Nikolai Alekseev and Peter Tatchell respond: In solidarity, again

Tatchell and Alekseev, Moscow Pride, 2007

Tatchell and Alekseev, Moscow Pride, 2007

I believe — I’ve always believed — that everyone should have their say. That includes both Nikolai Alekseev and Peter Tatchell, whom I critiqued in the last post. It’s true that both Tatchell and Alekseev rarely stop talking. But that’s even more reason to ensure they get every opportunity to be heard. So addicted are they to soliloquy that, deprived of the microphone even for a moment, they might go on some awful withdrawal rampage, smashing up the premises like a minor cast member from Reefer Madness or Breaking Bad. 

Cycle of addiction

Cycle of addiction

Doug Ireland posted his long-postponed criticism of Nikolai Alekseev on the Euro-Queer e-mail listserve this weekend. Nikolai wrote in to comment — mainly on me, and my refutation:

Hi friends,

Just a few corrections on Mr. Long’s corrections in Mr. Ireland’s article. 🙂

We just counted and tried to make it as accurate as possible. If that is what matters for Mr. Long and Mr. Ireland. I was arrested by police 13 times for civil public protests in Russia since first Moscow Pride in 2006. [I had questioned Ireland’s extravagant claim that Alekseev was arrested 40 times.] This is a rough estimate. But I guess this is very important whether it is 1, 40 or 13.

Mr. Long wrote that political art groups in Russia appeared before Moscow Pride. This is totally wrong. Group Voina, which Mr. Long is quoting officially formed in 2008. This can be checked in Wikipedia here.  I don’t know if those gentlemen know the existence of such an international resource … Moscow Pride first announced in July 2005 and first action took place in May 2006. At this time there was no even a hint on any known political art groups. …

It is true that I never supported any opposition political protests and never will. LGBT human rights fight has nothing to do with politics in Russia and GayRussia as well as Moscow Pride will always stay as purely non-political groups. We will co-operate with any politician who supports LGBT rights in Russia, whether in power or in opposition. This is our credo!

As for anti-semitism, I just need to have concrete proof of anything I said in 2007, as Mr. Long is saying. Otherwise it is a libel.

Hope that once again explains who Mr. Long is and who Mr. Ireland became.

All the best to all,
Nikolay Alekseev
GayRussia
Moscow Pride

That makes it all clear, then. I dealt with Nikolai’s actions in 2007 in detail in my earlier post. As for the Russian anarchist arts collective Voina: I mentioned it in my post as the group that gave rise to Pussy Riot, since Doug Ireland had claimed falsely that the real inspiration for Pussy Riot was Alekseev himself. It’s true Voina only “announced itself to the public” in 2008, but as its website notes, its founders Vor and Kozlenok (pseudonyms of Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol) started working together in 2005 — they’d married years before. Vor had been doing street art since 1995, on his own and with others. They have never had anything to do with Alekseev.

This brings us to Peter Tatchell. Tatchell Tweeted defensively about all this last night — defensive, I mean, about the idea that he was perhaps a little lax in ignoring or excusing Nikolai’s anti-Semitism over the years:

Tatchell tweet on Alekseev copy

“10.09am BST 3 Sep!” Sorry one missed that. Maybe a single Tweet is not the firmest way to dissociate yourself from a politically intimate ally of long standing. But let’s consider the “criticism” he made back in 2011. It came in an October 2011 article by Tatchell titled, suggestively, “A Tribute to Nikolai Alekseev.” In the fifth paragraph, Tatchell wrote:

Over the years, Nikolai said and did a few things that were in my opinion mistaken (but haven’t we all made errors?). … . I disapproved of Nikolai’s remarks which appeared to be anti-Semitic (although I personally doubt that he is prejudiced against Jewish people).

If you say that remarks only “appeared” to be anti-Semitic, and actually did not reflect any anti-Semitic feeling, you cannot claim later to have criticized the speaker for anti-Semitism. 

That one paragraph was far outweighed by the rest of Tatchell’s article:

Huge thanks to Nikolai for his amazing, ground-breaking work over many years … Even his harshest critics cannot deny Nikolai’s immense dedication and courage. … Not many people would have dared continue to put themselves in the frontline and take on the power of the ruthless tyrannical Russian state, having seen so many human rights defenders beaten, framed on trumped up charges and even murdered. But Nikolai did. Not once but dozens of times. [sic]

Then Tatchell turned on Alekseev’s critics, including those who had accused him of anti-Semitism:

Nikolai was sometimes subjected to poisonous smears and sectarian attacks by other LGBT activists, which caused him great hurt, as they were mostly without any truth and delivered with the venom you’d expect from the far right, not from fellow LGBT campaigners. Sadly, too many people were ready to believe some of the malicious things said against him.

Those of us who champion LGBT human rights surely have a duty treat others in ways that are consistent with human rights values?

Now, let’s say –just hypothetically, I’m not making any comparisons — I write an article called “A Tribute to Joseph Goebbels.” In it, I say that I disapprove of the way the guy stupidly made himself look anti-Semitic, though I don’t really believe he was. I go on to praise his his groundbreaking work, his courage — which you losers can’t deny whatever you may think of him — and to attack those sectarian people who smeared him with malicious accusations of racism and so on. I wonder how it would go if, later, I announced the article proved I’d been an anti-Nazi all along.

