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  1. Hugh
    Hugh July 31, 2013 at 4:25 am |

    I’ve been boycotting Smirnoff (which is associated with the Russian government) for twelve years because of Russia’s policy towards its Islamic minorities.

    1. matttbastard
      matttbastard July 31, 2013 at 11:22 am |

      I’ve been boycotting Smirnoff because it’s shit vodka [sic].

      1. Hugh
        Hugh July 31, 2013 at 7:07 pm |

        Yeah, admittedly it’s not a hard boycott to maintain.

    2. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable July 31, 2013 at 11:26 am |

      Diageo is associated with the Russian government?

      1. Hugh
        Hugh July 31, 2013 at 7:10 pm |

        Indirectly. There was a dispute about who owned the ‘Smirnoff’ brand name – Diageo’s copyright on it is based off a White Russian brewer who left during the Revolution and set up a distillery in the west, but in the 90s, when Smirnoff begun to be sold in Russia, the Ministry of Agriculture claimed that they had copyright on the brand because it used to be a brand owned by the Russian state. The dispute was resolved by the signing of a joint marketing agreement. So, it’s not directly owned by the Russian government, but Diageo’s relationship with the Russian state is very close. Too close for my conscience, anyway.

  2. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 4:40 am |

    Thanks for the post, Natalia. It gave me quite a bit of context I didn’t have before.

    I’m curious, though. If the society is generally homophobic, and the laws being passed are extremely homophobic, how is it logical to characterise the government as not homophobic? It’s made from members of Russian society, and is directly responsible for the creation of Russian law, is it not?

  3. Hugh
    Hugh July 31, 2013 at 5:18 am |

    @mac: I can’t speak for OP but the impression I got was that the members of the government do not personally dislike LGBT people, they’re just cynical and callous enough to pass homophobic laws because they don’t care about the queer community and it wins them political capital.

    I think this is an excessively narrow definition of ‘homophobic’, though.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 5:27 am |

      I think this is an excessively narrow definition of ‘homophobic’, though.

      If that’s what OP is going for, then I’m with you. “I’m not a homophobe, I just play one from nine to five” isn’t much of an excuse in my book.

      1. Hugh
        Hugh July 31, 2013 at 9:22 am |

        Yeah, what their actions mean for queer people matters more than what’s in their secret hearts.

        1. Hugh
          Hugh July 31, 2013 at 10:40 am |

          @Natalia: I believe Marx wrote something about how elites are usually extremely tolerant of ‘deviant’ (however that is defined) behaviour by other elites.

        2. Hugh
          Hugh July 31, 2013 at 10:41 am |

          Come to think of it, this might even moreso in a society like Russia, where it’s comparatively easy for elites to evade the law as long as they maintain contacts with the right people. No gay media icons or businessmen are likely to get prosecuted for ‘homosexual propaganda’, I think we can all agree. (It doesn’t help that the law’s so vaguely worded, but that’s only part of the reason)

        3. Alexandra
          Alexandra July 31, 2013 at 11:58 am |

          @Hugh – I think you’re wrong. I would expect that some pop singer, actor, entertainer, or businessman who plays his or her cards wrong or winds up saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, who attracts the attention of the Orthodox Church or another popular institution trying to demonstrate its power, is going to get burned, maybe in a bad way. Protection of elites is not absolute, particularly in nominally democratic societies with populist leaders, and gay elites are more vulnerable than others.

        4. Hugh
          Hugh July 31, 2013 at 7:14 pm |

          @Alexandra: Well, it’ll be interesting to see which of us is right.

  4. foxy
    foxy July 31, 2013 at 5:45 am |

    The role of orthodox church should not be ignored.Also during communist era gays are believed to be bourgeoise parasites and severely persecuted.

  5. A4
    A4 July 31, 2013 at 7:45 am |

    Basically, it boils down to this: “But sexual minorities are… different. Different makes you vulnerable. Why would you want to do that?!” Older Russians especially fear for their children to turn out… different – hence the majority support for the propaganda ban.

    I don’t buy this one single bit.

