Siberian Rainbow/ By Yurii Plotkin

An interview on gay rights from the other side of the information wall

Над Канадой небо сине,                                                                        Sky is blue above Canada,

Меж берёз дожди косые,                                                                      Slanting rains between birches.

Хоть похоже на Россию,                                                                     Looks so similar to Russia,

Только всё же не Россия.                                                                     But it is not Russia still.

А. Городницкий                                                                                      A. Gorodnitsky

 

When an average American citizen opens some Russian newspaper translated to English, a little sarcastic smile appears on his face. And actually it’s quite clear why, as the latest news from Russia is the recent enactment of the “Anti-Gay Propaganda Law”. It was signed by Vladimir Putin, the president of Russian Federation, on 30 June. After that, and in accordance with the Russian constitution, it was offered by the Legislative Assembly of Novosibirsk Oblast (a federal subject readers have probably never heard about) and passed by the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia.

According to this law, people suspected of “gay propaganda”, which can be interpreted as any action, can be arrested and imprisoned. It’s interpreted by mass media in America and England as a prohibition to be gay. Four European citizen were denied entry to Russia because of this law.

This news can seem shocking for a modern democratic society, at least for England, where same-sex couples can now officially get married . A recent headline published in The Guardian read “Russia should learn from Britain’s record on gay rights”. In some blogs and comments, people have compared Russian anti-propaganda law to the Nuremberg laws. Reactions by a big number of people and newspapers worldwide is not groundless. A rather authoritative Russian news portal, gazeta.ru, reported that some Holland gay activists wanting to make a film about LGBT society life in Russia were arrested in Murmansk at the beginning of July for being “propagandists”.

I interviewed Oleg Dremov, a St. Petersburg homosexual, in order to get to know whether the situation in Russia is really so bad for gay people. As someone living in a city where the “anti-propaganda law” had passed in a regional level even before the events described above, Oleg must understand the situation better than others do.

Q: So, Oleg, you are a member of LGBT society, right?

Oleg: Well, actually, no. I’m a representative of this orientation, but I’m not a member of some activist group.

(This was great, because when you interview a person who is a member of some activist group, who is involved in politics directly, he is going to be too partial.)

Q: Does anything bother you at the moment? Does anything, let’s say, impede your calm existence?

Oleg: You mean our local reality? Well. Not much, actually. No. Maybe, it’s because of a proper shape I took due to this situation. I mean, I have no need, for example, to run with a flag but when I wanted to kiss my boyfriend on the street I did it without any problems at all. I think, If I was born NOT in a Siberian town far away, I would act in a different way and society would accept me otherwise.  I go to gay-clubs etc, and all in all my relations with the gang limits oneself to it.

Moscow opposition rally "for the social rights of Muscovites" 2 March 2013, LGBT activists. Photo credit: Bogomolov.PL

Moscow opposition rally “for the social rights of Muscovites” 2 March 2013, LGBT activists. Photo credit: Bogomolov.PL

Q: And what about people in Russia?

Oleg: Well, they mostly just don’t know the subject. I have many friends who used to be “daily homophobes” until they knew me. But it’s stupid to think that now in the Russian Federation everybody will became tolerant suddenly. And folks really thinks so. They actually hope that if we go outside and tell everybody who we are then all grannies in little villages far-far away will understand everything and accept us. For God’s sake, not all of them even know about existence of such a phenomenon. And we tell them about tolerance and gay marriage. Gay marriages are so far. And therefore sometimes now I think that all this activity around the subject increasing is good. Because people at least are starting to form their opinion. Positive, negative – it’s not important. They logically create an opinion with knowledge on the topic.

Q: OK. And the last events. This stupid law. Does IT make you worry?

Oleg: Well… You know, I wrote about it in my blog. It does worry me. But only as a human. Sometimes I even feel like an asshole because all other gays proudly stand up and fight for their rights, and I just sit here. But I really don’t think that it’s the proper time. I think it’s too early for all this. On the one hand, it’s understood that now the government hysterically found some weird inside enemy, the gay (in addition to the outside enemy, the USA).  I don’t know why.

The law has consequences. Whether it continues or not – and I hope it will not – it doesn’t influence  my daily life. I didn’t have an aim to propagandize my lifestyle. Lots of people are trying to look forward and so they are afraid that we are going to be held criminally responsible for same-sex love. And I, I don’t really think so.”

 

The law banning gay sex was canceled in 1993. It had existed in Russia since 1934 due to initiative of The Joint State Political Directorate. Its co-head, Genrikh Yagoda, wrote to Stalin that police had declassified some groups of people “creating a network of salons, centers, dens, groups and other organized groups buggers with further conversion of these associations to direct spy cell … homosexual active, using a closed caste of gay communities in direct counter-revolutionary purposes, politically decomposed different social strata young people, particularly young workers, and also tried to get into the Army and Navy”. Reflecting paranoia, this law was often used as a cause of arrest. People arrested as gays could be imprisoned for five years.

Oleg said he sees the Dima Yakovlev Law as a greater breach of human rights. The law prohibits the adoption of Russian children by American citizens who are gay, a move that will leave Russian children in orphanages, as adoption in Russia is not as popular as in USA.

 

Q: Who are gay activists for you? Are they fighters for your rights?

Oleg: The majority of activists who make their careers on such things are birds of a feather. It doesn’t really matter who exactly they are. If they weren’t gays and were, i don’t know, Jews or Orthodox Russians. It’s just a personal need for them to make their audience move. Populism. So most of them, especially those who rule the movements, just make their careers. Sure, there are lots of guys in this surroundings who sincerely care. And I respect them. Very much. But there is for example some guys who only party in clubs and don’t absolutely care of this activist stuff. They absolutely don’t communicate with the straight and all in all are kind of happy with their lives.

Q: Deputates. Who are they? Ideological homophobes or just frightened people without any knowledge?

Oleg: It’s the same. Populism. You see, for some reason, the character of the political clown is very popular in Russia. People pay attention, they like these weird guys with their weird ideas. Milonov, the Russian depute who initiated the anti-gay law in St. Petersburg, just caught the trend and developed it. Now Russia tries to recreate the original state model “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”, which was the dominant ideological doctrine of Nicholas I. And it’s apparent: This unexpected Russian Orthodox Church revival, weird Putin monarchy and “the nation”.

It’s nothing but populism. And there is no ideology in the actions carried out by Milonov and his comrades. The way he acts is just advantageous. Here is a feeling that the Russian government and the Russian people are apart… It just can’t be like that in the 21th century.”

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