Putin and gay pride

Transnational Mobilization of Political Weakness

Repression of sexual minorities by Russian authorities

Published on Chaos International
Translation: Lawrence Myers

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On June 30, 2013, Vladimir Putin announced a law against “propaganda encouraging minors to accept non traditional sexual relationships”. This law aims to prevent LGBTI activists (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Intersex) from using public space for promoting their rights, and also forbids, “the diffusion of all information likely to arouse this type of interest in minors”.However, the effect of this new legislation is the endangering of liberty of expression and, de facto, liberty of the press. It otherwise not only sanctions Russian citizens, but also extends to foreigners present on Russian soil.

Historical background

On September 27, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted a resolution by majority, initiated by Russia, for the “Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties for a Better Understanding of the Traditional Values of Humanity: Best Practices”. This text thus reveals the profound aversion that Moscow has developed against the LGBTI community and has led to the rejection in December 2008 of the “Declaration Relative to Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Still, during a vote on this new provision, the Council charged the Advisory Committee to pursue its study on the role of traditional values. The report’s conclusions were made public last March. In it, the UN proceedings very clearly warn against resorting to “traditional values,” notably when States seek to systematize or to discriminate against a part of their population. But, three months later, this warning was unable to prevent the Duma from voting a new legislative text obviously targeting homosexuals and bisexuals who are labeled “non traditional,” therefore neglecting Human Rights at the same time.

In this regard, multiple actors have intervened in order to exert pressure on Moscow by asking the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to respect and to make others respect its Charter, which contains several articles protecting sexual orientation and freedom of expression. Nonetheless, the Committee confirmed last September that it would not deprive Russia from organizing the upcoming Olympics – to be held February 7-23, 2014, in Sochi – and this despite the Russian government’s persistence to seek to apply its liberty-killing clauses before, during, and after the Games.

Moreover, Russia has also been chosen to organize the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Consequently, it will have to comply with the code set forth by article 3 of FIFA’s (International Federation of Association Football) code. Said article protects the sexual orientation of participants. In the case at hand, the association asked the Russian government to clarify its law. In parallel, other western initiatives are also taking shape aiming to block the Russian law. Take for example the Russian vodka boycott put into place by gay bars and nightclubs or the creation of a Facebook page campaigning for a Sochi Olympic Games boycott. In the face of these mobilizations, the Russian minister of sports, Vitali Moutko, was provoked to declare in August 2013 that, “The stronger that Russia becomes, the more she displeases certain individuals. We are simply a unique country”. Even so, this remark implicitly creates an amalgam of the country’s economic system and the organization of its civil society, notably as it pertains to each person’s sexual orientation. As it happens, the Putin-era homophobia is a prolongation of the attitude already crushing the country under Stalin whose regime defined homosexuality as an illness inherent to the bourgeoisie and to capitalism.

Theoretical framework

The ahistorical construction and mystification of traditional values. The rights, which were historically constructed as universal henceforth, include all human communities, no matter their culture. This very principal of standardization often finds itself often poorly perceived by populations. The aforementioned feel all the more threatened in their new social representations as new international norms are imposed on them. It is in light of this feeling of loss of a point of reference that social forces are established in order to reinvent and glorify the supposed traditional values. From there, these antiestablishment movements present themselves as spokespersons of traditional populations that have allegedly been, they say, stripped of their identity. In doing so, in order to legitimize their stance, they rely on a mythology of origins, a supposed panacea to economic, social, and cultural problems, brought about by the process of globalization.

The disparity of transnational mobilizations. Transnational protests emanate not only from numerous organizations, but also, sometimes from networked individuals. Yet, if this leverage by intervening individuals sometimes reinforces collective action, it more often leads to divergent discourses and frequently ends in tension or conflict. The transnational movement thus finds itself all the more weakened.

Analysis

While Russia definitively decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, homosexuals are today first and foremost considered to be Russian before being recognized as homosexual. In reality, since the globalization of the fight against homophobia has rapidly expanded and since the promotion of the “Declaration Relative to Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” Russia has chosen – as have many other countries – to maintain its current homophobic leanings. In so doing, the already unstable situation of homosexual persons has not ceased to deteriorate.

Beyond any doubt, these repressive policies put into effect by the established authority weigh on the values and preferences of citizens. For the Russian government, it is a question of finding a way to avoid any debate on economic and social problems by designating a scapegoat associated with demonized globalization. We shall in this case establish a parallel with certain African nations such as Uganda, a country where homosexual persons are allegedly “Caucasians” from whom one must protect oneself.
Finally, in light of these punitive provisions, we cannot help but be reminded that Stalin sent thousands of homosexuals to the gulag.

From now on, with this new law neither newspapers nor activist associations will be able to mention the existence of sexual minorities. However, the civil society is already proving to be considerably weakened by the autocratic power in place in such a way that the associations defending homosexual groups will have little weight in the face of the established order. This is especially true, as the links between these local and transnational entities remain fragile. No coordination has been set up between the boycotts and the pressure on the decisions of the IOC or FIFA. In the same way, the petitions and international “kiss-ins” are not integrated into a logic of global protest. It follows that the transnational movement is becoming fatigued, which explains why the IOC consequently decided to organize the winter Olympics in Sochi, as it had initially planned; the only missing piece is FIFA’s decision.

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