Obviously, Alekseev is no Goebbels; it’s an interesting thought experiment, that’s all. The truth is that Tatchell (and Ireland, and quite a few others) didn’t care about Alekseev’s politics one way or the other. All they cared was that cameras followed Alekseev wherever he went. By following him in turn — or playing his PR agency, in Ireland’s case — they could bask in the borrowed light of the paparazzi. Other Russian activists, who believed in democracy and weren’t racists and were doing serious and important work, didn’t offer the automatic promise of getting your name in the papers. The cult of Alekseev revolved around publicity, from beginning to end.

Media at Alekseev speech before Moscow Pride, 2011: © Charles "Chad" Meacham

Cameras at Alekseev speech before Moscow Pride, 2011: © Charles “Chad” Meacham

Tatchell followed up tonight by posting in Euro-Queer himself, in the thread about Doug Ireland’s article. He didn’t criticize Alekseev, naturally. He just criticized me. In full:

Scott Long has made factually inaccurate assertions about me and others. But I will not bother to refute them.

Euro-Queer was not established so that activists can abuse it to attack and smear fellow activists. Sectarian attacks have no place in the LGBT and human rights movement.

We should all concentrate on working together for the common good, whatever our differences. Fight homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – and all human rights abuses – not each other. Solidarity! Peter

Yes, this is clear, too. Peter’s not going to “refute” me, because he can’t. But he also thinks it more important to knock me than to state an opinion of Alekseev’s prejudices or past history. (I think my name can be substituted for “all human rights abuses” in the final sentence.) And once again he sees Nikolai — who claims I “libelled” him — as a victim of “sectarian” attacks. Comrades, the real enemy is among us!

The more things change, the more Red Square stays the same

The more things change, the more Red Square stays the same

As they resume “working together for the common good, whatever our differences,” I can only wish Peter and Nikolai the best of fortune. My only question is this. Alekseev has now made clear that he “never supported any opposition political protests and never will. LGBT human rights fight has nothing to do with politics in Russia.” So you have to wonder: Who’ll be their target, unless other activists? What exactly are Alekseev and Tatchell going to do?

NOTE. Ruslan Porshnev has kindly included the full English text of his thoughtful article on Moscow Pride 2011, in the comments section of my last post. Check it out! It’s from AntiDogma, an important collective online resource on LGBT Russian issues. Queerussia today also carried an article in English on the Alekseev controversies, and his Western advocates’ (at least partial) desertion.

A Russian activist colleague also writes me with an interesting question about the new direction taken by Alekseev’s one-man show, GayRussia. For years Alekseev has insisted that no genuine activist can accept funding — something relatively easy for him to say, since he’s wealthy enough to fund his own activities; it’s been a way to bash the human rights groups in Russia that rely on grants to perform their vital work. This summer, though, he set up a fund in Switzerland to support GayRussia. From back in August:

alekseev fundraising 2 copy
As my friend points out, this fund can’t legally be used to pay fines. Russian law says these must be paid

by Russian citizens using Russian banks and currency. [To pay them from Switzerland] is close to illegal “money laundering” from foreign sources, or – see the next point. …

The most interesting part. Right now Russia has a draconian law against foreign financing of NGOs. Any NGO which is caught using foreign money for “political” activities (whatever that means – nobody understands this), is subject to severe fines. An NGO can escape fines only by registering itself as a “foreign agent.” Right now there is not a single Russian NGO which did this. All human rights activists all over Russia refuse to do this because it puts a shameful label on them being “foreign agents” acting in favor of their western sponsors, who are, obviously, right now enemies number one for Russia’s integrity and safety. I’m sure you are familiar with this rhetoric.

But this suggests an ominous possibility about what Alekseev is planning to do.

My thought is that Alexeyev and his Fund are being prepared to become the first self-registered foreign agent in Russia, since nobody wants to do this voluntarily. Alexeyev never spoke against this law while this is a number one hot issue for all Russian NGOs right now (many of them are under trials or in the process of closing down). Look what GayRussia writes on Facebook: “We are determined to become the ONLY fully transparent LGBT organization in Russia.”

In other words, Alekseev would break with the defiant consensus of real human rights groups in Russia, and become Putin’s first Potemkin NGO under the law — proof, for international consumption, that groups can register as “foreign agents” and do just fine. My friend adds that Alekseev’s proposal to meet with Putin “is in same line with all this”: volunteering to serve as window-dressing, to show the regime is rights-friendly. It seems unlikely Alekseev would go that far. On the other hand, those who have really paid attention to him for the last seven years know there’s no predicting how far he will go.

Doug Ireland and the Nikolai Alekseev circus: Lone Ranger fantasies in the wild, wild West

I cover the waterfront: Nikolai Alekseev in full Battleship Potemkin gear, as Grand Marshal of Vancouver Pride, Canada, 2010

I cover the waterfront: Nikolai Alekseev in full Battleship Potemkin gear, as Grand Marshal of Vancouver Pride, Canada, 2010

I hadn’t planned to say another word about Nikolai Alekseev, Russian activist and anti-Semite. But yesterday Doug Ireland (“International Affairs Editor” for Gay City News) published a piece in which he tries, after seven years of nonstop flattery, to cut his ties to Alekseev. Ireland was perhaps Alekseev’s greatest promoter to non-Russian audiences. This might, then, be a chance to admit that mistakes were made. But no. Doug insists he was right to praise Nikolai so fulsomely all along. It’s just that, in the last few days, the “brilliant and charismatic young lawyer” and “respected gay activist” has “gone over the edge into madness.”  Who’d have predicted it? At GCN, “We were,” he writes, “shocked by Alexeyev’s diatribes in recent weeks” —shocked! Ireland sounds exactly like the neighbor interviewed after the reclusive loner’s rampage. He seemed like such a polite young man. I never thought to ask why he wanted all those missile launchers. We never had a clue.

