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Feb 07 2014

Another fine American export

The Olympics have always been political, always been tied to the nationalist aspirations of the host country. Always. Even when they are hosted in relatively benign countries, we should be wary of this attempt to hijack what ought to be simply an international athletic event into propaganda. (It’s not just the Olympics, either; what is it with people that they have to turn every sport into a municipal or regional battle, even when the athletes are basically mercenaries hired to represent Seattle or Detroit or Green Bay?)

But these Russian Olympics are something special. What if a country decided to show off by hosting an international event, and then all they managed to show off was incompetence, corruption, and hatred? Because, man, the Sochi Olympics are going to go down in the history books. Maybe they’ll pull out all the stops and get the hotels built in time; maybe they’ll be able to paper over the graft that’s used to get things done; but one thing they will not be able to hide, because they’re trying so hard to make it official policy, is their persecution of gay people.

Jeff Sharlet visited Russia, and came back with harrowing first-person accounts of assault and torture and abuse, as well as a description of how the apparatus of the state is being used to implement oppression.

The Russian closet has always been deep, but since last June, when the Duma began passing laws designed to shove Russia’s tiny out population back into it, the closet has been getting darker. The first law banned gay "propaganda," but it was written so as to leave the definition vague. It’s a mechanism of thought control, its target not so much gays as anybody the state declares gay; a virtual resurrection of Article 70 from the old Soviet system, forbidding "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." Then, as now, nobody knew exactly what "propaganda" was. The new law explicitly forbids any suggestion that queer love is equal to that of heterosexuals, but what constitutes such a suggestion? One man was charged for holding up a sign that said being gay is ok. Pride parades are out of the question, a pink triangle enough to get you arrested, if not beaten. A couple holding hands could be accused of propaganda if they do so where a minor might see them; the law, as framed, is all about protecting the children. Yelena Mizulina, chair of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs and the author of the bill, says that it’s too late to save adult "homosexualists," as they’re called, but Russia still has a chance to raise a pure generation.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in the US, that bastion of Cold War virtue. Our right wing, which used to hate all things Russian as a matter of reflex, has begun to warm to them: they’ve found common ground at last. I’d say it was kind of sweet, except that that common ground seems to be built on the desire to dig mass graves for gay people. Bryan Fischer, for instance, praises Russia for ahead of us on recognizing that it’s a moral evil to propagandize this lifestyle among teenagers..

We don’t get to stand and wag fingers at Russia, though, because they’re actually just holding up a mirror to us. As Sharlet continues, it’s American Christian Evangelicals who have been fanning the flames around the world.

Mizulina’s dream isn’t old-fashioned; it is, as one fascist supporter told me, "utopian." He meant that as praise. And the Russian dream is not alone. Liberal Americans imagine LGBT rights as slowly but surely marching forward. But queer rights don’t advance along a straight line. In Russia and throughout Eastern Europe—and in India and in Australia, in a belt across Central Africa—anti-gay crusaders are developing new laws and sharpening old ones. The ideas, meanwhile, are American: the rhetoric of "family values" churned out by right-wing American think tanks, bizarre statistics to prove that evil is a fact, its face a gay one. This hatred is old venom, but its weaponization by nations as a means with which to fight "globalization"—not the economic kind, the human-rights kind—is a new terror.

“Family values.” I think families are great, I think we don’t pay enough attention to values or ideals — these are the conceptual tools human beings used to set aspirations, and they’re important. But probably the most effective hijacking ever done in my lifetime was this cunning subordination of “family” to be a synonym for intolerance, hyper-masculinity, and sexual oppression of all kinds. It’s impressive how the right wing has taken a word so fundamental to healthy human living, “family”, and managed to poison it so thoroughly.

And here it is, exposed for all to see in Sochi. The country has been infiltrated by American “Family Values” warriors, and what we’re going to see in the Olympics (if you bother to watch them) is our right wing American utopia.

These pernicious strategies are personified by one man, Scott Lively (but let’s not make the mistake of thinking he’s the source — he’s just one eruption our of a whole pimply infection of swarms of conservative evangelicals). Lively’s mission in life has been to spread his homophobia world-wide. He’s been an inspiration for anti-gay legislation in both Africa and Eastern Europe, and he’s proud of it.

