Understanding Russia’s homophobia

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Friday, February 21, 2014


WESTERN media has thrown a lot of flak at Russia for its anti-gay laws, and it does seem strange for an ostensibly modern European country to be so medieval in its views on homosexuality. Middle Eastern nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon fit the stereotype of “countries that hate the color pink” more than Russia does.

Since Russia became the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the awareness of “comrade” Putin’s new anti-gay laws has spread. According to the new laws, Russia has banned the promotion of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations towards minors.” The law will levy fines for such offenses from 800,000 rubles ($24,000) to 1 million rubles ($30,500) for legal entities, from 4,000 rubles ($120) to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and from 40,000 rubles ($1,220) to 50,000 rubles ($1,530) for officials.

Take note of the terminology: “propaganda.” A little note on the Russian language: the Russian word for homosexual is “gomoseksualist,” and the Russian word for homosexuality is “gomoseksualizm,” just like the word for democracy is “demokratizm” or “kommunizm” for communism.

The Russians believe homosexuality is an ideology.Everyone in the west or in the southeast, as the case may be with Thailand and the Philippines – is aware that most homosexuals are born that way. It would be impossible for a man to turn gay after reading a bunch of pamphlets and seeing the rainbow flag everywhere.

Despite this, the Duma (Russia’s version of parliament) and the Russian Orthodox Church still believe that if you throw enough “gay” at the general direction of a straight, god-fearing population, they’ll suddenly turn pink and begin attempting to procreate with members of the same gender.

Some lawmakers even believe that homosexuality is a disease (North Korea shares the same view) that can be treated via proper education and counseling.

To add to that, Russia has traditionally been anti-gay – the first recorded ban on homosexuality in Russia was 500 years ago. Back then, open homosexuals were put to death. The Soviet Union was notorious for its anti-gay policies. Under Stalin, male homosexuals were sentenced to five years hard labor in a Siberian gulag – however there were no criminal sanctions for lesbians. This was probably because there were a large number of high ranking Soviet officials who were pedophiles, and the law was extended to include them.

In fact, today, pedophilia is also linked closely with homosexuality in the former Soviet Union. To the ordinary Russian, a pedophile is the same thing as a homosexual, which is probably why 88 percent of Russians support the new law. This is a startling number, considering how many people outside the west are against it. But there are some who say that this is exactly what Putin wants – by signing the anti-gay bill, Putin is uniting the traditionally homophobic Russians against the “pro-gay” west, by making them believe that the United States – portrayed as a chaotic, atheist, capitalist society – is against traditional Russian ethics and values. So in essence, if people protest against gay rights in Russia, they are further strengthening the image that “the west is the enemy.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 21, 2014.

Opinion

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