Alexander Kondakov https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/12930/all cached version 09/07/2018 13:35:12 en The rise of Russia’s vice squad https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/the-rise-of-russias-vice-squad <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Developments in Russia’s intellectual community confirm that the worst Soviet practices and institutions are being restored. They have no place in Russia today – yet they’ve already become entrenched in it. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksandr-kondakov/ideologicheskaya-poliziya-nravov" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_27268043_10214012828530785_789431295_o_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_27268043_10214012828530785_789431295_o_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Students and EUSP staff at the conference. Right in the last row – Alexander Kondakov and Evgeny Stororn. Photo from the author's archive.</span></span></span>Academic research in Russia, particularly in the social and political sciences, is increasingly being directed by the law enforcement agencies. Two ongoing developments in St Petersburg confirm this trend. The first is the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-dubrovsky/closure-of-european-university-at-st-petersburg-dead-cert">crisis that has enveloped the European University at St Petersburg</a> (EUSP); the second is the story surrounding <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/01/22/evgeny-shtorn-how-the-fsb-tried-to-recruit-me/">Evgeny Shtorn</a>, an employee of the city’s Centre for Independent Social Research who has been forced to flee Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">For more than a year now, EUSP has been battling to claw back its educational license, which it almost lost in December 2016, before being stripped of it completely in summer 2017. The Federal Service for the Supervision of Education and Science (Rosobrnadzor) alleges that the university is ill equipped for teaching, citing various technicalities as evidence (there’s no swimming pool, you see, and the lift doors are too narrow). </p><p dir="ltr">As for Shtorn, his “transgression” was simply working for an academic organisation – Petersburg’s <a href="https://cisr.ru/en/">Centre for Independent Social Research</a> – which, in 2015, was added to Russia’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“foreign agents” registry</a>. It was precisely on these grounds that Shtorn was refused Russian citizenship, for which he (a stateless person) had applied according to standard procedure. The formal justification for the refusal was entirely unrelated to Shtorn’s research work and social activism (which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">encompasses LGBT issues</a>). In reality, however, it was precisely these factors that were behind the pressure on him.</p><p dir="ltr">In both cases, the final decisions were formalised in accordance with administrative law yet inspired by ideological control. A Rosobrnadzor commission pays a visit to EUSP and stuffs its final report with vague objections: the university’s auditoria, claims the report, are not “logistically equipped” for the teaching of political science and economics. What this might imply is a subject for esoteric speculation rather than legal interpretation. Nevertheless, the wording is perfectly legitimate: the licensing of educational activities can be denied on its basis.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The FSB deliberately and knowingly breaks Russian laws when it interferes in the procedures of other agencies </p><p dir="ltr">As regards citizenship denial, the law provides a closed list of potential reasons. Shtorn was refused citizenship because he allegedly gave “false information” about his place of residence. When district police officers arrived at the address he’d indicated on the form, he wasn’t at home. As far as the factual side of things is concerned, it’s important to note that they arrived during working hours, when Evgeny was, well, at work. As regards the instrumental deployment of the law, however, what matters is the fact that a norm can now be used against a person: if he’s not at home, perhaps he’s actually lying when he claims to live there.</p><p dir="ltr">Now, as for Rosobrnadzor’s technical gripes with the EUSP, many struggled to believe they were genuine throughout the affair. Ever since the legal battle between the university and the state got underway, commentators have concurred that these developments constitute an organised assault against the freedom of thought. Deputy Vitaly Milonov, responsible for giving voice to the awkward positions of the state bureaucracy, confirmed these suspicions, <a href="https://youtu.be/AZMhGeL6Pdw">taking every opportunity</a> to castigate the EUSP’s Gender Studies programme. In today’s Russia, gender and sexuality represent an enormous bone of contention between government-endorsed conservatives and the progressive intellectual community, of which the EUSP is a part. </p><p dir="ltr">Other observers, meanwhile, have focused on the economic interests potentially being pursued by the instigators of the witch hunt against the university: someone within the Russian government <a href="http://www.the-village.ru/village/city/city/258560-fbk-medvedev-spb">may have taken a fancy</a> to the Small Marble Palace, where the EUSP has been based since its foundation. But a recently floated theory strikes me as the most convincing one of all: the university may have attracted the <a href="https://www.dp.ru/a/2018/01/18/Kafkovedenie">interest of an FSB</a> department engaged in the containment and elimination of “ideological sabotage”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_11136208_831901586888923_2410818173808386272_o_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_11136208_831901586888923_2410818173808386272_o_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo from the archive of Evgeny Shtorn.</span></span></span>The story of Evgeny Shtorn, too, points towards FSB involvement. In interviews with <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/01/20/75217-u-menya-byla-noch-chtoby-prostitsya-so-vsey-zhiznyu">Novaya Gazeta</a> and the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/news-42748173">BBC Russian Service</a>, Shtorn maintains that his citizenship application was allegedly refused because he hadn’t filled out his form in the proper fashion – this despite the fact that the form was thoroughly checked on receipt by the same officials who issued the refusal. Shtorn was subsequently invited to the Federal Migration Service to discuss Russian migration legislation in person. But when he arrived at the Migration Service office, Evgeny encountered a sentinel of the ideological order – an FSB man who’d decorated the office with a portrait of Andropov and a bust of Dzerzhinsky. It turned out that the FSB officer had gone through Shtorn’s citizenship documents and, surprised to discover that the applicant was working for a “foreign agent”, he’d recommended that the application be rejected. Needless to say, this was not a legal course of action: working for an NGO listed as a “foreign agent” is no basis for citizenship denial. Hence the necessity of claiming that the applicant had provided false information on his form.