Some sample Tweets from early September: We do not laugh here, or there either

Some sample Tweets from early September: We do not laugh here, or there either

Ireland’s innocence is a put-on. He, and Nikolai’s other non-Russian supporters, had all the evidence years ago of the man’s instability and hatred. It’s important to tell the truth. It’s important, because the Alekseev story reveals a lot about the potential pathologies of gay activism: the cult of celebrity, the belief in saviors rather than social movements, the way Westerners project their desires and fantasies onto other countries. Why did Doug and others keep promoting Alekseev, and actively denigrating other Russian activists?  They damaged the whole Russian LGBT movement in the process. They shouldn’t get off the hook. And we need to learn lessons from how they went so wrong.

1. What did they know? and when did they know it?

Let’s go back to 2007. A slew of foreign activists and celebrities descended on Moscow for several days that May, in support of Alekseev’s second annual attempt to organize Moscow Gay Pride. Peter Tatchell was among them. Andy Harley, editor of UK Gay News –  a big fan of Alekseev’s, who makes a regular trip to Pride every year – reported on Day One that “Mr. Tatchell hit out at some Russian human rights activists who refused to include gay and lesbian rights in their campaigns.” Attacking Russian human rights activists for their supposed homophobia was Tatchell’s theme that year. He picked it up in his keynote address at the Pride Conference in Moscow’s Swissotel.

It is sad to see some human rights activists here in Russia distance themselves from the LGBTI human rights campaign — and from this weekend’s bid to stage the Moscow Pride march. When human rights activists pick and choose which freedoms to defend, they undermine and compromise the whole human rights agenda.

Now, I was in the audience (I went to Moscow in 2006 and 2007, to lend support); and I knew, and everybody in the hall knew, that Peter’s accusations were wrong. Mainstream human rights groups in Russia (specifically, the Moscow Helsinki Group, which Nikolai had been viciously, publicly defaming all that week) hadn’t “distanced themselves” from Pride because they were cherrypicking freedoms. They weren’t there solely because another person was there, sitting at the dais. The reason was Aleksei Mitrofanov.

White nights: Mitrofanov clubbing with TV hostess Olga Buzova, 2011

White nights for white people: Mitrofanov clubbing with TV hostess Olga Buzova, 2011

Mitrofanov, a Duma member from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-right, neo-fascist, racist party, was infamous for inciting violent hatred against immigrants, Chechens, and Muslims. He was also one of very few prominent politicians whom Alekseev recruited to support Pride that year. He wasn’t doing it for “human rights” reasons. Mitrofanov, who got his start as a music promoter, was in business with the titillatingly lesbian-themed pop group t.A.T.u. He hoped Pride would bring publicity for the band (and a weird movie project about them he was pushing on Hollywood). He also hoped the European politicians who’d flown to Moscow for the festivities would help him wangle visas to Western capitals: the E.U. barred most Zhirinovskyites from entry because of their extremist xenophobia.  A boxcar of a man in an Armani coat who looked the very image of the Russian VIP and vozhd, Mitrofanov loomed over Pride like a mountain over a profitable molehill.  Alekseev, glued to his side, fawned on him as an honored ally. Indeed, Nikolai announced at the conference that he would run for the Duma himself in the fall, as a candidate either of Zhirinovsky’s party or of President Putin’s own. (Mercifully, that never happened.)

Peter Tatchell knew perfectly well why the Moscow Helsinki Group refused to attend the conference. It wasn’t a secret; Lyudmila Alekseeva (no relation to Nikolai), the Group’s revered head, had told the press forthrightly. They refused to sit on the same stage as the racist Mitrofanov.

Alekseev’s indulgence for right-wing racism is nothing new, then. It should come as no surprise to Tatchell, Doug Ireland, or anybody else who’s followed his career closely.  The evidence was right at center stage in 2007. Tatchell defamed the Moscow Helsinki Group without ever talking to them directly. (In fact, the day after Pride, the Helsinki Group held a press conference to condemn the crackdown, as well as to discuss other human rights abuses against Russian LGBT people — proof they weren’t “distancing themselves” from the issue. I was one of the speakers. Tatchell sat in the audience, drawn by the prospect of press attention. He left, however, without saying one word to anybody from the Helsinki Group.)

Outside Tverskoia police station, central Moscow, May 27, 2007. That’s me in the foreground; my expression probably indicates my opinion of Aleksei Mitrofanov (R), talking to MEP Marco Cappato in the background.

Outside Tverskoia police station, central Moscow, May 27, 2007. That’s me in the foreground; my expression probably indicates my opinion of Aleksei Mitrofanov (R), talking to European Parliament member Marco Cappato in the background.

Other problems with Nikolai Alekseev were evident in that year’s Pride disaster, for all to see. There was the fixation on media and stardom; there was his indifference to what happened to ordinary Russian LGBT folk. Mitrofanov furnished lawyers for Alekseev and the foreign celebrities who faced arrest. But Alekseev made it clear that no “unauthorized” pride marchers would get legal assistance. 13 young lesbians and gays who showed up to support Pride were arrested and taken to Presesenskaya police station far from Moscow’s center; they were kept in an unventilated, overheated truck outside the jail. Their plight got no mention in press accounts, which focused on the glossy figures of famous Europeans in custody. (I was arrested too, very briefly – a fact I never even tried to make an issue of. The Russians who were arrested risked far worse abuse than any of us foreigners – and talking about ourselves was just a distraction.) I went to Presesenskaya with Alexey Kozlov, a heroic leftist activist and experienced protester, almost the only person who tried to help the arrested men and women. No one from Alekseev’s circle showed any interest in their condition. (HRW and ILGA-Europe’s 2007 report on Moscow Pride gives a detailed account.)

