Alexander Lowe looks at the “phantom menace”, the subtle war of words and pictures being waged against GLBT people.
Pro-Russian poster shows Ukraine choosing between ‘decadent West’ and ‘glorious Orthodox East’.
Ukraine became the epicenter of new East/West split and gay rights are at the heart of the conflict. It is no longer the communism/capitalism ideology that divides East and West as well as developed and developing worlds, but the definition of human rights and their acceptance, especially gay rights.
Homophobia runs deep in Eastern Europe, even in pro-Western countries like Poland, Slovenia and the Baltic states. But hardly anywhere else are gays stigmatized more than in Russia and Ukraine. About 80 per cent of polled Ukrainians have negative attitude to gays and nearly 90 per cent of Russians support ban on ‘gay propaganda’ which was passed last year. With homophobia being common ground for the people of Russia and Ukraine, it turns into powerful weapon in the ideological warfare.
In Ukraine, significant part of population supports integration with the West, seeing Ukraine’s future within the European Union. But there are also many others who call for the closer ties with Russia, the country they see as opposition to the Western values and morals. In this volatile situation gay rights has become the joker card in the wicked game of politics, a constant reference in the information war.
EU and US equal gay rights with human rights and are calling to the change of legislation in both Russia and the Ukraine and wider acceptance of LGBT citizens. But does Western involvement really help to advance gay rights in either country? Or had LGBT Russians and Ukrainians became hostages of geopolitics and collateral damage in the East/West conflict?
Ukraine’s Parliament voted for ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law a year head of Russia but had to drop it later under the pressure from the European Union. EU then stipulated that Ukraine had to pass legislation to protect LGBT minority as a condition for further integration and visa free regime. This did not go down well in a deeply religions and homophobic country and was stirred up by pro-Russian media that claimed Ukraine would end up accepting gay marriage to get into the EU. Thousands Orthodox protestors went into the streets with slogans like “No to Sodom!” “Don’t enter Europe through the asshole!”
Once the most popular pro-EU candidate for president of the Ukraine, world’s boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, was compromised by his opponents who exposed his and his brother’s nude photo session for a German gay magazine. These homoerotic pictures became a popular target of pro-Russian supporters. Klitschko had to eventually withdrawn his candidature from the upcoming presidential elections.
During Maidan protests in Kiev Russian State TV ignored ‘gay propaganda’ law to air prime time explicit gay sex tape featuring prominent Ukrainian journalist to discredit Maidan movement, claiming that gays and ‘fascists’ were real driving force behind euro-integration, pursuing their personal gain. Mixing up gays with neo-Nazis was rather absurd. Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups have always been anti-gay, famous for violent anti-gay protests in Kiev in 2012 and brutal assault on Ukrainian’s LGBT activist Svyatoslav Sheremet.
At the same time pro-Russian anti-EU media conveniently forgets about Russian neo-Nazis who have been infiltrated the Ukraine from the East. Russian neo-Nazi leader Maxim Martsinkevich nicknamed ‘Slasher’ got worldwide fame for starting the movement of gay-bashes who lure gay teenagers into hook up dates that turn into humiliation and torture that gets videotaped and posted on YouTube. Last year ‘Slasher’ emerged in Crimea, setting up anti-gay vigilante groups across the Ukraine and posting a range of videos featuring hazing of harassed Ukrainians including the ‘X-factor Ukraine’ contestant Alexander Bohun.
In this atmosphere of homophobic hysteria Ukrainian LGBT organizations supporting integration with the EU, chose to keep a very low profile and restrain from displaying LGBT symbols in pro-EU rallies. But pro- government forces staged fake gay parade employing thugs, junkies and the homeless to pose as gays marching with rainbow flags and pro-EU slogans in order to alienate people from pro-EU movement.
Once pro-EU forces toppled the pro-Russian government, the predominant Russian autonomous republic of Crimea swiftly voted to rejoin Russia. Ironically Crimea has just become the first region in Russia to put a preventative ban on gay marriages.
