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Historical analysis of political usage of homosexuality in Russia
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“Politicization of homosexuality in Russia”
“Sorry, it is Russia...bearded men, kissing each other, cause only vomiting”
Deputy of State Duma, Ivan Nikitchuk
(in support of his bill The bill № 916716-6 “On Amendments to the RF Code of
Administrative Offences (in terms of establishing responsibility for the public
expression of non-traditional sexual relations)
Recently in a Russian newspaper called “Literaturnaya gazeta” (Literature
newspaper) the article “Who stole Europe – 1. The coronation of perversions”1 was
published. The article mainly discusses the chain of events currently happening in Europe
while the main task, it seems, is to show the dusk of Europe. Setting aside the quality of
written material, the article named the French 20 th-century philosopher Michael Foucault
the main cause of the problems as disconnected as HIV/AIDS and racism and as dispersed
in time and space as terrorist attacks in Europe and legalization of gay marriage in the
States. The author blames Foucault for opening “the Pandora’s box” of “sexual
perversions”. Anatoli Levri writes:
Foucault introduced the system of normalization of perversions to French
universities and proclaimed the deadly psychopathy a healthy form. Having
implemented the image of “acceptable” sodomites and lesbians in universities,
Foucault set to spread his ideas within the society. Is it the reason why political and
economic sects which gave him a forum in Europe, transported him to the USA
shortly after, so that he, chairing departments all over from New York City to
See (Who stole Europe - 1. The coronation of perversions, 2016)
California, could “infect” the political elites of the western world whose IndoEuropean civilization was so deeply hated by him. Hysterically despising the
Hellenic cultural roots of the continent and its people, Foucault simplified them by
debasing the nature and the process of acquiring knowledge, proclaiming the
“relativity” of wisdom. And philosophical science increasingly turned into a shelter
for charlatans. The real policies of demography, migration, religion, and gender in
the Western countries followed the new “leader” 2 (Levri, 2016).
Levri does not stop at just that. He goes on to criticize Judith Butler for picking up
Foucault’s ideas and methods, calling her “the advertising agent of the prophet of
perversions” (Levri, 2016). Finally, after his severe critique has been made, Levri makes his
point: Russia is the last citadel of traditions and family values which stay strong against the
final twilight of humanity.
The article, in its derogatoriness, presents the only uncontested opinion of the
Russian majority about such controversial issues as same-sex practices. The state has used
both media and legislation to maintain the notion of “non-traditionalism” of homosexuality
for Russia. They present homosexuality as if it had never existed and was “brought” from
some other place, making it look alien and dangerous.
My argument is in the contemporary Russia different definitions of homosexuality
are being used by different groups in struggle over individual freedom and Russian values.
Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Russian into English are mine.
Since the theme of the study covers origins of contemporary political discourse of
homosexuality, the sources available are in predominantly Russian. However, several
American scholars have done research on Russian and the history of homosexuality there.
Western scholars concentrated their attention on especially dramatic periods for the
country and its homosexuals. Such events as the Communist Revolution of 1917 and its
possibly liberating potential drew the attention of scholars of homosexuality. Dan Healey’s
book Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender
Dissent explores the circumstances of homosexuality in Russian and the Soviet Union. He
argues that homosexuality in Russia throughout the twentieth century was mapped
geographically to present “a comparatively ‘innocent’ Russia positioned between a
‘civilized’ Europe and a decidedly ‘primitive’ or ‘backward’ East that depicts Russia as
universally, naturally, and purely heterosexual” (Healey, Homosexual Desire in
Revolutionary Russia. The Regula- tion of Sexual and Gender Dissent, 2001, p. 253).
Moreover, he wrote a number of articles covering different periods of mostly soviet
“homosexual history” (1993, 2002, 2003) as does the sovietologist Laura (1995)
While Healey and Engelstein have done a historical analysis, Brian James Baer in
his book Other Russias. Homosexuality and the Other Russias Crisis of Post-Soviet
Identity (2009) undertakes another approach – namely an attempt to look at the changes
in discourse on homosexuality:
This work does not pretend to uncover the realities—grim and otherwise—of
homosexual-identified men and women living in Russia. Rather, it is an
examination of the often extravagant discourse on the subject that has been
generated from the late 1980s through Vladimir Putin’s presidency, a discourse
that may not only influence the ways in which homosexual-identified men and
women there imagine themselves and construct their identities, but also say something about the ways in which Russians in general—and Russian men in
particular—imagine their post-Soviet identity, their cultural predicament” (Baer,
2009, p. 5)
There are also works that conduct sociological research on gay rights in Russia.
Laura Essig’s Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and Other and Daniel P. Schluter’s Gay
Life in the Former USSR: Fraternity without Community measured public opinion of
Russian about LGBT rights.
Russian scholars have also researched the issue of homosexuality. One of the
leading names in this field is Igor Kon. He has written a number of books and articles about
homosexuality from czarist Russia to the present time. His first book on this issue Faces
and Masks of homosexual love: Moonlight at dawn (2003; 2006) was a “breakthrough” on
a forbidden subject in Russia. The book summarizes recent data on same-sex love, not only
from the standpoint of biology and medicine but also in terms of the social sciences and
humanities. Kon examines various theories of homosexuality, history, ethnographies of
same-sex relations among Russians, the psychological characteristics of homosexuality,
and stages of its decriminalization and depathologization. When in 2005-2006 the new
round of homophobia began to take place in Russia, Igor Kon wrote two articles (2006,
2007) where he argued that homophobia is organically linked with other forms of SovietRussian xenophobia.
Although scholars have done substantial research on homosexuality in Russia
highlighting linkages between major historical events and consequences for homosexual
people, the contemporary political discourse on homosexuality has not been studied
thoroughly. Moreover, the research does not provide specifically political deployment of
homosexuality by Russian authorities in 21st century. I will use this research as a historical
base to provide the origins of current discourse on homosexuality.
History of homosexuality in Russia
Imperial period and the “flourishment” of homosexuality
Although my focus is political use of homosexuality in the 20 th and 21st centuries a
brief description of the previous periods is useful. In the history of Russia different
attitudes towards homosexual behavior has existed – from various “gentle” reproaches to
the death penalty. Evidence shows that in Russian Empire male homosexuality was treated
leniently. Female homosexuality was treated as if it had never existed (Klejn, 2000; Kon,
2006). In part, because of women’s inequality, female homosexuality was considered a kind
of female masturbation (Herberstein, 1988).