Toward midnight on the day after Pride 2007, a journalist in the US addressed Alekseev on a listserve: “You are a hero, Nikolai, and history will say so.” Exhausted and exasperated in Moscow, I typed out a private answer on my Blackberry. I sent it to the reporter; after thinking a moment, I forwarded it to Doug Ireland too. Here it is, misspellings and all.

Lyudmila Alekseeva, Moscow Helsinki Group

Lyudmila Alekseeva, Moscow Helsinki Group

I have been here for three days investigating 20 hours a day, and between us and in confidence, I can assure you nikolai is no hero.  He deliberately refused to organize any form of legal assistance (or doctors on hand, or even a rendevous point so that people could determine who needed help or who was missing) in advance, putting in danger everyone who attended.  Dozens of young lesbians and gays who showed up at their first pride were left to fend for themselves callously. Its not as though this is forgetfulness on nikolai’s part.  I approached him about this … others did as well, and his answer was that mitrofanov had promised there would be no trouble, so there would be no trouble.  Mitrofanov is a fascist, racist, and anti-semite.  Nikolai allied himself with him because he thought mitrofanov could manage the skinheads, and apparently because nikolai wants to run for the duma, I guess on the zhirinovskyite ticket.  When asked at the press conference–where he placed this nazi front and center–about mitrofanov’s vocally expressed opinions on chechens, immigrants, and others, nikolai said, “I haven’t heard of any such opinions.” Meaning he’s been in a coma for three years, because everyone in russia had heard of them. Mitrofanov’s only interest in this has been to get respectability by appearing on the dais with serious European politicians, and getting publicity for tatu, which he apparently half-owns.  Three days before pride the moscow helsinki group offered nikolai legal assistance for any arrestees. Furious becaause they had refused to appear at a previous press conference because they”d have to appear with mitrofanov as a fait accompli (and you must realize the moscow helsinki group would under no circimstances appear with a thug like mitrofanov) nikolai told them he would not accept legal aid because they are “extremists.” This is the Moscow Helsinki Group, the spiritual and institutional heirs of sakharov and yelena bonner: and nikolai calls them extremists?  … Last year dima makarov and alexey kozlov of Green Alternative furnished almost the only Russians who came to Pride and stood on the street and braved the skinheads–most gay russians were too scared (legitimately, which is why it’s so sad the gay russians who showed up this year got screwed by the organizers). Dima and alexey are straight but they did it because as genuine activists they believe in human rights, and they wanted to support nikolai.  And how did nikolai show his gratitude this year? When they objected to mitrofanov being at the center of events, nikolai banned them from coming into the swissotel during “his” human rights conference. … This year, alexey kozlov stood for hours outside jails trying to get help to those arrested sunday.  When the partner of volker beck [German MP] called alexey last night at 11 trying to find a lawyer for nikolai [who was in custody], since most human rights lawyers had been personally insulted by nikolai and wouldn’t touch the case, alexey ran off to try.(He found one: his wife was willing to represent nikolai, from what I understood: but by then mitrofanov had found some other nationalist lawyer, and nikolai preferred him). I will also note that since his release some 8 hours ago nikolai has shown no evident interest in the others who were arrested, many through his own incompetence. …

The most obvious hero of the last few days has been alexey kozlov, who has been working constantly and selflessly but whom yoiu won’t read about in the gay press, or any other press, because he is allergic to publicity and spends his time arguing with police captains rather than looking for cnn.  Nikolai alexeev has certain defined pr skills but he is neither the only nor really the bravest advocate of lgbt rights here.

Aleksei Kozlov, a hero of Moscow Pride

Aleksei Kozlov, a hero of Moscow Pride

Nor did Ireland need to take my word. As self-described leftists, both he and Tatchell surely read the article about Moscow Pride 2007 by a member of Russia’s Sotsialisticheskoye Soprotivleniye (Socialist Resistance), published in English by Socialist World that June. The Russian author told how Moscow’s progressives urged Alekseev to

build a wider movement with other oppressed peoples facing economic and social discrimination, and to take the issues of discrimination and freedom up within the workplaces and colleges. This approach has been opposed by the organizers of Gay Pride. Unfortunately, they represent a layer of the “gay elite” … who use their sexual orientation for their own benefit and public relations purposes. This was clearly demonstrated in the discussions in the run up to last Sunday’s events. The whole structure of the parade was undemocratic and restricted to those people who agreed with the organizers. The aim of the event was not to attract and involve a wider layer of gay and other activists but to ensure the participation of gay “VIP”s. For example, when the question of legal aid for anyone arrested was raised, it was stated by the organizers that only certain people would be helped ….

It came from behind: Vladimir Zhirinovsky receiving inoculation against gay cooties and related propaganda

It came from behind: Vladimir Zhirinovsky receiving inoculation against gay cooties and related propaganda

Even worse however, is the blatant political positioning of the organisers with Vladimir Zhirinovskii’s “Liberal Democratic Party” [LDPR]. Zhirinovskii first came to the world’s attention when his party won a considerable number of places in Parliament in the early days of Yeltsin’s reign. Then many commentators described his party as fascist. … It is therefore viewed with disgust by many gay activists that the organizers of Gay pride have promoted an alliance with one of the leading deputies from the LDPR in the forefront of their activities. This individual, Mitrofanov, the best known member of the LDPR after Zhirinovskii, was given pride of place at the pre-march conference. …  As one activist commented “this just proves that the organizers are more interested in public relations for themselves than genuinely campaigning for the rights of ordinary gays. I won’t be surprised to see some of them as LDPR deputies after the election!”

