It’s Clear: We Need to Talk About Russia When We Talk About Human Rights

By Kristy Birchard
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During my last semester of college, I was required to write a 10-page paper for a political science class on an opposition movement. Which movement we wrote about was left to our discretion; after the international attention paid to the Pussy Riot trial, I chose to write about Russia and the Putin administration.

via EOR Photography"
via EOR Photography”

I invested a lot of time into that paper: I made sure that it was thoroughly researched, I talked about Russia’s relations with America, I wrote an overview of Russia’s history of dictatorship…my academic life revolved around researching Russia and its mess of political corruption. Since then, I’ve attempted to intentionally avoid thinking about Russia. (The paper made me genuinely consider theories arguing that human rights are a “western” idea and that feminism is a form of neo-colonialism. I was overwhelmed. Russia and I needed a break.) When I finally turned the paper in, it felt like I could move on; after I heard about recent violent attacks on the Russian LGBT community I felt like that ignorance came around and slapped me in the face.

On many accounts, the Russian government has proved itself homophobic and sexist in recent history: just last week, Russian officials arrested Dutch filmmakers for filming a documentary on gay rights in the country because a 17-year-old was present, in accordance with their recent ban on “gay propaganda” (read: being gay) that has roots in a belief that queerness and pedophilia are linked. As of late, Russian neo-Nazis have been luring gay male teens into traps over social media with the intention of kidnapping, bullying, and publicly torturing them. Victims are left traumatized with many reportedly committing suicide following the attacks – suicides which are tracked and celebrated on neo-Nazi forums. Reportedly, police are not intervening. And recently, news sources revealed that because Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot did not comply with her prison chores and did not “repent for her crime” she was denied parole.

The Russian government and Orthodox Church have a long history of criminalizing homosexuality, and in Russia being anti-religion is interpreted as being anti-state. Liberal Russians who support equal rights are ignored or punished. Who’s demanding repentance from all those committing homophobia? When do people’s lives start to matter? When do we stop protecting institutionalized oppression and start protecting people?

It stops when we say it must. Human rights both in America and on a global scale are a constant battle, and what’s happening as of late in Russia doesn’t indicate that American silence on the issues LGBT people and women face there (which has, thus far, been deafening) does much of anything but hurt those citizens.

By Kristy Birchard

Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Campus Organizer for Feminist Campus.

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