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Russia and the Politics of Homophobia

By Dmitry Lytchev

Presumption of Guilt

Two years ago when I warned readers in my article "Russian gays facing dictatorship of homophobes?" that the Yeltsin era's rulings will be recalled by Russian gays as the most liberal, and that from Vladimir V. Putin's phrase "Dictatorship of the law" that only the first word would remain, I was certain that an assault on human rights would not keep us waiting for long. Vladimir Putin

After their successful fight against Chechnya, the authorities are in desperate need of new targets so that the hungry stomachs' resonance and the coffin grinding could be howled down. During four months of this year the deputies of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament have offered two laws in a row evidently aimed at the suppression of individual liberty.

I will begin with the most recent initiative from the April 22nd (it is symbolic that it is in the day of the Lenin's birth). The group of the parliamentarians from the "People Deputy" ("Narodniy Deputat") submitted for consideration a draft law that would demand criminal liability for "the unnatural satisfaction of the same sex intercourse." Almost nine years ago, in May 1993, the similar article 121.1 was abrogated, but now it has been offered to imprison every tenth (with bisexual and "curious" - every fifth) adult Russian.

The main goal of this new initiative, in the opinion of its authors, is the fight against the rapid expansion of AIDS (and this happens at a time when more than 90% of HIV-positive people are those who are drug-addicted). Senator Ramazan Abdulatipov says that in addition, certain vicious practices have become common and that there are no straight men left in the country anymore.

The resurrected article, 121.1, is hardly needed, however, even by the police, who regularly and illegally invade the lives of gay men and lesbians.

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Here follow recent examples:

1. "The cops delivered my boy-friend to the same police station where I was brought in the beginning of August. The interrogation lasted for half an hour while he was conscious. Each time he refused to sign something or said something in his defense, he was cudgeled in the ribs. When he regained consciousness, he was already in the hospital. He wanted to complain to the attorney general but was told that nobody would learn how he had broken his ribs. And he could hardly recognize the cops as they were all alike in their gray uniforms, and they never said their names."

2. Having escaped from the Russian Kaliningrad to Belgium and seeking asylum there, Arkady Vasilevsly wrote the following letter to the Queen of Belgium, quoted here in part:

"Your Majesty, our city Kaliningrad is an enclave separated from the rest of Russia. This has allowed the creation of structures that violate human rights. At present there is a real holocaust in our region -- police units openly persecuting gays. Lately this persecution has expanded . There are now executions.

"This campaign is headed by the colonel Emelyanov and the special police department created by him. Because of the steps they've taken, the number of faded lives can be counted in tens. Gays are enduring physical and psychological assaults. Many fake cases have been generated and, as a result, the innocent are subjected to imprisonment lasting between 10-14 years. The gay prisoners are held in inhuman conditions, assaulted by the prisoners and by prison personnel. Many commit suicide.

"This evidence is thoroughly hidden from human right organizations. I have also been discriminated against, persecuted and horribly tortured by these rulers. I was arrested and imprisoned. After my imprisonment I was in the hospital for a while where I was given the degree of disablement. The condition of my health has exploded, and I am currently in the distinct degree of dystrophy. My mother attempted to defend my rights but the prosecutor's office sent her to the mental hospital. Only because of a miracle and with the help of my friends I was given the chance to escape to the Kingdom Of Belgium. I arrived here in the condition of the strongest depression and melancholy. After my escape, the police openly announced to my mother that they'd shot me after an 'attempted' escape."

Arkady Vasilevsly

Some Hope Remains

What is left to hope? That in the lower assembly of the parliament and above, good sense will climb into the ascendant. Russia's spoiled image because of Chechnya and the "Kursk" submarine could be further spoiled as knowledge of anti-gay persecution spreads abroad.

Europeans clearly understand that there would be the flow of refugees and this "luxury" they would not be able to sustain any longer. Europe can easily close the iron curtain again and won't lose anything by doing so. And the only thing that would remain for Russians would be the friendship of fidels, yasirs and saddams.