Socialist Resistance tries to protest Mitrofanov's speech, Pride conference, 2007

Socialist Resistance tries to protest Mitrofanov’s speech, Pride conference, 2007

Discussion on this question was, of course, not allowed. Activists who wanted to raise the issue were not allowed in to the conference. “Socialist Resistance” members who raised a banner of protest saying “Mitrofanov – Non passaran” when he was speaking were quickly ejected from the hall. As a result of the tactics of the organizers, Sunday’s [Pride march] has not been productive. It gave the media the opportunity to demonstrate that gays are extremely isolated within society. In addition, the participation of Mitrofanov will strengthen the impression of many people that this was not a genuine protest against discrimination but a public relations spectacle.

Doug Ireland can’t say he wasn’t warned.

2. Shared fantasies and beautiful friendships

Ireland, Tatchell, and the rest should have done two things. They could have looked objectively at the problems in Alekseev’s politics and person as far back as 2007, and stopped promoting him as the only legitimate Russian gay voice. And they could have talked to other Russian LGBT activists, to get a picture of their work, goals, and strategies. They did neither.

Instead, they heaped unqualified praise on Alekseev, and they actively insulted other Russians’ struggles.  After Moscow Pride 2009, for instance, Tatchell took to the Guardian to declare himself “awestruck by the masterful strategy and tactics of the organisers,” and added a gratuitous swipe at other Russian LGBT groups:

The gay parade organisers realise that the conferences, glossy reports and low key vigils of other Russian gay organisations have little or no impact on the government — or on public consciousness.

In 2010, Tatchell called Alekseev “a real pioneer and hero.”

His actions are supporting, broadening and strengthening the wider democratic and human rights movement in Russia … Alekseev’s campaigns show him to be a man of great bravery and moral principle. He is risking his life for the sake of liberty and freedom.

2012 pro-democracy protest in Moscow: The kind of thing in which Alekseev never took part

2012 pro-democracy protest in Moscow: The kind of action Alekseev never joined

The odd idea that Alekseev had any part in the broad anti-Putin, pro-democracy movement was one that both Tatchell and Ireland regularly spread. It was completely false. As I’ve noted above, in 2007, Alekseev even announced (with Tatchell present) that he proposed to run for Parliament as a Putin supporter. For years he made it clear that his beef was with the Mayor of Moscow, not Russia’s President. He has always refused to support pro-democracy marches or demonstrations, and has insulted democracy activists as “extremists” (a Putin-era code word for terrorists) or worse. (See the endnote below for more on this.)

Doug Ireland kept up the drumbeat. (Gay City News has, strangely, taken down many of Ireland’s articles on Russia. No use hiding evidence, though: many are still online elsewhere.)  Ireland admits he has “has done more reporting on Alexeyev’s activism and interviewed him more frequently than any other [journalist].” In 2010 he called him “Gay Moscow’s Man of Action,” “intrepid, militant,” and “the internationally recognized symbol of the nascent new generation of liberated Russian queers.” (Funniest line: “the dauntless Alexeyev, who rarely talks about himself.”)  Alekseev’s “indomitable courage and perseverance” made him “the principal catalyst for modern Russian gay organizing.”

Barechested boys feel Slavic Pride: Pan-Slavist poster from the US

Barechested boys feel Slavic Pride: Pan-Slavist poster from the US

There were ample other incidents of Alekseev flirting with right-wing ideologies. When, in 2008, he renamed Moscow Pride “Slavic Pride,” allegedly in solidarity with other former Soviet nations, some Russian gays pointed out the Slavophilic and ethnocentric implications. (Putin had already revived 19th-century ideas of “Slavic unity” as part of his imperial discourse.) Not all citizens of Russia or the rest of the old USSR are “Slavs,” they observed, and the name excluded Asians, Muslims, Jews, and others. Surreally, Peter Tatchell praised the idea of a “broader panSlavic movement for queer liberation.” (This is a bit like praising the homo-friendliness of the Black Hundreds.) Tatchell took it upon himself to reprove Viacheslav Revin, a distinguished Russian activist, who raised doubts:

As this Slavic Gay Pride took place in Moscow the focus was on homophobia in Russia. In future the focus will be on homophobia in Belarus and other Slavic [sic] countries. I do not think it is helpful to criticise a successful protest that has done so much to raise awareness of gay people and gay issues. [Tatchell to Euro-Queer listserve, May 19, 2009]

Then consider how Ireland and friends dealt with earlier evidence of Alekseev’s overt anti-Semitism, when it emerged in 2011. Ireland conveniently omits any mention of that incident in his recent article. He’s forgotten completely.

I played a role in outing Alekseev that time. In early 2011, a Russian colleague alerted me to something Alekseev blogged during the Egyptian Revolution: commenting on Israel’s apparent support for Mubarak, Nikolai went off against “the Jews.”

And who, after this, are the Jews? In fact, I knew already who they are.

Nikolai Jews 2011 copyI posted this on a listserve. Alekseev was about to launch a tour of the US; some of the sponsoring organizations, such as Equality California, indignantly withdrew their support for his gigs.

