In two articles published in February, Polari wrote about the passage of a law through St Petersburg parliament that would make it illegal to publicly support anything LGBT. That bill passed and came into effect in the last week of March.
The law bans any positive communication in the public sphere about what it terms “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism”. The fine for breaking the law is as follows: 5,000 rubles (£105) for individuals, 50,000 rubles (£1065) for officials, and from 50,000 to 500,000 rubles (£10,650) for legal entities (which is an increase of ten from the original version of the legislation).
As the All Out petition against the bill stated, “if this law passes in ‘liberal’ St. Petersburg, the ruling party’s next step is to push this law nationwide … This law will censor millions of Russians, gay and straight – and silence any and all human rights organizations in Russia fighting for equal rights”. The EU have adopted a resolution “strongly condemning” the law, but what that means in effect is relatively little. One of the bills supporters, Vitaly Milonov, said of LGBT people, “They have their office in Brussels, they are welcome at the United Nations, the European Council and so on, but this is Europe’s problem; why should we copy European laws? Not everything they have in Europe is acceptable for Russia.”
And this is what this law is about: standing up to the West in any way possible. In a first rate article by Shaun Walker, published in The Independent on March 31, historian Konstantin Rotikov said of Stalin’s outlawing of homosexuality in the 1930s, “they said that gays were agents of the West who were trying to destroy the Soviet Union; now they say that gay activists are being supported by Western money and trying to destroy Russia.”
The law is not about LGBT rights, per se, but it is a panic over the fear that the national identity is under threat. This is also how the anxiety over homosexuality plays out in Liberia and Malaysia.
In many ways, the Russian law is equal to the British Clause 28, the Conservative Government’s ill thought out response to the AIDS crisis, which banned “the promotion of homosexuality”. It created an atmosphere rather than issuing punishment. An interesting test of its teeth will be Madonna’s performance in St Petersburg in August. “I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed,” she has said. One way or another, this will test the law on the global stage.