Surely humanity has now encountered the world’s second best personification of ultimate evil: Vladimir Putin. You must have heard of his unforgivable crimes against humanity; vicious tales of corruption during the Sochi games; “damning” tales of the murder of political dissidents and journalists; the spreading of Kremlin propaganda through government owned press (but who owns the American media?); the unlawful taking of Crimea; supporting Assad’s murderous regime. Surely all this suffices to identify him as a dictator with fascist tendencies – no room for redemption with wickedness this profound.
First off: Russian laws on homosexuality are not particularly outlandish or cruel and can be explained by simply observing differences in cultures. If we do not mock or vilify countries like India or Sudan for their arranged marriages or their burqas, it is because we understand that we are worlds apart, culturally speaking. Similarly Russia is different from the West and its ideologies are much more traditional and collectivistic, based on society as a whole working to assure the longevity of its nation and culture. This is based upon a set of values that view the conventional family as a procreative device acting in the interest of society. Backwards (by our standards) it may well be, but Putin is simply, democratically, keeping the vast majority of his people happy, as is to be expected of any leader.
Needless to say, they have a ways to go in terms of equality of rights, but the Russians tend to have a much more pragmatic and less individualistic outlook on life. Our culture has become one of identity, a cult of the individual. The culture clash is strong, but we are hardly transfixed by the homophobia prevalent in countries like Jamaica or Nigeria – only the Russians get a hefty dose of bad press for their relatively mild laws that do not actually criminalise homosexuality, but only the encouragement thereof. Their laws on adoption are also fuelled by family values inherent to their society and again, they certainly are draconian, by our standards. But this alone is no reason to vilify and slander Putin without knowing anything of his country’s ways.
Here is my translation of a small segment of Putin’s 2014 interview about the Sochi Olympics. Original text is annexed.
Marr: Many British politicians and celebrities, notably Elton John, have expressed concern over the treatment of homosexual people in Russia. I would like to ask you, in your opinion, are there any fundamental differences between the West and Russia, as to the way homosexuality is viewed? Do you believe people are born that way or do they become it? And what of the question of propaganda, is it a philosophical matter?
Putin: You know, I do not have the professional authority to answer the first of your questions. I do not know whether people are born or become homosexual. Since I can not give a qualified answer, I would prefer leave it at that.
Concerning the treatment of people of non-traditional orientation, then yes, here I can give you a sufficiently detailed response. May I just attract your attention to the fact that in Russia there is no criminal penalty for pertaining to a non-traditional orientation, unlike more than a third of the world’s governments. In 70 countries, homosexuality is a criminal offense, and in seven of those countries it is worthy of capital punishment. What does this mean? Does this mean that we must call off all international sport competitions in these countries? Probably not.
In the Soviet Union, homosexuality was a criminal offense, and in Russia today there is no such law. Everyone is absolutely equal in rights in our country, regardless of religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everyone is equal. Only recently we passed a law that prohibits propaganda, not only that of homosexuality but any sexual over-indulgence in what concerns children. But this has no relation to prosecuting people for their sexual orientation. These are two big differences, as we say. That is why there is no danger to people of non-traditional orientation planning to visit either as guests or competitors in the Olympic games.
Judge that as you will, but it doesn’t sound like “a cleansing policy” to me, to not want to push any type of sexuality on children.
Okay, Jen. What about all these journalist murders, huh?
First of all, I simply must put this out there: Obama repealed habeas corpus in 2011, enabling the government to expatriate or throw unruly citizens in jail without so much as a trial, if they should so much as make the States look bad – just look at Ed Snowden, Gary Webb and Chelsea Manning. The US of A is hardly role model material in this matter and should probably keep its mouth shut.
That aside, let’s take a closer look at some of these daring dissidents.
The story of Litvinenko, widely known as a crackpot spewing nonsense about Putin to a gullible British media and mysteriously dying of polonium poisoning, turns out to have a very different plot depending on what angle you look at it from (mainly, how stupid would the Russian government be to kill a known crackpot in the most transparent way possible). Even The Guardian, in a rare show of honest reporting, admitted that his death was most likely orchestrated by the oligarch Berezovsky that Litvinenko was working for.
As for the great Soviet dissident Bukovsky, he was found to be “collecting” child porn, a fact then turned around against Putin in a predictable twist orchestrated by the NYT. They implied that the Kremlin had tried to frame Berezovsky by putting these images on his computer. All this, as stated by Paul Robinson, “without a trace of irony”. Actually, our media tends to love a good frame-up job.