Prior to seventeenth century homosexual practices were punished “by up to seven
years in prison which was the same for any kind of heterosexual assaults. Age, previous
records, marital status, and who initiated the act were taken into account” (Kon, 2006, p.
320). For the first time, as historical documents claim, Russia began to execute
homosexuals under Peter the Great in 1706 following Swedish example. However, this
punishment only concerned military personal and did not extend to the civilian population.
In 1716, it was replaced by corporal punishment and in the cases of violence – the eternal
exile. In XVIII century, Kon mentions, homosexual contacts became shameful activity as
contacts with Europe grew (Kon, 2006). Nevertheless, homosexual practices remained
within aristocratic circles and bureaucracy as a part of the corruption and political
promotion while in the peasantry such relationships almost ceased to exist (Kon, 2006).
Homosexual relationships also flourished in closed schools and military educational
institutions. They were so widespread that it caused anger of the Russian Emperor
Alexander I and his personal concern for the matter (Lermontov, 1988).
Before 1832 in Russia, same-sex affection was a matter of morality and religion, not
the law. In 1832, under Emperor Nikolas I, the first criminal law against homosexual
contacts was introduced. The penalty was the exile to Siberia and the loss of all possessions.
Although the law was hardly ever applied, “relative disregard of sodomy by the judiciary
shows more of the inefficiency of law enforcement rather than tolerant attitudes toward the
diversity of sexual practices" (Engelstein, Homosexuality: its origins and historical roots,
Along with the criminalization of homosexuality (and its exclusion from the
authorities of the church), the shift in its perception happened. Now it was “a aristocratic
activity” widespread within closed communities of the powerful.
With the expansion of medical science and medicalization of society, along with
their European colleagues, Russian doctors and phycologists started considering
homosexuality a perversion of sexuality and looking for ways to treat it. Healey mentions
that “homosexuality in males was usually associated with the “disease” of masturbation; in
females it was viewed as one of the attendant evils of prostitution.” (Healey 1993, p. 29 )
Evidently, same-sex practices have always been considered as “western” influence
and “physicians en masse refused to contemplate the possibility that peasant women might
indulge in promiscuous sex, except under the compulsion of economic necessity and then
only once having left the countryside behind” (Engelstein, 1987, pp. 169-208).
Despite the fact that during the czarist period of Russian history, homosexuality
was not used politically but it laid down the foundations for treating homosexual practices
as not inherent to traditional Russian population, aristocratic in nature, alien to Russian
values, and brought from abroad.
The Soviet period
Seventy four years of Russian history which started with the Bolshevik revolution
in 1917 and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union is characterized by the political
usage of homosexuality. Under Stalin, homosexuality became a tool for destroying political
opponents and achieving political goals. It also laid the foundation for the current
discourse of homosexuality in contemporary Russia.
Was political revolution a “sexual revolution”?
The beginning of twentieth century brought intense political, social and economic
changes in Russia. In 1917 the Bolshevik revolution caused instabilities and anxieties,
including ones about family, gender and sexuality. The Bolsheviks took power and
introduced the soviet (council) republic of workers and peasants. Obsessed with the idea of
private property abolition, the Bolsheviks “condemned family as a bourgeois institution
and promised to free women from marriage, considering it the main difficulty on the way of
the emancipation of women” (Shapovalova, 2010). The Bolsheviks also dismantled and
wiped out Christian discourse, ideology and the Christian pastoral. The leading Bolshevik
expert on the gender equality A.M. Kollontai in 1923 declared that the Soviet government
“will remove the burden of motherhood from women's shoulders and put it on the state”.
She also added that “the family in its bourgeois sense will die out” (Kollontai, 1928, pp. 146,
161−162). Kolontai based her judgment on Friedrich Engels’s book The Origin of the
Family, Private Property, and the State: in the Light of the Researches of Lewis H.
Morgan, where Engels traces roots of capitalism to the family structure (Engels, 1933).
Eventually, after the communist revolution succeeded, the new government
demolished all existing, including the statute of 1832 punishing homosexuality. In the
criminal codes of Soviet Russia (1922 and 1926), homosexuality was not even mentioned.
Soviet Russia was seen as an example for other countries during the Copenhagen Congress
of The World League for Sexual Reform (1928). However, this move of the Soviet
government should not deceive researchers. While publicly the Bolsheviks declared
equality among citizens of the newly born republic, they still prosecuted homosexuals 3.
“The state had relinquished the instrument of the anti-sodomy law by which to limit public
and private displays of homosexuality, but it soon found a new instrument by convicting
the men for disorderly conduct” (Healey, 1993, p.34). It led, as put by Bear, to “gradual
dawning of gay visibility and acceptance of homosexuality in Russian society” (Baer, 2002,
So at this time, the government, at least de jure, kept itself aloof from the issue of
homosexuality. However, in the absence of the church, medical science and psychology
picked up on this issue. Soviet official medical doctors treated homosexuality as abuse
rather than a legal crime. As Healey writes:
spring of 1922 in Petrograd (Saint-Petersburg) a court hearing took place. The group of marines was
tried for the practice of sodomy. Another "loud" case is the prosecution of two lesbians, one of whom changed
her name from Evgenia (female name) to Evgeni (male name) and the couple refused to break the factual
marriage they had (Engelstein, 1995).
Changes in the discipline of criminology in the post-revolutionary era suggest two
potential approaches which might have developed in relation to homo- sexuality.
One strand, looking for biological causes of crime, suggested an analysis of the
“authentic” homosexual as not responsible for his or her abnormality, and
therefore due sympathy, not punishment. Another, more authoritarian, strand
derived from the fashion for social engineering strategies which gained currency in
the discipline; it saw the environment as the chief determinant of sexual deviance
and sought to identify social changes which might eliminate it (Healey, 1993, p.35).
A soviet researcher Mark Sereiskii wrote about “gomosexualism” (homosexuality)
in Bolshaia Sovetskaia Entciklopedia (Big Soviet Encyclopedia):
Having understood the abnormal development of a homosexual, the society does
not and should not put the blame on the barrier of it. Having understood the
origins of it, our society uses any mean available to make contacts between
homosexuals as harmless as possible, so that the alienation inherent in them, get
dissolved in the new collectiveness (Sereiskii, 1930).
This reaffirms the notion that Bolsheviks believed that same-sex practices “were
the province of aristocratic roués and petty bourgeois degenerates” (Engelstein, 1995, p.