</p><p dir="ltr">At the “migration legislation” meeting, the FSB officer informed Shtorn that, if his understanding was correct, the US was gradually subordinating Russia by means of “soft power”. The wellsprings of US “soft power” in Russia, he said, were organisations such as the CISR and the EUSP – organisations used by the American government to disseminate views and values alien to this country of ours: support for LGBT rights, discontent with the regime, criticism of Soviet-era repressions, and so on and so forth. </p><p dir="ltr">Russian values, in the FSB’s eyes, were the following: subordination to one’s superiors; loyalty; “traditional” expressions of sexuality. All other values were alien and served as instruments for the subjugation of Russia. The FSB learned of this imminent threat from publicly available sources, and namely from Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard. In the stories surrounding the EUSP and Shtorn, however, the chessboard has shrunk to the very specific cases of a modestly sized university and a stateless person. Nevertheless, both stories showcase the revival of institutions from the past. The Soviet past. The past we’ve been fleeing for so long.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Post-Soviet “organs” </h2><p dir="ltr">After the collapse of the USSR, Soviet state institutions experienced a long and painful crisis. Many of them failed to find a niche of their own in the new reality, in the new type of state brought into being by the 1993 Russian Constitution, which affirmed (at least nominally so) democratic freedoms and human rights as the basis of Russian statehood. One of the first obvious candidates for elimination in this new state was the centrally planned economy. Determining supply and demand by means of statistical calculations became inadmissible: in capitalist societies, supply and demand are determined by autonomous market agents, and the limits of their freedom can be regulated by the state only to a certain degree. It is of no consequence in this case which of the methods is better – what matters is that the former was rendered rudimentary in the new conditions.</p><p dir="ltr">Another Soviet institution to become unfit for purpose was that enforcer of ideological control, the KGB. If Soviet citizens were officially forbidden to think their own thoughts – to say nothing of thoughts at variance with the positions of the Communist Party – freedom of thought is guaranteed for the citizens of Russia by Articles 13 and 29 of the Constitution. Monitoring people who think “incorrectly” therefore ceased to have any purpose. Though the “security” agencies remained in place, they acquired new functions that partly overlapped with the functions of other law-enforcement agencies. It is important to emphasise that Russia’s new KGB (the FSB) has become a law-enforcement organisation – that is, an organisation that formally acts within the framework of the law and applies it to resolve conflicts. In theory, then, ideology should play no role in the endeavours of this agency. The reality, of course, is rather different.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Resurrecting the form of Soviet state institutions leads ineluctably to the replication of their content</p><p dir="ltr">Throughout post-Soviet history, Russia has witnessed an ongoing reestablishment of Soviet-style statecraft institutions. What should have perished with the Soviet Union had merely entered a brief dormancy period that facilitated adaptation to the new conditions. Did this happen because statecraft in post-Soviet Russia was performed in keeping with Soviet textbooks and the Soviet experience, or because it was in the interest of the new ruling class to recreate the statecraft system of the USSR, wherein all branches of power are integrated into a single administrative chain of subordination? Either way, the state agencies of the past underwent a gradual resurrection in the new Russian state. Most likely, the explanation should be sought in the incompetence of government officials capable of doing only what they’d been taught to do in the past. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_3748e19e-e647-4abc-9a21-30f0fa68612d_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_3748e19e-e647-4abc-9a21-30f0fa68612d_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Graduate students of the European University at the meeting.</span></span></span>Resurrecting the form of Soviet state institutions – that is, the administrative logic that determines their behaviour and position in the system – leads ineluctably to the replication of their content. Under the new conditions, this content is naturally subject to modification: you can’t step into the same river twice. We may no longer have a planned economy, but the country’s principal industries and a host of market agents have been subordinated to the state bureaucracy and pursue the goals it sets for them, even if said goals are inconsistent with revenue generation. Which is precisely why certain business can continue operating at a loss – provided they’re catering to the interests of the state. Whether or not some new product or other proves a hit among consumers is unimportant. What matters is that its creation was ordered; consumers can always be forced to use it, as has happened, for example, in the case of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mir_(payment_system)">Mir payment system</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The content of the new Russian ideology – to be controlled by state security – remained unclear for a long time. Russian nationalism can be integrated into this ideology only to a limited degree: it is problematic because it provokes undesirable conflicts. Ditto Russian Orthodoxy. Although both ideas undoubtedly play a role in the current fragmented ideological project, they’ve not become central to it. Only recently was it decided that the ideological keystone of today’s Russia would be <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-barbashin/limits-of-anti-americanism-in-russia">anti-Americanism</a>. Although the belief that Russia and the United States represent opposing poles in a conflict of values is not underpinned by the facts, it works well enough as a central ideological concept, facilitating distinctions between “good” and “bad”, “us” and “them”, “Self” and “Other”. This gives the ideological police a raison d’être: with a particular coordinate system now specified and the requisite dichotomies easy to erect, it makes sense to exercise control and mete out punishment.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Doubting the undoubtable</h2><p dir="ltr">This ideological police turned out to be the central protagonist in the cases involving the EUSP and Evgeny Shtorn.