Realistically speaking, the Russian Federation is really only about 30 years old as a country. The amount of dissidents murdered in Soviet times were impossible to count, and after the fall of the Soviet Union more than half of the murders occurred under Yeltsin:
Independent television, radio, and print media have generally thrived in Russia since 1991. But paradoxically, the press under Yeltsin’s administration has suffered its most brutal attacks since the Stalin era. Despite the Yeltsin government’s reliance on the media’s support, and regardless of the media’s proximity to power, the government has failed to properly investigate and prosecute the murders of journalists, let alone track down the sources of myriad threats against journalists from government offices and from the underworld.
It’s a messy operation to turn an entire dirty regime around on its head and Putin seems to have been a stable option so far, in spite of the USA’s exasperating efforts to make it as difficult as possible, according to Russia’s leader himself.
Alina Batishcheva says in a Guardian piece,
I think Russia never really lost its greatness, despite going through complicated economic and political times, the aftershocks of which we are still feeling today. Vladimir Putin’s main achievement is that he has turned out to be a somewhat more capable ruler than his predecessors.
My Russian family say the same thing: he’s the best option we’ve had so far as a troubled nation.
Read into this what you like, but don’t be so quick to dismiss the American government’s sins if you decide to believe their media. If you buy into all they say about Russia, then you are allowing them to hush up and justify their own dirty secrets. You are excusing our own governments’ unscrupulous, dishonest acts and accepting the hypocritical scapegoating of Vladimir Putin which ultimately serves to distract us from their complicated lies.
Now, for those who are convinced that Russian media is just as state controlled as it was under Stalin, here are a few liberal opposition programmes that just happen to exist.
The radio station Moscow Echo, while it has faced some difficulties over its 25 years, still stands strong to this day.
In an interview, editor-in-chief Venediktov mentions:
[W]e do exist and we prefer not to think about the reason why we still exist. We see certain threats facing us, but we manage to ward them off, sometimes not without losses. But most importantly, our editorial policy is open and public. That’s why saying that professional journalism is impossible [in Russia] sounds very strange.
The TV Rain Channel (Dozhd) gained its popularity during the protests of the Russian opposition in 2011. It was the only TV channel that provided balanced and uncensored reporting of these events.
Pravo Golosa, or Right to Talk, is a fast-paced and entertaining debate show that strives to represent every possible view point with no original bias by the excellent host who likes to poke fun at each side. It is described on Rospravo.ru thus:
Pravo Golosa (The right to talk) is a socio-political talk-show, a platform for discussions on the most keen political, economic and social issues. Politicians, businessmen and officials are debating with their opponents, independent experts evaluate [the] situation and offer solutions.
Finally, Direct Line with Vladimir Putin has become a yearly tradition on the main Russian TV channels since 2001. It is a somewhat entertaining broadcast where he answers all sorts of questions from callers and texts. You will not see Putin skirting off a difficult or supposedly sensitive question. There is next to nothing he is touchy about, which is what seems to make him a seriously reliable and transparent leader to his people. He is faced with tough questions such as:
“Russia has annexed Crimea by force. Does that mean that power is the only guarantee of a state’s sovereignty these days?”
“Last year I spent 5,000 rubles on weekly food purchases for my family. A year later, that is today, the same amount costs 10,000 rubles, or twice as much, whereas the Government claims that inflation is only 12.5 percent. Whom should I trust – the Government or supermarket till receipt?”
and this particularly tasty one: “[e]veryone says we should go and vote in the State Duma elections, and they assure us the elections will be faultless and transparent. However, is it worth taking part in the elections when we know that the votes will be counted in United Russia’s favour anyway?”
(see a full transcript on Voltairenet here)
The amount of rousing anti-Putin sentiment makes it more difficult than ever to distinguish fact from propaganda. For example: The Malaysia Airlines tragedy has never been 100% proven to be Russia’s fault but many factors point to it being so – was it just another perfect opportunity to accuse Putin once again of one of his many crimes against humanity? Was it a missile bought from the Russian government but deployed by Ukrainian rebels? In that case, how much better are we for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, arms that kill civilians by the thousands? Or was it indeed Russia’s fault? We may never know for sure.
Another confusing one is the alleged corruption scandal in Sochi. “A story of ambition, hubris, and greed leading to fabulous extravagance on the shores of the Black Sea,” according to Yaffa’s Bloomberg article. Putin, however, has explained (see Annex) that they spent an inordinate amount of cash on the Sochi games in an effort to create a resort town for Russia which had lost its tourist destinations with the loss of the Soviet states. As leaders tend to do, he tried to boost his country’s economy – and before you could say “unfounded allegations”, the entire Western world was looking at him sideways for the amount of money he used to do his job (whether or not it worked is another matter).