    1. Echo Zen
      Echo Zen July 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |

      I sure do. After the fall of the Soviet government, we began running health surveys in Russia, and wasted a lot of money with questionnaires where Russians were asked to rate something on a scale of “0 | negative” to “10 | positive”, “5 | neutral” being middle.

      Without fail, every Russian answered every question with “neutral”, because as our informants later informed us (after the fact), the culture at the time frowned on strong opinions or thoughts that could disrupt the existing fabric of society. As a result, we had to re-frame every question so nobody could answer “neutral” — they had to state an opinion either way. I have a hunch that, 22 years later, things haven’t changed much. It seems the culture still frowns on anyone trying to do or voice anything different.

      1. A4
        A4 July 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |

        Yeah? What about beating the shit out of gay people in broad daylight in front of cops? Isn’t that doing something different? Expressing strong views? Isn’t that also illegal?

        1. number9
          number9 July 31, 2013 at 11:24 pm |

          The people who are beating the shit out of gay people now used to beat the shit out of people for other ways of being “different” in the 80s and early 90s. Back then, they’d target men with long hair, or punks, or people from the Caucasus. They have always been around, only their targets change. This kind of nationalistic violence has always been tacitly approved by Russian totalitarian state. What they are doing might be theoretically illegal, but it is very useful to the state because it keeps the rest of the populace in line and not wanting to do anything to attract attention.

          You keep trying to apply Western logic to a country that has never been Western, and will never be Western, despite the best efforts of its many despotic rulers to drag it into Europe. Your frame of reference just does not apply.

      2. Echo Zen
        Echo Zen July 31, 2013 at 8:37 am |

        Since violence against gays is the prevailing norm in most conservative societies today, assaulting LGBT people would constitute life as usual. There might be ebbs and flows, but backlash quickly makes up for any lapses in oppression.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

      Well, it’s certainly how homophobia works in India, I’ll tell ya. Ordinary folks don’t give a shit about gay people in the abstract, but every person I’ve come out to has FREAKED OUT for my safety. I’m talking hysterical tears. And I’m pretty privileged (in terms of perceived class, caste, liberal parents etc) as Indians go.

  6. A4
    A4 July 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |

    I cannot even with all these apologetics for “I don’t mind gay people as long as they act straight in public, oh and also I’m going to beat the shit out of teenagers and videotape it and post it online but it’s not homophobia, it’s just because of totalitarianism.”

    I’m out on this one. Y’all can listen to the nice straight lady explain why these people aren’t really homophobic and then be condescending to gay people about it.

    1. Revolver
      Revolver July 31, 2013 at 9:16 am |

      I’m not sure where you’re getting this from. The OP is using a really narrow definition of homophobia, yes, but she’s not excusing the behavior, it seems like she’s highlighting the nuances of the issue that aren’t apparent to those of us in the West. It doesn’t seem like she’s advocating for the status quo, but rather advocating for us not to White Knight our way into the issue without understanding that it’s about a lot more than simple hatred of a minority.

      I would personally say, based on this post, that the government IS homophobic, because homophobia isn’t just active opposition. So I’m not sure if the semantics are the cause of what you believe is at issue?

      1. Hugh
        Hugh July 31, 2013 at 9:28 am |

        I think part of it is that, if you have a broader definition of homophobia – a definition that’s more in accord with the common usage – then it follows that if you say something is not homophobic, you’re saying it’s OK. So when people here “this isn’t homophobic” they often do hear “so you shouldn’t have a problem with it”.

        It seems the OP is saying that the actions of the Russian elite are not homophobic but just as bad. I get where she’s coming from, and I think it is important to know the motivations for the passage of these kinds of laws, which don’t always boil down to the personal prejudices of lawmakers (although they can). But I think the broader definition is more useful.

        It’s similar to the whole “only white people can be racist” thing.

        1. Revolver
          Revolver July 31, 2013 at 9:40 am |

          Oh definitely, and I understand taking issue with calling it “not homophobic.” A turd is a turd, even if it smells like a rose. I’m not trying to dismiss the importantance of semantics, because words ARE really important…just pointing out that that can be called out without labeling the whole article bullshit and the author an apologist.

        2. Revolver
          Revolver July 31, 2013 at 9:41 am |

          See? Semantics are so important that it gets its own word made up for it – importantance.