He’s currently been targeted for criminal prosecution in the US under the Alien Tort Statute — it turns out that foreign victims of American abuse actually do have legal recourse here, and there are a lot of dead and maimed bodies that can be laid on Lively’s doorstep. We can only hope that justice is done.

Meanwhile, about that mirror reflecting America’s role in spreading hate…Scott Lively is running for governor of Massachusetts as a candidate who can clearly and unapologetically articulate Biblical values without fear or compromise. Remember that when you scorn Russia.

37 comments

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  1. 1
    rq

    Oh my dear NEGs, he’s put down a foothold here? Shee-it.
    Thanks for the warning.

  2. 2
    David Wilford

    There’s also a very Russian component to the Sochi Olympics:

    Why Sochi

    In all the comment about this month’s Sochi Olympics, there is bewilderment above all about Sochi itself: Why on earth would the Kremlin decide to host the Games in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby—a place that a front-page New York Times story this week describes as “the edge of a war zone”?

    The answer is not as complicated as it may seem. Vladimir Putin comes from St. Petersburg. He rules from Moscow. But it is the North Caucasus that launched him on his path to the summit of Russian power. Anyone who wants to understand the many controversies now roiling around Sochi must start with this fundamental political fact.

    Russia launched its Olympic bid in 2006, a moment when Putin was basking in his hard-won status as the leader who had finally vanquished the long-running rebellion in Chechnya. Putin did not choose Sochi by chance. He believed that presiding over an Olympic miracle in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, not far from places that had been battlefields a few years before, would cement his triumph over historical enemies. …

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/feb/05/why-sochi-russia-olympics/

  3. 3
  4. 4
    cervantes

    Well, you can’t stop Lively from running for governor, but obviously he is about the least popular person in the state of Massachusetts, possibly after Dzokhar Tsarniev. So I don’t see why we can’t scorn Russia at least a little bit.

  5. 5
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I’ve read this article and posted it in Thunderdome; it’s hard hitting. Serious trigger warnings and barrells of cutlery required.

    Upworthy has a film from Human Rights Watch on the same subject, if anyone wants a more visual way to appreciate the horror. Again; it’s graphic, and deals mainly with the group “Occupy Pedophilia”, a homophobic neo-nazi group who trick gay people into attending a “date”, and then kidnap them, torture and humiliate them, and film it all.

    Trigger warnings all round; violence, torture, humiliation and rape.

    http://www.upworthy.com/here-is-the-shocking-footage-of-gay-men-being-beaten-on-camera-in-russia?c=ufb1

  6. 6
    vole

    It’s an issue that hasn’t yet come to the fore at the Winter Olympics, and it may not do, but let’s not forget that Russia also has a poor record on racism (as does much of eastern Europe). Particularly notorious at the moment is Zenit St Petersburg football club. A spokesman for their fan club proclaimed “We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition”. They don’t want “sexual minorities” in their team either.

  7. 7
    kevinalexander

    Putin was basking in his hard-won status as the leader who had finally vanquished the long-running rebellion in Chechnya.

    .
    And as soon as the Olympics are over there’s a rebellion in the Ukraine to put down.

  8. 8
    chigau (違う)

    the Ukraine has been independent of Russia since 1991.

  9. 9
    frog

    If Lively gets any more successful, the US may be forced to accept that gays from many parts of the world are being actively persecuted and killed, and therefore qualify for asylum here. Which would mean…Lively could be driving all the homosexuals to the USA.

    Someone needs to point this out to him.

  10. 10
    frog

    chigau@8: I wonder if Putin might not see the current troubles in Ukraine as an opportunity to “correct” that situation.

  11. 11
    vole

    Nevertheless what’s going on in Ukraine is a rebellion against a government that is trying to lead the country back into the Russian empire. The Russians will certainly want to put it down.

  12. 12
    dianne

    But…but…in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was collapsing, Reagan promised us that oppression was over forever with the Triumph of Capitalism and America and that Russia would be a capitalist utopia from then on. How could it possibly have gone wrong?

    Oh, right. Per the Reaganites it hasn’t. They never were big on rights for GLBT. Or women. Or minorities. Or poor people. Or…you get the idea. I’m sure life is just lovely for rich straight men in Russia and that’s all that matters, right?

  13. 13
    nich

    . (It’s not just the Olympics, either; what is it with people that they have to turn every sport into a municipal or regional battle, even when the athletes are basically mercenaries hired to represent Seattle or Detroit or Green Bay?)

