First, on Wednesday, Julia Ioffe -- the go-to gal on things Russian for a whole bunch of hipster online and offline pubs from the Silicon Valley's The New Republic to the old New England liberal establishment of the New Yorker to the declining foreignpolicy.com and now all over the talk shows and blogs as the anti-mansplainer -- was careful to publish a story, Eight Horrific and Uplifting Stories About Being Gay in the New Russia.
Note that: horrific and uplifting because you shouldn't be all negative about Russia!
Then the next day, she published a story explaining why we sophisticates, appreciative of gay rights, should do nothing about advocating for them with Russia.
I felt she was stealing or upstaging the story a week previously of her great girlfriend and former Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder who was reporting on this topic so successfully at BuzzFeed (where she is now), but, well, there's enough story there for everybody ...
The main thing was: So no one can accuse Julia of not "getting it" about gays in Russia or not being PC....
...But as always, take out your candles, light them under Julia's text, and see the purple messages come through.
Because while we're to gasp in horror at some of the things happening to gays now in Russia -- the firing from a pro-government TV of a journalist who invited drag queens on air and came out himself as gay; a horrid neo-Nazi named "the Hatchet" who lures gays into sexual encounters and then pours urine on them; those freaks in Volgograd who shoved beer bottles in the anus of their friend with whom they had just been drinking, upon deciding that he was gay; they then threw a boulder on his head multiple times, murdering him; it turned out he wasn't gay -- and... we're not supposed to do anything politically about this, even as an admittedly ineffectual moral protest, because it would "play into the hands of reactionaries" or "be pointless" or illustrate that we're just not sophisticated RealPolitickers of the sort who ponder what to do about Russia in Washington like Julia.
So then the next day, we get this: Boycotting the Olympics Won't Stop Russian Homophobia .
A week after President Obama ruled out a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, talk about it continues, as does the loud—and merited—outrage from Western gay activists. But I'd argue that a boycott—of the Olympics, of Stoli—is useless, and, really, so is the outrage. It won't stop the violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Russia; in fact, it may even be counterproductive.
There it is, folks, the Secret Policeman's Ruse ("don't say anything about those political prisoners or visit those dissidents because you might harm them, keep quiet and maybe it will go well for them").
The point is that "we" in the intelligentsia, so to speak, the politically active segment of the liberal public, shouldn't do anything about those horrors we just read about because it would be pointless, if not gauche.
Why? Well -- and here Julia cranks up all her sophicated arguments based on her three-years-of-reporting and native-fluency-in-Russian....because...Russians aren't really any more socially conservative than anybody else (certainly not the Arab world, is the implication) -- and they have premarital sex, abortions, and out-of-wedlock children with abandon, so they must be okay, just like us.
And the fear/hatred of homosexuality is really tied up to prison culture where rape was encouraged by the GULAG managers to control and intimidate the population -- as I've written. So it's a "special case," then, if you will.
Then we're to understand that this whole anti-gay thing isn't really about itself, but just an anti-Western propaganda gambit, so we shouldn't take it so seriously, because then it might be reinforced...it's merely part of an anti-Western campaign calculated to incite loathing in the public by the time it is articulated by pro-government TV mouthpieces:
"First, they said that the Olympic objects are being built on Circassian cemeteries, even though they didn't know who the Circassians were. Now, they've invented this situation with sexual minorities," he said, using a common euphemism for the LGBT community, calling all of it "a real information war." A recent YouTube clip made the rounds on the Russian language internet; it was of a popular television host saying that gays should be banned from blood and organ donation, and that, if they die in a car accident, their hearts should be buried in the ground or burned. It enraged the Moscow intelligentsia, but if you read the comments, many support this view, and see the host as standing up to nefarious Western influence.