160). They believed that when the new “soviet personality” and “proletarian consciousness”
replace the old class structure of society homosexuality – a remnant of aristocratic
practices – would disappear altogether. That was the narrative of the soviet physiological
science and medicine. For the state, it was one of the most important levers of
modernization and transformation of the entire national economy. The political goal was to
promptly replace capitalist economy was the socialist one. To accomplish that, a strong
state was needed. Lenin wrote: “the dictatorship of the proletariat is a stubborn struggle,
bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and agricultural, educational and
administrative – against the forces of the old society and traditions” (Lenin, 1999, p. 27).
Therefore, homosexuality as the nobility practice was used as a political tool to legitimate
the state. To make homosexuality invisible was to make the state stronger. The population
of the country, predominantly illiterate, supported this agenda.
Moreover, devastating World War I and the Civil War in Russian led to the creation
of the party program which established the preventive direction of Soviet medicine. The full
recovery of the population was a task for Soviet medicine (Semashko, 1962). Doing so
required psychology to turn down from Froude and reconsider itself based on the new state
philosophy of Marxism. Psychologists now concerned themselves with “mechanistic
psychology that denied any scientific validity to subjective concepts such as
“consciousness” regardless of how they might be studied” (Wozniak, 1975, p. 25).
The early period of the new Soviet republic reaffirmed the existing image of
homosexuality as an inherently “aristocratic” practice, unsuitable for the proletariat and
the peasants. Despite the formal abolition of the anti-homosexual law, the state continued
to discourage homosexual practices as alien. It used homosexuality in two ways. To
legitimize the new government, the Bolsheviks supported the suppression of homosexuality
as a part of their populist agenda. Publicly condemning homosexual practice as bourgeois,
the state gained public support. Homosexuality was also a useful tool in presenting the
state in international arena. Here, the Soviet government made a progressive image. Not
only did it provide women with the right to vote, it decriminalized homosexuality. Hence,
homosexuality was employed by the state for different purposes.
Stalin’s war on homosexuality and his successors
The already difficult situation for capitalist-thinking Soviet homosexuals was
aggravated once Joseph Stalin took power. The new wave of homophobia started in 1933,
when the Soviet government conducted the first raid on homosexuals. As the result, 130
people were arrested. Tolts writes that “in the report about the arrest prepared for Stalin,
those people were accused of creation of homosexual network of salons and brothels with
the further restructuring them into the counterrevolutionary and spy network”4 (Tolts,
Homosexuality, thereby became not simply illegal, it was politicized. To be a
homosexual became the same as to be a traitor to your own country. The figure of the
“national traitor” was used by the government especially often till Stalin’s death. As Tolts
writes, “gay cases began to be considered by the state as classified and were dealt with “out
of court” as political crimes” (Tolts, 2002). Moreover, secretive court hearing was not
enough to make homosexuality a political issue. In 1934 famous soviet novelist Maxim
Gorky wrote in his article Proletarian humanism:
Not tens but hundreds of facts speak to the destructive, corrupting influence on
Europe’s youth. To recount the facts is disgusting but … I will point out the
following, however, that in the country which is bravely and successfully ruled by
the proletariat, homosexuality, and the corruption of youth is socially understood
the report to Stalin from a KGB agent:
“…during the liquidation of centers of homosexuals in Moscow, agents identified a gay man, a head of the
protocol department of the People's Commissariat of culture. He is reported to be a paid German spy since
In the response, Stalin noted: “It is necessary to punish the villains and the legislation must be introduced to
KGB has prepared an anti-homosexual bill in September 1933. (Tolts, 2002)
as a crime and punished, but in the ‘cultured’ country of great philosophers,
scientists, musicians it exists openly and unpunished (Essig, 1999).
Gorky goes furthet, connecting homosexuality to fascism by saying that the
destruction of homosexuality will eventually lead to the disappearance of fascism in
Europe. (Gorky, 1934, p. 3). Therefore, to already existing “spy-traitor” identity of soviet
gays, an association with fascism was added. The article was published about two months
prior to “the night of long knifes” when Hitler destroyed the SA, many of whom were
engaged in practice of homosexuality. Although there was no empirical connection between
fascism and homosexuality, for the purposes of propaganda, the connection remained.
The changed political attitudes towards homosexuality were soon reflected in the
new edition of Bolshaya Sovetskaya Encyclopedia (Big Soviet Encyclopedia). An extended
article interprets homosexuality as an ancient practice used by the ruling classes to exploit
the population most of whom were slaves. It was then carried over to the capitalist societies
to pervert and corrupt its members. The article then states that “the Soviet morality”
condemns such a criminal practice, and the state punishes it. (Sheglov, 2000). The article
left did not regard homosexuality as an illness, nor did it mention its treatability. From now
on it was residue of bourgeois class comparable with exploitation of workers.
The definition appeared to be “useful” in an instrumental sense. Political usage of
homosexuality as anti-proletarian practice helped Stalin conduct so-called “cleanings” –
imprisonments and killings – of members of the Communist Party, bureaucracy and
dissidents who fall out of favor (Kon, 2006). About a thousand men were condemned by
the anti-homosexual law annually.5 Indeed not all of those imprisoned were homosexuals.
Sodomy was a functional cause to oust Stalin’s opponents. The secretive practice of court
hearings of such cases hided them from people’s agenda.
The Stalin’s politics of terror and mass imprisonment created an extensive network
of political prisons (GULAG) where a different dimension of homosexuality appeared. The
Soviet prison system produced homosexuality and used it as a mean for its goals.
Homosexual rape was a way to establish a relationship of power among inmates of the
prisons. It was means of humiliation and submission. As Kon writes:
Criminal sexual symbolism, language, and rituals everywhere were closely linked to
the hierarchical relationships of power, domination and submission; they are more
or less stable and versatile in almost all closed male communities. In the criminal
world – whether real or symbolic – rape is primarily a mean of establishing or
maintaining power relations. The victim, however hard he resisted, lost his
masculinity and prestige, and the rapist, on the contrary, increased them. When
‘the power changed’ former leaders, in turn, were raped and, thereby, irreversibly
moved down the hierarchy. It is not a sexual orientation but the domination based
on the brute force of social relations and subordination. Such system is imposed on
every newcomer and passed down from generation to generation (Kon, 2006, p.
Through such practices, even people who never had any homosexual contacts prior
to imprisonment were forced to have them. However, it was only the receptive sexual
At the end of 1980, their number began to decrease. According to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian
Federation, in 1989, under article 121 in Russian 538 were sentenced, in 1990 - 497, in 1991 - 462, in the first
half of 1992 - 227 people (Tolts, 2002).
practices that were socially condemned. Persons who were exposed to such violence were
given abusive nicknames such as “rooster”.
