Recently, a totalitarian law passed in Russia that prohibits words or actions considered remotely positive about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals. It labels any accurate information or support for the LGBT community “propaganda.” Conservative legislators realized that open and free discussions about LGBT people inevitably lead to equality. So, this draconian measure was intended to preemptively hijack the discussion, silence the more persuasive argument, and indoctrinate the population without opposition. These actions — along with abundant and shocking racist attacks –make it clear that Russia should no longer be considered a free country that respects the rights of minorities.
History informs us that scapegoating vulnerable minorities is a risky proposition that can easily spin out of control. A book about the Black Plague by John Kelly, The Great Mortality, reveals some disturbing parallels between anti-Semitism in Middle Age Europe and the current Russian crackdown on LGBT people. While the plight and circumstances experienced by diverse groups in radically different eras of human history makes comparisons tricky, there are undoubtedly commonalities worth exploring.
According to Kelly, there was a dramatic rise in violent anti-Semitism sometime after the year 1000. These brutal attacks did not occur by chance, but were the result of a mutating strain of militant Christianity that swept the continent:
“The Civitas Dei — or God State — grew out of a wave of intense pietism that swept through Europe in the Central Middle Ages. The new state’s controlling metaphor was the body: just as various limbs fit together into an organic whole, so, too, does –or should Christian society. Inspired by this corporatist vision , the angry sword of orthodoxy struck out at minorities, such as Albigensian heretics of Southern France and the Jews. Many aspects of modern anti-Semitism date from the period of Civitas Dei.”
It appears that contemporary Russia is going through its own Civitas Dei. According to the New York Times:
From morning all through the night, tens of thousands of Russians have been lining up since Saturday in the cold with just one aim: to kiss a glass-covered reliquary that they believe holds the Virgin Mary’s belt. They shuffle along, waiting for up to 12 hours without complaint in a line that stretches for miles. Within a few days, the organizers say, the wait could reach 24 hours. At any given time there are about 25,000 people, according to news media estimates, and as of Wednesday morning, 285,000 true believers had earned their moment before the belt, said the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, which organized the tour.
As befits his status as the arbiter of most things Russian, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin was the first to greet the holy relic when it arrived on Oct. 20 in St. Petersburg from a Greek Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos in Greece for a month long tour of Russia.
Of all the industrial nations, perhaps only Russia outdistances the United States in the religiosity of its people, two million of whom venerated the belt before its final stop in Moscow…It also seems to attract people who, having forsaken Russia’s deteriorating health system, are looking for something else. In recent years, Russians have thronged to relics of numerous saints, hoping to be cured of ills like cancer, debt and drunken husbands.
This exploding religious fervor extends to politics, where Vladimir Putin is aggressively moving to suppress secular values in favor of the punitive God State:
Mr. Putin’s trip [to Kiev] was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church….Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith.
The church’s views have increasing resonance in the political debate in Russia, where Parliament adopted laws in June banning “gay propaganda” and the adoption of children by foreign same-sex couples. In a film called “The Second Baptism of Rus,” shown recently on Russian state television, Mr. Putin credited Prince Vladimir’s choice of religion with “building a centralized Russian state,” something he sees as a cornerstone of his leadership. Mr. Putin recalled the story of his mother having him baptized in secret after his birth in 1952 because of Soviet repression of the church.
The Moscow Times wrote a stinging editorial this week that warned of the consequences of the creeping God State in Russia:
A few days ago, the church pressured the Navy to drop several traditions from Navy Day. In the past, actors played Neptune, mermaids and other creatures who, in the words of an anonymous representative of the Navy “were not on Noah’s Ark during the Flood,” as Interfax reported.
Declaring Neptune a persona non grata in the Navy may be comical, but it is indicative of the recent creep of clericalism into cultural and public life in Russia. Groups of aggressive Orthodox activists and Cossacks regularly attack art exhibitions showing “blasphemous” paintings and demand that theatrical performances be banned. The Orthodox church is attacking science as well as culture.
Even more dangerous is the direct interference of the church in politics. The hierarchy of the Orthodox church openly declared a crusade against multiculturalism, tolerance and other Western values. It’s no secret that the recent law limiting the rights of homosexuals was passed after strong lobbying by the church. In July, at the Moscow International Festival in Defense of Family Values, the attendees discussed measures to legislatively “safeguard children from the expansion of aggressive feminism, gender ideology and homosexuality,” as well as to ban abortion.
