To Russia with Loathe – from a Brazilian criminal
Brazil and Russia couldn’t disagree more on gay rights and various socio-political issues, yet the two countries have recently become BRIC partners and dropped visa requirements
My mother and I were both very keen to break the law when we travelled to Saint Petersburg earlier this month. She was visiting the city for the first time, taking advantage of the visa exemption agreement signed between Brazil and Russia two years ago. I had shortly lived there twice in the past. We both believe that the new Saint Petersburg legislation that criminalises “homosexual propaganda”, equalling homosexuality with paedophilia, is an aberration.
And so we photographed ourselves proudly displaying pro-gay messages in front of the Saviour on Spilled Blood Orthodox Church in the old Russian capital.Politicians now want to make the law national. They are purporting to protect children from deviant behaviour or – as Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov puts it – Satanists. We homosexuals are Lucifer-worshippers, who luxuriate in bestial interaction and take pleasure from burning in the flames of hell.
Sadly, all major political parties in Russia have recently embraced homophobia in a bizarre attempt to emphasise Russian self-determination against the “permissive” West or – in the words of some Eastern scholars – the dangers of Occidentoxication. They have the enthusiastic support of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Gay rights are a very powerful gage of socio-political development, and Russia is sadly moving in the wrong direction. Gay people are consistently stigmatised, women are poorly represented, elections are fraught with fraud, critical newspapers are shut down, opposition leaders are locked up and demonstrations are muffled. Russia brutally mistreats drug-users and the HIV-infected in need of help.
This is in stark contrast to the country where I grew up, which is also Russia’s BRIC partner. Brazil is quickly becoming tolerant and proud of its thriving gay community, and other socio-political indicators are also quickly improving. Brazil’s highest court Supremo Tribunal Federal recently legalised gay marriage, the country has a female leader, elections are computerised and virtually fraud-free, press freedom and street protests are vastly guaranteed and opposition leaders are at large. Brazil championed a world-acclaimed HIV-programme based on generic medication, and has several initiatives to support drug users.
Of course Brazil still has enormous problems, such as corruption and violence. Still, I believe that the country is on the fast lane of socio-political modernisation. Russia seems to be moving in the opposite direction, 200km/h in the wrong lane.
Many Russians argue that we Westerners fail to understand their cultural sensitivities – a lame excuse for the inexcusable. Certain principles such as tolerance and equality are simply not negotiable. I do not accept that homophobia is cultural trait. Just like most women do not approve of female genital mutilation in certain African “cultures”.
Gay people are not a by-product of Western culture. There are many gay Russians living in Saint Petersburg, and I have met many of them myself in the past eleven years. The celebrated Russian ballet dancer Nureyev was gay and lived and worked in Saint Petersburg for many years. So did Sergei Eisenstein, the biggest Russian filmmaker in history, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the most influential Russian musicians, two welcomed additions to the gallery of Russian Satanists.
Politicians in Russia are failing their own people by denying homosexuals their basic rights and dignity. They are cutting their own flesh in the mistaken belief that homophobia will help them to reaffirm their identity.
The oppressive Russian leader Vladimir Putin has a taste for gawdy displays of masculinity and fake virility. His highly staged achievements include shooting a tiger, fishing bare-chested and “discovering” two ancient urns in the bottom of the Black Sea. He makes Latino machos look like King Edward II of England or Miley Cyrus. I refuse to applaud such grotesque antics.
Russia’s glorious and fascinating history is in sharp disagreement with the country’s reactionary present. Catherine the Great made Russia a modern nation nearly 250 years ago, when she implemented the Enlightenment ideas of secularisation, proliferation of arts, sciences and women’s rights. A century and a half later, the Bolshevik revolution changed the course of world history, and provided a blueprint for a radical socio-political shake-up in nearly every corner of the world.
Fortunately, Saint Petersburg still exudes the rich history of Russia. Each and every building is opulent, every street is spacious, each district is a shining example of urban planning, making London look like the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro. To me, Saint Petersburg remains as beautiful and welcoming as the first time I lived there, in 2001. I still find it hard to believe that local politicians unanimously approved this atrocious hate-law against homosexuals.
Saint Petersburg and Russia are still in my heart. It is particularly sad to see them move back to the dark ages of homophobia and political oppression. My perplexity is aggravated by the positive socio-political developments in my birth nation Brazil and my chosen home, the UK.
I wonder how long it will take until Russia realises the serious mistakes that it is making towards gay people. Putin distorted views of democracy and the Orthodox Church – and not us homosexuals – are the ones perverting Russia.
In the meantime, my mother and I will remain keen criminals on streets of Saint Petersburg. I wonder what Raskolnikov would make of us.