The Russian parliament's valiant effort to defend the nation's children continues. In the last year, Duma deputies have labored feverishly to shield Russia's youth from child pornography and online enticements to drug use and suicide (creating an Internet blacklist to ban such material), and—more recently—they passed a law to put an end to the scourge of American adoptions of Russian orphans. Law-makers have now zeroed in on the next heinous threat: “homosexual propaganda.” Yes, the Duma today approved the first draft of legislation to levy heavy fines on persons and parties guilty of “propagandizing” the tricks and trade of that most devious group: the gays.
The law would be a federal clone of an anti-homosexual statute created in Novosibirsk. (Similar laws against “gay propaganda” also exist in Saint Petersburg, Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma.) Originally submitted to the Duma in March 2012, the current version of the legislation [ru] reads simply:
Пропаганда гомосексуализма среди несовершеннолетних – влечет наложение административного штрафа на граждан в размере от четырех тысяч до пяти тысяч рублей; на должностных лиц – от сорока тысяч до пятидесяти тысяч рублей; на юридических лиц – от четырехсот тысяч до пятисот тысяч рублей.
Propaganda of homosexuality among minors is punishable by an administrative fine of 4-5 thousand rubles [130-160 USD] on citizens, of 40-50 thousand rubles [1,300-1,600 USD] on officials, and 400-500 thousand rubles [13,300-16,600 USD] on legal entities.
Twice this week, a few dozen gay rights activists have protested outside the parliament in Moscow, staging a “Day of Kisses” demonstration against the “homosexual propaganda” law. Each time, the kissing activists have attracted a slightly larger crowd of Russian Orthodox counter-protesters, who come armed with eggs, packets of ketchup, and snowballs, which they hurl at the gay rights demonstrators, before attacking them with their fists and boots.
Orthodox websites like 3rm.info have published calls [ru] for “fighters” to assemble outside the Duma to beat up the protesters:
Приезжайте все, кто сможет – нужны бойцы, чтобы драться в первую очередь. В этот раз бьем всех – Мужчин пока стоят на ногах, женщинам портим лица!
Come all who can! We need fighters first and foremost. This time, we'll beat them all—the men as long as they stand on their feet, and we'll mess up the women's faces!
Photo-journalists and bloggers have meticulously captured the escalating violence at these events, cataloging the skirmishes with photos of masked Orthodox activists and bloodied gay rights protesters.
Elena Kostiuchenko is one of the women who attended both “Days of Kisses.” A special correspondent for liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Kostiuchenko has actively advertised the rallies on Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal. She also co-founded public “events” on Vkontakte and Facebook for the first rally on January 22, which attracted over 100 RSVPs (though far fewer people actually appeared). These event-groups have links to the website loveislegal.ru, which for the past two months has collected amateur photographs of gay rights supporters and same-sex couples, often holding up banners that read, “I am a person—not propaganda.”
After the first protest on January 22, Kostiuchenko posted to LiveJournal the following message [ru]:
Сегодня уверенные нелюди сломали кости двум моим друзьям и избили мою девушку. Аню.
Я больше никого не зову с собой.
Когда Госдума будет принимать этот закон, я буду там.
Любой день, в 12.00.
Кто захочет встать рядом – встанет.
Today, self-assured monsters broke the bones of two of my friends and beat up my girlfriend, Anna.
I'm not calling on anyone anymore.
When the Duma accepts this law, I'll be there.
Any day, at noon.
Whoever wants to be there alongside me, get on your feet.
Earlier today, on January 25, Kostiuchenko found herself outside the Duma again, joined by 30-to-40 allies, as deputies inside voted to approve the legislation's “first reading.” The law carried a whopping 388 votes of approval, with just one vote against and one abstention. Fifty-two brave souls didn't vote at all. One of those voteless heroes was opposition figure and Just Russia deputy Dmitri Gudkov, who told [ru] Publicpost.ru that he refused to cast a ballot, as doing so would only attract more attention to “gay propaganda”:
Я вообще не буду голосовать, потому что, когда начинают бороться с гей-парадами, они провоцируют пропаганду этой темы. Ее надо просто оставить в покое, тогда меньше будет пропаганды и разговоров об этом. Я против пропаганды, просто это невозможно грамотно прописать в законопроекте.
I'm not going to vote at all, because you only invite [more] propaganda for this topic, when you start fighting against gay parades. You need to leave this issue alone, and then there will be less propaganda and conversation about it. I'm against [gay] propaganda—it's just that it's impossible to legislate it intelligently.
Gudkov's dedication to minimizing homosexuality's menace didn't stop him from tweeting [ru] earlier today that the only deputy to oppose the legislation, Sergei Kuzin, is a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia. While Gudkov was having his fun, Kostiuchenko and another 19 activists were detained [ru] outside the Duma building. For the next few hours, she tweeted and posted to Instagram updates and photographs from her brief incarceration. (This included a bruise sustained to her cheek, apparently when police rushed her up a flight of stairs.) Eventually, all protesters were released [ru] from custody.
Gay rights occupies an unusual space in the Russian opposition movement. While crackdowns on Internet freedom and adoption rights have sparked major outcries from the protest movement, the criminalization of “homosexual propaganda” is unlikely to instigate the next mass rally against the Kremlin.
Roman Super, a journalist who works for RenTV [ru], provoked a long debate on Facebook, posting [ru] a sharp criticism of the “Day of Kisses” protests. Super's logic is characteristic of many Russian liberals. Not only does he argue that samesex kissing demonstrations only aggravate homophobia in Russia (this was partly Gudkov's belief), but he also jokes that most federal officials are themselves closeted homosexuals. In other words, Super's response to the “propaganda” controversy is to troll opponents and supporters alike:
Федеральный закон о запрете пропаганды гомосексуализма будет означать лишь одно: элиты прямо скажут народу и, прежде всего, самим себе о том, что гомосексуальность в России — это исключительно привилегия государственных менеджеров самого высокого звена.
The federal law banning the propaganda of homosexuality will mean only one thing: the elite are telling the people directly that, first and foremost, homosexuality in Russia is the exclusive privilege of state managers of the highest rank.
In a response to Konstantin Rykov on Twitter, blogger and columnist Maksim Kononenko made a similar joke [ru] about Sergei Kuzin's stray vote against the law:
Константин Рыков @rykov
Кто? Кто этот прекрасный депутат, проголосовавший за гей-пропаганду? Это же самый крутой каминг-аут в истории российского парламентаризма!
Максим Кононенко @kononenkome
@rykov единственный нормальный человек среди 450 пидарасов
Konstantin Rykov @rykov
Who? Who is this wonderful deputy who voted for gay-propaganda? This is the coolest coming-out in the history of Russian parliamentarism!
Maksim Kononenko @kononenkome
@rykov He's the only normal person among 450 fags.
In other words, Russia remains a country where it is easier to joke about a crackdown on gay rights, than it is to protest such developments. Consider the conversation that played out on Roman Super's Facebook page. DozhdTV's Alya Kirillova took issue with his condescension of Kostiuchenko (who also commented in the same thread). Kirillova wrote essentially that he ought to say nothing, if he can't say anything kind. She even opines [ru] that “silence is golden.” Two minutes later, a homophobic commenter posted a photo of two men kissing at a gay parade (apparently in New York City), in an effort to prove how dangerous gay pride can be. In the background of that photo, a demonstrator holds high a sign that reads, “SILENCE = DEATH.” In Russia, that remains a contentious equation.