In a disturbing development, a Russian lawmaker responsible for writing the St. Petersburg version of the new nationwide law that bans anything perceived as pro-gay in that country, said yesterday that the Russian government had no right to promise the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the law would not be enforced against Olympic athletes and guests.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in the town of Sochi.
The new anti-“gay propaganda” law makes illegal anything perceived as being “pro-gay.” That includes speech and actions perceived as being pro-gay, even including same-sex kisses and wearing the rainbow flag (a popular symbol of gay and trans rights). Showing how broad the new law actually is, a Dutch film crew was arrested last week in Russia for simply filming a documentary about gay people in the country.
Gay and trans people in Russia are increasingly targeted for violence by vigilantes that many think are in cahoots with Russian authorities. The violence has now extended to the entrapment, kidnaping and torture of gay Russian teens. The perpetrators, who freely show their faces in videos across Russian social media, are left untouched by the Russian authorities. Who will be the first Sochi Olympics athlete or guest to meet a Russian online and suddenly find themselves the victim of a paramilitary kidnapping?
The IOC had hoped to allay growing concerns over the possible arrest of, and violence towards, gay and gay-friendly Olympic athletes and guests by assuring the world last week that the Russians had granted an exemption to the anti-gay for Olympic attendees. Of course, even were such an exemption real – and we now know that it is not – the Russians can give no credible assurances that the anti-gay skinhead thugs that they’ve enabled won’t beat gay Olympic athletes and Olympic visitors to a bloody pulp.
The International Olympic Committee, in what appears to be a growing panic over the deteriorating human rights, and safety, situation in Russia, has now issued a public letter stating that it is “engaged in active discussion” to secure the safety of Olympic athletes and guests during the Sochi Olympics.
But as noted above, such assurances are meaningless unless the IOC has suddenly found the power to strike down Russian federal law, and control the country’s anti-gay neo-Nazi thugs.
Russia is now facing a global backlash against its seeming-return to the old Soviet ways. The response so far has been focused mainly on boycotting Russian vodka, and particularly Russia’s most famous brand, Stolichnaya. The boycott, less than a week old, has already been surprisingly effective.
But now, with increasing concerns of anti-gay violence in a country where the authorities are either unable, or unwilling, to control their own citizens, the world’s focus is shifting to the brewing disaster that may be Sochi 2014.
How is the International Olympic Committee going to protect us against this?