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Russian Anti-Gay Policies 'Could Kill Its Cities'

Russia has undergone no shortage of bad press in recent months. Its newly adopted anti-gay propaganda hve prompted outrage the world over, and have already put a damper on events such as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, months or even years in advance. 

Now, The Atlantic is reporting that Lansing, Michigan, is joining the growing list of global municipalities that are loooking to sever ties with their Russian "sister cities", which already includes the likes of Milan, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Reykjavik. Thus, as Russia inists on moving contrary to the global march toward human rights, the consequences could prove to have political and economic impact:

"St. Petersburg was, for hundreds of years, a city that took pride in its relative openness to global culture. When Peter the Great founded the city in 1703, he envisioned it as a "window on the West," a place where the values of the Enlightenment could be explored and celebrated. It was designed and built by the finest talents from around the world.

"Now, St. Petersburg is leading the way backward. Russia and its cities, by pursuing draconian anti-gay policies, are shutting themselves out of a global community where the benefits of an open society are ever more apparent."

Stolichnaya-1280x960It's no secret that international events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have the potential to generate a host of financial benefits for its host city and host nation. This is, of course, why so many cities vie for a chance to host such events. That said, should hosting a global event prove to be the potential source of controversy for the event's governing body, it would almost certainly deter them from coming back to that same city of country in the future. That's also not counting international boycotts of Russian products, which already have large companies such as SPI Group looking for ways to completely sever ties with the anti-gay nation. Let's also not forget the tourism dollars that Russia stands to lose in the future, from both gay tourists as well as those whom support human rights in general.

Finally, as The Atlantic illustrated by presenting the story of journalist and activist Masha Gessen, Russia's anti-gay laws have prompted an exodus of gay citizens, as well as their advocates. This only exacerbates the country's appartent desire "to shut down intellectually," and cost the country potentially vital intellectual capital. Thus, while the short term costs of losing "sister city" partnerships may be small, in the words of The Atlantic, "They are losing their future."

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  1. Thank you for this post, RJ. I agree that with the recent homophobic laws passed (propaganda, adoption and parentage) and the backing of those laws by the Russian Orthodox Church, Mother Russia willfully forsakes both its rich past and its potential future prosperity. SMH!

    Posted by: Koskalaka Maricón | Aug 18, 2013 10:30:20 AM

  2. I don't agree with everything Am-Expat says about Russia, but I still appreciate an informed point of view. I've said much of what he said a couple of times and got slammed hard for it, but I think the difference is being an expat. I'm an American living overseas for most of my life (only a few months in Russia a long time ago), and my outlook on just about everything is dramatically different from domestic Americans. The anti-propaganda law is a nasty piece of legislation but it's little understood in the US. And it needs to be put in context; there are lots of nasty anti gay laws all over the world, and really vile attacks almost everywhere. I do think Russians are more prone to violent attacks against gays and other minorities, a very unpleasant part of the culture.

    As I said last time I got attacked for this, we should be putting maximum pressure on Russia, because the country is uniquely exposed due to the olympics. But there are lots of other countries who are at least as worthy of our protests and more. Also, many of you are throwing Russia into the same camp as African countries and saying "money talks" in support of a boycott etc. While it does talk a bit in Africa (but keep in mind US foreign aid is much less than most commenters here think it is) it really doesn't in Russia. Tourism, vodka and other things you could conceivably boycott are a tiny portion of Russian wealth. It's all about oil and gas, and there's just no way to boycott them. It's the same problem we'd face trying to boycott repressive middle eastern regimes; they're just not vulnerable. That's why the olympics is a unique opportunity. It's not about the money going to Russia (the Sochi olympics is a giant money drain with or without a boycott), but the potential loss of pride and prestige.

    Posted by: Brian1 | Aug 18, 2013 10:45:59 AM

  3. @AM-EXPAT: your rose-colored-glasses assessment of the current Russia is a typically ex-pat POV and doesn't square with the assessment of the Russians I know living in Russia. But most of them have been living there long enough (i.e. long before the demise of the USSR) to understand the propaganda machine, and they see what's currently happening in Russia as backwards and scary. (As does Masha Gessen, who is mentioned in the post above and literally wrote the book on Putin; she's not making it up.) Of course many citizens don't really understand what's going on--why would they when there is virtually no free press? And life for LGBT Russians is getting more and more restricted, unless you believe there is no more to gay life than going to clubs, clubs which don't exist in most of the country.

