September 14, 2013 by AK
Miriam Elder says Putin let his demented lawmakers go after gays because he had run out of acceptable enemies. I’m with Elder on this – though I’d add “new”: you can’t blame it all on the West all the time unless you find new, fresh, entertaining ways to blame it all on the same West. Russia was homophobic in the 1980s (when “sodomy” was still a crime), in the 1990s, and in the 2000s. Why was the law passed in 2013? Precisely because Putin is running out of new enemies.
I would also add that the law banning “promotion of non-traditional asexual relationships to minors” can also be used as a censorship tool. As such it complements an earlier law on “information harmful to minors.” It does not outlaw “gay speech” outright, but restricts it to late-night broadcasts and plastic-packaged magazines.
Kevin Rothrock disagrees but his four arguments don’t seem particularly relevant to me:
1. “Russia under Putin has defined itself in opposition to foreigners for many years already.” This is too general, as is the term “anti-Western”. It could be “the West is out to get us but we’re going to learn from them and hit back.” It could be “the West is as rotten as Russia,” the default worldview of Putinist cynics. Then there’s “the West wants us dead but it’s rotten and we’re morally superior.” The shift to the third, the crudest interpretation, is recent.
2. “Russians nationally, however, believe that moral and geopolitical reasons underpin the government’s crackdown on gays.” Well of course – that’s what Putin’s TV has been telling them to think. The question is what Putin’s reason was for letting his homophobic goons in the Duma act out their hatred, not what’s in the feeble mind of the average TV addict.
3. “This overlooks mounting evidence that Russia’s anti-government masses are actually socioeconomically diverse…” The evidence is there (and is very encouraging) but in Putin’s mind, I believe, it was “angry city dwellers” who showed ingratitude to him – after all he’d done for them! – by taking to the streets in 2011-12. And “angry city dwellers” is code-speak for educated, reasonably well-paid, liberal-minded (in various senses) citizens. Anyway, I don’t see how it’s relevant to the anti-gay law other than to its harmfulness to free speech.
4. “Putin’s social conservativism [sic] and geopolitical paranoia, however, are old mainstays of his long presidency.” Putin has had no problems with gays in his inner circle, administration and cabinet. His May 2013 divorce announcement doesn’t sound very socially conservative. But GDP growth has slowed down to 1-2% and there have been months of zero growth in 2013. If you’re a populist dictator into the fourteenth year in power and you haven’t yet tried it, it’s the time to let demotic homophobia run wild. You’ve already tried almost everything else.