Elsewhere in Ukraine Maidan movement’s LGBT supporters feel betrayed by the new authorities and the West. After vicious attacks Kiev’s gay club has been shut down. And in the latest development LGBT protection has just been dropped from the anti-discrimination legislation that was a condition for Ukraine’s integration with the EU.
Russian LGBT organizations backed up Western Embassies and assisted by Western sponsors have also got caught into politics opposing Russian interference in the Ukraine. But with 91 per cent of polled Russians supporting the annexation of Crimea, this minority report and association with the West just further isolates and stigmatizes gays within the society, making them look treacherous, weak and foreign.
Since ancient Rome homophobia, aggression and hate of different non-mainstream groups seemed to be on the rise during turbulent times like wars, famines and economic downturns. During such times of hardships reasoning and tolerance gets suppressed, bringing the worst primal instincts in people, awakening their dormant fears and prejudices.
Propaganda posters from WW1 and WW2 exploited gay themes to demoralize opponents and reassure own masculinity. For example, WW2 British Propaganda posters featured Hitler and Stalin dancing together, sharing one bed and even getting married. At the same time Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia accused one another of spreading ‘homosexuality’ to weaken and demoralize the nation’s spirit.
During the Cold War Western countries submerged in homophobia. Elite British spies fled to Russia and turned out to be gays. So when mathematician Alan Turing famous for breaking up German’s “Enigma” code, was outed, he was chemically castrated. In the USA, Senator Joseph McCarthy began gay witch hunts in the government and military, blaming gays as traitors and communists. Gays and lesbians from other countries have been banned from entering the USA.
After breakup of the USSR, people or Russia and Ukraine experienced period of hardship and suffering and above that, moral humiliation, feeling their nations emasculated, similarly to people of defeated WW1 Germany. They are now eager to reclaim their lost masculinity by reclaiming ‘traditional’ values and rediscovering religion. They see their countries as crusaders in cultural war with the West, spreading filthy ‘gay propaganda’.
It is not quite defined what gay propaganda is which enables total suppression of LGBT discussion and censorship. LGBT themed movies are banned. In Russia even fairy-tales are being questioned and cartoon character Sponge Square Pants is being investigated for sights of ‘gay propaganda’ along with TV characters Teletubbies. Some sex education books get seized and destroyed while other general audience books like ‘100 famous gays in history’ become restricted as ‘18+’. (Remember, Nazi Germany also started by burning books)
Paradoxically, authors of Russian ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law keep on accusing the West in discrimination, ”gay fascism” and “gay terror”. Russian state controlled media spreads horror stories of how “gay mafia” oppresses straight majority across Europe and in the USA, recruits young children into homosexuality, and specifically smuggles in Russian orphans who are subjected to sexual abuse, torture and killing. President Vladimir Putin consistently equates gays to pedophiles and blames them for the country’s demographic problem.
Nazi Germany was similarly creative in spreading disinformation, fabricating stories about Jews abducting and killing children before Passover to use their blood in religious rituals. And gays there were also blamed for the unborn children, according to Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler, “We must exterminate these people root and branch. Just think how many children will never be born because of this, and how a people can be broken in nerve and spirit when such a plague gets hold of it.”
Adolf Hitler explained in its book “Mein Kampf” how nation can be manipulate by the media: “…all propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. … The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses….The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning.”
Soviet state propaganda has been using similar tricks and for much longer so that both Russian and Ukrainian people are still genetically susceptible to it while people who mastered propaganda skills are also ready available. Consolidated under the state control Russian media is through continuous disinformation and brainwashing turning citizens into zombies supporting any new initiative from the government. It fuels homophobia by creating myth about ‘gay propaganda’ putting entire nation into the state of homosexual panic attack.
Photos courtesy of/provided by the author from various sources.