One of the main speakers at the festival was Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who is officially chairman of the synodal department of the Moscow Patriarchate and unofficially the mouthpiece for Patriarch Kirill. Last year, Chaplin produced a kind of manifesto in which he flipped the meaning of Sermon on the Mount 180 degrees. “We must be able to defend our sacred places, faith and homeland,” Chaplin told Interfax “It does not befit Orthodox Christians to vie for the title of downcast victim that mass culture is urging on them. Evil must be fought with force.”
Chaplin supported a recent law that made “insulting the feelings of believers” a felony. In fact, he believed that the punishment — three years maximum in prison — was “too mild.”
In the original Civitas Dei period, Jews were dehumanized, as the masses took their cues from church leaders and kings. According to The Great Mortality:
As anti-Semitism intensified, petty degradations became a daily occurrence for many Jews. In Turin, Jews caught on the street during first snowfall were pelted with snowballs unless they paid a ransom of twenty-five ducats. In Pisa, students celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine by capturing the fattest Jew they could find and making the local Jewish community pay his weight in sweets…As populist anti-Semitism grew, physical violence became a daily occurrence….Pogroms also became more common. There were major outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence in 1146, 1189, 1204, 1217, 1288, 1298, and 1321….”Without any reason they [the Christians] injure, harass, and even kill the Jews,” concluded a 1354 report on the pogroms in Aragon.
Similarly, as respected Russian officials sanction homophobia, they are emboldening thugs to carry out hate crimes. Instead of hurling snowballs, Russian extremists show their contempt for LGBT people by throwing rotten eggs. Meanwhile, the police detain victimized LGBT activists while often allowing the marauding hooligans to roam free. Here is one report:
Russian police detained more than 20 gay rights activists involved in a “kissing protest” on Tuesday outside parliament where lawmakers were preparing to pass a bill banning homosexual “propaganda”….The gay protesters were far outnumbered by around 200 anti-gay activists who surrounded them, chanting “Russia is not Sodom”, singing Orthodox Christian prayers and crossing themselves. They threw rotten eggs at the gay protesters.
We have also seen Russian gay teens targeted online by neo-Nazi’s — where they are lured into violent and degrading situations. And, we have seen cowardly attacks on citizens and gay rights advocates who are always significantly outnumbered by the predators:
To effectively demonize any minority, an alternative narrative, or conspiracy theory, is frequently created to portray them as evil menaces to society. For medieval Jews, rumors were circulated that they were “Christ-killers” that sought the blood of Christian children:
The blood libel accusation, another famous anti-Semitic canard, is also a twelfth-century creation…stories circulated about the ritual murder of Christian children during Passover. In most versions of the rumor, the killings were said to be a reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion, but in one particularly strange iteration the Jews were alleged to kill Christian children to relieve hemorrhoidal suffering. Supposedly, all Jews had suffered from hemorrhoids since they called out to Pilate, “His blood be upon us and our Children.” And according to Jewish sages, the only known relief for the condition was Christian blood.
The LGBT community, of course, is no stranger to accusations that they harbor fake diseases. The most well known of these lies is the non-existent “Gay Bowel Syndrome,” promoted by disgraced psychologist Paul Cameron. A plethora of spurious medical claims were also made in anti-gay videos, such as “The Gay Agenda” and “Gay Rights Special Rights.”
Unsurprisingly, there are also clear parallels between the way Jewish people were historically attacked in pseudo-intellectual books, and what LGBT people face today:
The early Church fathers held the Jews culpable of so many sins that between the third and eighth century, a new literary genre, Adversus Judaeos, was created to describe them all. An early example of the genre, An Answer to the Jews, accused the Jewish people of forsaking God and worshiping false images; Other works included, On the Sabbath Against the Jews, which accused the Jews of grossness and materialism; Eight Orations Against the Jews, which likens the Jew to a stubborn animal spoiled by kindness and overindulgence; and Demonstration Against the Jews, which equates Jerusalem with Sodom and Gomorrah.
