A prominent Russian actor, Ivan Okhlobystin, is making headlines for his latest homophobic act: a public letter [ru] addressed to Vladimir Putin, asking the President to recriminalize sodomy in Russia. Okhlobystin, whose resume includes acting, directing, writing, and even a decade served as an Orthodox priest, is notorious [ru] for making shocking, often anti-gay, public declarations. For instance, just last month, in December 2013, Okhlobystin told a crowd in Novosibirsk that he advocates burning gay people in ovens [ru], along with the Moscow press corps, whom he accused of sympathizing “unprofessionally” with gays.
Okhlobystin has also called [ru] for the banning of surrogate motherhood (comparing it to prostitution), likened [ru] gay marriage to necrophilia and zoophilia, and promised to murder any of his daughters if they ever fell in love with an African man. (While he’s never apologized for any of his anti-gay remarks, Okhlobystin did attempt to clarify [ru] his racism in a blog post for Snob.ru, which he later quit, blaming [ru] chief editor Masha Gessen for “propagandizing homosexuality and lesbian love.”)
While Okhlobystin’s bigotry may seem so extreme as to be a performance, many on the RuNet are expressing concerns [ru] that the actor is genuinely dangerous. In a Facebook post [ru] that’s attracted over 500 “likes,” theater producer Eduard Boyakov wrote that he’s stopped considering Okhlobystin a “fool” and a “jester,” and grown to see him instead as a true fascist. Likewise, journalist Ksenia Larina echoed this sentiment in a different Facebook post [ru], attracting almost 400 likes.
Others online have been content to joke about Okhlobystin’s letter to Putin. Comparing it to the Novosibirsk comments, Aleksandr Zaborovsky quipped:
Охлобыстин попросил Путина вернуть уголовное наказание за мужеложество. А всего месяц назад Иван предлагал сжигать геев в печах. Смягчился.
— Алекс Заборовский (@sazam) January 7, 2014
Okhlobystin has asked Putin to restore criminal punishment for sodomy. But just a month ago, Ivan suggested burning gays in ovens. He’s gone soft.
For all his outlandishness, Okhlobystin remains an ordained Orthodox priest, albeit on indefinite hiatus, following a decision [ru] by Patriarch Kirill in February 2010, when the Church’s leader granted Okhlobystin’s request to return to the entertainment world. While he is no longer permitted to hold services or wear a cassock and other priestly vestments, Okhlobystin is welcome to reenter the clergy when he wishes.
In September 2011, he demonstrated his enduring commitment to the Church when he suddenly abandoned a presidential campaign [ru], following an announcement [ru] by the Church’s Press Secretary that clergy are banned from serving in political bodies. (The prohibition, in fact, is almost 14 years old, codified in the Church’s “Social Concept Foundations” in 2000.)
Outside the Church, Okhlobystin has other friends in high places. Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Oblast government, Andrei Ilnitsky, tweeted in support of the letter to Putin, writing:
— Андрей Ильницкий (@amicableru) January 7, 2014
Okhlobystin said openly what the majority of people have long been thinking, but for some reason are afraid to say.
Additionally, Okhlobystin’s call to “push gays into ovens” bears a striking resemblance to Dmitry Kiselyov’s April 2012 speech on television, where he argued that the hearts of gays who die in car accidents should be burned or buried in the road. Days before Okhlobystin’s remarks in Novosibirsk, Vladimir Putin named Kisleyov head of an entirely new media organization charged with improving Russia’s image abroad.
The ongoing assault against homosexuals in Russia hasn’t done the country’s foreign reputation any favors, however. On January 5, 2014, for example (still three days before Okhlobystin called for the re-criminalization of sodomy), twenty different LGBT rights groups published their own open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, urging the corporation that invented the iPhone to reconsider its collaboration with the Russian retailer Euroset, where Okhlobystin serves as creative director.