Friday, October 30, 2009
Although life in modern Russia allows many more liberties for gays and lesbians, unofficial discrimination and fear are still rampant. "It would be foolish to interpret some new freedoms as tolerance," said Igor Kon, a sociologist who is Russia's best-known expert on sexual practices, and author of The Sexual Revolution in Russia. Gay life in Russian is less open than western countries, while major cities like Moscow and St Petersburg now have LGBT clubs and venues; with more quickly growing acceptance. In 1989, 31 percent of the Russian population said in polls that homosexuals should be executed, and 32 percent said they should be isolated. Only 12 percent said they should be left alone. The figures are shifting slightly, however: in 1994, 23 percent in a poll said homosexuals should be killed, 24 percent said they should be isolated, and 29 percent said they should be left alone. "What everyone here knows -- gay or straight -- is how to have a private life that is different from their public life," said David Tuller, an American journalist and author of Cracks in the Iron Closet: Travels in Gay and Lesbian Russia. "In the West we would call that living a lie," he said. "Here they don't think that way. This is not a talk-show culture. Nobody is ever going to appear on television to talk about wanting to sleep with short men or tall women. They just want to be able to have their lives and not be bothered. Medieval Russia was apparently very tolerant of homosexuality with foreign visitors to the country surprised by displays of affection between homosexuals. The first laws against homosexuals in Russia first appeared in the 18th century, under the reign of Peter the Great, but only in military statutes for soldiers. In 1832, the criminal code that included Article 995, which stated that "muzhelozhstvo" or men lying with men a criminal act punishable by exile to Siberia for up to 5 years. Men lying with men was interpreted by courts as meaning anal sex. Application of the laws was rare, and the turn of the century found a relaxation of these laws and a general growing of tolerance and visibility. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union recriminalized homosexuality in a decree signed in late 1933. The new Article 121, which punished muzhelozhstvo with imprisonment for up to 5 years saw raids and arrests. Nikolai Yezhov, senior figure in the NKVD (Soviet secret police) during 1930s. At his trial he was accused of being gay. Article 121 was often used commonly used to extend prison sentences and to control dissidents. Among those imprisoned were the film director Sergei Paradjanov and the poet Gennady Trifonov. Under Mikhail Gorbachev's administration, the first gay organization came into being. The Moscow Gay & Lesbian Alliance was headed by Yevgeniya Debryanskaya, and Roman Kalinin who became the editor of the first officially registered gay newspaper, Tema. The fall of the USSR accelerated the progress of the gay movement in Russia. Gay publications and plays appeared. In 1993, a new Russian Criminal Code was signed, without Article 121. Men who had been imprisoned began to be released. Modern gay life in Russia is in the process of increasing openness. The first gay oriented businesses appeared including bars, discos, saunas, even a travel agency. Life for gays and lesbians in the provinces remains difficult, but there are gay communities and open gay culture in large cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg. At a press conference on 1 February 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked for his opinion in the midst of a row over the decision by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to ban a Gay pride in Moscow, called Moscow Pride. Vladimir Putin said: "With regards to what the heads of regions say, I normally try not to comment. I don’t think it is my business. My relation to gay parades and sexual minorities in general is simple – it is connected with my official duties and the fact that one of the country’s main problems is demographic. But I respect and will continue to respect personal freedom in all its forms, in all its manifestations.