Russia Is Sick and Backward and Homophobic and Better Than It Was 20 Years Ago

Gay rights are currently the most publicized human rights issue in Russia because of the law signed by President Putin on June 30. There are calls to move or cancel the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, or at least boycott them; and Putin’s government is routinely compared to the Nazi regime or the Stalinist state of the 1930s. There’s a new celebrity canceling a trip or concert in Russia every other week.

The new law is a travesty and should not exist in a modern society. But the thing is: Russia is not yet a modern society, and the law reflects the widely held opinion of the Russian people. It’s good to remember that, until 1993, homosexuality in Russia was punishable by prison terms from three to five years.

For any politician to promote gay rights would be suicide. Even the most popular opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, doesn’t want to talk about gay rights.

The new law is purposefully vague, and it remains to be seen how it will be implemented. Nothing has changed in Moscow since its enactment: No one is arresting men walking down Tverskaya holding hands or women kissing each other. No one is banning books, films or theater performances. Maybe, however disgusting the new law is, the reaction is a bit harsh. Worse, trying to punish Russia for not being like the United States or Europe is punishing many non-homophobic Russians, who are missing out on canceled concerts and celebrity appearances. The best thing for Russia is for us not to be isolated.

As for the Olympic Games, the 2008 Olympics were held in China, and what minority isn’t abused there?


  1. Evgeny

    I would disagree that Russia is not a modern society. On the contrary, it is the most modern society with hardcore modernity values. The LGBT right, feminism, and other similar issues are post-modern and they deconstruct modern values.

  2. The issue isn’t whether Russia is better than it was 20 years ago (although back then Russia wasn’t as it is now ruled by a proud KGB spy and was moving towards the West while now it is moving away, so an argument can be made), or whether China is just as bad as Russia (only in the perverse world of Putin’s Russia do two wrongs make a right), the issue is whether Russia is on the road to becoming as bad as it was 20 years ago and whether it is very, very bad right now and should be opposed. And anybody who knows Russia knows that it is very bad and getting worse and should be opposed.

  3. Searley

    As someone who also has some firsthand experience I find this terribly off-base. This site’s concept of short, powerful opinion pieces being integrated into modern media is a venerable one. However, this blurb does nothing more than reinforce stereotypes and feign accuracy.

    This story falls short on many fronts. It fails to elaborate on the creation of the law, which the Russians I’ve talked to widely consider to be a bad political move by Putin. It also fails to describe the disconnect and difference between Russian society and its government’s actions. Though the author does mention that the law has sparked debate, he omits that before the law homosexuality was simply not a topic for serious public discussion. I cannot possibly make a general assertion on Russian society’s position on homosexuality; neither, so it seems, can the Russian people themselves make that assertion. Nevertheless, to dichotomize Russia as either extremely homophobic or begrudged about missing a Selena Gomez concert is insufficient on both ends.

    This form of media is valuable when it’s connected to place, but rubbish when it only feeds oversimplified, pre-existing notions of our exceedingly complicated world. The Russians have a common expression-Мне всё равно, which translates to “it’s all the same (bad) to me.” If this is tomorrow’s media-мне всё равно.

  4. This is just a blog post, not a profound treatise on the state of Russian hearts and minds or even a detailed discussion of the anti-gay law. All I meant is that there’s more to the story than what’s portrayed in the West, Russia’s not all bad, gay people are not being persecuted and hunted down, it’s not the end of the world to have Olympics in Sochi. The law is bad for everyone, but if Russians are not homophobic maybe I live in a different country.

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