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Russia: A proud land of intolerance and bigotry

August 18, 2012

Pussy Riot: sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral earlier this year

What is going on in Russia? I really had no idea how scary-controlling and bigoted that country was! LGBT rights simply don’t exist there and apparently neither do some basic human rights that we Westerners take for granted. The Russian powers-that-be have bizarre ways of doling out their bigotry: from “hooliganism” charges for Pussy Riot (equating to two years in prison) to Moscow’s outright ban on Pride parades for 100 years(!) as they allegedly pose a “risk causing public disorder.” Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Why don’t we ask good ol’ Madonna who just recently was sued for “insulting” a bunch of bigoted anti-gay activists by speaking out in support of gay rights at her concert in St. Petersburg last week. The pathetic thing is, they actually have a case for it! St. Petersburg adopted a law prohibiting any public display or dissemination of “gay propaganda”. This would fall into that category. Someone who’s close-minded moral sensitivities were hurt even went so far as accusing Madonna of potentially causing some boy or girl to become gay (*gasp*), which would lead him/her to not make babies and consequently the country would have fewer people to defend its borders. [Yes, that’s it. Gay people will certainly be the downfall of Russia.] I’m not kidding. This person was serious.

Granted, there has been *some* progress in Russia, particularly the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993 (and no longer considering homosexuality a mental disorder in 1999); however, being LGBT in Russia is no freedom. A country that so blatantly condones prejudice and nonacceptance of diversity is going to breed a pretty racist, homophobic, and all-around prejudiced bunch. Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, was comfortable publicly labelling Madonna as a whore and threatening to fine her for “homosexual propaganda.” If that’s not telling the public how to feel about it, I’m not sure what is.

Russian freedom of expression appears to be an oxymoron. Perhaps I’m naïve, but these kinds of events I would have expected to read about in Russian history books, not in current news. It makes me sad. It makes me nauseous. It makes me wonder about my own freedoms. Could an extremely right government ever change the course of time for Canada and reverse our basic human rights here at home? Talk of abortion rights and gay marriage circulates regularly at the governmental levels, often encouraged by the media, to see just how far politicians will go in expressing their personal beliefs on these hot topics.

It’s yet another one of those times when I feel somewhat helpless to support a cause I feel so passionate about. I marvel at activism in the height of discrimination and persecution, and part of me wants to join the ranks of my brethren, but the other part of me reminds me of how ill-prepared I would be for such public confrontation. I do benefit from the enormous human rights achievements of the past and I do stand on the shoulders of giants in that regard. I am cognizant of this fact every day and I am thankful. Yet we are still in desperate need of giants now, in countries like Russia, and worse, Uganda, Jamaica, North Korea, … The concept of LGBT rights is an illusion to those of us who live in western bubbles of progressive cities. We are so far ahead of the pack on this front. We need to recognize that people today, in countries not so far off, are being persecuted and silenced in the fear of prejudice and hate.

Eastern Europe has shown their true colours time and time again. Antisemitic political parties still exist and outright scapegoat the Jews for the problems of a country (Hungary). It’s even hard to be accepted as vegan in Russia as most people can’t accept that you are different from them. Racism in Russia is rampant, being “prevalent in 50% of Russians.” And we have already borne witness to what little rights LGBT people have in Russia. Difference is a curse. Conformity is the rule. Diversity in Russia and beyond is frowned upon.

I never want to visit Russia or any other country that does not allow freedom of expression or equal rights for all. This resolution means practically nothing to the cause, I know this, but it’s a decision that helps me cope a little better with the blatant hypocrisy of my life (i.e., enjoying comparatively complete freedom while others do not).

Every decision we make should be guided by our beliefs, no matter how small. May the international pressures and disdain for prejudice lead Russia down the virtuous path of acceptance on a greater scale. Let us pray to Madonna for this.

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