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March 19, 2012

Gay Rights in Russia

Rixey Browning

Amidst accusations of corruption and ballot stuffing, Vladimir Putin was re-elected last week as the new president of Russia despite mass protests nationwide. He would have won without the alleged ballot stuffing, yet many Russian citizens are still unhappy with the end result.


Thousands have begun protesting not only his re-election, but also a slew of social issues in Russia, one of them being the anti-gay law that was signed in St. Petersburg just days after Prime Minister Putin’s re-election as president.


St. Petersburg Gov. Georgiy Poltavchenko signed a law March 11 which prohibits the “propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia” among minors. The law becomes enforceable on Wednesday.


Before Governor Poltavchenko’s signature, the law went through three readings, gaining the approval of the deputies of the City Assembly. Anyone caught propagandizing homosexuality among minors can now be fined anywhere from 5,000 rubles (about $165) to 50,000 rubles (about $1,165) for private individuals and officials, according to the law. Legal entities may be fined up to 500,000 rubles.


The goal of the new law is to stop pedophilia. However, opponents of the law are startled over the slowly slimming rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual community. Many attorneys are concerned with the law, which never specifies what “propaganda of homosexuality” is. It is now possible that events such as gay pride parades may become illegal, as authorities could say that since children are able to pass by and watch it, it can be viewed as propaganda among minors.


This new law is pushing an already struggling community away from the public eye with the potential of silencing them for good. Gay and lesbian couples may even be persecuted for public displays of affection as benign as holding hands.


Before the law was signed, many Russians believed nothing would come of it. “The majority of the Russian population is against it,” Trevor Allen, a student studying in St. Petersburg this spring, stated before the bill passed. “A lot of people are saying it’s just a political stunt, and that it won’t actually be signed into law.”


Despite a petition which gained more than 270,000 signatures from citizens worldwide and protests at Russian embassies around the world, the law was still passed with 29 deputies supporting it and five against it, with one deputy abstaining from the vote altogether. Along with the petition, many Russian embassies became the site of protests calling for social justice and freedom of expression on the eve of the final vote by St. Petersburg’s legislature.


“As horrible as [the law] is, there are some countries where gay people are killed. But I guess if you have never been given certain liberties for being born the way you are, then you wouldn’t really know any better,” Mr. Allen said. Although Russia still allows homosexuals to be a part of society, this law may be the first step toward pushing them out of the social sphere for good.


Vitaly Milonov, the deputy of the Parliament of St. Petersburg, believes that “those who oppose the law on gays are opposed to Vladimir Putin.” However, when United Russia was asked what Putin’s sexual orientation was, they avoided answering – a rather curious irony. Putin’s re-election, coupled with this new law, spell out a tightening of control on the Russian social sphere, a frightening echo of the control the government enjoyed during the days of communism.


It is more than a coincidence that this law was passed immediately following Putin’s re-election. He may have been prime minister for this past term, but there is no doubt that current President Dimitry Medvedev is simply one of Putin’s puppets. With Putin’s imminent return to office, political freedom in Russia is tumbling backward.


If more laws similar to the anti-gay propaganda law are passed, the integrity of the Russian Constitution will continue to be in jeopardy. This law already violates several articles of the Russian Constitution, namely Articles 13 and 29, which state: “In the Russian Federation ideological diversity shall be recognized” and “everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.” Clearly ideological diversity is no longer present in Russia, and freedom of speech has been violated with this law’s passage.


As Prime Minister Putin gains power upon his inauguration, it is likely that more rights will be threatened and violated during his term. With the Russian people beginning to rise up to protest his presidency, they will continue to make their voices heard. Hopefully this represents not an end, but a new beginning in the arena of Russian civil rights.


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