Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's talk about Russia

The writing has been on the wall for a long time now in terms of the geopolitical direction Russia is headed in. I mean, they were not exactly a model of cooperation at the most recent G8 when it came to Syria. But what is on everyone's radar screen right now, of course, is whether Vladimir Putin will let American leaker Edward Snowden stay in his country. (Apparently residence in an aiport is fine.) I am sure the behind-the-scenes wrangling must be quite charged by now.
Is Russia just going to do what Russia wants to do? Or will the United States and its (reluctant?) allies exert enough pressure on Russia to get Snowden back where they would like him?
As much as I probably should, I don't really care about the Snowden thing.
I do care, however, about all the political capital the US and other nations might be using in negotiating Snowden's extradition. Why? Because I think more attention--and more capital--needs to be put toward dealing with the legal institutionalization of homophobia.
While some of us in the United States celebrated the Supreme Court's pro-gay decision in Windsor last month, and nations around the world held gay pride celebrations, Russia passed a very harsh anti-gay measure. On a personal level, this means I have crossed Russia off my places to visit (should have gone to St. Petersburg five years ago when I had the chance), I am more interested in how international sport governing bodies will respond. Or not respond.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the men's World Cup in 2018. Neither the IOC or FIFA has proven themselves especially good at dealing with gender and sexuality based conflicts (see treatments of female ski jumpers and anti-lesbian soccer teams).
While LGBT and human rights groups have been speaking out about the issue, especially as it affects the impending Sochi Games, the issue has received very little media coverage. 
The Global Post reported yesterday that the IOC has issued a statement which mandates that the Olympics remain open to all and free of discrimination for all participants, journalists, and spectators saying "We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle."
I am sure Putin is quaking in his judogi. This is the man who basically stole a Superbowl ring off Bob Krafts's finger and pocketed it.
Of course then it doesn't really comport that he would ban homosexual "propaganda." What's so scary about a group of gay people waving rainbow flags and kissing? But I think dissent is probably one of the largest fears of a megalomaniac. After all, why would a confident leader fear three young female punk rockers who sing protest songs??*
The call for an international boycott will likely not go very far. And it is difficult to determine what such a boycott would accomplish. Is it better to go to the games wearing rainbow flags, as at least one athlete has vowed to do, and challenge the system? The problem is that I imagine some people--like international athletes, will be more protected than international tourists and maybe even journalists.

* The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer about the arrest and trials of three members of the feminist art and activist collective Pussy Riot was quite informative. It wasn't splashy, confrontational Michael Moore style but I learned a lot more about the group and the situation than I did from listening to Madonna.

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