“Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”
~ Agnes Repplier ~
Earlier this year, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia, there was some poetic justice when the 5th and final snowflake-like Olympic Circle failed to open during the opening ceremony. For me and many of my LGBT friends it was a symbolic moment, highlighting the cry for help from the Russian LGBT community for international support against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.
Since the introduction of this infamous anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks (some resulting in torture and even death) on members of its LGBT community, while those protesting the legislation have found themselves often targeted by police brutality and arrest.
In the run up to the Winter Olympics, the LGBT activist group All Out called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stop the Games from taking place in Sochi and to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have similar discriminatory laws on their books.
All Out presented the IOC with a global petition signed by 322,000 members of the group and another 41,000 All Out members sent the IOC personal messages raising their concerns. Shortly after receiving the petition, the head of the IOC spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law and assured the LGBT community that this new law will not impact fans and athletes attending the Games — which was not exactly the assurance All Out and the international LGBT community asked for.
Brian Ellner, a board member of Athlete Ally — a group working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports — commented at the time by saying: “Today’s IOC statements are troubling on many levels. First, despite continued ‘assurances’ from the Russians the IOC itself remains confused as to whether these anti-LGBT propaganda laws will be enforced against athletes and fans.”
He added that while the safety of athletes and fans was important “we are also seeking a clear condemnation of the propaganda laws from the IOC. After the games are long gone the Russian LGBT community will still be living under these cruel laws and it’s time for the IOC and the world to voice loud and clear condemnation as a matter of human rights and fundamental fairness.”
Responding to the petition and the IOC’s request for Russia to clarify its position in terms of implementing these laws, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversaw the Olympics said: “Please do not touch the kids,” echoing what Russian President Vladimir Putin simply said earlier: “Just leave kids alone, please”, implying that LGBT people are paedophiles.
We all know how that story ended… The Winter Olympics were hosted in Sochi regardless and the IOC has not yet clarified their position in terms of choosing future host countries having to no discriminatory laws including protecting all human rights…
As for Russia? Russian leaders maintain that the country is not homophobic, despite the fact that violence against Russian LGBT people are now at its worst with many seeking to leave the country in fear of their safety. They remain defiant, by claiming that their only goal with this draconian law is to safeguard youth, by prohibiting the airing of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ around minors…
History has taught us time and again that seemingly ‘innocent’ laws are usually just the beginning of backward political ideations hidden behind a diplomatic smokescreen sugar-coated hogwash… Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is no exception.
Today, it transpired that despite Russia’s empty promises, this past weekend, a secret meeting was held in Vienna to discuss ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’. The meeting was attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists and was held literally across the road from where the Life Ball — one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world — was hosted inside Vienna City Hall the very same night.
This year, the winner of Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst stole the show at Life Ball when hoots of approval, applause and whistles greeted the Austrian bearded drag queen dressed in figure-hugging silver lame, as she belted out her winning torch song Rise Like a Phoenix.
I cannot help but to see the irony here: In the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest’s Finale, activists from Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.
After her Eurovision victory, when asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Conchita said: “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”
Yet, this weekend, while guests at the Life Ball celebrated life and raised money to support HIV/AIDS victims, on the other side of the street the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation held an ominous meeting attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West… I cannot imagine a greater contrast between two worlds. It’s like an invisible Berlin Wall divided the streets of Vienna.
The meeting was an invitation only and guests included the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A star guest was Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and Eurasia ideologist who believes in Russian supremacy and authoritarianism, and wants to see a ‘conservative revolution’ across Europe.
According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who confirmed the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.
The newspaper’s sources said that as well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also high on the agenda at the secret meeting. However, the official theme of the event was to mark the historic Vienna congress, which settled issues following the Napoleonic Wars and French revolutionary wars, 200 years ago.
Russian oligarchy, far-right politicians, secret meetings, the ‘gay lobby’ (what does that even mean?)… Do we have reason to be concerned?
Sadly, I think we do.
I for one don’t like scaremongering, but I also detest the inconvenience and irritation of ‘hindsight’.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anything, the fact that the IOC allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community…
Back then, the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’
LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who find themselves in the awful juxtaposition that rights that are given to us with one hand are taken away by another… This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore.
The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences…
…something to think about as we gear up to celebrate Gay Pride this year…