    Ugh, ugh a million times ugh. I get a kick out of sports, but this has always driven me bonkers when it comes to hardcore fandom. The father of my stepchildren is a diehard fan of University of Kentucky basketball and constantly touts it as somehow indicative of the inherent superiority of the average KY basketball player, but a quick glance at the team’s roster shows that all but the players at the end of the bench come from places thousands of miles away. That team in particular is notorious for being little more than a layover on the way to the NBA. So not only do the players have nothing to do with the actual state, they also have little to do with the school itself. Yet the fact that UK paid some Italian guy from Pittsburgh a few million a year to entice five star recruits from Chicago to spend a winter playing for his glorified NBA farm team somehow means that an immature, unemployed schlub from a Kentucky backwater outside Fort Knox has the skills of Michael Jordan.

  14. 14
    alexmcdonald

    #11 @vole

    Correction:

    What’s going on is a rebellion against the Ukrainian mafia that is trying to lead the country back into the Russian mafia.

  15. 15
    wondering

    ALL the Olympics in my lifetime (40 odd years) have been corrupt. IOC members take bribes, and corrupt corporations suck money off of Olympic contracts and threaten to not complete contracts if they don’t get more money. Cities are held hostage and can’t pay off their Olympic bills for decades; reducing money that can be spent on other infrastructure and social improvements. Human rights abuses are endemic; foreign workers are brought in and treated horribly, housed in terrible conditions, and paid well-below market wage for the country. Cities are held hostage, citizens are silenced. Poor and working class people are turned out of their homes to either make space for the venues or because their landlords want to make super cash over the Olympic season. Yes, even Vancouver and London. Sochi is just so egregiously corrupt that it’s almost impossible to turn a blind eye to it anymore.

    I feel bad for the athletes. The Olympics are so important to them, yet they are just window dressing to hide the corruption inside. To top it all off, they are mostly neglected outside of the Olympics.

  16. 16
    David Marjanović

    Oh my dear NEGs, he’s put down a foothold here?

    The comic only says he’s visited.

    (And has forgotten to color a bit of Ukraine.)

    Why on earth would the Kremlin decide to host the Games in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby—a place that a front-page New York Times story this week describes as “the edge of a war zone”?

    Because that’s where the mountains are that you need for skiing. What are the alternatives? Vladivostok? Verkho-fucking-yansk? I’m sure the Caucasus aspect (note it’s the wrong end of the Caucasus) is a welcome bonus, but nothing more.

  17. 17
    John Horstman

    It’s not just the Olympics, either; what is it with people that they have to turn every sport into a municipal or regional battle, even when the athletes are basically mercenaries hired to represent Seattle or Detroit or Green Bay?

    Well, team sports are war proxies, so…

  18. 18
    ChasCPeterson

    what is it with people that they have to turn every sport into a municipal or regional battle

    if you’d ever lived in Pittsburgh or Cleveland, you’d understand.

  19. 19
    David Wilford

    Because that’s where the mountains are that you need for skiing. What are the alternatives? Vladivostok? Verkho-fucking-yansk?

    Hey, that reminds me of what Herman Cain once had to say about “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan” during a Presidential candidates’ debate. Anyway, I think that Sochi already being a resort destination in Russia was one reason it was chosen as a Winter Olympics site, so the investment (cough, embezzlement, cough) could be leveraged after the Games are over. But to note Putin’s decision to send Russian forces into Abkhazia for security reasons during the Winter Olympics, it also serves Russia’s ongoing dispute with neighboring Georgia and its claim on that disputed territory.

  20. 20
    nich

    @19

    Hey, that reminds me of what Herman Cain once had to say about “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan” during a Presidential candidates’ debate.

    It reminded me of an alternate reality where Forrest Gump was played by Tom Hanks with a Russian accent straight out of central casting running into a Russian Abbie Hoffman at a war protest against the war in Verkho-fucking-yansk.

  21. 21
    fabianocaccin

    A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

    -C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

  22. 22
    nich

    Just watched the HRW video of violence against the LGBT community and read some of the accounts. The only thing I can hope for are a lot of black glove moments on the podium, because how the fuck otherwise anybody can in good conscience march into a stadium and participate in the whitewashing of oppression is beyond me.

