UPDATE: WTF Russia?!?

Updating my earlier post with some new developments and more information on what it is like in Russia right now.

The Secret Summit?

News is circulating about a private meeting between actor/activist Stephen Fry and British Prime Minister David Cameron.  After Fry released his open letter to Cameron asking for a boycott, Cameron Tweeted his response to Stephen Fry’s open letter, saying that he felt that prejudice could be better challenged if Britain attended the games.  The seemingly dismissive tweet drew protests outside the Downing Street residence of PM Cameron.

Reports now say that David Cameron and Stephen Fry met at The Grapes pub (co-owned by Sir Ian McKellen and Evgeny Lebedev).  According to a source, “Mr Fry asked him how Britain would use its attendance to make the case for gay rights and seemed pleased at the replies he received.”

PM Cameron hasn’t yet publicly stated how Britain would use its presence to make such a statement, so I am keen to hear Stephen Fry’s comments on the meeting, if he ever makes any.

You don’t get it, Johnny

Johnny Weir
(LA Times photo)

American professional figure skater Johnny Weir has failed to grasp the situation.  He chastised Stephen Fry and the calls to boycott the Sochi games, saying that “its not Russia’s public’s fault that their government is so bigoted and creating so many problems for a minority group.”  No, Mr. Weir, that Pew poll shows that 75% of the Russian public support the anti-gay legislation.  The hearts and minds of that 75% must be reached.  The new law only reflects the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the Russian people, and it was the Russian people who elected Putin and his government.*  Mr. Weir is very “out” and he shrugs off the situation in Russia, saying that “if I’m arrested, then so be it”.  Weir seems to think that arrest is his greatest threat in Russia.  Your greatest threat, Johnny, comes not from being arrested, but from travelling around Sochi without some sort of escort or protection as an internationally-recognized and very vocal gay man.

The protest that wasn’t

Photo: Grigory Dukor / Reuters

In the rush to report protests against the Russian anti-gay laws, a cropped version of this picture was circulated far and wide that showcased the two athletes in the centre, with the claim that this was one of those protests, and I was one of those repeating that claim, as I made an addendum to my original post.

The photo is of the gold medal winning Russian women’s 4×400 relay team at a world championship event in Moscow.  The four athletes are, from left: Yulia Gushchina, Kseniya Ryzhova, Tatyana Firova and Antonina Krivoshapka.

Since we here at Genxposé are about getting things straight, it was reported in The Star that this was not an action of protest, but that it is a traditional Russian celebratory thing for two close female friends to kiss on the mouth.  The Star also reports that the athletes are insulted that the speculation around the kiss received more coverage than their gold medal win did.  Even more disappointingly, Ryzhova added, “It was a wave of unbelievable feelings and if somehow, completely by chance, while we were congratulating each other, our lips touched … whoever fantasises about that is sick.” …which I think is a very odd spin to put on all that.

As commenter Anders pointed out on my previous post, more Russian athletes are making statements, such as the world’s top pole vaulter, Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, who said of two Swedish vaulters’ protest of rainbow-painted fingernails that the display was disrespectful to her homeland.  She added that there were no homosexuals in “normal” Russia – a comment from which she has now distanced herself.

Open season

There was an extended build-up to the passing of these laws in Russia that whipped up anti-homosexual fervour, and their passing into law has been taken by many as official encouragement to become increasingly more violent and open in their hatred of homosexuals.  It’s no exaggeration to say that Putin’s new law has practically declared open season on gays, fueling animosity against gay people.

An Associated Press photo shows former Russian
Paratroopers with questionable fashion sense
scuffling with a gay activist (the red-head in
the middle is the gay activist… no, really!)

Putin is routinely claiming that pretty much all of Russia’s ills from a declining birth rate to economic decline to a fabricated moral decline to pedophilia and more are caused by homosexuals.  Scapegoating and demonizing a minority for political gain.  Where have we seen this tactic before?

CBS has a photo gallery of some of the violence against gays in Russia.