What hue and cry! John Selig, a blogger and friend of Ireland’s, wrote on the Bilerico Project: “Scott Long is scum in my opinion.” Someone named David Badash published a long defense of Alekseev, arguing that of course Alekseev wasn’t a bigot, because Doug Ireland said I was a bad person. In a fine example of circularity, Doug Ireland then reposted Badash’s article, claiming it disproved the “nasty and absurd accusations against Nikolai.” The anti-Semitic comments were “justified criticism,” Doug said.

Ireland anti-Semitism copy 2Gay City News also intervened in Alekseev’s defense. In an adulatory article on Alekseev’s speech in New York, it dismissed the anti-Jewish slur by “Russia’s foremost LGBT leader” as merely a critique “regarding the State of Israel’s support for Egypt’s dictator.” Gay City News accused Alekseev’s critics of “blacklisting” him:

“Gays have no way to express themselves [in Russia],” [Alekseev] said. “If you are gay, lesbian, homosexual, you are blacklisted.” Blacklisting was something Alexeyev risked being subjected to in his US visit as well, once news of the Israel-Mubarak blog post went viral … “I have respect for everyone,” Alexeyev said. “My comments were misinterpreted.”

The puff piece was headed, “Nikolai Alexeyev tells New Yorkers why he remains an optimist.” Why not be an optimist, when you’ve got friends who’ll excuse anything you do?

In fact, Ireland is still pushing the Alekseev myth: claiming that Nikolai always was the unique and fearless leader, before his descent into “madness” two weeks ago. He now writes,

The courageous young women of the agitprop punk band Pussy Riot, now serving a two-year prison sentence … and the equally brave female Russian Olympic athletes who staged a same-sex kiss in front of the cameras to signify their opposition to Putin’s anti-gay repressions in a photo seen around the world, are both linear descendants of [Alekseev’s] Moscow Pride street activism, which no doubt inspired them.

“Linear descendants”? Ridiculous. The anarchist and punk movements that gave rise to Pussy Riot are exactly the ones Alekseev expelled from “his” Pride in 2007, and vilified after. (Ireland might want to look up Voina, the street-art collective from which Pussy Riot sprang. It’s older than Moscow Pride. And “street activism” in Russia far predates Alekseev, and needed no inspiration.)  Anyone who has seen Pussy Riot’s work, and who’s been to Moscow Pride (Ireland never attended) knows there’s no relation between the former’s po-mo visual shock, and the latter’s traditional march-and-picket style. As for the “same-sex kiss,” Doug obviously is ignorant that the two women athletes have insisted their embrace had nothing to do with protest, gays, or Putin. He might want to check these things before going to print.

Alekseev could never be so anarchistic: Pussy Riot members protest in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, February 21, 2012

Alekseev could never be so anarchistic: Pussy Riot members protest in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, February 21, 2012

Then Doug offers up this gem:

Recalling how Alexeyev had been kidnapped and drugged by Putin’s security forces in an attempt to pressure him to drop his lawsuit against Russia before the European Court of Human Rights — while Putin-controlled news media put out a phony story that Alexeyev had sought political asylum in, of all places, the homophobic dictatorship of Ukraine! — we thought it was not entirely impossible that the anti-Semitic garbage being attributed to Alexeyev was the work of hackers from Putin’s sophisticated Internet control operation working to discredit Russian gay activists.

First off, by “Ukraine” Doug means “Belarus”— after all these years writing on “Slavic” lands, Doug still confuses countries. The incident he referred to happened in late 2010. Scheduled to board a flight to Switzerland at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, Alekseev disappeared, and went incommunicado for two days except for cryptic calls and SMSes. (Reports that he was seeking asylum in Minsk came from Belarusan state media, not Putin’s.) Doug and his friends understandably tried to rouse international concern – I even advised some worried people on how to contact UN human rights experts. When he resurfaced in Moscow, Alekseev claimed he’d been arrested, drugged, and pressured to withdraw his lawsuits.

But none of this happened; almost as soon as he surfaced, we knew it was all fake. Russian human rights activists will tell you what really transpired: airport police refused to let Alekseev board and then detained him, after he flew into violent fury when asked to remove his shoes. Having texted his “kidnapping” to a waiting world, though, Alekseev had to follow through on that story. If evidence is needed that the incident was trumped up, it’s that the litigious Alekseev – who sues mayors, cops, and human rights activists almost weekly — never pressed a case against police, airport, or airline for the alleged abduction. Alekseev’s onetime “kidnapping” doesn’t suggest that his present statements are forced. Instead, Ireland might ask whether Alekseev’s present instability isn’t more proof that the kidnapping was a fraud.

In one ear, out the other: Ireland, played by noted actor J. J. Hunsecker (R), receives news

In one ear, out the other: Ireland, played by noted actor J. J. Hunsecker (R), receives news

Doug Ireland is perhaps a uniquely awful case. I’ve dealt with many strange reporters over the decades, but Ireland stands out in his favoritism, his mendacity, his capacity to mishear or misrepresent the simplest of facts. He’s loathed me for years, because for years I’ve been on to him; I figured out how he works – or how he doesn’t work: the facts he never checks and the mistakes he never corrects, the basic laziness with which he treats his stories. It’s a reputation that goes back a long way. Friends at The Nation recount how, before they fired him, he used to bellow with rage when editors insisted on correcting his slothful translations from the French. He’s notorious for never interviewing more than one source for a story – less, if he can get away with it; like the Unitarians, he believes in at most one God. (You’ll notice that for his new piece on Alekseev, he spoke to absolutely no one else, in Russia or beyond.)

Still, it’s not just Ireland. Many journalists inflated Alekseev’s reputation over the years; many ignored the signs of trouble. What won him this persistent fan club?