This kind of wide, deep social acceptance of an idea cannot be changed from the outside; societies just don't work like that. "Boycotting the Olympics will do several things, none of which includes improving the lives and human rights of gays in Russia," says Alexander Kliment, a Russia analyst with the Eurasia Group. "Putin, and most of Russia, relish this kind of reproach from Europe or the U.S., because they view it as confirmation of Russian ethical and spiritual fortitude in the face of decadent Western naggers. So the frame of reference is entirely different. This is not a human rights issue for Russia; this is a religious and cultural issue for Russia, just the way gay rights and gay marriage are cultural and religious issues for the right in the U.S."
Alexander Kliment of the Eurasia Group? You mean the huge and successful consulting group for corporations that organizes meetings with the regional heads of state? The group that doesn't benefit if people don't go to Russia or boycott Russia because then there are no business or political ties they can consult about?
Well, despite the way the right may want to view LGBT in the West, as a cultural or religious issue rather than a rights issue, in fact campaigning on this as a rights issue has actually led to gay marriage being accepted in a number of countries and US states -- the idea of equality before the law sells more than a cultural imperative.
But why do we have to accept that calling for a boycott harms gays or does nothing or gets everyone's back up?
Because it's not about what Putin or Lipman or Kliment or bunches of neo-Nazis think, it's about showing solidarity to the many men and women who are literally having their heads bloodied right now in gay demonstrations and parades. They may be a "sexual minority," but minority rights are exactly what are important to champion in an increasingly nationalistic society.
Julia counsels defeatism and quietism -- and actually gets it completely wrong about social movements in America (maybe she's never been in one):
As disgusting as these views are, as deplorable as the anti-gays laws are, our yelling and screaming about them will not change Russian attitudes, just as Europe or Canada screaming at America to legalize gay marriage or to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or to remove homosexuality from the DSM is not what got America to do any of those things. (None of which, let's face it, happened all that long ago.)
I'm actually a big critic of some of the methods of the radicals in the LGBT movement used which took rights away from other people that they hoped to achieve for themselves. But if it weren't for masses of people demonstrating, lobbying, writing letters, publishing op-ed pieces and basically "screaming" that they wanted to be treated like everyone else, we wouldn't have the gay marriage rights and DADT that we have. Yes, it wasn't long ago. So what? Is there some kind of time-lapse on Russia that it has to cook slower than any other country? Why?
Masha Gessen, a journalist who is now leaving Russia with her female partner and children precisely because of the intolerance and danger in Russia, couldn't have said it better on her Facebook (and I translate):
And once again. Yes, yes, a boycott of the Olympics will not change the homophobic views of the Russian public. But the problem isn't the homophobic views of the Russian public. The problem is the Kremlin's hate campaign which is playing on these views. They could just as successfully play on any other xenophobia, but they chose exactly this one, in particular because it never came into their heads that they'd suffer anything for this (it's not Jews, for example, after all). Everything that has taken place in the last year and a half, including the sharp growth in violence against LGBT is all the result not of public homophobia, but the government's policy. Therefore the question has to be put differently: the question isn't whether a boycott of the Olympics is capable of influencing public opinion; the question is whether it is capable of influencing the policy of the Russian government. And the answer then turns out to be completely different: if there is something capable of influencing the policy of the Russian government, then it's a boycott of the Olympics.
But no. Julia Ioffe goes against this powerful and persuasive diagnosis and plan of action because of her always-lurking need to protect Putin and the Kremlin, in the end, always and everywhere, on every occasion. I do not get this need. I think it's unseemly. I think Ioffe also just never got it about the struggle of the Soviet dissidents -- she missed the era, and then seems to have fallen into the stream of nihilist and cynical youth that often appear in interrim generations. So she counsels:
And as much as these laws and images of Russian gays being beaten and killed for their sexual orientation upset us, we have to recognize, while not turning a blind eye, that there is a limit to how much change we can force in someone else's home.
Straight out of a Russian proverb, about not going into somebody else's monastery with your own rules. Home? But don't LGBT people have a home? And doesn't the universality of human rights give us all a home of sorts? I'll bet Ioffe is all for interconnectedness when she wants to be -- but not on this.