Tag Archives: pussy riot

Cluelessness abounds – a Dan Savage update

TW: heterosexism, cissexism, racism, coerced sterilization

In case you’ve missed my previous coverage of it, the longstanding problems of heterosexist and cissexist violence in Russia have become pretty apparent to just about everyone, even those who weren’t following the slow change within the LGBT communities of Russia in terms of how visibility and activism were understood and valued. Naturally enough, Dan Savage, with his history of shoddy activist projects, has organized a twitter campaign (#dumpstoli) to respond to the actions of the Russian government, by boycotting a company legally based in Cyprus, effectively centered in Luxembourg, and with its primary production centers in Latvia. Because it has a Russian name and some of its production is still based in Russia. (Funny isn’t it, how Swedish vodka, in spite of all the extreme cissexism in Sweden, isn’t bothering Savage?)

Given that Dan Savage has now taken to posting links to videos like this, we can effectively conclude that much like his racist reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, he’s decided that to be Russian is to be bigoted, as previously he assumed that to be Black was to be bigoted. Because there are never queer people who are also Black or Russian.

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(Speaking of terrible politics, his current twitter icon makes clear just how central straight and cisgender allies are to his conception of activism.)

Of course, if you actually talk to just about anyone in Russia, this whole effort seems first farcical in terms of identifying this bizarre boycott as a solution and then patently offensive in that it’s seriously considered as a substitute for actually helpful behavior. Contrary to the pushback I’ve seen peddled on a few parts of the internet (namely that Russians just don’t understand boycotts – while more radical members of the political opposition have been calling for boycotts of actually Russian products), many Russians have very effectively explained their disinterest and annoyance with this campaign in pretty clear terms.

Simply read what one Russian correspondent for Gay Star News wrote on #dumpstoli: “It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. [… W]hat is the aim of this boycott? The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma [legislature]”. Given how the Putin government has lobbied for these many new laws (as an extension, arguably, to his use of patriarchal imagery while in office) and the federal Duma voted unanimously in favor of them, the necessary change here is pretty clearly political, not necessarily economic.

Particularly given how Western “assistance” in the past largely resulted in the restructuring of the Russian economy in favor of a very small number of elites, the wariness of Russians to receive incomprehensible Western help seems rather on point. In some sense, our governments forced their society to recreate itself in a way that relies on exports and international trade, and now we’re calling for boycotts on products simply associated with them?

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Sometimes it’s really, really bad

TW: censorship, cholera pandemic, sexual assault

The Russian government seems to have implemented a new policy where they destabilize the democratizing opposition movement without publicly shaming trials of resistance figures, which internationally backfired in the case of the Pussy Riot! trial. Instead, they arrest and temporarily detain opposition leaders, then more quietly fine or penalize them with a smaller sentence. The effect is less rhetorical and bombastic but it has made the opposition disjointed and incapable of very effectively criticizing the government.


(Some activists, including Roman Dobrokhotov have been arrested for “swearing in public” when they had taped their mouths shut and held up blank placards to protest state censorship.)

A cholera outbreak in Haïti has nearly reached its third year  after being spurred on by unusually heavy rains. Allegations are surfacing that poor oversight by the UN lead to the accidental reintroduction of the disease to Haïti after more than a century of safety from it. This adds to an already extensive list of grievances for the Haïtian people which can be traced back to the UN’s poor management – which also includes both sexual and physical attacks on local civilians. If the UN is providing basic security and services that the government of Haïti cannot, then they’re doing an astoundingly bad job of it.

In India, public criticism of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena was met with arrests in the first few days after his death. 21 year old Shaheen Dhanda, for instance, only complained that criticism should be socially permissible along with praise for Thackeray, but she and a friend who liked her status were both detained. There’s some public backlash against the arrests brewing, but the situation remains uncertain. Local governments have begun arresting people for criticizing Hindutva, and it’s not clear that that will stop or even just remain at that.

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What do you do with a country like Russia? And who can and should do it?

TW: political killings, electoral rigging, silencing protesters

If you have a good memory, you’ll recall the on-going indications from the Romney campaign that as possible future President, Romney would reignite the Cold War with Russia. I’m curious to see if the recent crackdown on foreign-funded (including US-funded) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, will elicit US pundits to proclaim him to be a visionary who foresaw the coming conflict with Putin’s Russia. The obvious problem is how this is necessarily an issue of American foreign policy and furthermore one that requires decisive action on the part of the President. Russia’s problems so far have been internal in nature, even with the constant talk of “foreign agents.” Charging the opposition with being foreign collaborators or lackeys has been Putin’s response to the protests since they began almost a year ago against blatantly fraudulent parliamentary elections. This is not a strategy unique to Russia, nor even the eastern hemisphere.

This newly proposed policy has everything to do with domestic politics in Russia, especially those pertaining to civil liberties and transparent political processes. The electoral system is fundamentally fixed – for years violence against journalists has shut down effective reporting in the country, advocates of democracy and transparency have long alleged that domestic donors are threatened with arrests or violence, and last minute “fixes” from ballot stuffing to voter intimidation have become common. As demonstrations late last year and early this year continued – alleging all sorts anti-democratic efforts – the protest band Pussy Riot stormed the altar of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to protect them from Putin. The performance was filmed and distributed online after their arrest for hooliganism and insulting the Russian Orthodox faith (as one band member put it “I’m Orthodox but hold different political views” from church officials who urged the country to reinstate Putin as President).


(The original protest with the now famous song “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”)

The problem for Putin is clear – anarchist and feminist critiques of the de facto one party rule of Russia are getting a lot of attention and going mainstream. With the clear evidence of electoral rigging provided by better-funded NGOs like Голос (translatable as “Vote” or “Voice”), which had navigated the attacks on domestic financial supporters by looking for international support, popular movements hostile to the Putin presidency are developing.

Protests in Perm
(Protesters for the release of Pussy Riot in Perm, Russia, holding up a sign saying “the arts are the territory of freedom.” Originally from here.)

In a country where the bureaucracy is explicitly manipulated to invalidate most challengers’ candidacies and protesters are threatened with lengthy jail sentences, it’s unclear exactly what a Romney-led United States could do to help. Most of the population of Russia isn’t threatened with political killings – so a military intervention seems to be not only tactical nonsense but an ethically impractical solution. Sanctions are well-established non-starters. The EU has far more in the way of economic and political ties to Russia, and so far they’ve been leading the charge with all the diplomatic pushes they can.

If Romney honestly wants to help the people of Russia, and this isn’t empty posturing to make the US vote like it’s the 1980s again, he should be specific about what powers he sees the American presidency having which could be used to assist efforts to reinstate democratic and transparent governance in Russia. As with many other issues, he needs to be specific, if he’s going to speak up on this topic again.

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