First: It didn’t hurt that Alekseev was on the rich side, with a wealthy Swiss partner. Alekseev flew Peter Tatchell and US military campaigner Dan Choi to Moscow Pride at his own expense. Some gay journalists, like the UK’s Andy Harley, he invited to sojourn in his chalet in the Vale of Chamonix.  When these people went on to write in Alekseev’s extravagant praise, you might expect them to mention their material debts to him. In the tiny worlds of gay activism and journalism, though, with their omertà and codes of silence, ethical standards often don’t apply.

Second: a connected but more important fact. To many Western eyes Nikolai wasn’t just a Russian. In Joseph Conrad’s phrase: he was one of us.

Alekseev had long lived in France, was fluent in both French and English. (Cold-War educational xenophobia left many Russian rights activists monolingual; it puts them at a serious disadvantage if they want to attract foreign attention.) But Nikolai’s attractiveness went beyond his multilingual charm — and beyond his blond good looks, though the number of times Ireland describes him as “young” is certainly suggestive. For Westerners, he offered reassurance that their ways of working were really better, and would work anywhere.

When I met Nikolai back in 2006, I thought he was an idealistic activist with a lot of potential. I also recognized him immediately as a type I knew from years in Eastern Europe: the exile who returns home full of notions about how things should be done, determined to override the provincial idiots’ inadequate ideas. I saw these people flooding Hungary and Romania in the 1990s, flush with ambitions to Westernize everything. In most cases, they got realism knocked back into them quickly, along with a sense of indigenous possibilities, though not without alienating a lot of the people they wanted to help. However, Nikolai was cushioned from ever discovering Russian reality — by the foreigners who discovered him.

Playing to the gallery: Media, mostly Western, at  Moscow Pride conference in 2011. © Charles "Chad" Meacham

Playing to the gallery: Media, mostly Western, at Moscow Pride conference in 2011. © Charles “Chad” Meacham

From the first, in 2006, Moscow Pride played to the foreign gallery. As Moscow authorities announced they’d quash it, foreign activists started signing up to attend in solidarity. By the time I arrived that May, I found it was hardly a Russian event at all. When, at the last minute, Alekseev suggested calling off the march for safety reasons, only about 10 out of more than 100 people in the conference hall were his compatriots; the rest, us tourists. I suggested that the non-Russians leave the room so that only Russians could decide – a move that enraged Nikolai. He’d identified his main audience.

Western adulation meant that Alekseev didn’t have to give a damn about what Russians thought. He confirmed to Westerners that their methods – visibility, marches, rainbow flags – were universally valid; he adjusted his demands to imitate what Westerners wanted, pushing for marriage rights instead of protections from violence. The Prides turned into a repeated drama played for the Western press, detached from Russian reality. Indeed, they fed xenophobia, and helped stigmatize LGBT issues as a foreign intrusion. Evgeny Belyakov, Andrey Demidov, and Igor Yassin have written:

Well-educated, arrogant, wealthy, and flamboyant, Alexeyev presents an elitist and “bourgeois” image of what it means to be gay. Some have even argued that his position is a repetition of the postcolonial discourse depicting Russia as being a “barbarian” country that has much to learn from the “civilized” West.

Sometimes, Westerners just get in the way. Activist Ruslan Porshnev has described perceptively how the 2011 beating of a single, sympathetic Russian — lesbian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko (whom Alekseev never invited to Pride) — affected public opinion far more deeply than years of antics by foreign guests.

Elena Kostyuchenko, taken into custody at Moscow Pride 2011 after an Orthodox protester struck her with a rock

Elena Kostyuchenko, taken into custody at Moscow Pride 2011 after an Orthodox protester struck her with a rock

Third: People relentlessly projected their own fantasies onto Alekseev. In him, disaffected Western activists could see their own dreams of heroism, prestige, and power.

The story of Alekseev that Tatchell and Ireland spun was that of a single, heroic figure changing the world not through politics but through gesture: by sheer force of personality. This wasn’t about Alekseev. It was about themselves. Alekseev vindicated their isolation; they described themselves in him. He embodied the idea that “direct action,” symbolic activism, solo stunts, could move mountains. Media coverage meant more than movement building; as Tatchell wrote,

It is only visible and challenging actions, like the [one-man] gay parades, that put queer issues on the public and political agenda. The same has been true all throughout history. It has been direct action by radical campaigners like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King that has most dramatically and effectively overturned injustice. [emphasis added]

The arrogant pleasure of comparing yourself to King and Gandhi is only one agreeable byproduct. The main joy lies in arguing that your loneliness makes you special. When Tatchell condemns the “conferences” and “low-key vigils” of other Russian LGBT groups, he’s telling us that community organizing and collective effort are secondary. It’s the solitary martyrs, madmen, and gunmen who make history. They’re accountable to nobody and untrammeled by obligations. Gay politics fades into the wild, wild West; the Western, or Westernized, hero rides across its lunar landscape, masked and ready — the Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger (cover)

For some of Alekseev’s allies, these self-aggrandizing fantasies were urgent. Doug Ireland’s career as a journalist was pretty much washed up by the time he staggered into the Last Chance Saloon of Gay City News. Hitching himself to Alekseev’s ascending star looked like a smart move. A romantic collusion of matching narcissisms, of insecurities and delusions of grandeur, it was as if Doug’s desperate dreams and Nikolai’s strode off together into the credits: the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The people who suffered for it, though, were Russian LGBT folk. Because individuals don’t move politics: movements do. Dozens of LGBT groups in Russia have slowly been creating broad-based social movements. They’ve been building their communities, making spaces for youth, women, the gender-nonconforming. They’ve been connecting to other political movements and human rights groups that can offer not only support but services. They’ve been trying to carve out a place in the historic pro-democracy campaign. They’ve been reaching out through less confrontational means — film festivals, art exhibitions, publications — to a wider public. It’s not just that Ireland’s and Tatchell’s obsessive promotion of Lone Ranger Nikolai marginalized them and made their work invisible. It’s that the Lone Rangerism made LGBT rights in Russia revolve, in media narratives and then in popular paranoia, around a few flawed, foreign-identified figures. Alekseev’s polarizing prominence was a walking cry for backlash. Alekseev’s fans and fantasists have to answer for the damage.