</p><p dir="ltr">It is not the law that is enforced by this police: it is their own value system, habitually moulded by specific individuals within the power structures. Privately, of course, FSB personnel have the right, as citizens of Russia, to think whatever they see fit; they can deem the US their ultimate enemy and regard Russia’s research institutions as weapons in ideological conflicts. Nonetheless, they cannot act on these beliefs in their professional activities, for restrictions on freedom of thought as stipulated by ideological control are contrary to the Russian Constitution and federal laws. Institutions that implement the law, the FSB included, are expected to abide by that selfsame law – or is this expectation just another of the “false” values that the US, taking its cue from Brzezinski, has foisted upon us? Nowhere in the current legislation is it specified that universities deemed by someone or other to be “ideologically alien” must be denied an educational license, or that individuals in the employ of “foreign agents” must be denied citizenship. Furthermore, if the Russian Constitution is anything to go by, this cannot be specified in the current legislation.</p><p dir="ltr">FSB personnel, needless to say, know all this full well themselves, which is why they force other agencies and departments – the Migration Service, say, or the Ministry of Education – to hunt for formal reasons to give this red light or that, thereby allowing the true motives to be kept hidden. In other words, the upshot is that the FSB deliberately and knowingly breaks the law when it interferes in the procedures of other agencies in order to monitor the ideological loyalty of individuals making applications to these agencies for whatever reason.</p><p dir="ltr">Even in the Soviet era, it was the exception rather than the rule for state agencies to act illegally – the USSR didn’t guarantee freedom of thought and legislatively codified its limitations. In today’s Russia, however, there would appear to exist an agency that restricts heterodox thinking without any legal grounds to do so, even as far as current Russian legislation is concerned (to say nothing of the “alien” norms of international law).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The FSB believes that Russian citizens love the regime, and social scientists ask whether or not this is the case</p><p dir="ltr">In this situation, the social sciences and humanities become targets for the ideological police. In the domain of the social sciences, universities and research centres are engaged in criticism: they do not toe the party line. We scholars and researchers critique the current state of affairs or some prior state of affairs (the government’s behaviour included) because this is the essence of our work. We’re interested in situations where some factor or other may take us by surprise, situations where conflict may be unearthed, situations whose reality is far removed from idealisations thereof. The FSB believes that Russian citizens love the regime, and social scientists ask whether or not this is the case. The very fact of such enquiries is sufficient to bring us into conflict with the FSB, since we’re effectively permitting ourselves to doubt the “undoubtable”.</p><p dir="ltr">The stories surrounding the EUSP and Evgeny Shtorn, which have brought this conflict into sharp focus, testify to the fact that Soviet-era institutions of ideological control are being resurrected in a post-Soviet political reality and becoming progressively more powerful. But existing as they do in this new reality – and specifically against the backdrop of the norms established by the Constitution of 1993 – these institutions also undoubtedly contravene the law. They have no place in the new Russia, yet they’ve already become entrenched in it.</p><p dir="ltr">The ideological department of the FSB cannot vindicate its right to exist in the current legal environment, since we, the citizens of Russia, do have the right to think differently, to criticise the authorities, to refuse loyalty to the regime. Our value ​systems ​are diverse: they don’t all follow the same template. Some of us support LGBT rights, and some of us do not; we can hold different views on gender equality and the country’s historical experience, vote for different presidential candidates, have preferences for different films and plays. In theory, this diversity of worldviews is legally unrestricted, and the “traditionalism” (or otherwise) of your values legally inconsequential. “In theory” being, once again, the operative phrase. </p><p dir="ltr">In reality, we’re all being monitored by an ideological morality police who are guided by ignorant interpretations of American political scientists.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Leo Shtutin.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-pisarenko/whos-left-to-fight-for-russian-academia">Who’s left to fight for Russian academia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-dubrovsky/closure-of-european-university-at-st-petersburg-dead-cert">Closure of the European University at St Petersburg: a dead cert?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-barbashin/limits-of-anti-americanism-in-russia">The limits of anti-Americanism in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Kondakov Russia Education Fri, 02 Feb 2018 21:36:43 +0000 Alexander Kondakov 115929 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Here are the towns where it’s dangerous to be gay in Russia. A culture of silence and a law “against propaganda” are keeping them that way. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kondakov-shtorn/kakie-goroda" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An LGBT pride parade in St Petersburg, 2014. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Maria Komarova / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s become a tradition across the globe to celebrate LGBT Pride in the last days of June. Usually, such events are held on the weekend closest to the 28 June, as it was on that day that the modern LGBT movement in the USA began in earnest. It was an initiative that inspired strategies and tactics of human rights advocacy in many other countries. Although it takes different forms across the world, LGBT pride raises issues of freedom of expression, human rights, and healthcare for LGBT people. In some cities Europe and the USA it has turned into something of a commercial event or cultural festival for the wider public. In other locations, LGBT people march under the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-33307028/turkey-pride-march-hit-with-police-water-cannon" target="_blank">threat of police brutality</a>.