“Now we have the results of this shyness” – as Mr. Putin, weakened by popular protests against his rule and anxious to appease a church that has regained much of its former clout, pushes the pendulum back again.
The Kremlin’s latest narrative blames Russia’s weakness over the past two decades on its attempt to Westernize instead of sticking to traditional values, such as the social conservatism and pan-Slavism that have replaced getting along with the liberal West as Moscow’s ideals.
Figure skater Konstantin Yablotskiy expects things to get worse before they get better. The 30-year-old co-founder of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation (which organizes tournaments for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered athletes) believes that the Kemlin, just as it has issued high-profile pardons for jailed Greenpeace protesters, dissident popsters Pussy Riot and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in advance of the Games, has relaxed its anti-gay campaign. But once the spotlight moves on, “we could see criminal cases directed against LGBT people, just like in Soviet times.”
One law proposed by a member of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party would see children taken from gay parents to prevent “harm to the child’s psyche.” International outrage caused the bill to be withdrawn shortly after it was introduced in September, but many expect to see it resurrected.
Another proposed law would ban gays from having children using a surrogate mother. As well, Mr. Putin has already signed a law preventing the adoption of Russian children by foreign gay couples, or – just to make sure no gay parents sneak through the adoption system – by unmarried individuals living in countries that allow gay marriage.
Polls show that most Russians endorse the anti-propaganda law and, perhaps because many accept the link the Kremlin makes between homosexuality and pedophilia, one survey showed 40-per-cent support for making it a crime once more.
Such statistics greatly please Vsevolod Chaplin, an Orthodox archpriest responsible for relations between the church, which feels gays are ill and in need of divine forgiveness, and the Kremlin. Very influential because of his job, Mr. Chaplin becauses that, after two decades of spiritual as well as economic decline, Russia is finally rejecting “immoral” Western influences. (The church sees another victory in a ban on advertising abortion services that Mr. Putin signed in November.)
As Mr. Chaplin sees history, gay rights and abortion were both forced on Russia by foreign powers intent on keeping it weak by shrinking its population – a crippling demographic problem the country now faces. Gay-rights groups, he claims, are funded by Western organizations (often true, if only because their own government denies support). Now, under Mr. Putin, the country is pushing back, he says.
“Our society, which 10 or 15 years ago was dependent on Western opinion, is finally learning how to stay calm and stay focused on our own convictions, even when someone is criticizing every move and every step.”
Mr. Chaplin speaks of Mr. Putin respectfully, but suggests that he has changed: “When he came to power many years ago, he was more oriented to the ideology that was propagated in the 1990s – that economic and political freedoms will solve all the problems. Probably, as he is becoming older, he is listening to trends in society. I’m very happy he is now speaking about the moral dimensions of society.”
Mr. Chaplin sees gay propaganda as “a text, a play, a picture that is consciously oriented toward children and adolescents and aimed at involving them in homosexual activities.” Or, he adds, anything that makes gay life look normal and happy.
To follow the rules and attract state funding, the script for a new biopic of Pyotr Tchaikovsky has been rewritten five times. The film now will portray the composer of the 1812 Overture and Swan Lake as a man who lived alone, tormented by unfounded “rumours” about his sexuality – even though Mr. Putin has held him up as proof that Russia is tolerant. “Tchaikovsky was gay,” he said in September, “although it’s true that we don’t love him because of that, he was a great musician and we all love his music. So what?”