        3. Jamie
          Jamie July 31, 2013 at 10:59 pm |

          So when people here “this isn’t homophobic” they often do hear “so you shouldn’t have a problem with it”.

          I think that’s where my circuit-break happened.

    2. XtinaS
      XtinaS July 31, 2013 at 11:05 am |

      Assuming that Natalia is straight is not the worst part of your comment, but it sure is the funniest.

    3. Radiant Sophia
      Radiant Sophia July 31, 2013 at 11:30 am |

      A4, it’s nice that you get to erase people’s lived experiences. Again.

    4. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |

      Are we having an allergic reaction to nuance again?

      Also, to hell with your American universalising of how homophobia works and where it might come from. My parents grew up being hit with rocks by passersby for being south Indian and existing in north India. Their first thought (once they got past “anime made you gay didn’t it, just stop watching anime”) was that I was going to wind up having rocks thrown at me too, just for a different reason. I understand exactly what Natalia’s getting at re: ordinary people and the angle on their homophobia. She isn’t saying they’re not homophobic, she’s pointing to the mechanics and motivations, which, fyi, don’t need to be exactly the same as those of the US of Fucking A in order to be legit. Or, for that matter, in order to still be homophobic.

      Oh and IIRC Natalia isn’t straight either.

      1. Radiant Sophia
        Radiant Sophia July 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm |

        Anime makes you gay? Really?

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 1:18 pm |

          Well, that was my mother’s working theory for a few hours. Of course, if anime does make one gay, it didn’t really work for me, because I’m still bi/pan…

        2. JBL55
          JBL55 July 31, 2013 at 1:46 pm |

          Anime has had no effect on me, either. No matter how much I watch it, I still like for me and my husband to put our naughty bits in close proximity.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm |

          Clearly you’re watching the wrong anime…?

        4. Andie
          Andie July 31, 2013 at 9:58 pm |

          I’ll ask my kid when she’s old enough for me to come to grips with the idea of her having any kind of sexual identity. She looooves anime.

      2. amblingalong
        amblingalong August 1, 2013 at 12:16 am |

        Are we having an allergic reaction to nuance again?

        And again, and again, and again.

    5. Willemina
      Willemina July 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

      I work with a lot of Hmong and Vietnamese people and there are echos of how life under a regime like that shapes one’s opinions toward authority, exposure and relationships. Certainly one woman is classically religiously homophobic, but I have heard the “why would they ever do that?” sort of homophobia Natalia mentions.

      It’s all homophobia in the end to me, but pretending it all comes from the same source and that it needs to be the argle-bargle rawr kind we get mostly in the US is seriously blindered. There’s a point where yes, the outcome is homophobic, but the motivation is way more complicated and systemic than simple hatred. The article was interesting and terrifying, as is most of the news I see coming out of Russia.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune August 1, 2013 at 12:31 am |

        It’s all homophobia in the end to me, but pretending it all comes from the same source and that it needs to be the argle-bargle rawr kind we get mostly in the US is seriously blindered.

        Yeah. It just feels bizarre to me, like saying “this homophobia is caused by X and looks like Y through the means of Z” is somehow saying that there is no homophobia at all. Indian homophobia doesn’t work at all like US homophobia, but it is still homophobic… cultures are different, of course they’re going to perpetrate the same isms differently… I mean ffs that’s Cultural Studies 101. 100, even.

  7. JBL55
    JBL55 July 31, 2013 at 9:06 am |

    Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a highly controversial ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” into law.

    “Propaganda?” Funny — I’d call it “educational material.” But then again, I accept the burgeoning scientific evidence that sexual orientation is, as The Royal College of Psychiatrists puts it, “is biological in nature [and] therefore not a choice.”

    This whole thing makes me glad I buy Maine-made Cold River Vodka and Absolut (made in Sweden and owned by a French company).

    1. Hugh
      Hugh July 31, 2013 at 9:25 am |

      @JBL55: That’s the same French company that actively promotes bullfighting, right?

      1. JBL55
        JBL55 July 31, 2013 at 9:46 am |

        I had no idea there was bullfighting in France.

