2014 will see the XXII Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia. Or at least, such is the current proposal of the Russian state and the Olympic committee. Personally, I’d like to keep that from happening.
Russia isn’t exactly a beacon of freedom and human rights today (or since 1929, for that matter). In spite of having the basic decency to offer former-NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden something of a safe haven, the modern Russian Federation has more than a few dents in its reputation.
While massive corruption has been an issue for a long time, and while Russia is no more free from the ugly face of white supremacism than any of its fellow European nations, a few recent events stand out as especially damning.
You’ve got the incarceration of Russian punk band Pussy Riot on trumped up charges of “hooliganism.” The resulting sentence handed down by the kangaroo court currently stands at two years of labor in a penal colony- clearly this has less to do with the band orchestrating a flash mob and more with the political message they were attempting to send.
Or I could point out the continued support the Russian government offers the Assad regime in my own adopted country of Syria. While I can’t say that Russia’s involvement- namely in the way of military armaments- has prevented the dictatorship from falling, I think it’s pretty dang safe to say that their intervention has helped prolong a bloody war that has claimed far too many lives.
Of course, I could point to the most obvious and disgusting sin of the Russian government- their wholesale persecution of gays.
Although homosexuality was “decriminalized” in Russia in 1993, levels of homophobia continue to remain extremely high, with rights groups ranking Russia as the single worst European country for gays.
“But Gordon, you living standard of the human spirit, how bad can it be? It’s Europe.”
Well, this is how bad it can be:
In addition to shocking numbers of outright violent attacks on homosexuals, we’re seeing not only a blind eye turned by the authorities (many gay demonstrators are savagely beaten while nearby police do nothing to intervene), but laws are being introduced to enforce the suppression of gays (and freedom of expression in general). Just this June, a bill was passed making the “propagandizing” of homosexuality (i.e., talking about it) to minors an illegal offense carrying with it massive fines. The ambiguous language of the law has effectively banned any public discussion or expression of homosexuality, including gay pride parades (already targets for violent homophobic mobs). Another bill has been proposed that would actually impose jail time for, and I quote, “…offending religious feelings….”
Now this isn’t an isolated issue. The article I linked to above reports that “A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that the gay and lesbian community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.”
I’ll give you a minute to recover from that staggering statistic.
So virulent is the fear and hatred of gays that this May a man was beaten to death for being suspected of being gay.
And we’re expected to ignore the hypocrisy of an event celebrating the unity and brotherhood of all people being held in this country? Are we going to just roll with this?
In light of this pattern of heinous bigotry and violence, acclaimed British actor and comedian Stephen Fry (who is himself gay) has called for the boycott of Russian goods and the moving of the 2014 Olympics to another nation. Both David Cameron and (surprise, surprise) President Obama have rejected Fry’s proposal, demonstrating the kind of moral backbone we’ve all come to know and admire them for.
The sniveling cowardice of the White House and Downing Street notwithstanding, Fry’s proposed boycott needs to be turned into a reality. The 80s saw the rise of a number of boycotts of Apartheid South Africa– the combined force of which was instrumental in the toppling of the racist regime. The “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” or “BDS” movement (based off of the South Africa boycotts) serves a similar aim in regards to the ethnocentric state of Israel. The simple truth of the matter is that boycotts do work, and it’s time to send a message to both the Russian government and people that so long as gays are robbed both of liberty and basic security, they will be economically, culturally, and academically isolated. No Russian products will be purchased, no Russian concerts will be attended, no Russian speakers will set foot on campus until gay Russians are afforded the same fundamental rights as any other human being.
Until that day, readers, remember- friends don’t let friends buy Russian.
Except for Stolichnaya, which has actually come out in pretty bold support of the Russian gay community, and has promised to make financial contributions to gay equality groups working in Russia.
Also, sign this petition demanding the International Olympic Committee move the 2014 Winter Olympics.