Nancy Goldstein really is one of my favorite writers. Smart, succinct, and able to pull a lot of data together, from various sources, in an interesting, new way. Her new Guardian piece about the plight of gay and trans people in Russia (I literally almost wrote “Soviet Union”) excels.
As a bit of background, over the past few years Russia has cracked down, hard, on gay and trans people living in that country. The officially-sanctioned brutality became especially severe in the past few months, when they outlawed adoptions to foreigners from countries that recognize marriage equality, and worse, basically outlawed anything pro-gay nationwide. That means pro-gay speech is illegal, filming a documentary about gay life is illegal (as a Dutch film crew recently found out), and even wearing rainbow suspenders is illegal (since the rainbow is a symbol of the gay rights movement).
In response, gay, trans people, and our allies around the world announced a boycott of Russian products, particularly Russian vodka. At the top of that list is Stolichnaya, probably the most famous Russian brand.
Video of Russian thugs (many think they’re in cahoots with the authorities) beating up gay rights protesters:
While some doubt Stoli’s Russian credentials, Stoli has bragged for years about its Russian roots. The company is owned by the one of the 100 richest men in Russia, and is headquartered in Moscow. And on the Web site of Stoli’s parent company, SPI group, you find the following:
At the SPI Group we are very proud of what we have achieved. In the space of eight years we have taken a disparate group of formerly state-owned companies operating in Russia and the Baltic states and turned them into one of the world’s leading drinks groups. Today we are the biggest exporter of Russian vodka in the world – and one of the most successful groups in our home country.
Now to Nancy’s piece. Do read the entire thing. It’s excellent. This part, towards the end, is especially good. She’s responding to the International Olympic Committee’s bizarre claim that it negotiated a deal where Russia’s new anti-gay law might not apply to Olympic-goers:
Had Putin reignited Russia’s abuse of its Jewish citizens, it would have been unthinkable for the IOC to issue a statement suggesting that non-Russian Jewish athletes, pundits, and spectators could go have a blast in Sochi because we’d be spared the anti-Semitic violence sweeping the rest of the country. There’s just no way. The American Jewish community and the Obama administration would have (rightly) enacted trade sanctions instantly. There would have been no statement from the State Department like the one issued the same day as the IOC announcement saying that it does not support a boycott of the games.
So how does a pogrom against LGBT people and our allies pass muster in 2013?
Twenty-first century queers aren’t going to wait quietly for a diplomatic solution while each month more of us are tortured and more of us are murdered. Last month, killers reportedly stabbed and trampled a man to death before putting his body in his car and setting it on fire. Just weeks before, 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi’s friends murdered him because he mentioned he was gay while they were getting drunk, according to the BBC. They raped him with beer bottles before smashing his skull in with rocks.
We’ve been here before. And we know the power of economic sanctions and boycotts. When Congress finally came around in 1986 and passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (overriding President Ronald Reagan’s veto) that banned all new trade and investments in South Africa, other countries followed suit, South Africa’s economy went into free fall. Five years later, its Parliament voted to repeal the legal framework for apartheid.
Nancy’s right. The only reason we’re seeing any international waffling on ratcheting up the pressure against Moscow is because the victims are gay and trans, and still in 2013, even in the West, discrimination against gay and trans people, while rejected, it often treated as somehow B-List. Meaning, people (and governments) deplore it, but don’t quite get as outraged as they would if the victim were another traditional minority.
Well, some of us have learned the lessons of history, and particularly Russian history. As Nancy notes, Putin’s tactics smack of the Soviet years. And nothing will change in that country unless we make it change. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.