</p><p>In Russia, the first LGBT pride march was held <a href="http://lgbtru.com/worldwide/lgbt-history/3125/" target="_blank">in 1991</a> on the square before Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre as part of the Soviet Union’s first LGBT festival. The more modern history of LGBT parades in Russia began in 2006 when LGBT activist Nikolay Alekseyev attempted to officially organise a pride march in Moscow. Years passed, and the city authorities still haven’t found the guts to permit a march for LGBT human rights through the capital’s streets and provide security for its participants. However, other banned marches have been <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/21/russia-european-court-rules-gay-pride-ban-unlawful" target="_blank">successfully challenged in the European Court for Human Rights</a> and Alekseyev has generated support in other regions of the country. He and his colleagues have applied for permission to hold pride marches in Blagoveshchensk, Cherkessk, Cherepovets, Kazan, and Nizhny Tagil among many other cities across Russia, though they have always been rejected and sued city governments in response. A notable exception came in 2013, when the governor of St Petersburg <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/06/29/gay_pride_st_petersburg_rally_ends_in_arrests_over_gay_propoganda_law.html" target="_blank">did not forbid the city’s LGBT pride parade</a>, although it did encounter violently homophobic protesters who tried to obstruct the march.</p><h2>The metrics of hatred</h2><p>In fact, these violent far-right groups keep close tabs on LGBT activists in Russia and the events they hold – or try to. While the government fights some homophobic campaigners and inciters of hatred, it supports others. After all, instigating violence against LGBT people is essentially the Russian state’s official policy towards sexuality. For example, the 2013 law banning “propaganda” of “non-traditional sexual orientations” sparked a wave of hatred against LGBT people across the country. As we discovered <a href="https://www.academia.edu/33142314/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2_%D0%90._%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B2%D0%B5_%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8_%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%B2_%D0%9B%D0%93%D0%91%D0%A2_%D0%B2_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8._%D0%A1%D0%9F%D0%B1._%D0%A6%D0%9D%D0%A1%D0%98_2017" target="_blank">from court decisions last year</a>, after the “propaganda” bill was signed into law, the number of hate crimes against lesbians and gay men doubled.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2012, we found 33 examples of such hate crimes, while 2013 saw 50 hate crimes against LGBT citizens. By 2015 there were 65. We registered not only a common rise of LGBT hate crimes, but also the rise of homicides: following the enactment of the “propaganda” bill, there were more and more murders of people simply for being LGBT.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The growth in hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia. Image courtesy of the authors.</span></span></span></p><p>Of course, these are only the recorded crimes – many LGBT people may not dare approach the authorities after harassment, humiliation, or worse. These data are based on official court statistics, though we had to dig through the results ourselves. Nobody officially collects information on violence against LGBT people in Russia. On the contrary, the authorities pretend that nothing is happening. This attitude sometimes reaches absurd extremes when government officials claim that LGBT citizens simply do not exist. </p><p>After facts came to light about the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">systematic torture of gay men at secret detention camps in Chechnya</a>, the republic’s press secretary <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-chechnya-gay-men-killing-torture-vladimir-putin-dmitry-peskov-chechen-leader-ramzan-kadyrov-a7693291.html" target="_blank">immediately retorted</a> that “you cannot repress those who are not and cannot be here in the Chechen Republic.” Despite the justified focus on Chechnya, these claims are hardly specific to one culture or region within the Russian Federation – officials in other regions speak in much the same manner. For example, the mayor of Svetogorsk in Leningrad Region declared his city “free from gays.” He subsequently argued that LGBT issues and rights are irrelevant there, neither an LGBT community nor LGBT people exist in the small city.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality</p><p>This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality. These comments certainly reinforce existing prejudices and reproduce violence against vulnerable groups. But what is the real picture? Let’s say that the authorities of a Russian city actually permitted an LGBT march to go ahead? Would these violent protectors of a false morality then take to the streets to fight those marching, to stop their fellow citizens expressing their point of view and standing up for their rights? <br /><br />It depends on where you are. In other words, how dangerous is it to be gay in different Russian cities?</p><h2>A “sexual stratification” of Russian cities</h2><p>Media doesn’t simply inform society about current affairs; it also provides frames for understanding social problems, rendering some topics more important than others by virtue of generating discussion around them. Violence against LGBT people may be a key cause for concern in the human rights movement, but that urgency is lost in public discussions.</p><p>But media can also remedy societies from oblivion by sharing stories which are otherwise forgotten or ignored, and spark positive change. For example, the murder of gay teen Matthew Sheppard was one of the most publicised hate crimes in the US history. The furore in the press eventually led to changes in hate crime law.</p><p>One of the effects of Russia’s “propaganda” law was not simply the rise in violence against LGBT people. It also led to more frequent ewspaper publications on LGBT topics, hence public discussion on a topic which still remains taboo for many people. This was not entirely what legislators intended. We benefitted from this situation by researching the details and contexts of violence against LGBT in Russia as they were reported in media. The <a href="https://lgbtqrightsinrussia.wordpress.com/" target="_blank">Sexuality Lab</a> studied almost 4,500 media publications about violence against LGBT people in Russia between 2011 and 2016. We categorised all newspaper articles <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map" target="_blank">in accordance with the sexuality of the victims reported</a> and the locations of crimes committed. All cities were then classified by population, making it possible for us to calculate an index of safety for every urban settlement.</p><p>The data reveal that the most dangerous places for LGBT people are villages in the countryside and small towns with a population below 100,000: they are characterised by the highest rates of violence against LGBT people per 1,000 persons. The safest locations are the largest cities (Moscow and St Petersburg): despite the greater number of crimes against LGBT in these cities, their relative indexes are actually the lowest. This can be explained by understanding the circumstances of these hate crimes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk</p><p>Very often, hate crimes are committed as soon as perpetrators learn about the victim’s sexuality, which is usually revealed in a conversation in a private space over a drink or meal. These social gatherings occur more frequently in smaller settlements, because that way of life is simply more common there: there are fewer bars to go to, fewer crowds to blend into, and more free time to kill. People drink alcohol and talk about their personal lives as there’s no other way to spend one’s spare time. Alhough many people in Russia actually <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/do-russians-give-damn-about-homosexuality" target="_blank">do not give a damn about LGBT issues</a>, some still react violently to a person’s coming out – and such reactions are more common in smaller towns and cities.