Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hunted in Russia

Dispatches, Britain’s Channel 4's investigative journalism program, has just aired a documentary titled Hunted.  

I don’t like recommending things to watch that are likely to leave you sobbing at the end, but I trust if you can get some distance between yourself and this depiction of LGBT bullying to the point of torture in Russia, you can handle it.

Steel yourself to be objective.  Ask yourself questions like, “How the hell did the camera crew get in there to film that?”  Ask even more cynical questions like, “Can anything like this ever be seen objectively?  How am I to know this isn’t being done to cater to the lowest denominator, the kind of people who stop to gawk at accidents?”  But find a way to get yourself to watch it.  It’s just short of an hour long.

You’ll find yourself glad you don’t live in Moscow.  Don’t have to deal with the slush of winter in the grey streets and the endless rows of concrete block houses.  Don’t have to live in cramped kitchens and with the ugliest furniture in creation.  Besides being a film about beating up gays and terrifying lesbians, it’s also a depiction of how the middle (and lower) classes live in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  And it makes you wonder what it’s like for the rural poor.

Mostly it’s a full in the face look at Russia’s neo-fascism and what happens when the state sanctions violence.

We sit here in the West and celebrate one victory over homophobia after another, almost everywhere you turn.  Five of the six New England states approve same-sex marriage, and then Rhode Island makes it unanimous.  Mexico and Argentina and then Uruguay bring these rights home to Latin America.  England and Wales will start marrying gay couples in March and Scotland joins in, leaving everybody asking, “Well, Northern Ireland, what the hell are you waiting for?”  The mood is up, up, up, and straight people now way outnumber gay people in supporting gay rights.  Google puts a rainbow pattern of Olympic skiiers on its search engine.   The German team wears rainbow uniforms.  The U.S. President sends openly gay people to represent the American team.  The homophobic authoritarian churches have less clout by the day and some of my friends tell me to stop beating a dead horse.  Homophobia is all but dead, they say.

Think again.  What’s going on in Russia is absolutely terrifying.  Because the anti-gay law forbids anything that might be construed as pro-gay messaging, even protesting against the anti-gay law can get you into trouble.   Cultural attitudes in Russia are like what they were here in the 1950s and 1960s, when people declared openly that homosexuality and pedophilia were synonymous.  Just ask Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.  He'll tell you that's the case in Russia today.  In those exact words.

You can find people here who still think gays should be stoned to death, that blacks should not be allowed to go to college because they don't have the mental capacity, that doing business with a Jew means you will get cheated.  But they live on the perifery of society, with those who believe Obama was born in Kenya and you can get pregnant from a toilet seat.  People you just laugh at, or at least don't take seriously.  People who have not kept up with the advance of knowledge.  For some reason, Russia has yet to get the word that their attitudes on sexuality are of that ilk, that research and experience in the world outside of Russia has revealed homophobia to be of a piece with racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.  They consider themselves Europeans, but despite their racial makeup, they might as well be from Mars.  They have more in common with Uganda, and other places in Africa where homophobia is being whipped up by American evangelicals, than they do with London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid or Rome.  Just consider that two of those cities, Paris and Berlin even had a gay mayor (Berlin still has).  And contrast that with Moscow, where saying that’s a good thing in front of a neighbor might result in a call to the cops.

What to do?  How to do it?

Hard questions.

The answers will come.

And ultimately attitudes will change from within.  Russia is not a nation of thugs.  It's also important to remember in looking at this video that we're focusing on a particularly vile section of the populace, and not on the larger Russian community, which has developed a moral consciousness as any good as any other modern nations.  Consider, when looking at the Russian Orthodox leader, at the kind of messages you're likely to get from some Catholic bishops in America.  Greatly toned down, because they have to function in the larger American context and such blatant hateful ugliness no longer flies here.  But cut, most assuredly, from the same cloth. 

Russia, from all I've seen, seems to have a hard time with free expression or any serious embrace of diversity.  And it is currently under the thumb of Vladimir Putin, who appears to be channeling police state leaders from the czars to Stalin and others before him to deflect attention from economic problems. Machiavelli would be proud.

We in the United States are not doing all that well with democracy, either, these days, so we are not in a good position to lecture Russia on how to straighten up and fly right as it makes its way in that direction.

But as people with high expectations for democracy and equality and human rights,
we can still speak up as individuals.

It is my profound hope that the maximum number of people of good will will let their voices be heard.

If the link above to the Advocate gets taken down, try going directly to YouTube here.

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