We have seen Russia’s anti-gay law pass almost unanimously in the Duma this year, and resistance to continuing attacks on LGBTQ people, have been met with the boots and fists of the Russian police, and anti-gay supporters. However there is a context missing from an awful lot of mainstream reporting around the rapid escalation of homophobia and transphobia in Russia.
The anti-gay law is not just another law that seeks to villify LGBTQ people and their very existence, but this move by regime is a capitulation to Russian neo-Nazi organisations to further terrorise LGBTQ people. Police complicity with fascists already has a history in Russia and Putin’s regime has sponsored nationalists in the Rodina party, and the neo-nazi Nashi youth organisation to attack and discredit challenges to the regime from the Communist Party and Russian youth. From watching videos of the recent attacks on LGBTQ people, police often stand back and let homophobic and transphobic assaults continue with little or no intervention. Protesters recall previous pride demonstrations (which have been increasingly bigger targets for anti-queer violence) where cops were seen allowing fascists into vans where arrested protesters were being held, suggesting the police work with or are members of neo-Nazi groups.
Neo-Nazi group Format18 and their infamous spokesperson Maxim Martsinkevich (nicknamed Tesak, or ‘hatchet’) have lead the attacks on LGBTQ youth that claim to target paedophiles on the internet. However this is a lie; they put up fake profiles on social networking sites and arrange to meet with LGBTQ youth for a date, only to kidnap, torture, rape and even kill them – all without prosecution by the state. Many of the young people that this group have targeted have subsequently had videos and photos of their kidnap and torture put on the internet, causing them to be outed, humiliated and often driven to suicide.
The victims of the far-right are not just LGBTQ people, the fascists also attack black people, immigrants and various religious groups, in order to scapegoat them – one high profile attack in 2006 by neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg ended in the death of a Sengalese student, Lamzar Samba.
In order to secure the future of Putin’s regime he is trying to build a strong national identity based around “traditional values” (you know, because LGBTQ are just a recent phenomenon right?) to combat any oppositional threat to his political power, or challenges from below from left-wing / liberationist agendas. His capitulation to the fascists is very convenient, and his allies in power are just as keen to see queers wiped off the face of the earth.
Some liberals have been quick to called Putin and the regime explicitly fascist, which I think is an over-estimation – lets not forget this law is just another version of section 28 which we saw in our schools and local authorities in the UK not that long ago, and has now recently been re-adopted by several schools due to give school governors / investors more power over their own school policy. We should not allow pro-LGBTQ activists in the west to claim this moral superiority over the Russian authorities, when our own governments are slashing our services and still capitulating to the right, drastically threatening the economic and social security of LGBTQ people.
Groups like Format 18 are growing and gaining political support, both from the disenfranchised youth in Russia, and increasingly the capitalist elite that sit in Russian Parliament and own the vast majority of Russia’s industry. As one journalist reveals, there has been a concerted propaganda effort by the regime to legitimise these views.
Anti-fascists and LGBTQ liberationists should remain vigilant wherever they are about the rise of fascism and the complicity of governments in their operations. We should show solidarity with our comrades in Russia wherever possible and cut through mainstream reporting that are using this to bash the Russian population, and not the government who is oppressing them.