Putin’s Homophobic Nationalism

We just got back from St Petersburg, Russia where we met with gay activists and feminists of all sorts and ages. My spouse Richard Stumbar was one of the lead attorneys in the attempt to legalise gay marriage in New York State in 2008. I have a long history with Russian feminisms that date back to the early 1990’s in the East/West initiative to have women dialog across these borders.

The day we left for Russia, right wing Republicans held the US hostage to their punishing agenda against “Obamacare”. And we were traveling to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which had recently halted adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, and enacted new laws supposedly “protecting” children from gay indoctrination, and had, in early 2012, imprisoned two of the women of the rock band Pussy Riot for “hooliganism”. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics are to be held soon in Russia; poverty continues to escalate in the countryside while a massive commercial extravaganza in and around Sochi, the site of the games, is underway; and gay activists from outside Russia discuss whether they should boycott the games.

And for further context let us not forget the whistle blower Edward Snowden who sought asylum and won it in this land of draconian sex laws. Whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, now a trans-woman, would probably have little chance of gaining similar asylum status, if she were able to ask for it.

To top off this messy political mix of all things we have Putin’s justifiable criticism of the US and President Barack Obama for an arrogant sense of “exceptionalism”, especially in terms of US threats to bomb Syria for their use of chemical weapons. The world is looking complexly differently-similar everywhere. Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and Alexandra Kollantai seem to have been forgotten, if they have ever been acknowledged in post-perestroika Russia. We looked for some simple signs of Luxemburg, famous for her 1917 statement: “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters”, and found none.

We trudged across town to the Finland Railway Station to find a forgotten and lonely statue of Lenin. Even the tourist-consumer culture in the flea markets seemed to have no historical memory. No t-shirts for Pussy Riot were to be found. Network of East-West Women. This group of women was made up of people from all over the former Soviet Union in their newly configured countries and parts of Eastern Europe along with women from throughout the United States. Our purpose was to dialog and to find commonalities and differences in our understanding of feminism and women’s needs and rights. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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She writes of her incarceration in the gulag-style prison, that fear and intimidation are continually used to regulate, discipline and shame. Fellow prisoners become the enforcers of the inhumanity. Anyone showing a bit of determination and self-respect is beaten down – both physically and mentally. Worst of all is the punishment of those who have shown Nadezhda any sign of kindness or friendship, “It hurt me that people I cared about were forced to suffer,” she writes. has suspended her request for early release, in support of Tolokonnikova. Both are scheduled for release in February after serving their two-year jail term. 

The feminists we spoke with in St Petersburg said that Pussy Riot was never given its due by the Russian mainstream media. They were treated like flighty girls who needed to be reprimanded, and as Putin says, got what they deserved. Feminists and activists committed to democracy in Russia demonstrated on their behalf, both inside and outside of Russia. In some international feminist circles Pussy Riot has become a keen cause and maybe more visible outside, than inside parts of Russia. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Keep Pussy Riot in mind as I try to negotiate the political streams of thought that surround them and activists inside Russia. Putin’s newest form of nationalism appears to negate and silence socialism, communism and Western democracy. He uses anti-feminist and homophobic discourses to express his newest form of traditional patriarchal nationalism. The Holy Father of the Russian Orthodox Church covers for the state-corporate cronyism of Putin.

The Sochi Olympic Games bespeak Putin’s lawlessness, corruption, and incompetence. Originally the Games were estimated to cost $12bn and are estimated to rise to $50bn. Much of the problem is the location itself. Sochi is one of the warmest places in Russia at almost 13C when the Games are to begin. Anywhere else would have made more sense for the winter Olympics. But Putin’s friends, especially the Rotenberg Brothers – an Energy and Construction Company – have made out like bandits. New roads and gas lines have been the greatest expense.  One Billion Rising for Justice will do on V-Day, February 14, 2014, in over 200 countries.