MOSCOW – Many peoples on our small green planet already live under more or less democratic conditions. This is a boon for mankind and a source of minor, and not so minor, differences in human mores and mentality.
For one thing, it is obvious that, in democratic countries, citizens display more tolerance toward each other and tend to show affirmative acceptance of others’ ideas and way of life.
In contrast, totalitarian and authoritarian rule tends to breed tension among particular groups within society — with ethnic, gender, educational and cultural differences serving as the base for social and ideological divides.
In Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Russia, in Mao’s China, there were, aside from political opponents, various “chosen” categories that routinely came under fire — liberal thinkers, feminist activists, ecological alarmists, modernist painters and sculptors, postmodern writers, disabled and mentally ill persons, etc. One major litmus test for a society — aside from anti-Semitism — seems to be its treatment of homosexuals and — especially these days — the attitude toward same-gender marriages.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the contradictory decades of post-Soviet development have brought to the political agenda issues of human rights, of specific femininist social needs, of the crumbling traditional family, and of gay culture — all perceived by the society as new and generally rather annoying.
Meanwhile, at least since December 2011, the “rainbow columns” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) have taken part in major demonstrations and meetings against Russian President Vladimir Putin, against his discriminating election rules and other antidemocratic laws passing through both chambers of the Duma, Russia’s parliament.
Such protest actions, drawing people from various strata of society, often have been accompanied by fierce clashes between leftist and rightist groups, between liberal pro-Western columns and Orthodox-and-patriotic-minded mobsters.
The organizational committee for the so-called Social March, scheduled on March 2, banned the use of the LGBT symbols during the corresponding rally and meeting.
What is, however, especially intriguing about the whole situation is the mocking regret expressed by Sergei Aksyonov, one of the leaders of “A Different Russia,” a traditionalist movement of indiscernible color, on this decision.
“Instead of luring the LGBT activists with their flags to the Social March and then beating the hell out of them, those organizing the march preferred to resort to a dull ban, just as Putin does,” he said. A good and loyal ally in the common battle against authoritarian rule he is indeed, this Aksyonov!
This grotesque episode can also serve as a reminder that the general mood in the populace is in favor of banning gay culture, and that homophobic mobsters of all colors feel cozy under the official umbrella.
In March, a group of “Orthodox activists” tried to arrange a provocation during the opening of Anti-Homophobia Week at the “7freedays” club in Moscow, which positioned itself as “the first gay-friendly bar” in the Russian capital. It was the second attempt at the famous youth club, and only the enhanced security measures introduced after the initial Oct. 11, 2012, assault prevented acts of violence. Mobsters had to satisfy themselves with throwing two live cockerels through the club gate.
In absence of a clear-cut state ideology, practical decision-making based on changeable moods of the ruler leads to a chaos concerning goals and the means aimed at achieving them.
On one side, catastrophic demographic trends had provoked ardent praise of “family values” (regretfully more in the way of lip service than as a set of concrete policy measures). Family life itself remains in a crisis, and the number of orphans in the country is officially estimated at 730,000.
All of this represents the accumulated result of many negative social phenomena — single mothers leaving their newborn babies at maternity homes, unhealthy lifestyles that entail premature deaths of parents, routine deprivation of paternal rights on grounds of domestic violence and heavy drinking, etc. Thus the need for adoptions is very high.
On the other side, latent anti-American and anti-Western feelings in the highest echelons of power have already led to such regretful steps as banning adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, and rumors loom of a general prohibition of any adoptions by foreigners.
At the same time, the government’s ability to stimulate domestic adoptions has been weakened by the absence of adequate financial funds in state coffers — mostly because an enhanced share of budget expenditures has been earmarked for the military-industrial complex. As for eventual adoptions by same-gender families, they are out of question, because the very concept of legal gay or lesbian households is not tolerated in this country.
About three decades ago, Stephen Fry, the world-famous British actor, writer and publicist, chose to raise his acrimonious voice against a draft law aimed at declaring as a punishable crime the “propaganda of homosexuality as an acceptable equivalent of family life.” He mocked his native country’s infatuation with the respectable “normal” family and stated with sadness that the adjective “family” (as in “family values” or “family entertainment”) was not being used less frequently in Britain of the 1980s than the adjective “Aryan” had been used in the Germany of the 1930s.
This spring, after gay-hater and Duma deputy Vitaliy Milonov met this British celebrity at Mariyinsky Palace in St. Petersburg for a chat, he had to admit “it was like coming into contact with an alien civilization” — a civilization of tolerance like that of the Netherlands, where many of Fry’s dreams have come true.
Should the Russians be proud that, in the second decade of the 21st century, anti-gay legislation is in force in some major cities, including the country’s “second capital,” St. Petersburg?
Many perceive it as a disgrace, that the Duma is preparing the third, and final, reading of a federal law providing punishment and considerable fines for the “propaganda of homosexuality.” On the day of the first reading of the “homophobic law,” LGBT activists arranged a “Day of Kisses” rally at the Duma building and underwent beatings, egg-throwing and ketchup smearing from homophobic mobsters.
While France has just become the ninth European country to legalize same-gender marriages, Russia is moving in the opposite direction, away from tolerance, noted the Voice of America edition in May.
Yet, actions in support of the LGBT cause are growing in number. During the latest Week Against Homophobia and Transphobia in April, about 40 LGBT activists arranged a flash mob in Moscow’s center, posing with their Scotch-taped mouths, to protest the hushing up of homophobic violence committed against those who disclose their sexual orientation.
At the website Grani.ru, one sees a rainbow-colored Rubik’s Cube, the logo for the anti-homophobia blog, where the number of posts is rapidly growing.
In the same collection of essays titled “Paperweight,” Stephen Fry brought up a well-forgotten quotation — “a patriot loves his country, a nationalist hates all others.” It is a pity that the variety of national self-confidence nurtured in Russia nowadays has more in common with the second stereotype than with the first.
Not all nationalists are homophobic mobsters, but all LGBT-haters sure do look like narrow-minded nationalists.
By the way, amid the Cold War frenzy, Fry prophesied that with “democracy and freedom,” nationalist crowds would flood Russia’s streets.
Andrey Borodaevskiy (firstname.lastname@example.org), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka, from 1994 to 2007.