In modern society, we could have a genre titled “Adversus Homosexaeos.” A few of the many titles on this shameful list would be: Jeffrey Satinover’s Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth; Scott Lively’s The Pink Swastika; Charles Socarides’ Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far; and Richard Cohen’s Coming Out Straight. Indeed, Lively, (pictured) an American holocaust revisionist, takes a measure of credit for the oppressive new Russian laws:
“I can’t point to any country of the world today that is a model for the rest of the world, except perhaps for Russia, which has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being ‘homosexualzed.’ This was one of my recommendations to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.
Back to medieval times — with the Black Plague surging through Europe in 1348, The Great Mortality dissects how anti-Semitism sunk to new, chilling depths:
With fear and unreason everywhere, the Jews accused of every other sin, were now accused of fomenting the pestilence…the well poisoning accusation had grown into a conviction–and the conviction into an international Jewish conspiracy, complete with a mastermind, a sinister Spanish rabbi named Jacob; an army of secret agents; and a goal so evil it filled every Christian heart with fear and trepidation. The Jews were contaminating the world because they sought world dominion.
Conspiracies are regularly cooked up against the LGBT community too, which is often accused by extremists of having a clandestine “Gay Agenda.” Scott Lively’s aforementioned Pink Swastika, is a conspiracy book that brazenly — and bizarrely — tries to blame homosexuals, who were imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazi’s, for causing the holocaust. The book’s preface makes its sinister intentions quite clear:
“The Pink Swastika will show that there was far more brutality, torture, and murder, committed against innocent people by deviants and homosexuals than there ever was against homosexuals.”
Anti-gay activists often cite a 1987 parody about the “Gay Agenda” written in the Gay Community News by Michael Swift. While the author made it quite clear that his op-ed was a joke, this has not stopped homophobic conspiracy theorists from quoting it as if it was a genuine political manifesto. Another frequent target of anti-gay activists is the book After the Ball, which was written by gay advertising and marketing executives Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. The book is a practical manual for using persuasive techniques to change hearts and minds. However, paranoid anti-gay activists, such as Peter LeBarbera, President of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, dishonestly spin the book into a full-fledged conspiracy theory to justify Russia’s fascist anti-gay laws. According to LaBarbera:
Folks, I’m afraid that the lessons that the United States of America has to teach the world on homosexuality these days are mostly negative: Avoid our mistakes. Don’t become like us. Don’t foster the promotion of radical sexual and gender agendas to your young people. Don’t allow your government schools to become ‘pro-homosexuality zones’ for impressionable students. Don’t treat unhealthy sexual perversions and gender confusion as a “civil right” or “human right,” etc.
Who can blame Russians for looking at the U.S. Homosexual Lobby’s “Overhauling of Straight America” (to quote the article and book by homosexual marketing strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen) and saying, “No thanks!” – Peter LaBarbera, AFTAH.
In a similar fashion, Russia’s new propaganda law is a conspiracy theory and dangerous blood libel against LGBT people that threatens to metastasize. The underlying lie — some would call propaganda –is that homosexuality is somehow contagious, so children must be shielded, lest they be contaminated by evil. The insinuation is that gayness is learned through brainwashing, caught like a disease, or acquired though sexual misconduct. Of course, this is an appalling lie that has about as much validity as Santa Claus riding in a sleigh powered by flying reindeer. Mountains of research show that homosexuality is a biological phenomenon in nature that can’t be caught and can’t be taught. Furthermore, gay men pose no more of a threat to children than their straight counterparts:
A 2000 study by Dr. Michael R. Stevenson concluded, “A gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity on children.” A 1994 study by Dr. Carole Jenny found that less than one-percent of the children in her study were abused by a gay man or lesbian. In 1978, Drs. Nicholas Groth and Jean Birnbaum found that none of the 175 molesters in their study had an exclusively homosexual adult orientation.
The American Psychological Association also weighs in: “There is no scientific support for fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by their parents or their parents’ gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends or acquaintances….Overall, the research indicates that the children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from the children of heterosexual parents in their development, adjustment, or overall well-being.”
The American Psychiatric Association noted in a 2000 fact sheet on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues that “no specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse.” The fact sheet goes on to say that sexual abuse does not appear to be any more prevalent among children who grow up and identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual than in children who grow up and identify as heterosexual.
Similarly, the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization notes on its website that “experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation” and added that it’s unlikely that someone can make another person gay or heterosexual.