        A few clicks via teh google brought me here:

        I just wrote to Pernod Richard, asking them to cease supporting bullfighting lest I cease buying Absolut and Jameson.

        Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  8. Ms. Kristen J.
    Ms. Kristen J. July 31, 2013 at 11:14 am |


    You mention that homophobia in some instances is rooted in totalitarianism and the need for conformity. Would you be willing to expand on that or point me to other sources? I’m not sure I’m getting it!

    In particular, I’m wondering how this compares/contrasts to bigotry against sexual minorities in the US where often it seems (IMO) to be rooted in a disgust/fear/hatred of difference as a threat to existing power structures and a mechanism to maintain existing power structures (by creating an “other” that everyone can agree to hate).

    Is it the same phenomenon playing itself out in different social structures or is there something fundamentally different going on?

  9. Brigid Keely
    Brigid Keely July 31, 2013 at 11:34 am |

    Thanks for sharing this, it was an interesting read.

  10. Feministe’s Favorite Fraudster | Clarissa's Blog

    […] Is the Russian government homophobic? You know, all of the evidence I have points to “nope.” The government was initially just trying to ride the wave of popular sentiment directed against sexual minorities – and it expected a Western backlash, because a Western backlash actually makes Russian officials seem tougher and more courageous (you can blame this on the disastrous 1990s, when the Russian economy and society suffered tremendously, when many people died, when there was no hope – and economic liberalization a la the West was blamed). […]

  11. Donna L
    Donna L July 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm |

    Natalia, I’m curious as to how much you think there’s an overlap between the people in Russia who demonize sexual minorities and the people who still demonize Jews. And between those who use sexual minorities as a scapegoat, and those who do the same with Jews, regardless of their personal opinions. In other words, how much of this is very old wine in a relatively new bottle?

  12. All Cats Are Beautiful
    All Cats Are Beautiful August 1, 2013 at 2:09 am |

    as a queer woman from Russia I really think you should reconsider your personal definition of homophobia. Just because many Russian politicians have gay friends or know gay people doesn’t mean they’re not homophobes when they make anti-gay laws. “I’m not a homophobe, but sexual minorities are not normal” is still a homophobic sentiment. Being fine with sexual minorities as long as they don’t show it in public/celebrate Pride is still hateful and phobic.

    While the history homophobia stems from is very different in Russia compared to western countries (or most other countries in general), it’s expressed so similar in many places of the world.

    Since I moved to Germany I got the impression that just like in my home country, most people really think they’re not homophobic when they say shit like “I’m not a homophobe, but I don’t want my child to be gay because AIDS/bullies/grandchildren” or whatever. I’ve been told this myself from Russian as well as German friends and family members. It seems to me that you want to convince people here that in Russia, these sentiments aren’t considered homophobic by the vast majority of people so it would be wrong to approach this topic by applying a ‘western’ definition of homophobia. But I never got the impression that this wider definition of homophobia and other *isms is accepted by e.g. the majority of people in Germany. That doesn’t make the phobic shit they say less phobic, though, because it’s not the majority that gets to decide what is and isn’t phobic.

  13. DragonBreath
    DragonBreath August 1, 2013 at 2:54 am |

    My late mother would agree with everything Natalia has said. She grew up in Nazi Germany.

    1. Donna L
      Donna L August 1, 2013 at 9:13 am |

      My late mother also grew up in Nazi Germany, as a Jewish child (most of whose family was ultimately murdered), and I’m curious as to what you see as the parallel. Because most if not all of the Nazi leadership was, in fact, virulently and personally anti-Semitic, rather than simply using anti-Semitism as a scapegoat tactic, or following orders as a mindless bureaucrat. (See all the latest research re Eichmann.) I don’t see this situation as the same at all.

      1. TMK
        TMK August 1, 2013 at 10:08 am |

        I think the parallel is to the existence of prelevant fear.

      2. TMK
        TMK August 1, 2013 at 10:20 am |

        For example – if you watched the movie Europa Europa, there is a scene where the protagonist boy reveals himself to be Jewish to the mother of his German colleague, and they both cry and talk, its quite clear that she has to supress her views, and likely she would be similarily horrified if her child would somehow appear to be Jewish in the way Natalia describes reaction of Russian parents to the potential gayness of their kids (or just of friends).