</p><p>The graph below shows incidents of violence against LGBT people in different towns and cities of Russia. We compare capital cities, big cities (of 500,000 people and above) and smaller cities (of between 100-500,000 people). This graph shows that the smaller a city, the bigger the probability of violence against LGBT people. Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk. This could explain why the mayor of Svetlogorsk thinks there are no gay men in his town – anybody with half a mind in that position would leave the place as soon as they felt threatened.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="198" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Violence and hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia, by city size. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>These results aren’t surprising; they just prove once again that homophobia is on the rise in Russia and that hate crimes are supported in its remote regions. We have based our claims on a survey of media publications, which limits the whole picture only to material in the public domain. As a result, there will be many hate crimes which went unreported, and some remote regions not covered in our media survey. However, it is no exaggeration to say that there are parts of the country which are simply not safe for LGBT citizens. </p><p>One of the ways to protect oneself is to keep silent about one’s sexuality, concealing it from the public in order not to become a victim of violence. So this secrecy around the existence of homosexuals is reinforced not only by political decisions, but also by individual moves as many LGBT people opt to hide their sexuality. While their response contributes to a culture of silence, they cannot and must not be blamed for it – simply put, they fear for their lives.</p><p>The LGBT pride parades pursue a radically different approach: a public and full-throated political demand to recognise that LGBT people exist. Do our data confirm that Russian cities are not ready to host such events on their territories? If our goal is to fight the silence, the data show exactly the contrary: as long as anybody suffers and is killed because of their sexuality, it is important to shout at the top of our voices to try and stop the murders and political climate in which they are tacitly tolerated. Human rights marches across towns and cities of all sizes are one way of articulating this; a means to make violence visible and demand that it stop.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/transgender-life-in-chechnya">A transgender life in Chechnya</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Evgeny Shtorn Alexander Kondakov Rights for all Russia Human rights Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:51:20 +0000 Alexander Kondakov and Evgeny Shtorn 112004 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Alexander Kondakov https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/alexander-kondakov <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Alexander Kondakov </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Alexander </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Kondakov </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <p>Alexander Kondakov is a specialist in the sociology of law, and director of the <a href="https://lgbtrightsinrussia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Laboratory for Sexuality Research</a>.</p> Alexander Kondakov Wed, 17 May 2017 01:18:14 +0000 Alexander Kondakov 110969 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Kondakov22_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />From what little data we have, it’s clear that homophobic violence in Russia is on the rise. Russia’s LGBT people are victims of ignorance and intolerance — yet the state won’t lift a finger. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/lgbt-karta"><em><strong>Russian</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/LGBT_Attack_2013_Yandolin.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/LGBT_Attack_2013_Yandolin.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>LGBT people are attacked during the “Day of Kisses”, an act of protest against Russia’s 2013 bill criminalising “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. Photo CC-by-2.0: Roma Yandolin / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Today marks the International Day against Homophobia. It’s commemorated every year on 17 May, and its goals are clear: to shine a light in the dark, overcome taboos, and share the most up-to-date data and findings about LGBT people and their lives — whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. First and foremost, the day marks a turning point for science — for it was on 17 May when, after a mass of disproved data and studies, the World Health Organisation officially declassified homosexuality as an illness. From then on, homosexuality has not been considered an illness, for the simple reason that there is no scientific evidence to consider it as such.

 That said, the removal of homosexuality from a list of diseases and illnesses by no means fully resolves the immense number of political and social problems faced by LGBT people in a number of countries, including Russia. And that’s why today is a good opportunity to continue this campaign against illiteracy.</p><p>In Russia, the attitude of politicians and many ordinary citizens towards LGBT people is often based on ignorance, stimulating widespread prejudice and hatred. The country’s law, passed in 2013, against distributing propaganda about “non-traditional sexual orientations” to minors is one such result. The law presumes that children can become gay or lesbian simply from reading a newspaper article — of course, no scientific evidence to prove this was ever presented by the lawmakers behind the bill. 