Sadly, evidence and facts don’t always overcome deeply ingrained fear or hatred of minorities who have been scapegoated by society. During the Black Death, there were those who doubted accusations that the Jews poisoned the wells, but that did not stop the inflamed passions of the murderous mobs:
In the early fall of 1348, a sizable segment of educated opinion remained skeptical. Echoing Pope Clement’s papal bull, the doubters asked, “If the Jews are poisoning the wells and springs, why do they die of the plague like everyone else?”
“Within the revolution of one year, that is from All Saints Day [November 1] 1348 until Michaelmas [September 29] 1349, all the Jews between Cologne and Austria were burnt and killed,” wrote Heinrich Truchess, Cannon of Constance.
Likewise, it is clear today in Russia that authorities are ignoring facts in favor of deliberately spreading anti-gay blood libel that will undoubtedly lead to the marginalization and murder of homosexuals in Russia. Flipping reality on its head, Russian officials are perversely turning state-sponsored hate crimes against LGBT people into moral virtues to be celebrated. In fact, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has been a leading instigator in the purge, lending an air of religious credibility to the calumnious anti-gay crackdown:
“This [marriage equality] is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” Kirill said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.
When a revered, albeit corrupt, religious leader tells the uneducated masses that marriage equality could prove “as dangerous” as a dictator who murdered, by some estimates, 20 million people, the end result will be pain and persecution for Russia’s LGBT population. Where this violence and vitriol will lead is unclear. However, conditioning and desensitizing an already homophobic society to scorn LGBT people and view them as a threat to children is bound to have dire consequences. If mobs are already humiliating and attacking LGBT people, imagine how much worse the situation may become after an entire generation is brought up demonizing gays — and the law prohibits a rebuttal to the lies?
Sadly, evidence is emerging daily that violence is escalating, including tragic news reported this morning:
A report from the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance states that the victim pictured to the right, who was tortured by the Russian Neo-Nazi group known as Occupy Pedofilyaj, has died from his injuries. The ostensible purpose of the group is to root out pedophiles, but reports state that their targets have tended to be Russian LGBT teens, lured through the social media site VK.com.
Sometimes persecution turns to execution rather quickly. Other times, it takes sick ideas more time to percolate before they reach their full grotesque and fatal finale:
The menacing figure of the hook-nosed Jew, whom Chaucer described as “hateful to Christ and all is company,” first appeared in twelfth-century paintings of the Crucifixion…The early thirteenth century saw another important anti-Semitic landmark. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Church authorities decreed that “Jews and Sarcens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off…from other people through the character of their dress.” From this measure emerged the yellow badge of the French Crown, which became the yellow star of the Nazi state.
Of course, to compare Russia’s persecution of LGBT people to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews would be hyperbole — at least if the year in question was 1944, with the holocaust in full-swing. It would, however, be fair to point out that Hitler’s war against the Jews began less dramatically in March 1933, with a decree from the Berlin city commissioner of health suspending Jewish doctors from the city’s charity services. That year ended with another relatively innocuous, incremental change, a law banning Jews from writing editorial posts in newspapers. At this early point in time, few people in the world believed that Hitler would turn into a murderous monster who was maniacally determined to destroy the Jews and other minorities.
My goal is not to be alarmist or to warn people that a calamity of historic proportions is imminent against homosexuals in Russia. It is entirely possible that this failing nation will come to its senses within a few years, deposing Vladimir Putin, while defrocking his corrupt ministerial monkey, Patriarch Kirill. The Internet and satellites also ensure that Russian citizens won’t be completely ignorant about LGBT people, and the world will be able to keep an eye on the Russian regime. This technology could prevent the worst atrocities from occurring. In this post, for example, we feature several videos which expose the raw ugliness of Russia’s hate campaign.
Nonetheless, what we are witnessing in Russia is a modern pogrom. The state is imposing social death on its LGBT population and its new law is designed to make openly gay people disappear through force and intimidation. If one is out of the closet in this sick society, they will have a limited future, to put it mildly.
History teaches us that targeting and bashing minorities is a dangerous game that could lead down a road with unintended consequences. The record is clear, particularly in this part of the world, that once scapegoats are designated for retribution, things rarely turn out well for the victims. Of course, with the world watching and organizing a determined campaign against Russia’s barbarism, things might not turn out so well for Vladimir Putin’s Russia either. In real life, just like the movies, the evil dictator and the uncivilized state usually get what they deserve in the end, and I suspect this time will be no exception.