Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that violence against gay people is unacceptable and that Russia does not discriminate against the LGBT community. This makes us wonder if Putin knows which country he is in?
At a meeting with junior political parties this month, Putin brushed off criticism concerning Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, saying, “You know how much criticism I had to listen to, but all we did on the government and legislative level [was] to do with limiting [gay] propaganda among minors.”
At the same time he seemed keen to at least touch on the wave of prejudice and violence against the LGBT community that began to arise shortly after Russia’s national law against promoting gay rights in the public sphere passed in the summer, saying, “In the meantime we should not create a torrent of hatred towards anyone in society, including people of non-traditional sexual orientation.”
Putin has previously said that all people are welcome at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
While these most recent statements came couched in a wider political discourse that attempted to assuage fears that Putin is systematically outlawing peaceful protest and making life harder for other political parties, it was also clearly meant to answer criticism that Russia should not be hosting Sochi 2014.
Unfortunately, a wider look at Russia’s human rights landscape speaks to a different reality. Human Rights Watch notes that, since May 2012, Russian lawmakers have passed legislation that specifically restricts public assemblies, adding restrictions on internet content, and also broadening how Russia defines treason. The gay propaganda law has been used to condemn media outlets that have dared to publish pro-gay articles, and recently signed legislation means that all forms of protest at the site of the Sochi Olympics will be banned.
At the same time, Russia passed legislation that has resulted in raids and closures of foreign nongovernment groups (NGOs). This has even led to Russian officials reportedly bugging an LGBT rights group meeting between domestic activists and groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign.
What the meeting was in reality was a discussion about how to peacefully protest the Sochi Olympics and put pressure on Sochi’s sponsors to speak out about Russia’s gay rights situation. These views were presented by host Alexander Buzaladze as “massive LGBT propaganda” and an attack on Russia that is “in full-swing.” The report also called the human rights groups “homosexualists” that it said were attempting to “infiltrate” the country.
The violence against Russia’s LGBT community also appears to be escalating. While attacks against individuals by so-called vigilante groups continue apace, organized attacks against gay clubs have now started to make the headlines, with gas attacks, a shooting at a Moscow club and a violent attack against an HIV group’s headquarters among recent incidents.
Despite all this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is satisfied that Russia fulfills the demands of the Olympic Charter and that the games should go ahead. Sochi 2014 sponsor Coca Cola has also refused to use its influence to rally against Russia’s gay propaganda law beyond reciting its own general policies that it doesn’t support discrimination of any kind.
With Russian lawmakers on record as saying they wished they had waited until after the Sochi Olympics in order to pass the propaganda law, and hints that further laws are in the works, the focus for LGBT rights groups is changing to what will happen once the world’s gaze leaves Sochi after the Olympics and Russia’s LGBT population is left without a media spotlight to help them in their fight against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown.