Russia has never had a particularly good record with regards to human rights, especially, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights. Homosexuality was decriminalised only in 1993, when the Criminal Code was changed, followed by an adoption of a new Code in 1997, this time without any mentions of the same-sex relationships. Being a new democracy, Russia had every chance of creating a different, progressive, and inclusive society. Unfortunately, after a period of complete indifference to the issue, things took a turn for the worse.
As we can see from many examples in history, when the country’s economy goes down and people are starting to suffer, a government often rushes to find a distraction, a common enemy for everyone to pay attention to and hate, overlooking the government’s glaring incompetence and inability to tackle actual problems. Evidently, LGBT and the little rights they had have become the very thing Mr Putin and his government chose for this purpose.
In 2013, the notorious statute banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors was passed. The passage of that bill through the national parliament (the State Duma) was surrounded with a lot of controversy, but with little doubt in the outcome. There are no definitions of “propaganda” or “non-traditional sexual relations” in the statute or anywhere in the Russian legislation, but they are not needed – their absence provides a great deal of freedom of interpretation for the authorities, which was most likely the initial intention. The statute imposes heavy fines for providing any positive information about homosexuality to children, especially through the Internet – they go as high as 50.000-100.000 rubles (approximately 1000-2000 pounds) for individuals. This effectively makes any efforts to educate children and teenagers on the matter illegal. The situation is, however, that such information is desperately needed – Russian society is very conservative in it’s nature, homophobic sentiments are strong, and it is very difficult for gay teenagers to get help and reassurance; in fact, the social environment is becoming progressively more hostile as the government continues to encourage the population in it’s worst prejudices.
In March, Elena Klimova, a journalist from an information agency Rosbalt founded an Internet project called Deti-404 (Children-404), designed for communication and sharing of the common problems for the gay teens after she had received an email from a 15-year-old girl thanking her for the series of articles about the LGBT teenagers in Russia; the girl said that she would have killed herself if she hadn’t seen them at that time. It is immensely important for children finding themselves in that situation to know that they are not alone and that they are normal; projects like this help, but the pressure of society is much stronger.
“Traditional sexual relations are relations between a man and a woman. These relations need special protection.” – says Yelena Mizulina, one of the authors of the statute. She has become famous in the past few months for her inventive initiatives: for example, internet censorship, abortion restrictions and increase of the role of the Russian Ortodox Church in family relationships comes to mind. What more protections are needed there, considering that Russia does not legally recognise same-sex relationships and most people are very conservative, is not clear.
The new law is now fully in effect: on July 21 Russian authorities arrested four Dutch nationals for allegedly spreading “gay propaganda” amongst the minors. However, when the press and Dutch government representatives become involved, charges where quickly retracted. No such luck for the domestic activists, though – on 3 December 2013 a court in Arkhangelsk, a city in the south of Russia, fined two protesters for holding up a sign with the words “There is no such thing as “gay propaganda”. People don’t become gay, they are born this way.” near a local library. Protesters intend to appeal to the Constitutional Court and to the European Court of Human Rights. While the ECHR is more likely to take their cause seriously, there is little chance of that happening in the Constitutional Court. In the past it has refused to consider the validity of the similar statute functioning at the local level. Their refusal stated that the argument for the claim was insufficient.
In the middle of all this government-celebrated discrimination, it is quite baffling to hear President Putin insistently refuse to admit to it in various interviews, at the same time providing logical fallacies and comparing gay people to pedophiles. He is clearly trying to avoid addressing the issue, while not really caring about anybody’s opinion. A lot of western leaders have condemned the law, but their words has fallen on deaf ears – pleasing the homophobic electorate and providing it with an easy target seems to be more important then the international reputation.
Mr Putin keeps bringing up “traditional values” as a core of his new state ideology, in an obvious attempt to use the ignorance of his target audience in his favour. Chances of him changing the direction are very slim, and while he and his officials are busy with securing their power, minorities continue to suffer with little hope in sight.
By Elena Zharikova