The 22nd Olympic Winter Games are starting off 2014 with a bang this February 7th. These Games have drawn so much controversy, so much arguing, and so much tension. It’s supposed to be a time of unity and sporting competition, so what’s causing all the strife? None other than Putin’s Russia, of course.
Think of it this way: human rights and equality has been a huge concern to the global giants of the world, and we continue to develop positive social progress every year. Now, these progressive countries are being told to unite within a motherland that is the opposite of equality and fairness.
What am I even talking about, you ask? I wrote an article last year titled, “Leading Russia into the Dark Ages,” that confronted some new anti-gay laws that Putin was planning to pass. I encourage you to read it over again – it can be found online for your convenience – but I’ll also give you a quick recap.
The official law, which is now in effect, states it is illegal to promote “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” where minors are below the age of eighteen. This sounds vague and barely relatable, right? Well, that’s exactly what they wanted. This vagueness actually allows them to apply the law to a vast majority of daily interactions that can now be deemed illegal, chargeable, and detainable.
Let me break it down for you. It’s illegal to state that homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual relationships. It’s illegal to hold any public demonstration that supports gay rights; that means no pride parades, no gay-straight alliance groups in schools, nothing. It’s illegal to speak freely in the defence of the LGBT community; even Madonna and Lady Gaga have been charged with doing so at their concerts while in Russia. It’s illegal to distribute any materials related to gay rights; that means no brochures, no rainbow flags, no condoms supporting HIV protection, no buttons or pins, not anything that alludes to same-sex. Why? Because a minor could see or overhear these statements and therefore, as the Russian elites believe, it would taint their upbringing and risk having the children convert to Gaydom. Seriously? That type of thinking is absurdly archaic, but those are the minds that are leading Russia.
In fact, more laws are being entertained to take away any children that live with same-sex couples or individuals. After all, if a child under the age of eighteen is living with two moms or two dads, that’s exposing the minor to propaganda of homosexuality, and is therefore illegal. Think about that, and what it will mean to not only the parents, but the child. The child will be under constant stress to not reveal that he has two moms, and that he could be taken away from his family at any moment. Only to go where? A poor foster system, or another inept adoption centre?
Putin has officially opened the doors to let homophobia and criminal behaviour run rampant all in the name of a “better” Russia. I don’t know where to begin but to state how angry this makes me. After doing research and learning of all the horrors that are going on in this country, it makes me disgusted. As I learned of these repulsive acts, I was heartbroken for the victims, terrified for the ones still living there, and absolutely enraged with the criminals committing the felonies.
Neo-Nazi groups have surfaced and devised evil plots to begin their witch hunt. In order to target gay teens and men, they have created fake same-sex personal ads on dating websites to lure them out. They arrange meet ups, and once the unsuspecting victim shows up, he is humiliated, tortured and beaten, often being filmed. For those who are filmed, the clips are posted on popular Russian media sites, sent to their family members, and even to their employers, to out them. The victims, after being completely humiliated, generally commit suicide due to the heavy shame. The majority of these groups equate homosexuality with pedophilia and call their targets “pedophiles” or “uncitizens,” when they clearly are not.
What’s worse, many of these attacks are filmed in broad daylight and bystanders do nothing to help the victims. It’s been allured to that Putin himself supports these Neo-Nazi groups in trying to eradicate the LGBT population, and raise “traditional family” values and increase the amount of Orthodox believers.
Anyone who is found out to be homosexual or an ally is daily discriminated against and assaulted, if not verbally, then physically. People have been outright fired from their jobs, especially teachers or those directly involved with minors, who have expressed homosexual support. Many victims are turning up dead, with evidence of torture or foul play. Lesbian girls have been “correctively” raped, with the sickening idea of fixing their sexuality. The amount of injustice within Russia is spiralling out of control, and is eerily reminiscent of what happened in the film “V for Vendetta.” A quote from Valerie, a lesbian prisoner, seems rather applicable to fellow homosexuals in Russia: “I remember how the meaning of words began to change. How unfamiliar words like ‘collateral’ and ‘rendition’ became frightening… I remember how ‘different’ became dangerous. I still don’t understand it, why they hate us so much.”
Protests from the LGBT community and supporters are faced with the police force, often ending in all-out brawls where police beat down citizens with batons and arrest them. Those who are charged can be fined anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 rubles, the latter equating to over $3,000 Canadian dollars. Foreigners can be arrested, detained for fifteen days, and then deported, while being fined at the same time.
And this is where we are sending our Olympians? Sounds more like we’re sending them off to the Hunger Games as tributes!
All sorts of countries, companies, and organizations have outraged against the Winter Olympics being hosted in Sochi, Russia. A lot of reactions are to boycott the Games altogether. However, boycotting is definitely not the answer. That would harm the athletes more than anything, and everyone’s hard work training for the competition would be in vain.
Another response was to relocate the Games. British Columbia still has their venues intact from the last Olympics, but again, relocation was quickly shrugged off. How come? Follow the money; this year’s 22nd Winter Olympics is the most expensive Games in history. It’s estimated more than $51 billion US dollars were spent on the Sochi Games. The entire place has been built up from scratch, with all new infrastructures, telecommunications, transportation methods, chairlifts, power supplies, restaurants, hotels, venues, and the like. Sochi is recorded as having the warmest climate to host the Winter Olympics, meaning even more money will be spent in regulating snow levels and creating snow. In addition, Putin has been accused of embezzling a large portion of the Olympic funds. No surprise there.
If boycotting is harmful to the athletes, and relocating is out of the question, then what’s left? The only thing we can do at this point is support our Olympians and watch the Sochi Games unfold. Many are drawing parallels to the 1936 Summer Olympics that took place in Berlin under Hitler’s rule. Only this time I hope people realize how dangerous Putin is, before another historical disaster occurs.
There’s been mixed messages as to what will happen to Olympians, onlookers, and journalists alike if someone were to speak out against Russia’s homophobic laws while within their walls. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have stated in various ways that athletes and spectators will not be affected by the new laws. Yet at the same time, the IOC has warned all Olympians to not make any political statements during the Games. Putin has assured that they “will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games.” With all these promises made, people are still told to “respect the laws of the country they are in.”
What happens if someone breaks that respect? Will an Olympian be arrested on the podium for wearing a rainbow pin? Will a same-sex kiss in celebrating a gold medal be grounds for deportation?
I’m guessing the Olympics will go one of two ways. There will be political outbursts that trigger riots and fights, or Russia will turn this corner of the world into a Pleasantville utopia. I reckon it’ll be the latter; Russia will pretend everything is just fine in order to regulate a peaceful Winter Games and keep their country’s atrocities a secret. My hope is that by having the spotlight on Russia, the world will see how backward this government has become.
We need to continue fighting for human rights and standing up for one another. For every Putin, there are hundreds of people out there supporting equality, including myself. I know we may not be able to affect Russia directly, but if we start in our own backyard, we can create an infectious movement.