'Gay propaganda' ban in Russia stirs high emotions

19/03/2013
Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/russianow/society/9937618/gay-propaganda-ban-russia.html

Two decades after legalising homosexuality, Russia's parliament has voted in favour of a bill to ban 'gay propaganda among minors'.

The debate about gay rights in Russia intensified as the country’s parliament pushed ahead with a bill introducing fines of 4,000 roubles (£85) to 500,000 roubles (£10,700) for “promoting homosexuality among underage youth.”

The bill, which was passed by members of parliament unopposed in a first reading last month, has every chance of being given a key second reading in May.

Its main sponsor, Yelena Mizulina, head of the family affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, has campaigned against “homosexual propaganda”, claiming it “has increased in scope” and “can affect children’s health and their moral and spiritual development”.

In an interview with the Izvestia daily, Ms Mizulina said the government should take into account public attitudes to homosexuality. “In Russia, the public is intolerant of it,” she says.

The claim is backed by opinion polls – more than 60pc of Russians say homosexuality irritates them, while 43pc describe homosexuality as debauchery, and 32pc say it is a psychological disorder.

The respected sociologist Igor Kon wrote that Russian attitudes towards homosexuality were rooted in Soviet times, when it was considered a mental disorder and a crime, punishable by up to seven years in jail. It was not decriminalised until 1993.

“This was not the result of the government’s enlightenment or mounting public pressure,” Mr Kon said. “Gay rights groups had no influence and the rest barely cared – it was done to gain access to the Council of Europe.”

When homosexuality became “more seen and heard” it exasperated the conservative part of society, Mr Kon wrote, adding: “Gay people were made the scapegoats for all troubles in Russia, from demoralisation of the army to declining birth rates.”

In 2002, three years after Russia adopted World Health Organisation guidelines that treat homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation, Dmitry Rogozin (now a deputy prime minister) proposed a motion to jail gay people for up to five years.

If the bill had been passed, Russia would have lost its place in the Council of Europe. Some political analysts see the attempt to ban gay propaganda as a reaction to growing middle-class discontent with the government.

“There are two main trends now – growing protest, dissatisfaction with the regime, its waning legitimacy, and a clampdown on the regime’s opponents in response,” says Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster.

“People in the government are feeling disturbed over dwindling support, and in such a situation one is more likely to resort to repressive decisions,” says Mark Urnov, who heads the political behaviour department at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “Having abandoned hope to win over the most progressive social groups, they are struggling to solidify the support they have among the larger, conservative part of society.”

Over the past year, parliament has passed a string of laws that critics say infringe human rights, from toughening street rally regulations to banning adoptions by American couples, prompting a wave of indignation from government critics.

“The government is trying to impose its agenda on society and the opposition, diverting public discourse from really important problems,” says Alexei Makarkin of the Centre for Political Technologies.

“If the opposition brings up corruption, the government will raise morality. If the opposition says the economy is in a shambles, the government will try to switch the opposition’s attention to the issue of sexual minorities’ rights.”


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