Putin’s Dreams of Empire Are Pretty Gay
November 12th, 2013
With all the recent noise coming out of Russia these days on gay rights (or the lack thereof) it’s easy to lose sight of why Putin has gone along with the anti-gay legislation when it has only caused problems for him in the West. If Sochi is all about projecting a vision of Russia as a nation worthy of investment and a leader in world affairs, why risk letting the “gay problem” overwhelm the message?
This Buzzfeed piece by J. Lester Feder is a good introduction, although the title is misleading. What Feder documents is how existing anti-gay sentiment is being used by pro-Russian forces within former Soviet bloc countries to tie those countries closer to Russia and, more importantly, steer them away from the EU and into Putin’s “Customs Union” instead — not a very prosaic name, that — sounds a bit like the Trade Federation in Star Wars. A more straightforward name like “Russian Union” might remind everyone of that Soviet one they had 20 years ago.
What many Western gay rights activists too often miss is that anti-gay sentiment is not being created or fomented by Putin or the anti-western, pro-Russian crowd. Anti-gay sentiment already exists, at about the same levels it existed here in the US 50 or 60 years ago. The comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis are also inept — unlike Hitler whose party platform identified Jews as the problem from the get go, anti-gay legislation in Russia has been grass roots and Putin merely stood by while it spread from oblast to oblast in the early 2000s. It was only this past June that a federal law was finally passed, only 9 months after the New York Times was reporting massive anti-Putin marches in Moscow – that is to say, these anti-Putin protests created a little spark in Putin’s eye and, 9 months later, a federal anti-gay law was born.
Fast forward to the present — Putin’s imperial designs on his neighbors suddenly tie in very, very well with federal anti-gay legislation. To its neighbors, Russia is suddenly a bastion of morality and also the seat of the glorious Winter Olympics, a brave, proud country that can save Ukrainians and other slavic nations from the pedophile values of the West. Or, as the group Ukrainian Choice, a local grass roots anti-Western group, put it — “Association with EU means same-sex marriage” (via the same Buzzfeed article linked above.)
Putin wants to draw his neighbors into as close a replica as possible of the former Soviet Union or, if he had his choice, one country called Russia that stretches from Riga in the north to Odessa in the south. The fear in slavic countries of the imposition of “Western” values, specifically gay marriage, is already very strong, so suddenly what seems like problematic social legislation to the West seems like the cause of the moral and the just to many in these former Soviet blocs.
Sochi is going to be a balancing act for Putin but one that ultimately plays into his imperial wet dreams — his neighbors will be watching as every bit of Western noise against the new anti-gay law is answered with a smile and a pledge that Russia does not violate human rights. Many of Russia’s neighbors will agree — to too many, “gay” is not an inherent human condition but rather the actions of sick perverted individuals hoping to prey on their children. Father Putin is not about to let that happen.