This past week, Russia introduced a bill banning “homosexual propaganda among minors” to its parliament. While the description of the newly-illegal action is vague, its ramifications are not.
In the most basic terms, the new law (which passed the lower house with a 388-1 vote) will silence the voice of the LGBTQ community. They will not be able to organize protests, distribute literature or write about their issues in any prominent publication without facing fines.
However, this law is just the newest installment in a series of laws restricting the gay community. Since 2006, 10 Russian regions have adopted a similar measure banning “homosexual propaganda.” Along with these laws, Russia adopted a 100-year ban on gay pride parades in June 2012. Since there are no laws penalizing the discrimination or harassment of people based on their sexuality, gay civilians can be attacked mercilessly but are not allowed to publicly defend themselves.
This new law is not without context, though — it is a feature of the mainstream culture. While commonly grouped with the United States and Western Europe in the news, Russia is a unique country that twists together the traditions of the East and the West with its own unique spin.
In recent years the country’s politicians have slowly reverted to a more USSR-era mindset with a focus on statism, or the belief that government control creates stability. This government-first way of thinking was best exemplified by Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, a leading proponent of Russian conservatism, when he said, “For me, the value of statism is absolute. And values like liberalism, democracy, civil society, liberty, the market, and social justice are secondary compared to statism.”
The new ban on homosexual conversations is a perfect example of this. It sacrifices individual rights and social justice in the name of greater government power. During the long reign of current President Vladimir Putin, Russia has returned more to its earlier motto of "orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality." Homosexuality, supporters of the ban suggest, is against the Russian Orthodox Church, traditional values and the very core of culture.
In accordance with another trend, the battle against homosexuality may also be an attempt to reject the values of the “liberal West” and to define the country’s own identity. Since the Cold War, Russia has been battling the spread of Western culture and ideals in attempt to preserve its own culture and traditions. Again, Dugin described this perspective well when he wrote, “I am deeply convinced that the conception of human rights varies from one culture to another, from one society to another, inasmuch as the very concept of the person varies.”
In this quote, the deeper issue begins to reveal itself. Human rights are not debatable or subject to specific cultural confines. Human rights, by their very definition, are guaranteed to people regardless of country, sexuality, race or gender. They are non-negotiable.
Gay rights will not be the only rights limited in Russia; they are only the beginning of a degradation of human rights as a whole. Without the ability to make their issues and values public, the gay community will never become accepted into mainstream culture. Russia’s battle against homosexuals is bigger than it seems — it is a battle against progress and a better tomorrow for all Russian citizens.
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