Opinion
 

Our responsibility now lies with Russia



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Putin’s anti-gay purges demand nothing less than bold, fearless action from the British government

As a child I had a large, hardback picture book telling the story of Peter and The Wolf, based upon the children’s composition by Sergei Prokofiev. My parents used to read it to me as I sat in bed with them. The story is a simple one. Peter’s grandfather tells him that he mustn’t play outside because of the wolves. The brave Peter defies him, a wolf approaches, Peter ties it to a tree while getting a bird to circle around its head to distract it. Once he has caught the beast some hunters come by and want to shoot it, but he persuades them to take it to a zoo, in a victory parade, which he triumphantly leads.

This story always terrified me and I’d cling very closely to my parents. It wasn’t just the idea of the man-eating wolf, but the setting for the tale – Russia – with its freezing winters that could kill you, its dense forests that you could so easily lose yourself in, and it’s bloodthirsty history – one of revolution, deeply ingrained in conspiracy and ruthless violence.

In the last few days people have started posting “36 Photos From Russia That Everyone Needs To See” across social networking sites. The images show Russian LGBT people being systematically and brutally assaulted during Gay Pride events. Blood pours from screaming faces, smoke bombs are indiscriminately let off, rainbow flags torn, innocent people are battered to the ground and, worst of all, those committing the violence smirk and laugh as they pound fists into crying faces.

click below to see all images

click to see all images

For the UK, a country that has recently passed equal marriage, the level of hatred depicted in these images seems incomprehensible. Even in the 1980s and 90s, when the LGBT fight was at its height, we were never subjected to such barbaric violence. Yet there has always been something alien about Russia to us. Sitting between East and West, it’s close, but so far apart in terms of its politics and purges – it’s vast, unfathomable and sinister.

And yet what Russia’s LGBT citizens are asking for is common to all of us – the right to love whom we choose; the right to be free and feel safe – a right that is being denied them. Vladimir Putin’s administration is more vehemently anti-gay than any other. The sub-heading under these images is an understatement: “It’s a scary place for LGBT people in Russia right now.” But with the introduction of a new law banning ‘gay propoganda’ these frightening times have now been extended to visitors to Russia – foreigners who exhibit evidence of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ can also now be arrested.

Putin’s threats have fast become a reality. On 22 July it was reported that three Dutch people were arrested for the anti-gay law. The reason given for this was that they had “violated the rules of stay”. The group, who were making a documentary about the country’s anti-gay stance, were later released due to an “irregularity in the minutes”. These individuals were unharmed, but the precedent has now been set – these new measures are going to be vigorously enforced. Let’s be plain – this is no longer an issue just affecting Russian LGBT people, it’s global.

What can we do? Yesterday, at a reception for the LGBT community at Downing Street, prime minister David Cameron, said that he wanted to “export” equal marriage abroad. He proceeded to say that there was “a lot more work to be done as Britain in the Commonwealth, talking to our Commonwealth partners about decriminalising homosexuality in various countries.” This is true, but it is also a very woolly statement. There was no reference specifically to Russia (which is not a part of the Commonwealth) – a major omission given recent events.  Moreover, as noble as the desire to “export” gay marriage may be, it is far from realistic for many countries at this time. The more urgent need is to stamp out and forcefully condemn what is bordering on LGBT genocide in Putin’s sham “democracy”.

Pointedly, the one man who has consistently and fearlessly condemned the Russian gay pogroms, the UK’s foremost human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell – who marched with the persecuted in Moscow and sustained brain damage by neo-nazi thugs – was conspicuously absent from yesterday’s reception. In a press release Tatchell stated that his attendance was ‘vetoed’ and that he has never been invited to a Downing Street LGBT reception. Downing Street has yet to comment on this. Make of this what you will, but the question we should all be asking is why has David Cameron repeatedly not shaken hands with Tatchell and what does this suggest about the prime minister’s conviction to initiating the kind of bold, unequivocal response to these escalating human rights atrocities?

We must demand a more concrete, unwavering condemnation of what is happening in Russia by the British government. Until we see this we must continue to question David Cameron’s commitment to global LGBT rights. It can’t escape our attention that Russia’s new anti-gay laws are rooted in the “promotion” of homosexuality to “minors” – arguably a more extreme sentiment of the bile of Section 28, which we should remember, was only repealed in the UK in 2003.

The Conservative government needs to play catch-up. Yes, credit should be given to David Cameron for his stance on gay marriage, but this alone is not enough. His discourse remains rooted in talk of the “family” and corruption of “children” (as demonstrated by his sweeping, puritanical proposals on pornography this week). Children must always be protected – that is non-negotiable – but for too long innocent, voiceless toddlers have been used as pawns to demonise LGBT people. In the UK we are finally moving away from this, but in Russia we see the British legacy repeating itself in the most heinous ways imaginable. We all carry the burden of history.

I look again at the sickening pictures of people being mercilessly beaten down in the street. I think back to that disturbing story of Peter and The Wolf. Prokofiev was commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow to write this new musical symphony for children, with the intention to cultivate “musical tastes in children from the first years of school.” He too was promoting something – an ideal – the defeat of a beast that threatened humanity. This tale ends not with the murder of the wolf,  but with its peaceful capture. It is this that LGBT Russians are asking for – the right to protest and live harmonously. It’s now the West’s responsibility to do all we can to ensure Russian people get the ending that they deserve.

Join the planned demonstration outside the Russian Embassy HERE

Sign the petition – Vladimir Putin: Revoke his Russian Anti Gay Law & free Pussy Riot via the British government

Words: Alex Hopkins

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