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Nail painting, hand holding and Russian intolerance

16th August 2013

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A human rights storm is brewing across the world as the time approaches for the eye of the storm, Russia, to host the Winter Olympics 2014. Once again the famous five rings have come under scrutiny as a sports festival held in the name of peace, togetherness and inclusiveness finds itself unceremoniously plonked into a country where these values do not appear to be encouraged.

The debate over this year's Winter Olympics began on the 26th June when the country's President Vladamir Putin signed into law an "anti-propaganda bill targeting non-traditional relationships", setting off a wave of intolerance against the gay community across Russia.

The bill, designed to protect minors in the country from being exposed to positive information about homosexuality, covers not only information promoting gay sex, but any information promoting same sex relationships. All Pride events have been ceased, all websites 'cleansed' and fines and imprisonment have become the price of resistance.

The bill has become a green light for homophobes across the country as stories emerge of beatings, humiliations and torture for the gay community, in particular gay teenagers. A mere glance at the gay news website reveals some of the human rights infringements occurring in Russia, ranging from the arrest of peaceful protestors, to online blacklists outing homosexual minors, to the rape, torture and murder of gay individuals in the country, all while the Russian police turn a blind eye.

Not to worry though, Putin has told the world that "homosexuals are equal citizens enjoying full rights", so as long as you're behind closed doors, haven't told anyone about your relationships and are prepared to fight alone against any homophobes who come knocking, knowing there will be no authoritative aid, you should be alright. Besides, we should mind our own business - Russia is allowed to uphold its own laws nationally (European Parliament's condemnation be damned) because Putin has so politely asked "[the rest of the world] not to interfere in our governance."

This brings us back to the Winter Olympics, an international event which Russia requested to host, a request for the eyes of the world to be on Russia to celebrate a sporting festival of togetherness. Surely Russia can't have it both ways?

"But this is a sporting festival!", I hear you cry, "can't we leave politics out of it and just enjoy the sport?". Well yes, we could, except the Russian government has now issued the following statement:

"The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbour a non-traditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully."

So gay athletes, it looks like you've been locked back in the closet. There will be no holding hands for you, no celebrations with your other halves, no victory kiss in the crowd, nor commiserative hugs when you go over to the stands. 

It's not just athletes or sporting festivals which will get this treatment either, as Madonna and Lady Gaga have already been targeted and threatened with arrest earlier in 2012. 

Stephen Fry wrote a poignant letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron early this month, requesting a boycott of the event, likening it to the Nazi hosted Olympics under Hitler, and has since been met with hatred by Russian officials. Fry urged that "At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world." The response to this came from one of the creators of the Bill, Vitaly Milonov, who, in comments to the BBC, branded Stephen Fry "sick", and went on to suggest that gay sex is equivocal to sex with "dogs, horses and sheep." Very sensible.

This week Russian athlete Yelena Isinbayeva spoke at the World Athletics Championship in support of the Bill, saying:

"If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people."

She continued to condemn a Swedish Athlete, Emma Tregaro, who painted her nails with rainbow colours in support of the Russian LGBT community saying she is "unrespectful to our country, […] unrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians, maybe we are different from Europena people and other people from different lands." 

As far as the civilised world goes, hate should never be respected or tolerated. A nation supporting prejudice and scapegoating should not be given an international stage, not should it feel accepted in the international community. Isinbayeva is the most recent smear of shame on the name of her country, but will certainly not be the last before the Winter Olympics occurs.

Thanks to this bill and the human rights infringements, the eyes of the world certainly will be on Russia this winter, but perhaps not for the reasons its government or citizens would like.

The Olympics, a festival normally enriched with pride, looks this year to be distinctly lacking in it. 

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