The latest news out of Russia it that the government is now wiretapping gay activists in an effort to possibly paint them as foreign agents who are enemies of the state.
The Russian government spied on a meeting between local gay and trans activists and international human rights groups, organized by the Soros Foundation, and attended by Human Rights Watch, All Out, and America’s own Human Rights Campaign (HRC is our largest gay rights group).
Russian state TV broadcast audio from the meeting on November 12, in an effort to prove a “western homosexualist invasion” of Russian was taking place.
What a seriously messed up country.
Those of you who didn’t have to live through the Soviet years should count yourselves lucky, because for the rest of us, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is all too sadly familiar.
I visited the Soviet Union in early 1984 and it was a beautiful and terrifying place. People on the street, on public buses, on airplanes, were scared of being seen with us. The climate of fear was pervasive. I’ve traveled to around 30 countries, and have never been to a scarier place. It lived up to its reputation and then some, including watching several new friends be arrested by the secret police for hanging around with us.
And now President Putin has made his bed with the worst elements of Russian society – not just homophobia, but xenophobia and racism and violence too. The Russians are still kidnaping young gays, torturing them and posting the videos online. The government does nothing about it. So now the growing conspiracy of kidnappers is targeting foreigners, as we predicted it would, and focusing on race. I wrote the other day about the young black South African who was held captive these men and had a watermelon shoved in his face. Violent racism was already a problem in Russia, but with Putin’s wink and a nod it’s now becoming a problem for foreigners too.
Our reporting on Russia began with the country’s passage of a nationwide ban on “gay propaganda,” that basically is a ban on anyone being openly gay, or anyone voicing opinions that are perceived as pro-gay.
But quickly, as predicted, the speech ban became a threat to foreigners as the top levels of the Russian government threatened to arrest foreign Olympic athletes, media and guests attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As usual, the International Olympic Committee, seemingly more interested in corporate sponsors like Coke, McDonald’s and Visa, than human rights or the safety of Olympic attendees, has whitewashed the threat and deteriorating human rights and public safety situation in Russia.
This is a country in which one Russian expert recently admitted it is not safe for black people to visit anywhere in the country that is outside of Moscow’s city center.
The irony of course is that the clampdown against gay and other minorities appears to be happening precisely because the Olympics are coming. So in a very real way, the Olympics are responsible for the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia. Congrats, Coke, McDonald’s and Visa!
Fortunately, human rights advocates, around the world, are fighting back. Whether its targeting Putin’s cultural allies, or more recently absolutely destroying an ongoing Russian business investment forum taking place in New York City – strike that, that WAS taking place in New York City. Now it’s a wreck after its keynote speaker dropped out, as did the law firm that was cosponsoring and hosting the event, in the face of rising concerns from human rights activists, most notably NYC’s Queer Nation:
According to the Goodwin spokesman: “Recently, several troubling issues, including the Russian government’s anti-gay policies, were brought to our attention, and … Mr. Silkenat withdrew as keynote speaker for the event over this past weekend. These issues were discussed at length by Goodwin’s leaders, members of our Russian practice and the leaders of Goodwin’s longstanding partner-led LGBT committee. Based on these concerns and Mr. Silkenat’s withdrawal, we reached a decision [Monday] night that we could not provide space or support for the event and communicated that to The Russian Center.”
Sounds like the business climate in Russia has turned a tad sour. Sad, that.