Sochi: The pinnacle of Putin’s homophobia?

Omar Nur-Nathoo

 In 1936, the Winter Olympics were opened by Adolf Hitler, a man who led his nation on a genocidal rampage throughout Europe, targeting, among others, homosexuals. Propel yourself sixty-six years into the future – into the 2002 Winter Olympics – which was opened by George W. Bush. Between George “Dubya” and his father, America armed and funded what is now the exceedingly homophobic Taliban, before developing incredulously cosy relations with dictatorial (and equally homophobic) ethnarchs in Saudi Arabia. Obviously not a single right-minded person would suggest that these human rights violations are remotely comparable, however Sochi 2014 will be far from the first Winter Olympics to be hosted by a nation with less-than-savoury attitudes toward human rights.

Russia seems to have drawn the ire of the world. With Hollande, Merkel, Cameron and Obama boycotting Putin’s forty-billion euro Winter Olympics, and the attendance of Dutch dignitaries, King Willem-Alexander and Prime Minister Mark Rutte noted by some commentators as an attempt to salvage what had been a tempestuous ‘year of friendship’ between Russia and the Netherlands. The stem of this indignation can undoubtedly be traced to the signing of Yelena Mizulina’s amendment to Article 5 of the federal law ‘On Protection of children from information harmful to their health and development’. Moreover, it is not merely ire this has drawn, but also ridicule. Whether it was Canada’s bobsledding advert, the images of ridiculous bathroom signs circulating the twittersphere, or Google celebrating LGBT rights on the day of the opening ceremony, the event has clearly been regarded with contemptuous disdain.

However, proponents of Putin have argued that, in lieu of open discourse, there has been a propensity across progressive countries to hyperbolise the extent of Russia’s policy to prohibit the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”. Technically, homosexuality is still legal in Russia. Nonetheless this fails to detract from the ominous homophobia that looms above the national consciousness of Russian society. Studies conducted that revealed three-quarters of Russians support anti-gay legislation seem to offer an inescapable democratic legitimacy that underpin the new laws.  Laws that, according to Human Rights Watch, have supported, legitimised and strengthened homophobic attitudes. We can see this has become manifest in the vile actions of vigilante group, ‘Occupy Paedophilia’, who actively, and with impunity, subjugate “suspected paedophiles” (all of whom just happen to be members of the LGBT community) to the most abominable forms of humiliation and torture.

The point here is that this tendency to falsely equate homosexuality with abhorrent acts of a sexual nature, such as paedophilia and bestiality, is not solely limited to Russia. One need only look as far as the recent debates in America and the United Kingdom to realise that this is an attitude that continues to pervade the whole world. So whilst the Sochi games are a time to shine a light upon the oppressive attitudes that are so prevalent in Russia, the greatest impact of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics would not merely be to scold Russia, nor to condemn homophobia, but to excoriate discrimination in all its forms – whether it be the demonisation of a race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class.

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