A woman was making her way through a busy carriage in the Moscow underground with a sack of coins and a picture of a sick child, mumbling about an urgent operation required overseas. This common after-the-fall-of-Communism scene evoked a déjà vu sensation in me, visiting Russia after a long absence.
A decade ago I was there working in the American Airlines representative office in Moscow and it was common to see people with children, even with infants, begging in the subway. It was discovered later there was a whole underground business of exploiting children, often drugged for the most convincing performance.
This time I was on my way to the airport catching a flight home on the 1st of June, the day Russia celebrates the International Day for Protection of Children with a worn out slogan ‘give all the best to children’. But the reality there hardly calls to celebration. According to UNICEF, child mortality in Russia is two times higher than in the EU and only 20 percent of Russian children are found to be healthy. Every second child is born in poverty-stricken families. In 2009 alone almost 109,000 children became victims of violence, nearly 1600 of them died. There are a record number of orphans in Russia and unlike in other counties, the majority of them are social orphans whose parents are alive but either abandoned them or were legally deprived of parental rights.
In Russia, men have one of the highest mortality rates in the world and their life expectancy at birth has just reached 64 years. Along with the record low birth rates this causes a demographic crisis with a population decrease of five million in the last decade. While the turmoil after the breakout of the USSR and prolonged economical crisis would be the most obvious reasons behind the population decline, Russian President Vladimir Putin consistently blames gays for the country’s demographic problem.
Unable to escape the déjà vu feeling of reading this somewhere before, I easily find a quote from another politician who used to blame gays for the unborn children – Heinrich Himmler:
“We must exterminate these people root and branch. Just think how many children will never be born because of this, and how a people can be broken in nerve and spirit when such a plague gets hold of it.”
I bet Putin, fluent in German, could translate it better from the original.
Like Weimar Germany after the WW I, Putin’s Russia feels humiliated losing its status of global superpower and turning into a third world country. In Germany, Nazis united a frustrated nation by presenting it with external and internal enemies, putting the blame for their misery specifically on Jews and homosexuals. These days it seems to be still very tempting to blame a minority for the nation’s decline. And children are once mixed up into the dirty politics to manipulate the peoples’ conciseness by exploiting their fears and prejudices.
Last week 436 deputies of Russian Parliament (Duma) voted unanimously for the Defense Against Gay propaganda law that aims to protect children from ‘becoming gay’. Now an individual who for example dares to comment on-line about ‘the social equality of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships’ can be fined $5,000NZ while foreigners could also be detained for 15 days and/or deported.
In Nazi Germany newspapers were feeding the public with stories about Jews abducting and killing children before Passover to use their blood in religious rituals. In Putin’s Russia, increasingly controlled by the state, media portrays gays as paedophiles praying on children and foreign powers as marionettes in the hands of the ‘gay mafia’ soliciting Russian children for sexual exploitation through gay adoption.
It can be hard to imagine but Russian politicians and some media go as far as scare fellow citizens with ‘gay terror’ and ‘gay fascism’. They say that heterosexuals are being repressed and harassed by homosexuals nagging about their rights and trying ‘to recruit children into homosexuality by exposing them to gay parades’. It’s hard to escape associations with Joseph Goebbels propaganda-spreading stories about Jewish terrorists, atrocities against German civilians in countries that would be chosen for invasion, Poland’s aggression against Germany etc.
United under the Putin’s regime and newly rediscovered Orthodoxy, Russia is proudly showing its strength and commitment to the moral values by banning this week foreign adoptions by same-sex couples after the personal request from the Russian President. Of course, unanimously. To set an example, France is tipped to be punished for passing its equal marriage bill with the banning of all adoptions to France altogether. Adoptions to the USA have already been banned last year for a different reason, in retaliation for the US critique of human rights in Russia.
UNICEF representation in Russia that dared to criticize adoption ban, was ordered to close down and leave the country.
But does this at all express concern of the Russian Parliament with the falling birth rates in the country and its care for the well-being of Russian children, or is it just a cynical populist policy in the country with over 650,000 orphans? Gay couples have never been allowed to adopt in Russia anyway and foreigners have to follow lengthy and costly processes to be able to adopt in the first place.