From the prison subculture, that penetrated every aspect of life in the Soviet
society, such practices permeated in the army. The tyrannical power of old soldiers over
new recruits often included explicit or implicit elements of sexual violence. Kon mentions,
that “neither the victims nor the rapists are necessarily gay, just the weak are forced to obey
the stronger, and the homosexual act establishes this relationship” (Kon, 2006, p. 357).
Indeed administrations of the prisons and the army were informed of such
violation of the human rights. However, instead of dealing with it, they preferred to make
use of it. People exposed to sexual violence were often used as informers to help the
administration keep control within a prison. The fear of being disclosed was so great that
even after their release from prisons, people exposed to homosexual acts were easily used
by the KGB to find political opponents of the regime.
Eventually, image of homosexuality in general from “western disease”, “spy”,
“traitor”, and “fascist” was transformed into “the rooster”, someone who lost masculinity
(turned into a woman via sexual act), was humiliated in the worst way, cannot be trusted
and dealt with and, therefore, must be ostracized and despised.
The period following Stalin’s death slightly eased the quality of life of homosexuals
in the USSR. Khrushchev, who came to power in 1953, started rearranging previous
political practices of terror. He generated new hope with the idea of “Ottepel” (Thaw). The
famous speech On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences delivered secretly by him
during the 20th convention of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union aimed at Stalin's
Despite the fact that under the Khrushchev administration, the Soviet Union did
not substantially change its political conditions, political killings ceased and the rate of
political imprisonment greatly declined. Many political prisoners of Stalin’s were
rehabilitated and disimprisoned. Although Khrushchev did not attempt to decriminalize
homosexuality, it was no longer used as a political tactic to eliminate political opponents.
The government in 1960s was concerned with rebuilding the country after the Second
World War and homosexuality was rather left neglected. However, the rights of gays and
lesbians were not protected by the state. On the contrary, police blamed homosexuals for
rising crime rates.
The Soviet government refused to recognize catastrophic conditions of a portion of
its own citizens. Homosexuality, deemed to be an immoral behavior, could not exist in a
socialist utopia. Some heterosexual activities were considered reproachful. Just as it was
mentioned by Michael Foucault in regard to Victorian Britain, soviet sexual practices were
limited to the bedroom of adults (Foucault, 1978). The Soviet government since Stalin
cultivated the Marxian idea that sex has only one function – a production of humans. It
could not be named enjoyable or desirable (Sandomirsky, 1951). Party control over all
aspects of people’s lives managed to replace the word “sex” with the pronoun “it”.
Unnamed but practiced, sex and sexual discourse found its way through especially popular
in 1970s political anecdotes6.
Although the whole time period between Stalin’s leadership and until 1982 when
Gorbachev came to power is characterized by hostility toward homosexuals, the two main
periods can be distinguished. Stalin used homosexuality politically to control elites and to
For example, “The party gives birth to us”, “There is no sex in the Soviet Union”. Later at the beginning of
1990s another joke came out: “They said there was no sex in the USSR. Look, there is sex but there is no the
rearrange power relations within the party leadership. Constant fear of being accused of
homosexuality helped keep top party bureaucrats and politicians loyal to Stalin. After
Stalin’s death, Khrushchev and his successors abandoned such a practice. However, with
the growth of the dissident movement and instabilities in the Soviet bloc, the government
still used homosexuality politically by blackmailing homosexuals and making them
denounce politically dangerous behavior within their communities.
The soviet government politicized homosexuality, turning gay men into the
“people’s enemy”. The Soviet law perpetuated it as a criminal act against the Soviet society.
The “traitor” image often utilized by Stalin, was gradually erased and demasculinized,
female-looking man replaced it. Such image is still prevailing in modern Russia.
Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and “socialism with the human face”
Real changes started happening in 1982 when Gorbachev came to power. Unlike all
his predecessors, the new leader of the “red state” saw another future for the country and
its people. The 1980s was the time of real political, social and economic hopes for all soviet
citizens. The politics of Glasnost (Openness) aimed at bringing openness and transparency
to the Soviet government. Its installation led to free flow of information. It also meant a
liberalization of the media. Journalists covered information about problems such as
HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, alcoholism, governmental misconduct, and corruption. In 1986,
Deputy Minister of Health and Chief Sanitary Doctor of the USSR Academy of Medicine
Nikolai Burgasov publicly stated,
In our country, there are no conditions for a mass spread of the disease:
homosexuality as a serious sexual perversion is punishable by law (Article 121 of
the Criminal Code of the RSFSR), and we conduct a constant work to raise
awareness drug harm (Kon, 2006, p. 359)
When AIDS had already appeared in the Soviet Union, the leaders of the state
epidemiological institution in their public speeches kept blaming homosexuals for it,
portraying them as sexually irresponsible perverts who carried not just AIDS but other evils
as well. Even on the pages of the liberal magazine Ogonyok the first Soviet victim of the
terrible disease – a homosexual engineer infected in Africa – was described with disgust
and condemnation. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS spread quickly within the Soviet borders.
“In 1989, the concept of ‘spidophobia’7 appeared in the Soviet Union. People with HIV and
their families found themselves in the ring of alienation and anger. They caused fear and
hatred of others, no one talked about compassion. People on the streets pointed at them
and changed the sidewalk. “HIV-positive lives here” - this inscription was on the door of
each apartment, where infected people lived. It was not surprising, because the western
epidemic was interpreted as follows: “AIDS is a deadly disease transmitted by airborne
droplets, infected dies within a year” (Bobrova, 2002). The media even wrote that the virus
was deliberately created in the secret CIA labs to destroy the inhabitants of the countries of
the “third world” who oppose US imperialism (Nesterov, 2014). The Soviet leadership used
the virus and homosexuals as its main cause to support an anti-Western sentiment and
distract the population from growing internal political, social and economic problems.
Nevertheless, the policy of glasnost, combined with the threat of AIDS, made more
or less open discussion of sexual orientation issues possible. Firstly among scientists and
later among a broader audience, sex and sexuality became a part of social agenda. Since
1987, the question of what homosexuality is and how to classify homosexuals – whether
SPID is a Russian acronym for AIDS.
they are mentally ill, criminals or just victims of fate – became widely discussed on the
pages of the media, especially media considered to be for young people, such as Moskovsky
Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sobesednik, Ogonyok, Molodoi Communist,
Argumenti i Fakti, and others, on radio and on television. From journalistic essays and
published letters of homosexuals, lesbians and their parents ordinary Soviet people first
began to learn about the crippled destinies, police brutality, judicial persecution, sexual
violence in prisons, camps, the army and the tragic, inescapable loneliness of people who
are doomed to live in constant fear and are not able to meet their own kind 8. Each
publication caused a flood of contradictory responses.