  23. 23
    David Marjanović

    Think of the children! Think of the Russian children!

    it also serves Russia’s ongoing dispute with neighboring Georgia and its claim on that disputed territory

    Absolutely, yes.

    a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right

    With a few exceptions.

  24. 24
    rq

    David @16
    Yes, visited, and co-founded an anti-gay group. :/ It’s in the comic.

  25. 25
    David Marjanović

    Oh. There I spend all that time on TV Tropes and forget about the most obvious trope of them all.

  26. 26
    jefferylanam

    There are several ski resorts in the Urals, around Yekaterinburg. More reliable snow, since it’s much further north, and closer to Moscow. Yekaterinburg is much larger than Sochi, and probably had more facilities ready to use. (Meaning less opportunity for graft.)

  27. 27
    NitricAcid

    Forgive me, but I wish terrible ill upon this man.

  28. 28
    David Marjanović

    There are several ski resorts in the Urals, around Yekaterinburg.

    …Oh. I thought the Urals were, except in the extreme north, too low and rounded for that kind of thing.

    More reliable snow, since it’s much further north

    Indeed. Sochi counts as subtropical.

    Meaning less opportunity for graft.

    Yeah.

  29. 29
    Nick Gotts

    alexmcdonald@14,

    True enough, but there is a strong neofascist strain in the opposition.

  30. 30
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    If Lively can get any traction running for office on that kind of platform, Massachusetts has sure changed since I lived there!

  31. 31
    thunk: y'all know ageism is a thing?

    I’d say a lot of the bigotry is more homegrown than presented here. Russia has always been only a place for Rich White Privileged people, and the Orthodox church has had a heavy hand in the workings of the state even in the Soviet period; it’s only growing in influence now. Given the people I talk to, it’s societally expected to haet people; it’s only now that Western countries found some sense in the matter and It’s Become an Issue to them. (it also provides some convienient mud-slinging opportunities at the West)

    Fun. not.

  32. 32
    What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    If Lively can get any traction running for office on that kind of platform, Massachusetts has sure changed since I lived there!

    I grew up in MA, and it’s still my favorite part of the world, but I can see his message getting some support. He won’t win, but he could well expose the ugly side of the commonwealth.

  33. 33
    jimmyfromchicago

    I agree with thunk. Russia was Christian hundreds of years before the Jesuits came to North American to start pestering the native population, and the Russian Orthodox Church is an utterly nasty institution. Ask the typical Russian his or her view of Scott Lively, and the likely reply will be “Who?” Calling homophobia “an American export” to Russia is, at the very least, overstating things. Saying that Russia has been infiltrated by the American Christian bigots comes close to getting things backwards.

    Americans–even American liberals–tend to mistakenly view other countries and cultures as more susceptible to American pressure than they really are, if not as blank slates ready to be painted with American ideas. American efforts to “reform” Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t really worked out as easily as they (we) thought they would be, to take several recent examples. Despite what American conservatives think, not everything good in the world comes from the United States. But, by the same token, not every ill in the world is our fault.

  34. 34
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Americans–even American liberals–tend to mistakenly view other countries and cultures as more susceptible to American pressure than they really are, if not as blank slates ready to be painted with American ideas.

    Yep.

  35. 35
    anuran

    Read Prof. Bob Altmeyer’s works, especially The Authoritarians available for free via the link.

    Today’s movement Conservatives have become textbook-classic Right Wing Authoritarians. This means they just fucking live to find a Strong Daddy Figure to mount and dominate them. Putin’s image is exactly what they’re looking for.

  36. 36
    andrewkerr

    David Neiwert, a journalist specialising in the far right, has a post up arguing that Russia is experiencing fascism – not as hyperbole, but in the sense of what actually happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.

    As I’ve noted previously, the real red flag when it comes to fascism isn’t merely the spread of scapegoating politics (focusing for now on gays and immigrants), producing eliminationist thuggery in the classic Brownshirt mold — it is when officialdom, the government authorities and church leaders, not only condone such behavior but encourage and reinforce it.

    I second the recommendation of Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. It is quite eye-opening.

    As an accessible guide to historic fascism from an expert, I appreciated Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism.

  37. 37
    andrewkerr

    Actually I’ll quote Paxton’s definition of fascism from Anatomy, via Wikipedia:

    Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

    Compare and contrast with Russia.

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