The Atlantic reports that public displays of violence against gays are on a sharp rise.  A kind of “vigilante aversion therapy” is being employed, wherein homosexuals are lured into situations (for example, through personals ads) or simply abducted off the street, where they are subjected to extreme abuse and humiliation, the whole experience is videotaped and then the video is uploaded to YouTube.

Homosexuals are increasingly being dehumanized and portrayed as not even second-class citizens.  Dmitry Kiselev, anchor of “Vesti”, the most popular news show on state-run TV channel Russia 1, said on-air, “I think that just imposing fines for homosexual propaganda among teenagers is not enough … They should be banned from donating blood, sperm. And their hearts, in case of an automobile accident, should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life.”, to the audience’s applause.

In May, 23-year old Vladislav Tornovoy was brutally tortured, beaten and eventually killed, his naked body left in an apartment building’s courtyard.

While Russia publicly appears the hero for granting Eric Snowden asylum, the political climate is so bad that a leading activist, Alexey Kiselyov, sought and was speedily granted asylum in Spain.  There have been recent reports that probably the most prominent LGBT activist, Nikolai Alexeyev, has caved to government pressure and will no longer be an activist for LGBT rights.

So where does all this hatred come from?

Canadian-based public policy analyst and researcher Angela MacLeod Irons has a theory that it’s a combination of influences, rooted in the establishment of Communism in the country.  MacLeod Irons says, “It was not until the Bolshevik Revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s that attitudes began to change. Under the veil of communism, homosexual behaviour came to be seen as an activity undertaken by society’s elite with no place in the new Soviet state. The act of sodomy became specifically outlawed in 1934 with those convicted subjected to five to eight years in a prison colony.” MacLeod Irons adds as a contributing factor that Russian scientists and psychologists were essentially sequestered from the rest of the world’s body of research.  While academics and professionals from many cultures came to regard homosexuality as a permanent sexual orientation, their Russian peers as late as 1999 still regarded homosexuality as a temporary illness or condition which could be “cured” with the right treatment.  MacLeod Irons lastly points out that the Russian Orthodox Church still holds a highly disproportionate amount of political power in a largely secular state.  The Church is very outspoken in its opposition to gay rights and freedoms, and is influential with the Putin government.

An article in The New Yorker also postulates that the roots of this widespread homophobia lie in the Bolshevik Revolution, and that hatred of homosexuals almost seems to be part of the national identity.  In fact, several lines of the New Yorker article seem lifted almost directly from Angela MacLeod Irons’ paper, and MacLeod Irons is uncredited in the New Yorker article…

Regardless of whether or not this is accurate, it’s readily apparent that the growing hatred of homosexuals in Russia is very deep-seated and will not likely be changing even slightly before the Sochi games.

And the IOC?

The IOC has finally received a response from Russia on their request for clarification on an earlier statement regarding whether or not Olympic athletes face the threat of arrest.  The Russian government’s response was significantly less than clarifying, and it is still unclear whether or not an athlete will be arrested if they demonstrate any kind of solidarity with gay rights.  As of writing this article, there is no further direction from the IOC about what all this means.

The question that I have, is if this is what it is like in Russia with the intense spotlight of international scrutiny and economic pressures around the Games, what will things be like when the Sochi Games are overwith, and the world shifts its attention to other things?

* There were claims of voting irregularities and protests at the time of the election, but even if the claims of inflation of the vote (by 10%) in favour of Putin were accurate, it would not change the overall result of a landslide victory for Putin.  All election forecasts and polls leading up the vote showed Putin winning handily, and the election results were consistent with the polls.

4 thoughts on “UPDATE: WTF Russia?!?

  1. Just when I start to have hope that things are getting better I get slapped down by all the hatred and sheer stupidity still rampaging around the world. I don't know about a boycott. Staying home and doing nothing won't help anyone in Russia. Going to the Games and pretending to be blind / deaf and doing nothing won't help anyone. Someone needs to stand up and protest. Actually, we all need to stand up and resist hatred and stupidity. We all need to write blogs, make vids, help a friend, wear our colors proudly, and make sure everyone in Russia and the world knows that we want everyone to have the right to be freely themselves.

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