Brian Baer in Russian Gays/Western Gaze describes a letter to Literaturnaia
Gazeta (1989) from a mother of a homosexual kid. She could find little information on the
subject in the medical literature. “Why,” she lamented, “is science silent?” This broad
repression of sexual discourse produced a variety of silences that complicates any attempt
to map the landscape of male (homo) sexual desire in the Soviet period” (Baer, 2002, p.
During Gorbachev’s rule fewer people were tried and convicted for homosexuality
and the problem of decriminalizing homosexuality had been discussed among specialists of
law for a long time. Authors of the 1973 textbook of criminal law for soviet lawyers
mentioned irrationality of Article 121 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. They wrote,
Approximately in that period the Unsent Letter to a Straight Friend was written. It became famous later
with the spread of the Internet. In the letter, the author who lived in the USSR shares his thought and feeling
about his life in a hostile environment. The letter is addressed to the author's friend who's a priest. The author
himself mentions that he had to marry a woman and have kids because of the social pressure. (Gurko, 2006)
Regardless of the authenticity of the letter it represents the conditions of soviet homosexuals.
In the soviet juridical literature attempts to bring a scientific basis for criminal
liability for voluntary sodomy have never been made. The only argument that is
usually used – the moral depravity and a violation of the rules of social morality cannot be considered sufficient and the negative properties of the individual cannot
be the basis for criminal liability, and the immorality of the act is not sufficient to
declare this a crime ... There are serious doubts about the wisdom of criminal
responsibility unqualified for sodomy (Shargorodskii M., Osipov A., 1973, p. 656)
However, soviet elite never tried to alleviate fate of homosexuals regardless of the
weakening of political oppression and a democratization of Soviet society. And despite the
fact that homosexuality remained outside of legality, the discourse began to circulate,
people started to familiarize themselves with the existence of same-sex practices.
“Spring of sexualities” in “crazy 90s”9
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the enthusiasm about embracing
western way of life rapidly and significantly increased. The “iron curtain” failed and flows
of goods, services and ideas from the West streamed into Russia. Changes in economic and
political life happened rapidly and the government of the day not always managed to
control them. Therefore, inability of the Russian leadership to run the economy in the new
circumstances led to sharp impoverishment of the population and disappointment in
Russia's ability to live according to Western models. The government and the president
Boris Yeltsin were deemed “pro-western puppets” who agreed to every proposition the
90s" is the common descriptive name for the period of 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It
is linked to the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, huge economic and political turmoil and unlimited freedom in
Western leaders made often neglecting traditional Russian values. Nevertheless, the
president and its government accomplished the task of creating a new legal base ща the
country. The process of decriminalization of homosexuality was a part of it. Homosexuality
was officially decriminalized on 27 of May, 1993, when the Law on Amendments to the
Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russia and the Corrective Labour Code
of the Russia was published. These Amendments repealed Article 121.1. However, it is hasty
to think that new government was so attentive to human rights in general and the rights of
homosexuals in particular. As Kon states, “this was done mainly under the pressure of
international public opinion, in order to facilitate Russia's accession to the Council of
Europe, without extensive warning and explanation in the media” (Kon, 2006, p. 361). For
the new Russian government a membership in international organization was vital. It gave
access to open markets and increased the prestige of Russia in the world arena. Moreover,
Russia needed external borrowings of money and for that was ready to make concessions to
Western governments. The population often saw it as a weakness. The idea of lost Soviet
greatness grew along with anti-Western sentiments. Therefore, the government did not
want to attract criticism of the population, most of whom were against to homosexuality
and decriminalized homosexuality quietly.
In the new Criminal Code, which was adopted on January 1, 1997, a special article
about sodomy was not mentioned but Article 132 Violent acts of sexual nature provides
that “sodomy, lesbianism or other sexual acts with violence or threat of violence to the
victim or other persons, or with use of a helpless victim position shall be punished by
imprisonment for a term from three to six years” (ConsultuntPlus, 1997). The statement
existed earlier “the satisfaction of the sexual needs in perverted forms”, disappeared in the
new Code. However, Article 133 punishes for “forcing a person to sexual intercourse,
sodomy, lesbianism or other acts of sexual nature by means of blackmail, threat of violence,
damage or seizure of property, with the use of material or other dependence of the victim”
The usage of lesbianism, which had not existed in any of the previous Russian
criminal legislation, represents formally a retrograde step, but in fact, it is a tribute to the
principle of gender equality. The legislators dared not to abandon “sodomy” but now the
law punished only violent acts. Kon writes in this regard that “no matter how the law
varied, the real situation of sexual minorities depends not only and not so much on the
norm of the law, but on the state of social psychology” (Kon, 2006, p. 362). Soviet society in
this regard was extremely intolerant of any dissent and unusual behavior, even completely
innocent. In the middle of the 1980s the word “Blue” became to denounce homosexual
people who were the most stigmatized social group. According to the opinion poll
conducted in November 1989 to the question “How should society deal with homosexuals?”
33% of respondents said – “eliminate them” 30% - “isolate”, 10% - “let them be” and only
6% said they would help (Levada, 1995). Attitudes toward gays and lesbians were much
worse than towards prostitutes, drug addicts, handicapped people, AIDS bearers, vagrants,
alcoholics, and “rockers”. Later polls showed that Russians became more tolerant.
During 1990s homosexuality became a popular image among musicians, pop-stars
and other show business figures (Zosimov, 1997). The problems of gays and lesbians were
openly discussed on TV and in mass newspapers. In movie theaters and on the television
classic movies Jarman and Visconti were shown. Homosexual allusions shocked fewer
Much has changed in everyday life. “Blue” clubs and bars opened in Moscow and
Petersburg. Gays and lesbians created regional human rights and cultural organizations in
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Barnaul, Rostov, Nizhny Tagil, Kaluga, Murmansk, Omsk, Tomsk,
Yaroslavl and some other cities. However, gays and lesbians continued to experience
psychological and sometimes physical violence towards themselves even today10.