And yet another, the biggest scandal of the recent years, is Crimea. Worthy of an article of its own, the amount of conflicting information is endless and yet our side chooses to believe the worst. A vast majority of Crimean citizens are ethnically Russian – not only did they vote for the annexation, but they celebrated the results tremendously. They were also able to avoid the horrors of the Ukrainian civil war. Of course, there is the very valid argument that taking Crimea, referendum or no, was a criminal act. But therein again lies our own hypocrisy: what nation could possibly equal our own imperialist tendencies? Not to mention, there was nothing hush-hush about the procedure, unlike America’s sneaky habit of dismantling Middle Eastern democracies “in the name of freedom”, only really in the name of setting up a fancy new dictator who likes to cooperate with Uncle Sam.
Look, I am no political scholar. I’ve been trying to write this article for months, and the amount of conflicting opinions and information overwhelms me – as it should you. I’m not trying to condone his every move; I’m just trying to make the case that it is impossible to know at this point what is going on at all. Why not simply listen to the man himself, directly. See for yourself how straightforward he can be, and the shadiness of our own politicians in comparison.
Russian news hardly has time for such nonsense at this point, between being continually accused of influencing the presidential election by leaking the DNC’s extremely incriminating emails (why is this even important?), support for the world’s apparent second worst dictator, himself accused of genociding his own people (al–le–ga–tion), and spying on Trump on a visit to Moscow years before he was even involved in politics (again, not a shred of evidence).
In fact, the more I put off finishing this article, the more incredible propaganda rockets to the surface. Just days ago, I saw a Facebook friend of mine, a well respected and popular kinda guy, post this article on his wall. At seeing the title, “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador”, I thought “hey, that’s nice. Maybe we should be cooperating with the guys who are out there fighting the terrorists we’re funding,” and then exasperation sunk in as I realised that Trump was being vilified, again, for all the wrong reasons.
All of this Facebook guy’s suck-up mates were being drearily predictable with sarcastic and unoriginal comments like “ugh, douchenozzle” and “what a moron”. Not one stopped to think about the content of the article. Highly classified information … to an adversary? Since when, and why, is Russia considered an adversary? Is it not blindingly, ear-piercingly, insufferably obvious that this of all recent articles is one of the most transparently hawkish of all? Watch out, Trump’s spilling all of our precious State Secrets! Straight into the evil Russkies’ hands! What a dope! When instead, he would do better to plot with the likes of Comey and Rachel Maddow about inciting a full-blown Cold War II and assure our status as uncontested, uncontestable world power #1, god dammit.
Annex (from the Kremlin.ru transcript of Putin’s 2014 interview)
Putin on the Sochi construction corruption scandals:
Понимаете, всегда идёт борьба, и мы об этом публично говорим, и в этом смысле даже несколько подпитываем, что ли, эти слухи о коррупционных проявлениях. Нам что делать – или всегда про это молчать, или не бояться вот таких реакций и работать открыто? Мы выбрали второй путь – работать открыто. Если мы видим, что есть в чём то какие то проблемы, мы прямо об этом говорим, публично.
Putin on homosexuality in Russia:
Марр: Многие политики Британии и ведущие люди, в том числе Элтон Джон, выражают обеспокоенность в связи с отношением к людям гомосексуальной ориентации в России. Я хотел бы спросить Вас, как Вы полагаете, существуют ли фундаментальные различия в отношении на Западе и в России к людям гомосексуальной ориентации? Считаете ли Вы, что гомосексуалистами рождаются или становятся? И в чём заключается вопрос пропаганды, философский ли он?
В.Путин: Вы знаете, я не берусь ответить на одну из частей вашего вопроса: по поводу того, что люди рождаются или становятся гомосексуалистами. Это не сфера моих профессиональных интересов, и квалифицированного ответа я просто не смогу дать. А если не смогу дать квалифицированного ответа, то предпочту просто вынести это за скобки.
Что касается отношения к людям нетрадиционной сексуальной ориентации, то да, здесь я могу Вам дать достаточно развёрнутый ответ. Обращаю ваше внимание на то, что в России нет уголовной ответственности за нетрадиционную ориентацию, в отличие от более чем одной трети государств мира. В 70 странах мира предусмотрена уголовная ответственность за гомосексуализм, в семи странах мира из этих 70 предусмотрена смертная казнь за гомосексуализм. Это что значит? Значит ли это, что мы вообще должны отменить все крупные международные спортивные соревнования в этих странах? Наверное, нет.
В Советском Союзе была предусмотрена уголовная ответственность за гомосексуализм, в России сегодня такой уголовной ответственности нет. У нас все люди равны абсолютно вне зависимости от религии, пола, этнической принадлежности либо сексуальной ориентации. Все равны. У нас недавно только принят закон, запрещающий пропаганду и не только гомосексуализма, а пропаганду гомосексуализма и сексуальных злоупотреблений в отношении детей. Но это ничего общего не имеет с преследованием самих людей за их сексуальную ориентацию. Это две большие разницы, как у нас говорят. Поэтому никаких опасений для людей вот этой нетрадиционной ориентации, которые собираются приехать в качестве гостей либо участников Олимпиады, не существует.