    You're certainly right that the western media isn't getting everything right and that the propaganda law (and other crackdowns) is an effort to prop up Putin's authority.

    As for the boycott, the pros and cons of which are certainly debatable, it's not really about the money, and no thinking person believes it is. It's about bringing attention to the situation, which it has done. Perhaps not so much within Russia, but when you have a controlled press, that is to be expected.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 18, 2013 12:26:40 PM

  4. @AM-EXPAT: Ernie's right. If anything is wrong on so many fronts, it's your post. First of all, the law was not pushed by the church. It was pushed by politicians who used the church as cover. Russians may claim to be Orthodox, but they rarely go to church and don't really know much about it. But if the politicians (who work hand in hand with the Patriarch, for reasons of power, not religion) tell them the church approves of something, they believe it.

    I was in Russia in May of 1993 (not 1992) when the anti-sodomy law was repealed. It was a euphoric time for LGBT people. The problem with Russia now is that it is going backwards. Freedoms that people had -- to publish, to speak, to demonstrate -- are being taken away.

    And you are wrong that nobody has tried to "overturn that law" -- wrong expression, since the law, Paragraph 121, was overturned. Now they would have to reinstate a law against sodomy, and several politicians in the Duma have proposed exactly that. Perhaps you missed this?

    Perhaps you should listen to Echo-Moskvy or Dozhd TV? Or perhaps you are somewhere in the provinces and don't read Russian and rely on your Russian friends who are average (not well connected, not in Moscow) and get all their news through state-controlled companies? Have you heard of Pussy Riot? Navalny? the May 6 protesters who were arrested?

    You are wrong that no one has been charged on the law. How about the Dutch tourists?

    And mostly you are wrong that the law is the same as the one against pedophilia or advertising straight sex to minors. Have you not read the part of the law that criminalizes "any information that creates the false impression of the equivalence of non-traditional relationships with traditional relationships"? That part is not in the anti-straight-sex part, unless it says "any information that creates the impression that straight sex is straight sex."

    Yes we used to have sodomy laws in the US until 2003. BUT WE OVERTURNED THEM. Yes, Britain used to have Section 28. BUTH THEY OVERTURNED IT. Russia is, on the contrary, introducing such laws. And politicians are fanning the fires of homophobia to shore up Putin's popularity, which is flagging with anyone with a brain in the country. Populist appeal to the lowest common denominator, whom you are apparently happy to join.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Aug 18, 2013 12:49:54 PM

  5. The best thing we can do to help is to kill brand Russia. The fact that russian officials feel the need to respond means we must be doing something right.

    Posted by: KEVIN | Aug 18, 2013 2:26:38 PM

  6. I think Africa is still worse. - Steve Talbert least Kadaga is reluctant in signing that 'kill the gays' bill & Lively could face considerable punishment for his influence on that bill. While the Russian government has been silent on the crimes against it's gay citizens, more or less stating that there is nothing of the sorts happening, when it's obvious they know, since they're the ones creating laws that enables it.

    Posted by: yin-yang | Aug 18, 2013 3:17:31 PM

  7. @JJOSE712: The reason I mentioned that most of Africa, Asia and all of the Muslim world probably view Russian anti-gay laws as too liberal is because they probably do. However the Towleroad headline stated that the Russian anti-gay laws had prompted "OUTRAGE THE WORLD OVER". That is clearly not true. I am curious as to why you stated that you expect something better from Russia than Uganda or Sudan.

    Posted by: andrew | Aug 18, 2013 6:03:18 PM

  8. Brian1 and KevinVT: Great posts.

    And yes, the outrage is no doubt not all over. Just in all the modern countries.

    Posted by: emjayay | Aug 19, 2013 1:01:58 AM

  9. It's a good start, with some cities disowning sister city status, boycotting Russian products (like Russian-made vodkas), other planned sporting events re-considering Russian venues, etc., but I strongly support a boycott of the products of all companies (P&G, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Sony, Ford, and others) who hypocritically have great HRC standing in the USA, but, because they're doing business in Russia (spending and making money there) and, thus, giving their tacit support and complicity for such a hostile and hateful environment. Hit them all directly and indirectly where it hurts the most: MONEY! (insert the song "Money" from the movie musical "Cabaret," here)

    Posted by: Koskalaka Maricón | Aug 19, 2013 11:50:34 AM

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