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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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A cultural crossroads between Asia and Europe, Russia has a long, rich, and often violent heritage of varied influences and stark confrontations in regard to its patterns of same-sex love.
Topics In the News
More Sochi Outrages
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/01/14
Last updated on: 02/03/14
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Still from a Queer Nation video criticizing Coca Cola for its sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics.

On the dawn of the Sochi Olympics, Russia's pogrom against its glbtq citizens prompt more outrage. As journalists are harassed, activists are arrested, publications are fined, and violence continues to rise, Russia has been exposed as what John Aravosis has described as "a third-world cesspool run by a despot." It has become clear not only that gay people are being oppressed in Russia, but also that the International Olympic Committee should never have awarded the Winter Games to so backward a country and did so only because of the corruption in its own ranks.

John Aravosis in an editorial at his Americagay blog points out that while the Sochi games were meant to demonstrate to the world that Russia had entered the modern age, it has instead exposed how broken and lawless Russia actually is.

The world, Aravosis writes, "now thinks of Russia (again) as autocratic, bordering on dictatorial, dangerous (be it terrorism, kidnappings, street violence, neo-Nazis, and little police authority), corrupt, racist, homophobic, and a place where basic services never quite work correctly. Tourists are afraid to visit the country, and some Olympic athletes are actually telling their families to stay home."

Given that it is now clear that the 2007 decision to award to Winter Games to Sochi, over more likely contenders such as Austria and South Korea, was itself corrupt, it is not surprising that one result of the award is the revelation of the systemic corruption in Russia and in the International Olympic Committee. As ABC News has reported, Sochi won the right to host the Olympics through the bribery of a mysterious Russian businessman, Gafur Rakhimov, who is a top organized crime boss and heroin kingpin currently under criminal indictment in Uzbekistan.

As comedian Lewis Black explains, the only thing in Russia that is more exposed than their corruption is their president's nipples.

Even as Russia faces international criticism for its anti-gay propaganda law, it continues to enforce it, extending it now to cover support groups for gay teenagers and cracking down on any positive mention of homosexuality in the media.

Moreover, activists have been arrested for protests as simple as unveiling a rainbow flag. As the video below documents, Russian activist Pavel Lebedev was arrested for the crime of attempting to unfurl a rainbow flag when the Olympic torch passed through the city of Voronezh last week.

In response to these and similar arrests of protesters in Russia, Queer Nation has issued a series of videos targeting not only the Russian authorities but also the American sponsors of the Olympics who have not spoken out against the oppression of glbtq people there.

The video below juxtaposes Coca-Cola's iconic song "It's the Real Thing" with the reality of gay oppression in Russia.

Meanwhile, more than 50 Olympians have protested Russia's anti-gay laws and urged the International Olympic Committee to actually enforce its by-laws that prohibit discrimination. The Olympians, including 12 Sochi competitors, have signed onto the "Principle six" campaign, named after the clause in the Olympic charter that supposedly guarantees non-discrimination.

Among the signatories are the American snowboarding gold medalist Seth Wescott, the Canadian biathlete Rosanna Crawford, the Australian four-man bobsled team, the tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick, the former Leeds United footballer Robbie Rogers, and the four-time gold-medal-winning diver Greg Louganis.

As the Guardian reports, American gold medalist rower Esther Lofgren and soccer gold medalist Megan Rapinoe are also among the signers. Rapinoe said that the situation in Sochi is not a political issue but a basic question of human rights. "I understand and respect that the Olympics are not the time nor place for political statements, but this is far beyond any kind of statement," she told the Guardian.

Nicky Symmonds, an American runner who criticized the laws in Moscow after winning a silver medal at the world track championships last year, said the experience persuaded him that athletes needed to speak up on the issue.

"While there, I saw video of people being shoved to the street for expressing their love, and the image bothered me very much," he said. "I also spoke with members of the gay community in Russia who said they had been treated better under Soviet rule than they were currently being treated under Putin's leadership, and wanted to lend my support in any way I could."

A list of the Olympians who have signed the Principle Six statement may be found here.

Perhaps the most poignant video yet issued in response to the crisis in Russia is a simple one released on January 31, 2014 by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. The video presents the Chorus singing "We Shall Overcome" in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall in 1999, with a Russian pop star, and places that event, which was televised on Russian television, in the context of the current crisis.

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