The 1990s did not eliminate the negative image of homosexuals. The Yeltsin
administration did not put efforts to destigmatize gays and lesbians. Doing so would have
created a negative assessment of the homophobic population, which by the end of the
1990s, began to hate the West and all that was connected with it. “Western-style
homosexuality, or what Dennis Altman has referred to as the “global gay,” has become a
convenient symbol of Western cultural imperialism, involving the encroachment of
Western values (overt sexuality, nonreproductive sex, and consumerism) and Western
political concepts (tolerance, diversity, and civil rights)” (Baer, 2009, p. 6). For the
government juridical decriminalization of homosexuality was tool in negotiations with
international organizations and foreign governments. Therefore, homosexuality was used
politically in two ways. In domestic affairs the government was silent about rights of
homosexuals in order not to attract unnecessary criticism of the public. In foreign affairs,
homosexuality was used to show ongoing democratization of the country.
Nevertheless, the period of 1990s brought more open discussions about gays and
lesbians into the agenda of media. People were exposed to information about
homosexuality including translated sources from abroad. Problems of the body and
Along with lots of written evidence of violence against gays and lesbians, there is a video on the network
YouTube, created by two young men (not gay), who decided to walk through the center of Moscow, holding
each other's hand. In the process of “the experiment” people were subjected to psychological violence. The
experiment had to be stopped on the grounds that the experimenters could be beaten. See. (Reaction to gays
in Russia social experiment, 2015)
connections between bodily and social started being studied in universities (Podoroga,
1995). All that led to a better scientific understanding of homosexuality.
Empire Strikes Back11 or Russia concentrates
The situation began to change when Vladimir Putin became the president of
Russian Federation. He started in 2000 with bringing back the Soviet anthem with slight
changes in the lyrics as a new national anthem of the Russian Federation. In his public
speeches, Putin includes conservative and nationalist rhetoric. Words such as “nation”,
“greatness”, “patriotism”, and others came into the public discourse12. In such
circumstances homosexuality and appeal to human rights has no place in political agenda.
Almost immediately the Putin administration formed an alliance with the Russian
Orthodox Church. The church was traditionally hostile to homosexuality since sixteen
century when a Russian monk Vasily the Third criticized men for “following foreign
fashion, shaving beards, using smelling waters and smearing ointments which make them
look like women” (Gudzy, 1966, p. 264). Orthodox Christianity perceives homosexual
practice as a sin alien to Russian. In his interview, the Orthodox leader patriarch Kirill
mentioned that “this [legalization of same-sex marriage] is a very dangerous apocalyptic
symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned
in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of
self-destruction” (Gribovsky, 2013). The state and the church implicitly and explicitly
encourage anti-gay organizations to combat human rights activists in Russia. According to
Human Rights Watch report, there is an attack on the civil rights of LGBT people in Russia,
The name came as an inspiration from theS. Stone’s article The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual
Manifesto (Stone, 1992).
12 See Addresses to the Federal Assembly (2000 – 2015)
the space for the discussion of homosexuality has reduced, the censorship in the media has
been introduced and there is persecution of dissidents (Human Rights Watch, 2007).
With the proliferation NATO closer to European borders and growing pressure on
Russia, president Putin had no reasons to appease the West with human rights and
democratic reforms. After his come back to presidency in 2012 following Moscow mass
political protests against electoral fraud, Putin introduced a bill “On Amendments to
Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation regarding the Regulation of the Activities of
Non-profit Organisations Performing the Functions of a Foreign Agent” (often referred to
as the Russian “foreign agent” law). The bill which quickly became law on 20th July, 2012
required NGOs involved into politics register as foreign agents. Such a mark had strong
reference to the Cold War era and has been criticized extensively (Lally, 2013). That law did
not particularly aim at homosexuals but the majority of LGBTQ organizations in Russia are
financed from abroad, therefore they had to re-register as foreign agents. From now on, the
image of homosexuality and foreign agency of it coincided.
The Putin administration with ideological support of the Church has made
homosexuality a main goal of its anti-Western propaganda campaign. Politically, it allowed
the government to shift public attention to the minor problem, whereas the real social and
economic issues remained without substantial public criticism. The parastatal media
effectively accomplished the task. LGBTQ-rights organizations in particular became an
exclusive aim of governmental criticism as agents of the western countries, especially the
Unites States. It found support among the population. That environment encouraged
Russian regions to adopt their own legislation to further limit gay-rights and create a
discourse of hatred. A suitable example was provided by Ryazan Oblast where the General
Assembly on May 24, 2006 adopted a supplement to the local Law on Administrative
Offences: “Section 3.13. Public actions aimed at propaganda of homosexuality (sodomy and
lesbianism) among minors”. The law uses the Soviet medical term "homosexualism” 13
combined with the outdated term “sodomy” that has religious connotations and the
relatively new “lesbianism” which was not used in the USSR. The law was contested in the
Constitutional Court in 2009. In its decision the Constitutional Court of the Russian
Federation on January 19, 2010 N151-O-O, declared, that
…as such the prohibition of the propaganda – as a purposeful targeted and
uncontrolled activity of the dissemination of information that may damage the
health, moral and spiritual development, including misconceptions about the
social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional marriage – among persons
deprived due to there are of ability to critically evaluate such information cannot
be considered as violating the constitutional rights of citizens (The
Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, 2010)
In 2012 the decision was appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee. “The
Human Rights Committee found that the applicant’s conviction under the Ryazan Law on
Administrative Offenses (Ryazan Region Law) which prohibits “public actions aimed at
propaganda of homosexuality among minors” violated her right to freedom of expression,
read in conjunction with her right to freedom from discrimination, under the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” (UN Human Rights Committee, 2012).
However, that decision did not change the situation.
It should be noted that The Russian language often uses words "homosexualism”, “lesbianism” while in
relation to heterosexual practices the word “heterosexuality” is used. The suffix “ISM” in many languages
(Russian is not an exception) is used to created ideological concepts (socialism, capitalism, feminism, etc.). I
would argue that artificially made mistranslation of homosexuality aims at showing political nature of the
homosexual practices as if homosexuality was an ideology.
In 2011 a few other Russian regions (Arkhangelsk in 2011, Kostroma in 2012, Saint
Petersburg in 2012, Novosibirsk in 2012, Magadan in 2012, Samara in 2012, and Krasnodar
in 2012) started adopting similar regional gay propaganda laws. The Saint Petersburg antigay law “On Amendments to the Law of St. Petersburg On administrative offenses in St.