        In that movie she does not have that reaction, but its understandable why, but the similarity of these two totalitarian systems is real, here.

        (All that does not mean that these people could not be at the same time homophobic in the usual sense of disgust/fear/whatever)

        1. Donna L
          Donna L August 1, 2013 at 11:26 am |

          Sorry, I think that’s a very strained comparison. It simply isn’t remotely analogous. Aryan parents weren’t generally afraid that their children would somehow turn out to be Jewish when they grew up. Please.

          It’s one thing to compare the Russian government’s use of homophobia as a scapegoat tactic with the long history of previous Russian governments’ using anti-Semitism for similar purposes, whether it was the Czars or Stalin or anyone else. (Although I don’t think anyone should delude themselves into believing that Nicholas II or his father, or Stalin, didn’t genuinely despise Jews.)

          It’s entirely another thing to try to compare the present situation of gays and lesbians in Russia (as truly horrible as it is) to the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany, from Hitler’s ascension to power going forward. It borders on being both appropriative and inappropriate, and I wish you wouldn’t.

        2. TMK
          TMK August 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

          Aryan parents weren’t generally afraid that their children would somehow turn out to be Jewish when they grew up. Please.

          No, of course not.

          It’s entirely another thing to try to compare the present situation of gays and lesbians in Russia (as truly horrible as it is) to the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany, from Hitler’s ascension to power going forward. It borders on being both appropriative and inappropriate, and I wish you wouldn’t.

          But.. huh? That was not the comparison at all – I mean, that comparison would be absurd. The comparison is between both societies – the population of Nazi Germany and the population of Soviet Union – and how the later legacy impacts today typical reactions of Russians to the social issues, of which homophobia is one (the lack of trust on above-family level is well-researched topic in Eastern European sociology).

          Living in both totalitarian regimes meant different fears, but the existence of the fear was the similarity – and that was what i thought was the basis of the comparison. If you think it is not analogous, ok. I did not read dragonbreath as comparing today gays situation in Russia to Nazi Germany Jews, and certainly i am not making such comparison myself.

          Btw, i dont think you can equate Tsars with Black Hundreds and pogroms to the Stalin and Soviets. USSR wasnt the best place to live, to put it mildly, but for Jews it was huge improvement, the late Stalin Jewish doctors paranoia nonwitstanding.

    2. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve August 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm |

      My late mother would agree with everything Natalia has said. She grew up in Nazi Germany.

      Are you calling Natalia a Nazi or saying that her views are similar to someone who would have grown up in Nazi Germany? Or do those two sentences have nothing to do with each other?

      1. DragonBreath
        DragonBreath August 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm |

        Totalitarian governments and fear, { TMK and LemomDemon } “Thank you” did a good job of saying what i was saying in a very few words.

    3. LemonDemon
      LemonDemon August 1, 2013 at 8:06 pm |

      Hell, I agree with everything Natalia’s said, and all I did was grow up in a totalitarian, abusive home. It played out the same damn way. Don’t stick your head above the parapet or they’ll shoot you for it. Makes sense to me. There’s a mindset that goes with that, a particular kind of cynicism when that’s all you’ve experienced and it’s all that’s in your history.

      I would consider the government homophobic but my definition of homophobia has nothing to do with irrationality. Which is either here nor there, really.

  14. Kyosuke
    Kyosuke August 1, 2013 at 3:38 am |

    Natalia, can you post the link to your argument in Russian? I can’t read Russian, but a friend of mine in Media Studies who teaches quite a bit about intersectionality is Russian-Canadian, and might be interested in the original Russian.

  15. McMike
    McMike August 2, 2013 at 2:47 pm |

    Have some grappa instead.

  16. Peter
    Peter August 4, 2013 at 11:01 am |

    Thank you for providing nuance and perspective.

    That said, I make very little distinction between people who actively hate homosexuals, and people who enable them or give them safe harbor.

  17. Boycotting Russian vodka: Will it work? | This is

    […] Or as Natalia Antonova says more concisely: […]

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