</p><p>In justifying the law, Vladimir Putin declared that while any discrimination or oppression against LGBT people was unacceptable, so was “propaganda”. Essentially, the president called for calm on both sides, hoping that “people of both traditional and non-traditional [sexual] orientations can both stop this aggression”. The problem, however, is that a legislature which restricts the distribution of information about homosexuality for the sake of petty prejudice has itself committed an act of aggression. By doing this, the authorities gave a green light from on high to beat us while we’re down.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Aggression is a daily fact of life for many gay, lesbian and transgender people living in Russia today</p><p>Aggression is a daily fact of life for many gay, lesbian and transgender people living in Russia today. Although fully reliable, scientifically sound data on acts of violence against LGBT people in our country do not really exist, some monitoring of these crimes is carried out by civic organisations, as required by international democratic structures. Arguments by civil society for the humane treatment of LGBT people are rejected by local politicians, who believe that any public-spirited activism by definition serves shady foreign interests. They refuse to see that those suffering in this story are Russian citizens — fellow citizens, who are being unjustly brutalised and victimised.&nbsp;</p><p>There’s much that we can’t know, and may never know. But a survey of open and accessible data, for example, newspaper articles, can give us an approximate scale of this campaign of violence.</p><p>Hate crimes against LGBT people, for example, come from a place of deep ignorance and prejudice — not only do the culprits not know anything about homosexuality, but they don’t want to learn about how LGBT people live, what problems they deal with (and if they wanted to, the current circumstances would prevent them anyway). All they know is that they hate them.&nbsp;</p><p>Instead of sensible and mature discussions, idle speculations rule the day, in which homosexuality is declared a disease, a sin, a crime — and everything else under the sun. It’s been forgotten that the lives of LGBT people, like anybody else’s, are diverse and complex — like anybody else, they are not defined nor delineated by their sexuality, and have their positive and negative sides.</p><p> <iframe src="https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col4+from+1l6NzblSeHthb0yR8OaW_craazD8yU0B4Fp4lga6q&amp;viz=MAP&amp;h=false&amp;lat=56.469973044121105&amp;lng=94.47913451872569&amp;t=1&amp;z=4&amp;l=col4&amp;y=3&amp;tmplt=4&amp;hml=GEOCODABLE" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" height="300" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>This ignorance and its terrifying consequences also manifest themselves in different ways — from the law against “gay propaganda” to outright murders. My colleagues and I at the Laboratory for Sexuality Research estimate that from 2011 to 2016, the Russian media reported on at least 363 instances of crime against LGBT people. These included everything from attacks on gay clubs, domestic killings, extortions and violence during political demonstrations to simple robbery. In the course of this research, we&nbsp;analysed&nbsp;nearly 5,000 different articles in both federal and regional newspapers, news&nbsp;websites&nbsp;and magazines in order to arrive at this rough figure.&nbsp;</p><p>We’ve created a map, too, in which the geographical spread of this violence is clearly visible — from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, LGBT people in Russia are being beaten, humiliated, robbed, and murdered. Of course, newspapers and magazines are a genre unto themselves — they don’t record everything, just those events considered “worthy of publication”. That’s why nearly half of the points shown on this map are murders — tragedies which provincial and federal newspapers have to sit up and notice. Between 2011 and 2016, homophobes murdered at least 149 people across Russia. Going by media reports, gay men are the most frequent victims of all these crimes — in 2011 alone, the victims we know of include 47 gay men, nine lesbians and two transgender people.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The situation for gay men and transgender people has only deteriorated over the past five years</p><p>The situation for gay men and transgender people has only deteriorated in years since. In 2016, for example, 70 gay men and eight transgender people were assaulted. Over these six years, the media published information on at least 393 victims of homophobic attacks. This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, not only as the press doesn’t report on every case of violence, but also because some articles don’t give the numbers of victims. One can only guess at how many such incidents never reach the press at all, remaining a private matter and a private trauma for those LGBT people subjected to them.&nbsp;</p><p>Dry figures about criminal statistics are what we call a scientific fact. These are a grim testament to a society that desperately lacks real data and real information rather than sensationalist hatred — and this is a problem which expresses itself in rage at sexual minorities. As it not infrequently leads to physical violence, LGBT people are paying the price for Russian society’s ignorance.

What little data we have help us to shine a light on this urgent issue in Russian society today — data which, let’s hope, can become the basis for informed, humane policy, in clear distinction to a farcical law against “propaganda.”</p><p><strong><em>Want to find out more? Our contributor&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">Dmitry Okrest speaks to four men who’ve recently fled Chechnya’s brutal anti-LGBT campaign</a></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin-">&quot;You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions">Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Kondakov Queer Russia Russia Human rights Wed, 17 May 2017 01:15:41 +0000 Alexander Kondakov 110968 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Do Russians give a damn about homosexuality? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/do-russians-give-damn-about-homosexuality <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5; float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/stats.jpg" alt="" width="160" />P<span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">opular support is usually one of the reasons offered in support of Russia’s new anti-gay laws. To what extent does polling actually support such assertions? Alexander Kondakov presents the latest research data.&nbsp;</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">The Russian parliament has been debating the issue of &lsquo;gay propaganda&rsquo; since last year, and although the final wording of the <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russias-duma-waves-through-antigay-law--by-436-votes-to-0-8654582.html">new law</a> has been softened to make it less explicit, there is no doubt that its discriminatory meaning is the same. The conservative MPs standing behind the controversial laws almost universally claim they are doing so with the backing of the general public, arguing that for most Russians homosexuality is unacceptable and alien.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Certainly, on first glance, they would seem to have a point. In a survey carried out by VTsIOM,&nbsp;86% of those polled answered that they would support &lsquo;a ban on homosexual propaganda&rsquo;. However, the same poll also showed that only 6% thought they had actually encountered any such propaganda (in Moscow and St Petersburg this figure rose to 14%). So you have a muddled and rather irrational picture &ndash; support for a ban, but banning something never actually encountered.