The newest initiative, to be more precise, is causing the grief. Let's set aside the commentaries on the probable latent homosexuality of those who've proposed the initiative. They will not add anything positive to the "standardized" image of the gay (talented, tolerant, intelligent and well behaved, more handsome, at last!).

We are facing, therefore, the machinations of ordinary politicians. It is clear that no such deputies are willing to lose their coveted positions. The initiators of the anti-gay law appear to be so confident that they can imply the presence of support within the general population. The level of homophobia in Russia is high, unreasonably high, and this becomes the basis for their play. The proletariat doesn't like dissimilar people.

But the majority of the population doesn't even suspect what a dirty trick their elected ones are engaged in as they push legislation of the draft law proposed on the fourth of February. It has been offered as a way to enforce criminal penalties to stop the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers, a law which nobody would normally oppose.

On the surface it appears that the proposed law meets European standards. But this would seem so only in the case of a superficial reading. There are already articles in Russian law which make the fight against pedophiles possible. In reality, the "corrections" in the new draft law give the authorities unlimited powers through which they'll profit and use according to their own discretion.

The elimination of the word "designedly" from the phrase "imprisonment for a period between 2 to 5 years for those who have designedly not reached their 16th year for intercourse, pederasty, lesbian acts or performing other acts of the sexual nature" could cost a lot.

Presumption of innocence is a thing of the past. In today's Russia, where the insanity of the local knights reigns, it would be enough to offer a neighbor's kids candy and to stroke a small head to get 8 years in prison. You think this is unreal? Arrests are made at the whims of local rulers and the police.

Much has been written about the methods of the Russian police so there's no need to repeat them. Just the most recent: "the first arrests were committed just in Russia. Detectives managed to arrest two child porn amateurs. Two of the suspects committed suicide as soon as they were detained."

Compare this news with the last sentences of Arkady Vasilevsly's letter to the Queen of Belgium. The sad fact is that nobody can learn the truth about such deaths in prisons and in isolation wards.

The well-known Russian sexologist, Professor Igor Kon, in his manifest to the lower assembly inquires of the deputies:

"Estimating the attitudes that truly criminal prisoners have toward these accused gay prisoners, we're talking practically about the death sentence. Are we ready now to take the moral responsibility for the probable murders of people, whose guilt has not be proved and would be problematic in general?"

This inquiry was left unanswered. One fact remains vivid: deaths in Russian prisons are common. One is more likely to die in prison than to survive. Especially if one has been sentenced because of homosexual accusations.

There is one more problem of the same draft law. It is offered to ban not only the manufacturing and distribution of pornography but the keeping of it as well. Moreover, the definition of the "pornography" in the interpretation of the draft-law makers, includes not just hard-core sex scenes, but innocent photos as well, like those in Playboy.

Igor Kon writes on this account:

"This article is much more dangerous than the famous 58-10 [an article in the Soviet Penal Code]. As I recall, possession of anti-Soviet literature, for example the books of Solzhenitsin, could not result in a prison sentence. The KGB had to prove that such literature was distributed or given away. But in the present case one could get 8 years imprisonment for keeping only a postcard or a picture that some detective considers pornographic. An anonymous call, in any case, is reason enough to initiate home searches of any unwanted citizen and the evidence (porno card) may be easily planted (it is much easier than to plant the drugs). There would be nothing left to prove in the making of such an accusation, and the accused even in the case of a conclusive acquittal would be compromised".

It is inarguable that such legalisms are profitable to the rulers because they can imprison ANYONE opposed by the government. And no one from among the defenders of human rights would dare step forward to defend a man marked "Pedophile" or who has been dubbed a "porno boss" -- these are kinds of defenders that we have. No country would accept such a person as a refugee. The danger is that anyone can be arrested tomorrow regardless of his sexual orientation, his military position or past merits. Anyone but the deputies. They have immunity.
Dmitri Lytchev is an East European journalist, writer and publisher based in Prague.

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