While working for the American Airlines in Moscow I met many Americans who came to Russia for adoption and heard their touching stories. A Russian child can only be adopted by foreigners if it has been rejected for adoption at least twice by the Russian citizens, so usually only the sick or handicapped children go overseas. Potential parents are scrutinised, adoption has to be approved by the Russian court and foreigners are required to pay around $50,000. Still, foreign adoptions accounted for half of all adoptions. Americans alone have adopted over 60,000 children in the last 20 years.
Instead of caring for some mythical unborn by a gay couple, would not it be better if the Russian authorities concentrated on providing a decent life to real children, especially orphans? Who will benefit from ban on the foreign adoption except for the politicians gaining populist dividends? Who will now take care of the thousands of sick children rejected for adoption in Russia, why are they deprived of a better future in the West?
And how would gay children be affected with the new legislation? The law deprives them of any hope to grow feeling normal, accepted and equal. So what would their depression levels and suicidal rates be like when they are they are already four times higher for Russian children comparing to children across the EU? And how would it affect HIV rates that are now reaching 8 percent in some regions in Russia among males over 15-years-old?
Deputies struggle to define what gay propaganda is, however even displaying a rainbow flag in the street became a criminal offense last week when GLBTI activist Elena Kostuchenko was sentenced and fined in Moscow for doing just that. In the latest poll, 88 percent of the respondents support an anti-gay propaganda law, even if they fail to provide examples of how it manifests. And this is nothing new for the country. When Nobel Prize winning “Doctor Zhivago” was published in the West, Soviet citizens wrote letters to the media demanding prosecution of its author starting their letters with “Although I have not read the novel, I am condemning it…”.
And record levels of public support and an unanimous vote is nothing new, but a worrying déjà vu reminder of Communist times with nationwide voting of 99.8 percent in favour of the single party, 10 minute-long standing ovations after every phrase of the country’s leader and open trials of various ‘enemies of the state’.
Adolf Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf” that:
“…all propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. … The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.”
Gay rights in Russia are in dire straits. Gays have been deprived of the right of assembly for years and now are effectively restricted in their freedom of speech as well. Moscow authorities, tired of banning gay parades for eight consecutive years, imposed a ban on gay parades for the next 100 years. Any other GLBTI-related meetings are banned too while anti-gay meetings of the Neo Nazis are allowed. And if unsanctioned GLBTI meetings still go ahead, the police routinely allow Neo Nazis to beat gay activists before detaining them later.
Last year 20 masked skinheads raided a Moscow gay club, injuring 10 of its patrons. Last month a man was beaten up and burned in the Kamchatka region. Another young man in Volgograd on the Victory Day 09 May came out to his drinking buddies only to have been tortured and raped with beer bottles before his scull was smashed in the city park during daytime among several passer buys – none of whom called the police.
I can’t escape the feeling that the state-supported propaganda of homophobia in Russia is aimed at regaining public support for the authorities by uniting people through exploiting their archaic fears and prejudices. The Kremlin’s cheap, but deadly populist policy reminds me of Moscow’s underground child abusing gang that was exploiting vulnerable children while collecting capital for its own far from noble agenda.
What can we do?
There are calls to boycott the Olympics in Russia now, but I think that the best way is through education as the Russian society is becoming really brainwashed, including many Russian expats. Most of us know Russian people – it could be your neighbour, friend, hairdresser, photographer, painter, panel beater – and I believe it is vital to bring up GLBTI rights issue with them (be ready to strong and negative opinion) in a constructive discussion and try to explain it is really about human rights.
And I think we can and should bring up the issue and request Russian politics/artists/businessmen visiting NZ to make a stand on it. There is Russian Ballet coming to town, there are sportsmen, opera singers on the tour etc. There is also a Russian shop, Russian Club, Russian Church, the newspaper… Of the Russian Federation – I believe we need to confront Russian people on the issue, find out where they stand and try to educate them.
And of course we can and should voice our concern directly with Ambassador Valery Yakovlevich Tereshchenko and the Embassy of Russian Federation, located at 57 Messines Road, Karori, Wellington and reachable via email at email@example.com. We can also urge leaders around the world and within Russia to work to eliminate all anti-gay laws and protect all citizens from violence and discrimination in Russia by including our voices in this online campaign: https://www.allout.org/russia-attacks.
Article | Alexander Lowë. Photo | Artist Peter Pavelensky protesting naked in front of the St Petersburg Legislation Assembly.
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