Russia is Hearing Us: Let the Sochi Protests Continue
Russia’s lawmakers are starting to realize they made a mistake: that passing laws like the so-called homosexual propaganda banábefore the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics wasn’t the wisest of choices.
This epiphany comes courtesy of opera star and Russian MPáMaria Maksakova who last week was filmed telling fellow lawmakers:
“It is sad to realize that the Olympic Games in Sochi, to which we have been preparing for so long and anxiously, may pass with less brilliance than we expected because of this unfortunate initiative, which, I believe, was passed by the [parliament] without a thoughtful discussion and in the wake of not very well-founded ideological cliches.”
Maksakova, a mezzo soprano soloist with St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater,ádelivered this dose of home-truths during a meeting of liberal lawmakers within the presiding United Russia party. During the meeting she said the backlash against the law has been a massive blow to foreign investment in Russia, something her fellow artists have felt as they have sought patronage from other countries, and that it has sparked a wave of hate crimes:
“We are seeing extremely negative consequences as the result of this law with the growth of hate crimes,” she is quoted as saying. “And in [the case with the anti-gay propaganda law] we see extremely negative consequences ľ rise in crime and violence against representatives of sexual minorities. … Our country has suffered a colossal loss to its image around the world.”
Yet, Makasakova didn’t go so far as calling on lawmakers to repeal the law. No, she says that the problem lies in the fact that the ban targets “non-traditional” sexuality. As a mother with two young children, she said she has an interest in protecting her children from all “propaganda” about sex. Makasakova said that if the propaganda law’s language was amended to focus not just on non-heterosexual sex but all sex in general, such an act might improve Russia’s standing and encourage investment once more.
As to this idea the words frying pan and fire spring to mind, but what have her fellow lawmakers made of this? The Party has rushed out a statement saying that Makasakova’s opinions are her own and do not reflect those of other lawmakers. According to RT the author of Russia’s so called gay propaganda law,áSt. Petersburg municipal deputy Vitaly Milonov,áhas also dismissed Makaskova’s comments, saying he is totally opposed to even modifying the ban. Besides, she’s an opera star and the Arts are where “perverts” are common, he reportedly added.
While in real terms there’s not much in Makasakova’s words to celebrate, the very fact that Russian MPs and officials are starting to flinch is encouraging. It also speaks volumes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun using his executive powers to make high-profiled gestures like releasing the remaining jailed members of Pussy Riot or ending the imprisonment of the Arctic 30.
Put simply, by using the Winter Olympics and Paralympics as a leveraging tool, human rights groups continue to have power to affect change in Russia. In case we risk becoming complacent though, in the past few daysáThe New York Times has provided us with a passing glimpse at what life is like for Russia’s LGBTs:
Recently, as a blizzard whipped through the city, I met a 22-year-old bus conductor named Varya. Her hair style was Gothic, shaved on top and hanging on her shoulder in a crimson curtain. She had a toddler, and lived with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s daughter in the kind of family arrangement that some lawmakers allied with President Vladimir V. Putin want to eradicate. They have put forward a proposal — shelved for now — that would let the government remove children from homosexual parents.
Most of her friends are unemployed, Varya told me, and she felt lucky to have a job. She showed me a sticker she had found on her route that morning: “Stamp out faggots,” it read, depicting a jackboot squashing the head of a pink-haired youth. “It’s the neo-Nazis,” she told me. “The stickers are everywhere. They can do what they want because they know the authorities will not stop them.”
The article is an interesting read on a number of fronts, especially on the efforts of young Russian LGBTs who are using the Internet to stay connected and lend each other support.
Chiefly though, the article emphasizes that protests surrounding Sochi must continue, but always with a mind to what helps Russia’s LGBT people help themselves.
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