'Gay Propaganda' Wars

Ukraine

With Ukraine at the epicentre of new East/West split gay rights are at the heart of the conflict. Russia has been raging information war in Ukraine, using homophobia as its most effective weapon.

Homophobia runs deep in Eastern Europe, even pro-Western countries like Poland, Slovenia and the Baltic states. But hardly anywhere else gays are stigmatized more than in Russia and Ukraine. 90 per cent of Russians supported ‘anti gay propaganda to minors’ law passed last year and over 80per cent of polled Ukrainians had negative attitude to gays as well. So homophobia turns out as something very common that unites people of Russia and Ukraine.

In Ukraine, significant part of population supports integration with the West, seeing Ukraine's future within the European Union. But many others call for the closer ties with Russia, the country they see as opposition to the Western values and morals. In this explosive situation gay rights became 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 Ukraine and wider acceptance of LGBT citizens. But does Western involvement really helps to advance gay rights in either country or had LGBT Russians and Ukrainians became hostage 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 Euro-Sodom!” “Don't enter Europe through the asshole!”

Once most popular pro-EU candidate for the president of Ukraine, world's boxing champion Vitali Klitschko was compromised by his opponents who exposed Klitschko brothers' nude photosession for a German gay magazine. These homoerotic pictures became a popular target of pro-Russian supporters. Klitschko had eventually withdrawn his candidature from the upcoming president elections.

Pic2: Fake gay parade was held in Kiev to discredit pro-EU movement
Pic3: Brothers Klitchko photo-shoot for German magazine

During Maidan protests in Kiev Russian State TV channel in spite of 'gay propaganda' law aired prime time explicit gay sex tape featuring prominent Ukrainian journalist to discredit Maidan movement, claiming that real driving force behind euro-integration were gays and Nazis, seeking 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 LGBT activist Svyatoslav Sheremet.

At the same time pro-Russian anti-EU media fails to mention the role of Russian neo-Nazis who have infiltrated the Ukraine. Russian neo-Nazi leader Maxim Martsinkevich nicknamed ‘Slasher’ is famous for starting movement of gay-bashes who lure gay teenagers into dates that turn into humiliation and torture that gets videotaped and posted on-line. Last year 'Slasher' emerged in Crimea, setting up anti-gay vigilante group across the Ukraine and posting range of U-tube videos featuring harassed Ukrainians he lured into gay hook up dates including the hazing of ‘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 Ukraine. But with 93 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, awaking 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 in spreading ‘homosexuality’ to weaken and demoralize 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 hunt 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 breakout 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 in WW1 Germany. They are now eager to rediscover 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 already been 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)

Russian TV cut of translation of Eurovision song contest last year to avoid showing same sex kiss and the cut out same-sex wedding ceremony from the Grammy awards. Russia has been enraged with recent victory of bearded drag queen Konchitta Wurst in Eurovision song contest. Russian officials, Mps and the Orthodox church spokesman strongly condemned the results, calling them 'moral decline', 'the end of Europe' and 'etno-facism'. Russia is planning to leave Eurovision in protest and run alternative show. Interestingly, just 7 years ago popular in Russia transvestite Verka Serduchka represented Ukraine in Eurovision and before that faux lesbian duet t.A.T.u representied Russia, at the time Russia media implied that girls fail to win due to the Western conspiracy and because they were not allowed by organizers to kiss on stage.
Intriguingly, a range of Russian and Ukrainian artists including homoerotic 'Kazaky' band are cross dressers; society has generally been fine with gender-bending artists as long as they made a joke out of it and pretended to still be straight.

Pic4: Ukraine's “No Homo” art export: Verka Serduchka at Eurovision contest

If you saw 'Cabaret' movie with Liza Minnelli you might remember that Weimar Germany enjoyed a very gay-friendly camp scene at the time when Nazis came to power as well. And ironically, even buffed up WW2 propaganda art is often perceived as intensively homoerotic.

In Russia the crackdown on gays is most visible in the fine arts. Russian artist Konstantin Altunin fled to France after his painting of Russian president Putin in female underwear was seized by the police. Police also confiscated his other works and shut down two museums in St. Petersburg where they were exhibited. Censorship is ever growing in Russia with even established Soviet arts becoming questionable. Le Figaro reported that Putin objected to the loan of “After the battle” painting by the classic of Soviet realism Alexander Deineka for male nude art exhibition in Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Then Russian Embassy in Rome withdrew support of Russian artist Olga Tobreluts’ exhibition in Italy classifying her male nudes as gay propaganda too.

Pic.5 Banned art: President Putin grooming Russian PM Medvedev, by Konstantin Altunin

The culture is now the front line of the ideological war. The Russian minister for culture claimed that Russian composer Tchaikovsky was not gay and revoked financing of a biography movie that was to show composer's sexuality. Popular sitcom actor Ivan Okhlobystin called for gays to be burned alive in ovens. Russian conductor Gergiev, public supporter of Putin, had his career compromised in the West, where LGBT activists are interrupting his concerts.

Western theaters are boycotting Russia, cancelling scheduled performances. Prison Break's star Wentworth Miller came out as gay and canceled his trip to Russia. But would not his coming out be more efficient if he happened on his tour in Russia? Is isolation the right way to promote gay rights, do canceled tours and boycotted sport events actually help Russian LGBT or betray them? During the Cold War cultural and sport links between West and East seemed to be the only tool for better understanding and easing of tensions.

It is easy to understand why 90% of polled Russians expressed homophobia supporting 'anti gay propaganda' when we learn that the same percentage of Russians claimed they had no gays among their friends or relatives. It is easier to hate and fear ugly painted gay stereotypes rather than real gay people one knows among ones friends and family members. When Russian and Ukrainian gays remain closeted and their fellow citizens are being brainwashed by the state propaganda portraying gays as filthy and treacherous outcasts, it may be Western responsibility to show real gay people that Russians and Ukrainians could understand and accept. Celebrities and Western artists should not boycott Russia but educate their Russian fans inside the country instead with a clear message of GLBT rights support . And we in return should support true organic LGBT-friendly export products from Russia and Ukraine.

When Ellen Degeneres came out on TV in 1997, sponsors backed down from the show and her career went downhill. But her brave action paved the way to gradual public acceptance of LGBT characters. Positive LGBT role models are crucial for both LGBT self-acceptance and for acceptance of LGBT by their fellow citizens. Better attitudes and perceptions about LGBT create atmosphere where closeted people feel free to come out to their friends and family, creating a chain reaction. Once critical mass of acceptance (50% of population) is reached, politicians turn into gay rights supporters, keeping in touch with their electorate. This is what happened in the USA. And this could eventually happen in Russia and Ukraine, countries caught up in the state of homosexual panic attack. The process is known and it starts with winning 'gay propaganda' war.

Alexander Lowë

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