Petersburg” adopted on 30 of March, 2012 offered a translation for the acronym “LGBT”
using the repressive language of “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderism”
(Smirnov, 2011). It is a complex combination of historical, political and social processes
that gave rise to the text. Those factors appealed at the same time to the familiar and still
desired imperial and Soviet past, the word “sodomy”, and the Western concept of political
and social rights (“LGBT”).
The federal law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information
Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”, that was unanimously passed the
State Duma (one deputy abstained), put an end to regional legislative initiatives on 30 June
2013. The law was shortly named the “gay propaganda law” or the “anti-gay law”. It faced
main criticism from abroad, while inside the country only a small number of democratically
oriented organizations and human rights groups opposed the legislation and tried to appeal
it but did not succeed.
The anti-gay law introduced the concept of “non-traditional sexual relations”. Dan
Healey analyzing the idea of “traditional” sexual relationships refers to the Soviet Union
where “there was no explicitly sexual discourse” and , therefore “it is hard to know precisely
what commentators who use the term “traditional sex” actually mean” (Healey,
‘“Untraditional sex’ and the “Simple Russian”: Nostalgia for Soviet innocence in the
polemics of Dilia Enikeeva’, 2008). At the same time “non-traditional” sexuality is
understood as sex not related to the emergence of children as a result of sexual activity and
for that reason considered new, previously inaccessible to people. Since the historical
(Healy, 2008) and biological (Mondimor, 2002) arguments do not support the thesis that
homosexuality can be classified as such a phenomena, it falls under that definition for the
political reasons. Therefore, the information about the latest should be censored to stop the
spread of its dynamic.
Now the state explicitly politicized homosexuality, making them a political force
that is capable of influencing discourse and hence change it. Homosexuals thus became
“representatives” of the western culture, alien and dangerous to Russian traditional values.
Now they were the agents of the foreign government, traitors and spies. The Putin
administration to some extent resurrected Stalin’s approach to homosexuality. Indeed it is
“a light version” and homosexuals are not sent to prisons or executed. However, accusation
of homosexuality deprives oppositional politicians of a chance to be elected. Governmental
and Orthodox groups are often used to attack NGOs that work to shed light on government
misconduct. Suspicion of promoting LGBTQ-rights is utilized as an excuse for such actions.
The Putin government uses the homosexuality and those groups to blame the West for
attempts to change the current political regime in Russia. It allows the leadership to
intensify censorship and to press protest activity.
Homosexual discourse usage by different groups
As Foucault showed in his History of Sexuality, power and science are closely
related to each other (Foucault, 1978). The configuration of power relations in Russia does
not allow the scientific discourse to play the same role in producing knowledge. It favors
nationalistic and patriotic language and groups that promote it while censoring dissenting
voices. The media controlled by the government produces the language of homophobia. A
Russian TV-anchor of the state TV-channel “Russian One” proposed to “burn hearts of gay
people and bury the ashes” during one of his telecasts (Petrovskaya, 2012). The state
generously supports patriotic groups of Cossacks, Orthodox activists and Russian Orthodox
Church. Attempts to challenge “the speaker’s benefit” using Foucault’s term are rare and
censored. Gay people cannot publicly speak about themselves.
Such an aggressive language of power made Russian homosexuals to develope their
own vernacular. “Tema” (theme) – one of the most widespread and mobile terms to denote
sexuality outside heteronormative culture framework. Derived from it adjectives such as
“temny”, “po teme”, “tematichesky” (all those words relate to the term “theme”) – quoted
and without them, in combinations with other words – describe a number of situations and
phenomena, the meaning of which denounce “having something to do with the fact that you
yourself know very well”.
I would argue that this word is not even a secret code or a language of discretion
because the word was used by a once popular homosexual magazine in Russia. This word is
the most accurate reflection of homosexuality in the form in which it exists in Russia – its
occasional usage may signify something homosexual, it may not mean homosexual, it can
be neutral and inconspicuous. It can say a lot about the person using it, or describe the plot
of the conversation and participants; it can quickly change the meaning to protect the
speaker or let the communicators know what is happening. In other words, this term is the
best characterization of Russian version of queer. Since looking and behaving differently
may provoke aggression and physical violence, the language is the area of queerness.
“Tema” also involves the active participation of speaking subjects in the production
of word meanings. At the time of speaking and at the moment of perception of "tema” each
participant of the conversation contributes to the design of linguistic convention. This
convention is certainly based on predetermined conditions of perception of the speech in a
manner that allows communication to continue. However, it is also produced in the process
of communication as a result of a particular situation. Meaning, produced in this situation,
may never take the same shape again; it may be lost forever because it is situational and
unstable. Nevertheless, such instability is not perceived as a weakness so often associated
with the notion of instability. Immediate production and the disappearance of the
convention describes the free, anti-authoritarian and mobile language which does not
involve the categories of pressure, power relations and orientation to the eternal
reproduction of the same sense. Such as McCune writes about sexual practices of
discretion, Russian language of homosexual sex must be discreet (Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr.,
2014). Discretion protects the speaker and it also protects the language.
Unlike fixed and perpetuated LGBT identities in the western countries, Russian
homosexuals base their identity on fluid language. The casual dictionary adequately
conveys the atmosphere around homosexuality; it does not involve the imposition of a
certain meaning. The casual dictionary is not institutionalized and, therefore, presupposes
a certain degree of freedom but it also implies the absence of the eternal and the
predetermined conventions that are so cherished by government institutions. The
discourse of power, by contrast, tends to have definitions, against which scientific debates
may take place or debates in the courts.
It is important to say that the federal law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children
from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” perused two
objectives. From the one hand, it was necessary to create definitions per se and link
homosexuality with propaganda. From the other hand, the legislators deliberately left
unclear what “homosexualism” (homosexuality) is and how to understand the
“propaganda” of it so that “propaganda could not be distinguished from enlightenment”
(Alekseev, 2012). Ambiguity of the definitions helps law enforcers interpret the law,
depending on how the political authority will command. Any group can be classified and
objectified as transgressors of the law. Once those transgressors are identified, they can be
used politically. The law can name particular groups or people national traitors, foreign
agents to silence, oppress or marginalize them. At the same time, the groups that stand
against homosexuality gain power. So that the leadership uses ones against other to retain
control and stay in power.