</p> <p class="p1">The CISR has actually been polling Russians on homosexuality since 1990. Comparison of the data over the years is quite revealing. At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, for example, Russians were asked &lsquo;What should we do with homosexuals?&rsquo; Almost half of those polled (48%) answered &lsquo;isolate them from society&rsquo;, 10% suggested they should be &lsquo;helped&rsquo;; 16% answered &lsquo;leave them alone&rsquo;, and 26% were &lsquo;don&rsquo;t knows&rsquo;. When the same survey was repeated in 2005, the numbers had changed significantly: 31% of those surveyed answered &lsquo;isolate them&rsquo;, 10% again wanted to &lsquo;help them&rsquo; and 10% were don&rsquo;t knows, but this time 49% favoured leaving them alone.&nbsp; In other words, acceptance of homosexuality had risen very significantly.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">If people were presented with only two options, &lsquo;homosexuals should be treated as criminals&rsquo; and &lsquo;homosexuals should be left alone&rsquo;, then the majority in favour of tolerance is even greater: in a poll run in 2002, for example, 36% of respondents supported criminalisation, 64% were happy to let them be. There was no particular difference in response between different social and occupational groups, although people working for the police and armed forces showed the least tolerance. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">On the other hand, when those polled were asked to say how they would define the term &lsquo;homosexuality&rsquo;, a much more marked homophobic attitude emerged. In a 2001 survey where people were asked to complete the statement, &lsquo;Homosexuality is ...&rsquo;, 36% answered &lsquo;a form of immorality&rsquo;; 31% - &lsquo;an illness&rsquo;; 20% - &lsquo;a sexual orientation&rsquo;, and 1% -&lsquo;a sign of talent&rsquo; (12% were don&rsquo;t knows). These results more or less tally with other research on the subject, such as that done by the <a href="http://www.levada.ru/eng/levada-center">Levada Centre,&nbsp;</a> which has compiled the comparative table below, showing results of polls it conducted between 1998 and 2012.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/graph1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="p1">These polls show both a decreasing number of people without any view on the subject and an increasing number adopting a position of intolerance, and linking homosexuality to immorality and bad habits. The only unchanging figure represents those who see being gay as a sign of talent.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Ask a stupid question......</strong></h2> <p class="p1">What is interesting is that the more options available to respondents, the more negative the responses received. Surveys are usually designed in such as way as to give people a choice of several answers reflecting disapproval of homosexuality and only one positive or neutral answer. For example, in one survey carried out in 2005 and repeated in 2007, the question, &lsquo;how should the state and the public react to homosexuality?&rsquo; prompted the following options: (1) &lsquo;institute criminal charges&rsquo;; (2) &lsquo;impose a fine&rsquo;; (3) &lsquo;it should be disapproved of&rsquo;; (4) &lsquo;the state and the public should not interfere&rsquo;. So someone who wanted to express disapproval had three options of varying severity to choose from, whereas the one supposedly positive option allowed only one shade of opinion - the liberal position that &lsquo;it is a matter of personal choice&rsquo;. And if you disagree with that, what do you do &ndash; choose between a prison sentence and a fine?&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p9"><em>Surveys are usually designed in such as way as to give people a choice of several answers reflecting disapproval of homosexuality and only one positive or neutral answer.</em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">In these polls it was people living in large towns and cities (apart from Moscow and St Petersburg) who showed themselves most tolerant: 40% of them went for non-interference. In Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as villages and smaller towns (those with less than 100,000 inhabitants) there was a split between the criminal prosecution of gay people and non-interference: in 2005 almost 30% of respondents chose one or other of these options, whereas in <a href="http://wciom.ru/zh/print_q.php?s_id=154&amp;q_id=12873&amp;date=04.02.2007">2007</a> a larger number supported tolerance. Geographically, the North Western district, which includes St Petersburg and its surrounding area, was the most liberal of Russia&rsquo;s eight <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_districts_of_Russia">federal districts</a>, with 46% of respondents agreeing that gay people should be left alone, whereas the most conservative areas were the Central (which includes Moscow),&nbsp; followed by the Southern and Siberian federal districts.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Slanted surveys of this type are normal practice among polling organisations. The most glaring example was one run in 2005 by <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VTSIOM">VTsIOM</a> (a leading social and market research organisation owned by the state and managed by the government), where respondents had no opportunity to express a positive opinion about homosexuality.&nbsp; People were asked the question: &lsquo;which of the following actions do you feel can never be justified; which can be permitted in some cases, and which should be generally acceptable?&rsquo; One example given for appraisal was &lsquo;homosexuality&rsquo;. So respondents were allowed to choose between three negative options: &lsquo;should be banned&rsquo;; &lsquo;okay sometimes&rsquo; and &lsquo;we can live with it&rsquo; &ndash; not to mention the fact that homosexuality is described as an &lsquo;action&rsquo;.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>So what do people really think?</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Polls where questions are formulated more neutrally produce very different results. If you ask about attitudes to homosexuality while describing it as an illness or a form of immorality, your answers are likely to be more negative than if you use terminology relating to equality and human rights. For example, in a <a href="http://www.levada.ru/22-08-2012/bolee-poloviny-rossiyan-protiv-idei-provedeniya-gei-paradov.">poll</a> run by the Levada Centre in 2012, 38% of those polled were &lsquo;strongly for&rsquo; or &lsquo;for&rsquo; a ban on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (with 36% against and 26% don&rsquo;t knows), and this more or less mirrors responses to the same question in 2005 and 2007 (though only in 2007 were the &lsquo;pros&rsquo; and &lsquo;antis&rsquo; level, at 36%). According to Levada figures, 46% of respondents also agreed that &lsquo;gays and lesbians should have the same rights as other Russian citizens&rsquo; (and 40% didn&rsquo;t). In 2005 the figures had been even more positive, with 51% for gay equality and only 35% against.