I’m not usually much of one for the quotation, “people get the government they deserve,” but this Vedomosti piece covering the passage of a bill banning some discussions of “nontraditional family values” (a.k.a. homosexuality, and anything else that’s not “mama-papa” sex, as Echo of Moscow’s Anton Orekh so evocatively calls it) in the lower house of the Russian Duma is maybe causing me to reevaluate that. As Duma Deputy Elena Mizulina, chair of the parliamentary Committee on the Family, Women and Children – and possibly my least favorite Russian lawmaker – gleefully points out, the Duma received an alleged 350,000 signatures in favor of the law’s passage, and a paltry 911 against, mostly “from foreigners.” Both VTsIOM and Levada have found that about 88% of Russians support the law, while only 7% are against it.
Nothing about this should surprise me – in fact, when St. Petersburg passed a similar law, I wrote,
I think it’s important to understand that a “small minority” is not actually what we’re up against. The bill passed 29 to 5. Fear and disgust around LGBT and queer issues is the cultural norm in Russia, and most Russians – especially those who live outside major cities and outside the relatively young, well-educated internet-using class – aren’t presented with any alternative ways of understanding gender and sexuality. In that cultural context, it makes sense to pass a law to protect innocent children from exposure to the perversion of homosexuality. Many Russians see this as a no-brainer, like laws imposing steeper penalties for dealing drugs near a school.
But it is disheartening. It’s hard not to see the overwhelming support for these measures as being of a piece with Russian liberalism’s anti-immigrant streak, or the overwhelming support for punishments for the members of Pussy Riot. Or Russians’ distrust of feminism, for that matter. The way I see it, xenophobia and homophobia are both symptoms of a fearfulness and a misguided nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent, more authentically Russian past that Russians have been fed with their kasha, and that have been detrimental to Russia’s development into a 21st-century Western society — even as the educated urban population has started to show political will.
Given said xenophobia, I don’t think pressure from abroad can do anything to change this law, which is expected to pass the upper house of the Duma and be signed by Putin. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch and other groups are (rightly) on it, some are petitioning for the names of the lawmakers who voted for it to be added to the Magnitsky List – no mean feat, as it passed 308-3 – and there’s likely more outcry to come. The best we can hope for, I think, is that it causes a minimum of pain, suffering, and homophobic violence before it finally makes it into the dustbin of history.