Tag Archives: putin

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.

2013-07-31_1711
(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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The Навальный Case comes to a close

Last week, the corruption trial against the Russian journalist-activist Алексей Анатольевич Навальный (Alexej Anatolevich Navalnyj) came to a close with his closing remarks, which are now available in English courtesy of the New York Times. While I don’t feel qualified to judge the quality of the charges against him, it seems worth noting that this case against Navalnyj was previously dismissed for lack of evidence. This doesn’t seem like the most honest judicial process, although we’ll have to wait until July 18 to see the outcome of whatever dishonest might be in play.

In the meantime, I think it’s worth attempting to parse Navalnyj’s intent behind various parts of his statement namely where he declares the existing Russian state to be recreating a “feudal” social system “under which 83 percent of national wealth belongs to 0.5 percent of the population”. He, in fact, expressed gratitude that the case involved the resources in the Kirov Oblast, as there, “you can see that the world of fantasy and fairy tales does not exist” as it’s portrayed by the Putin-headed government. That rhetoric raises at least one question: what makes him think that that’s the argument he should use to rally support in an Oblast (or province) where more than 59 percent of voters in 2012 (supposedly) cast their ballots for Putin?


(Kirov Oblast, marked with the red one, does have a lower degree of support for Putin based on 2012 outcome when compared to most of its neighboring provinces. Only those that are a darker shade of blue provided Putin with a smaller vote share. From here.)

To be fair, he might consider this line of argument to be his only chance at convincing Kirovskie people to heed his political warnings over Putin, but it certainly seems like the fictions of the Putin government are largely believed in the Kirov Oblast in percentages that are comparable for the rest of Russia. Navalnyj does seem capable of using idealism in his arguments, but I don’t want discount him as being pragmatic here. While Kirov did (seemingly) vote for Putin at more or less the national rate, it did have above average support for various anti-capitalist and anti-modernist parties’ candidates.

One interpretation of this that might be worth exploring is whether Putin’s support in the Kirov Oblast and other rural oblasti has eroded or is otherwise more precarious than recent elections suggested. Otherwise, Navalnyj is potentially taking a shot at the ultra-nationalists that are also attempting to make gains against Putin’s government, particularly in more rural regions like the Kirov Oblast. In either case, I hope that Navalnyj is doing something smart here as a way of challenging the political status quo in Russia.

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When progress stalls

TW: heterosexism, violence against protesters

I’m a bit short on time today, so I’ll just offer some quick commentary on Masha Alexandrovna Gessen’s interesting piece in the New York Times. She does an excellent job of describing the current situation in Russia – one in which queerness is often a political identity as it comes at odds with visions of politically acceptable and even legally protected action and speech. She alludes to, but doesn’t directly call out the sort of cult of masculinity the modern government has created for itself which undoubtedly plays a role in the both sexist and heterosexist attitudes of many powerful institutions in Russia today.


(An online rhyming joke poster, which can be translated as saying “A friend told me where the gay pride parade was passing”. The original site of this has been deleted, thankfully.)

It seems incomplete to let that go mentioned without acknowledging how that’s a development, not some constant fact of Russia politics. That’s often the political framing of liberation movements, especially the quite contemporary queer liberation movements – as a slow but inevitable movement towards selfhood and enfranchisement and away from old bigotries and inequalities. Russia today is an excellent counterexample to this linear view of history.

The early revolutionary period was in fact defined by a tentative sexual liberation –  explicitly seen variously in the new marital laws (which secularized marriage and permitted divorce), in the legalization of abortion, in the decriminalization of мужеложство (muzhelozhstvo), roughly comparable to “sodomy” in the US and English legal systems (although with implications of bestiality and pederasty as well). There were absolutely limits to what began occurring during the immediate post-Revolution period (namely for queer women), but it’s notable that those new found freedoms were challenged (particularly in the case of queer sexual conduct) in the ensuing decades of dictatorship, which neatly leads up to the modern dominance of ex-KGB Vladimir Putin.

So among the questions worth asking is not only why Russia has, as Gessen describes it, a “gay-bashing ritual”, but how it gained one.

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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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