I argue that the main purpose of the law is not to limit propaganda par excellence
but to regulate discourse around homosexuality with the use of normative language as the
main tool because the ban on “propaganda of homosexuality” generates a certain social
norms and beliefs about homosexuality. For many Russians, homosexuality, which legally
stopped being treated as a mental illness in 1999, 14 never actually stopped being so in the
public consciousness. Kondakov writes in this regard that “juridical discourse has the
power and the ability to determine the truth through appeal to “justice”. The mechanism of
media discourse in this respect - the appeal to the fact that the consumer is already familiar
with the truth, which is indisputable” (Kondakov, 2001).
Widespread usage of propaganda makes it an ideological clichés. It is emotionally
biased and bears an ideological component, expressed as a negative evaluation of
homosexuality and the need to combat it. The Russian Constitution bans propaganda of
social, racial, national or religious superiority. The discourse of homosexuality as
Homosexuality is not considered a disease in accordance with the ratified in 1999 by the Russian
Federation of ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases Tenth Revision)
propaganda can be compared to and recognized as dangerous for the society and the state.
Therefore, the state has moral and legal grounds for prohibiting it.
Moreover, the ban is justified by the reference to so-called “traditional values”.
Courts have repeatedly referred to “traditional values”, from which they conclude “social
disparity” between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Scientific or legal justifications of
the “disparity” are not provided by the courts. Legal and medical documents, defining
homosexuality as a variant of normal sexual orientation on a par with heterosexuality are
not considered. Modern scientific knowledge has consistently been ignored. The anti-gay
law defines family as follows:
“The family, motherhood and childhood in their traditional, ancestrally perceived
sense are the values that provide a continuous change of generations” (Explanatory
Note to the Draft Federal Law No44554-6 "On Amendments to the Code of
Administrative Offences", 2013).
Legislators and courts consistently identify sexuality with reproduction, which is
also used for the construction of heterosexuality as a legitimate norm and perpetuate
homosexuality as something “nontraditional and brought from the West”. The explanatory
note to the bill introduced in the State Duma in 2013 which proposes establishment of the
administrative responsibility for “propaganda of homosexuality” begins with the words:
“the promotion of homosexuality in modern Russia took a wide sweep. Such propaganda is
carried out both through the media and through the active implementation of public
actions that promote homosexuality as normal behavior” (Osetinskay, 2013).
There is nothing new in treating homosexuality as explicitly “western”,
“nontraditional”, “brought from overseas” phenomenon. Such ideas have been artificially
cultivated in the Russian Empire and the USSR for centuries. Stalin effectively used
criminalized homosexuality to combat his political opponents and control elites. His
successors attracted dissidents and oppositional intellectuals using homosexuality as an
excuse. Yeltsin employed homosexuality as a tool in negotiations with the western
governments to obtain benefits.
Homosexuality obtained new sound with the new circle of escalations between the
USA/Europe on the one side and Russian on the other. Putin promoted the law which
made the LGBTQ rights advocates “foreign agents being funded by international groups to
undermine political stability and order within the Russian borders” 15. Such hostile
discourse and policies based on it led to the creation of an image of a homosexual as
deceitful, mentally unstable and dangerous traitor with messed gender identity who tries to
spoil kids with nontraditional ideas and, therefore, destroy the society. Surprisingly the
state has not yet started blaming homosexuals for the epidemic proliferation of HIV/AIDS
in Russian. (Feinberg, 2015).
Heteronormativity and homophobia, encouraged by the state policies, compel
Russian gays and lesbians to stay in the closet. Since coming-out from the closet is possible
but not always available to homosexuals I find the concept of passing used in transgender
study useful, especially the approach applied by R. Snorton in his article “A New Hope”:
The Psychic Life of Passing (2009). His idea of “passing to yourself” as the valuable tool to
approach the everyday psychic life of Russian homosexuals seems to be capable of
explaining the importance of coming-out to yourself while political logic demands you to do
See for example (How the US State Department is funding Russian LGBT Liberals, 2015)
that publicly. As he puts it, “a deeper consideration of the psychic life of passing requires an
exploration of the interstitial relationships among articulation (we are who we say we are),
performance (we are what we do), and practice (we are routinized bodily actions)” (Snorton
2009, p. 79).
It is important, however, to be able to find recognition, Snorton seems to be saying.
Russian LGBTQ people just as Snorton himself “may find legibility among friends, family,
support groups, and other LGBTQ [my correc.] people. They may also find recognition in
their own minds” (Snorton 2009, p. 82). The outside world still remains hostile to them.
Although, it is important to be recognized “the sense of feeling misrecognized also serves as
a site for resistance in forms of identification governed by the politics of recognition, as the
possibility of misrecognition carries with it the opportunity for deliberation and the
potential rejection of social scripts” (Snorton 2009, p. 83).
Social a political acceptance of homosexuals in Russia is yet to come. The mixed
and messed image of gays and lesbians inherited from the imperial period as “something
that the aritscorats do” was changed by Bolsheviks to mean “anti-revolutionary mentally ill
bourgeois agents who seek to undermine the soviet regime from within”. Stalin’s gulagsystem and the politicization of every activity that was considered “not normal” along with
criminalization of “sodomy” changed the image of homosexual men again. Now they were
demasculinized and humiliated people. Such image has persisted till today when the state –
an institution which should be morally neutral – encourages homophobia and brings back
to life the old image of gays as “national traitors”, those who are usually paid from abroad
to “rock the boat”.
While the government excluded homosexuality from the list of illnesses, the
“collective unconsciousness”, using Jung’s concept never dropped the idea of gays being
sick (Jung, 1927). The government did not publicly announce the exclusion and, therefore,
did not have a chance to change the image. The current political elite uses that image to
their advantage to sexualize, to be more precise, homosexualize domestic problems, to
oppress civil society groups, human rights advocates, and independent politicians.
However, such “blame gays” campaign also brings attention to problems of homosexuality
in Russia and raise awareness about our existence.
Despite such political and social climate homosexuals do exist in Russia and they
make their way into public sphere often putting their health and life in. Russian political
leadership uses language which appeals to abstract concept such as “traditions” and
“Russian values” regardless of the simple truth that the humanity no longer lives in the
traditional world. We send vessels into space to explore our galaxy, have nuclear powers to
turn all life on Earth to ashes in no time, use artificial fertilization to produce people, end
even have capacities of changing the human genome. Everything mentioned, would not
have been thinkable a century ago and a hundred years from now other inventions will
continue to reform human categories. Despite all of that, a conservative society as Russian,
for instance, denies its citizens the rights the others possess. Not only is it unfair but creates
tensions among people, raisin hostility, violence, and ostracism.
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