Exploring Homophobia in Putin’s Russia

There have been some pretty open criticisms of Russian anti-LGBT laws recently. So far all I’ve done in response is laugh at related (inappropriate) jokes and half heartedly watched Vice’s ‘Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia’ documentary… As it’s been pretty well documented that Russia is homophobic, I’m going to try and uncover the real reasons behind it.

First of all, who even IS Putin? Right, he’s the guy in charge of the Russian Federation (Russia and some of the tiny countries they held onto after the collapse of the USSR). Second, why is he so hostile towards homosexuals? Possible reasons I can think of right now, sitting in a hotel room in St Petersburg, are as follows: the strong influence of the conservative Orthodox Church in Russia? The legacy of censorship left over from Nicholas II, his Romanov predecessors and the Soviet Union? Is it just a distraction from the other problems modern Russia is struggling to overcome at the moment (eg poverty, corruption, alcoholism… to name a few). Having thought about this for a few days while in SPB, I’ve come to the conclusion that (as always in History???), it is ALL of the above reasons, to a certain extent…

BTW: Russian law now prohibits the distribution of homosexual “propaganda” to minors (yup, that’s us). Speaking in defence of gay rights, hosting pro-gay events or equating gay and heterosexual relationships can now result in fines worth thousands of pounds. Gay relationships themselves ARE NOT illegal; though there are zero discrimination protections for same sex couples. According to a survey, SIXTEEN PERCENT of Russians thought homosexuality should be accepted by society (should I be objective? Isn’t that shocking? Especially considering that in Poland <also previously Communist> it’s 42%).

Kay, reason 1 – the church. Religion tells orthodox X-ians that homophobia is wrong (TBF, this is debatable). The Russian Church leader, Patriarch Kirill, has identified homosexuality as a “social ill”. Given that very few Russian Christians will have actually read the Bible in detail (which itself has a range of views on the topic) his views probably have a strong influence on the topic. Anyway, going with that view, and having done some actual research by now, I’ve discovered that my theory is possibly flawed; recent international research has suggested that countries which are more religious tend to be more liberal concerning homosexual tolerance. 80-90 percent of Russians call themselves Christian, and identify their spirituality with ‘national identity’ and ‘moral and ethical codes’. i.e. though not leading strictly religious lifestyles, their judgement on more abstract concepts (as homosexuality may seem to a heterosexual Russian) remains Church. So perhaps it is the light in which Russians view religious influence which has lead to such a radical take on homosexuality?

Currently; Russian society is not very liberal on anything at all. Stalin pushed some VERY anti-Gay propaganda and laws throughout his time which were continued by the USSR into the 1970s (which made homosexuality (illegal from 1933) punishable by a prison sentence or hard labour camp). The legacy of such extreme policies, and the general anti-Liberal atmosphere that has dominated Russia for centuries and centuries, and which REMAINS present today, may very well be a crucial factor in explaining homophobia. The USSR only broke up in 1991 and has had only three political leaders since; Yeltsin the drunkard, and now Putin who alternates the top and second role with his “puppet”, Medvedev (and whose most recent election was partially staged).

With such an unhealthy political climate, many deep rooted social and economic problems which are far from being solved mixed and the suffocating influence of the Orthodox Church, it’s hardly surprising that Russia’s human rights situation is a little dodgy. To put things in perspective, 1980s Britain (under Thatcher, OFC) passed Section 28 which banned homosexual propaganda… We only legalised homosexuality in 1967! This is, to me anyway, illuminating – perhaps Russia is simply thirty years or so behind the West, liberally speaking. Take it from me; Russia’s a beautiful country, judging from the little I’ve seen of it and the masses I’ve only guessed at. Their troubled past has not gone away. Russia’s battle for the future is not over yet; is it about to take a huge step forward (the *revolutionary* punk-rock band Pussy Riot for an E.G.)? – or will its past confuse it? I imagine the dark toxins full of censorship, the Okhrana and betrayal spreading through the historical and extravagant city of St Petersburg (previously Leningrad). Turning it from green/gold/blue into a murky swarm of insults, beatings and intolerance. It’s a dystopian image but with Russia at what seems to be a turning point, the West holds its breath for our <preferred> choice.

Driving past the statue of Lenin on the way to the airport seems a solid, permanent reminder of the past. Shudder. Luckily in just three hours I’m back to the vibrant, tolerant and energetic city of London. We’re fucking lucky to live in a truly Democratic society. It’s this sort of experience that reminds us of it – liberalism is RAD.


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