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">These results appear to show that you get more positive feedback about homosexuality if you ask Russians about equality and rights, even though these answers come from the same survey as the negative ones quoted above.&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="p8">&nbsp;<img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/graph2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><blockquote><p class="p10"><em>How can a public opinion exist on something which was for so long a forbidden, and even afterwards an unacceptable, topic of conversation? &nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">What do these figures tell us? About real attitudes to homosexuality in Russia? Of course not. Looking at the results received by the various polling organisations, it is clear that the answers given by respondents depend heavily on how questions are framed. So what we get is less public opinion than the opinions of the people who design the surveys. The majority of Russians probably have no opinion at all on gay matters, and only formulate one when prompted by the questions posed by VTsIOM or the Levada Centre.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Why have I come to this conclusion? To begin with, we need to take into account the historical and social context, in which homosexuality has been subjected to mystification in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. How can a public (consensual, shared by a certain number of people) opinion exist on something which was for so long a forbidden, and even afterwards an unacceptable, topic of conversation. In Russia, sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, is a sphere of human life that is hidden behind by a veil of shame and secrecy.&nbsp; In the late 1930s the Soviet government took active steps to eliminate any public discussion of sexuality. The more conservative Bolsheviks defeated, both ideologically and institutionally, their opponents within the Communist Party (many of whom paid the price for their liberal views by being&nbsp; murdered or dispatched to the GULAG), and a number of reactionary laws were passed, one of them banning homosexual relations between adult males. And after that the very mention of homosexuality, especially in a positive context, was totally unacceptable. &nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p9"><em>Research shows that even gay people themselves have difficulty talking about their sexuality; the silence and secrecy surrounding it for so long means that Russian has never developed a gay vocabulary.</em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">The legacy of this silence around anything to do with homosexuality could still be felt in the 1990s. The situation did of course change to some extent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as various previously taboo areas became the subject of widespread discussion on all levels, and newspapers, journals, TV programmes, academics and politicians appeared who could voice a broad range of opinions, not just those approved by the Kremlin. But the state&rsquo;s attitude to sexuality remained more or less the same (although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993) and its conservatism on this issue had the effect of marginalising alternative views on the subject. So after the consolidation of the regime&rsquo;s control over the <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/galina-arapova/media-freedom-in-russian-regions-you-must-be-joking%E2%80%A6">media</a> an atmosphere of shame and secrecy once more enveloped the whole topic of homosexuality, and the subject was hardly mentioned in the media until 2012, when the government decided to introduce a law banning any &lsquo;gay propaganda&rsquo; that might be accessible to minors.</p> <p class="p1">In this atmosphere of secrecy public opinion polls on homosexuality are about as relevant as polls about life on Mars. Many have never developed any opinion about it because they think they have never encountered it.&nbsp;Our own&nbsp;<a href="http://cisr.ru/en/">Centre's</a>&nbsp;research&nbsp;shows that even gay people themselves have difficulty talking about their sexuality; the silence and secrecy surrounding it for so long means that Russian has never developed a gay vocabulary. This is closely linked to a second problem: that when the subject is raised in public life, it is usually negative opinions that are heard. So when people are asked to take part in an opinion poll on homosexuality, they are very likely to choose negative options for their answers.</p> <blockquote><p class="p9">In this atmosphere of secrecy public opinion polls on homosexuality are about as relevant as polls about life on Mars.&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Government officials, at all levels, very rarely pronounce on gay matters, but when they do they inevitably link them with Russia&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/10/in-russia-a-demographic-crisis-and-worries-for-nations-future/246277/">demographic</a> problems. Politicians from Putin down have expressed their disapproval, and the media usually follow suit. When newspapers and TV cover anything to do with homosexuality, they mostly choose stories involving naked effeminate-looking men taking part in Brazilian carnivals or European pride celebrations, and invariably conclude that such shameless exhibitions of gayness are not for Russia. And this negative coverage also affects poll results: with no view of their own on the subject, respondents will tend to go for what they think is accepted opinion.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The picture of gay life depicted in the media, however, bears little relation to reality. Russian &lsquo;<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/25/russian-gay-activists-detained-propaganda-bill">gay parades</a>&rsquo; are very different from the carnivals that go on in other countries. Our LGBT actions are more likely to come under the headings of &lsquo;blood&rsquo;, &lsquo;police&rsquo; and &lsquo;arrests&rsquo; than &lsquo;sex&rsquo;, &lsquo;partying&rsquo; and &lsquo;celebration&rsquo;. There is also no negative correlation between homosexuality and Russia&rsquo;s shrinking population &ndash; on the contrary, the recognition of same-sex marriage would increase the country&rsquo;s birth rate, since people in stable, recognised relationships are more likely to have babies, and same-sex couples are not short of ideas about how to make them. But reasonable, objective and positive information about homosexuality is hard to find, and poll results reflect this knowledge gap. In fact, what they show is that most Russians couldn&rsquo;t care less about the subject. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Alexander Kondakov Queer Russia Politics NGOs Internal Human rights Thu, 20 Jun 2013 22:48:27 +0000 Alexander Kondakov 73473 at https://www.opendemocracy.net