Is Russia fast becoming the world’s latest human rights black hole?

Vladimir PutinThe treatment of minorities in a society, ethnic, religious or otherwise, is usually a very reliable barometer on the state of human rights generally.

Where minorities are actively persecuted and scapegoated, widespread oppression, and the wholesale denial of basic freedoms, are not far behind.

Ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBTI community, are often the canary in the mine for deteriorating freedoms. They are easy targets – relatively small, discernible communities, often with an existing history of persecution.

One of the most read articles of 2013 and 2014 at The Vue Post, titled ‘Russia’s state sponsored homophobia shame, terrorism and the Ukraine crisis,’ chronicled the abuse of human rights in Russia, including the persecution of the LGBTI community, the blind complicity of the international community from the Olympic movement to big business, the subsequent invasion of Ukraine, and the practically inevitable tragedy of MH17.

In recent months there have been some further disturbing revelations about Russia in the context of the treatment of their LGBTI community, and human rights generally.

Related stories:
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Russia’s state sponsored homophobia shame, terrorism and the Ukraine crisis

Rainblow flagIn a recently aired documentary series, the BBC’s Reggie Yates travelled to Russia to document contemporary life.

His trip included a visit to St. Petersburg to attend the annual QueerFest, an International Queer Culture Festival, and observe the lives of the LGBTI community in an increasingly oppressive social environment.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that QueerFest is taking place in St. Petersburg. The festival is an act of defiance in an environment where a recent survey showed nearly half of the gay community experienced homophobic abuse. The documentary also soon reveals QueerFest must be held at a secret location, and attendees have to call a number to find out where it is being held.

When Reggie eventually arrives, he finds a bus-full of armed police outside the venue, and the festival is soon kicked out of the building by the owner for ‘safety’ reasons, just as the well-known homophobic politician Vitaly Milonov arrives to declare ‘homosexuality is disgusting and homophobia is beautiful and natural’.

Reggie later witnesses, and records, a chemical stink-bomb attack on the festival’s backup venue by a woman linked to a group of anti-gay protesters. And that’s just the beginning of Reggie’s adventures, which includes a thoroughly heterosexual naked steam with a self-confessed knife-carrying homophobe, and the mysterious ‘man in blue’ who keeps popping up wherever he goes …

Reggie also meets Dayra, the young lesbian who was viciously stabbed and left for dead, who’s slowly rebuilding her life, and Kirill, the young gay activist who continuously puts his life in danger by protesting the oppression of the LGBTI community in St. Petersburg.

‘We have no future,’ is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking lines of the documentary from a gay couple, Ivan and Nusrulla, who are dreaming of leaving St. Petersburg behind, moving to New York, starting a new life, getting married and having children.

Reggie’s ‘Extreme Russia‘ is a three-part series:

  • the first, titled ‘Far Right & Proud,’ takes a closer look at Russia’s far-right nationalists;
  • the second, titled ‘Gay & Under Attack,’ is the episode that covers his visit to QueerFest in St. Petersburg; and
  • the third, titled ‘Teen Model Factory,’ looks at a Siberian modelling agency helping young Russian girls to break into international modelling.

The documentary highlights a deteriorating situation for the LGBTI community in Russia, and that dark picture is further supported by a July 2015 poll from state-run pollster VTsIOM which showed:

  • opposition to same-sex marriage is up to 80% from 59% in 2005;
  • those who think gays are dangerous people and should be isolated from society went from 12% in 2004 to 20%; and
  • 41% agreed the state should prosecute people for their non-traditional orientation to combat homosexuality.

In a reflection of the prevailing cultural and political climate, on 22 October state-owned Izvestia reported on a bill being prepared by Russian politicians from the Communist Party that would criminalise coming out gay publicly, and would make it punishable by a fine or jail.

The current situation in Russia is appalling, but hardly surprising. This is what happens when the LGBTI community is left unprotected, and subjected to sustained, hateful state-sponsored anti-gay rhetoric.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia time is not just standing still – it’s going backwards, to the detriment of not just the LGBTI community, but the people of Russia and, because of its power and status, the world.

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