Monday, August 12, 2013

What lies behind Putin's homophobia

by Stephen Morgan

The terrible attacks on the rights of the LGBTQI community in Russia are an integral part of Putin's strategy to whip up reactionary ideas, such as nationalism, religion and racism, in order to help him establish a more authoritarian regime. Putin is playing upon the public's ignorance and prejudices towards gay issues and is manipulating people's narrow-mindedness and unwarranted fears over it. As the Guardian pointed out in January 2013, the attack on LGBTQI rights is “part of an official drive to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against Putin's rule.

But the attacks on LGBTQI rights are not simply bigotry or prejudice on the part of Putin and the ruling elite. Many of them are, of course, cultural dinosaurs, but there is a deeper political reason behind it. They see the LGBTQI community as a more general threat to the political system and their power and privileges. The Russian elite doesn't only rule because of its control of the repressive tools of the state, it must also depend on the psychology of the population and the maintenance of conventional thinking which supports the status quo.

The key pillar of society and the foundations upon which the state is built are to be found in the traditional family unit and the so-called “values” which go with it. Within the stereotyped family we find the bedrock of class society. At its head stands the all-powerful father, representing the male-dominated ruling class, whose word cannot be challenged, the subjugated, semi slave-like position of the mother, reflecting the status of women as second class citizens and the naivety and blind obedience of the children, who represent the masses.

LGBTQI people, however, challenge this conception and so are seen as a threat to the system. By living and thinking outside the “social box,” they threaten the fundamental premises upon which the mentality and habits of the mass of people are based and upon which the hierarchy of class rule depends. Of course, most LGBTQI people are only demanding an end to discrimination, equality and democratic rights and not necessarily the overthrow of the entire socio-economic system. But the regime doesn't see it like that. It considers these demands to be a dangerous and subversive attack on their rule.

The elite in Russia worries that if such “deviant behaviour” and dissident thinking is not checked and, instead, LGBTQI rights and lifestyles start to gain acceptance from the wider population, it will undermine traditional notions of the family. They are afraid that once that happens, people will also start to think “outside the box” and this wont limit itself to gay issues. What worries them is that people will start thinking more critically in general and lead people to reflect upon the fundamental ideas at the heart of a system, such as the nuclear family, the position of women and the current way society is run. It is for this reason that LGBTQI people are being persecuted and demonized by the regime and it is part of the whole strategy of reinforcing conservative, backward thinking and prejudices through the manipulation of religion, nationalism and racism.

Thus in Russia and in similar authoritarian regimes, LGBTQI issues are inextricably linked to the general struggle for democratic rights and freedom of expression, women's liberation, the defence of ethnic and religious minorities and an end to racism and discrimination, as well as the support for a secular state, combined with an internationalist outlook, which challenges narrow nationalist thinking.

This is exactly what Pussy Riot have done. They have linked all these issues together and fought to break conservative thinking and traditional views. They have exposed the machinations of Putin on LGBTQI issues and similar questions and, in doing so, they have challenged the foundations of the Putin's “Power Vertical” state. This is why they are seen as such a threat to the system and it is why they have been persecuted and imprisoned."

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