By Evan Brechtel
The above image is illegal, banned by a Russian court in 2017. Its creator, A. V. Tsvetkov, was subsequently sentenced to compulsory psychiatric care after uploading the image to Vkontakte, a Russian social media site.
This image isn’t feared by Putin’s government and justice system due to homophobia alone, but further because it flies in the face of a Russia concocted by members of its government for generations; a virginal Russia in need of a rugged, traditional protector from the sexual perversion of the decadent West.
As covered in last month’s column, this idea of Russia comes from early 20th century Russian philosopher and Christian fascist Ivan Ilyin, whose views got him exiled from Russia shortly after the revolution. The resurgence of his writings in the late 90’s inspired the team of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, to search for a successor they could groom to become the redeemer of a recently post-soviet Russia that Ilyin described decades earlier. As historian Timothy Snyder put it in his book The Road to Unfreedom:
“The myth of a redeemer would have to be founded on lies so enormous that they could not be doubted, because doubting them would mean doubting everything.”
Yeltsin’s team polled citizens to find Russia’s most popular fictional television character, who would inform their eventual decision. Putin fit this mold, was appointed prime minister, and would take the presidency in 2000.
Putin began glorifying Ilyin during his term, even having his body exhumed and reburied in his native Russia. He began redeeming Ilyin as he pretended to redeem Russia.
The narrative of this redemption relied on Putin’s masculinity in order for Russia’s citizens to buy that Putin’s regime was protecting them from the perverted Western values. In 2014, Putin’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov took to Russian newspaper Kommersant to criticize LGBT friendly countries in the European Union for allegedly promoting queerness “with the insistence of a messiah both inside countries and in relations with neighbours.”
This should all sound familiar to Americans: The rise to power of a mythical redeemer inspired by a television show, famous for being irreverent and foaming at the mouth to protect the country from mythical outside influences.
But the Russian government’s mischaracterization of the West wasn’t only used to fend off so-called Western influence, but to silence Russian dissidents as well. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, retweeted a message calling protesters “stupid, cocksucking sheep.” When it came to the legitimacy of the Russian election, dissidents were again characterized as queer, according to Snyder:
“Those who wished to have votes counted in 2011 and 2012 were not Russian citizens who wanted to see the law followed, their wishes respected, their state endured. They were mindless agents of global sexual decadence whose actions threatened the innocent national organism.”
With slightly more palatable but no less shocking rhetoric, Donald Trump used similar tactics throughout his 2016 campaign, frequently encouraging violence against his protesters and even encouraging the “Second Amendment people” to do something about his opponent Hillary Clinton. Since the announcement of his candidacy, those calling for accountability of the current White House and the actions it condones are frequently dismissed as hypersensitive “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”
Putin also relied on vigilante supporters to wreak violence and intimidation against any possible dissidents, often using homophobia to do so. The most famous of these groups was The Night Wolves. They were an exclusively male, virulently pro-Putin group who adored motorcycles and black leather. As gay as that may sound, their leader, Alexander Zoldostanov, floated “Death to Faggots” as another possible name for the organization. Funded by the Kremlin, they have a paramilitary base in Crimea.
Trump, like Putin, frequently clings to nationalism. Like Putin, he has frequently decried the European Union and portrayed America as a virginal organism to be protected against outside forces he deems unworthy or even evil.
There is no situation in which the subversion of Democracy doesn’t subvert queer people or any other marginalized group for that matter. Trump’s subservience to Putin should scare and mobilize queer people across America.