Alekseev may be finished as a figure, but the forces that dreamed him up live on. Already activists in the West who work on Russia are looking for a new Lone Ranger: somebody else to be the “go-to person,” “new and prized leadership, an imperative voice for the plight of LGBTI Russians.” When they find the guy (it’s usually a guy), they’ll forgive almost anything as long as he gives fodder to their fantasies and says what they want to hear. Just consider this. Alekseev is a racist and an anti-Semite. He finally rubbed his supporters’ faces in it so hard they had to let him go. Michael Lucas, porn king and political commentator, is a racist and Islamophobe. He has a column in Out magazine, and white guys hang on his words for wisdom about the Russia situation. The only difference between the two? Lucas, a professional at feeding other people’s fetishes, knows better than to Tweet while drunk.

NOTE: There is no question that Nikolai Alekseev showed genuine bravery in subjecting himself to arrest on a number of occasions. Some realism about these incidents is necessary, though. First, there’s the matter of their numbers. Ireland claims in his recent piece that Alekseev was “arrested some 40 times in civil disobedience to Russian bans on gay demonstrations.” That’s strange, because after Moscow Pride in 2009 Ireland wrote, accurately, “This is the fourth time the young lawyer has been arrested for holding a gay rights protest.” Either Alekseev was arrested four times in his first three years of activism, then 36+ times in the next four, or Ireland is simply making up figures out of whole cloth. Doug Ireland is serially inaccurate; of course he’s inventing the numbers.

The perhaps six or seven times that Alekseev has actually been arrested for exercising his right to free assembly represent a grave violation of human rights.  However, he has never spent more than 24 hours in jail as a result. It is simply wrong for Ireland to compare him to the women of Pussy Riot, now serving a two-year sentence under inhuman conditions. (It’s even more immoral for Ireland to suggest falsely that Alekseev somehow galvanized Pussy Riot to action.) Equally inappropriate is equating the dangers Alekseev faced to those braved by dissenters whom Putin’s regime murdered, including dissident journalists and others.

Peter Tatchell claimed in late 2011 that “Nikolai’s activism put him in great personal danger from bashings – even assassination … Not many people would have dared continue to put themselves in the frontline and take on the power of the ruthless tyrannical Russian state, having seen so many human rights defenders beaten, framed on trumped up charges and even murdered.” The fact is, though, that Alekseev has consistently disclaimed any affiliation with human rights defenders or the anti-Putin opposition. He is not a pro-democracy activist. There is no evidence that his life has ever been in danger. It does no credit to the courage he actually showed to place him in company where he does not belong, or to exaggerate the circumstances. And in doing so, Tatchell and Ireland insult the memory of activists who have paid the hardest price for truly supporting democracy.

Anna Politkovskaya, journalist, murdered in Moscow, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya, journalist, murdered in Moscow, 2006

Top guns: Last words on Johnny Weir

Don't ask, do sell: Michael Lucas with adoring soldiers, from ad for his tours of gay Israel

Don’t ask, do sell: Michael Lucas and his gay brigade of faithful soldiers, from ad for his tours of Israel

Yesterday morning I got a message from a friend: “Do check Jamie Kirchick’s Twitter feed.” I sighed and hesitated till lunch. This kind of thing never bodes any good; it’s like Pandora’s inner voice saying, Think outside the box. Check I did, though, and there it was: your two favorite gay pundits conjoined in 140 characters, Jamie and Michael Lucas both. JKirchick Stepin Fetchit copyOh, joy. Jamie has a longstanding partiality for Lucas, the porn impresario with a second career as political commentator. Back when the New Republic was right-wing, and Kirchick was Martin Peretz’s last addition to a whole seraglio of protégés, he published a long, admiring article on Lucas there. Lucas was, he said, “a fervent supporter of Israel and a harsh, often offensive, critic of the Muslim world,” not a criticism since Jamie thinks the Muslim world deserves it. (What do you call someone who writes a puff piece for a porn star? A fluffer?) He still thinks of Lucas as one of his favorite, well, propagandists: Kirchick Lucas copy Lucas’s new essay weighs in on the fracas over Johnny Weir: predictably, another attack piece on the hapless skater. I am already losing interest in this business, but really, this one was revelatory. Lucas at last made it all clear.

Russians love Johnny Weir. He’s their kind of gay: Liberace of the ice. He’s the “fabulous” gay, the mascot, the gay who knows his place and stays in it. …  The Russians don’t mind token flamers like Weir; what scares them are everyday people who happen to be gay. They’re scared of homosexuality becoming normal, not staying outrageous like Weir. That’s what the “gay propaganda” law is all about.

You see now. The real problem for Lucas, Kirchick, and the rest isn’t what Weir said. It’s that he’s a fag and a fem and reflects on us badly before the Rooskies. Lucas even heaps the ultimate American insult on him/her. The little nancy weakling didn’t know how to play football — he let the real men bully him in school:

The Russians love Weir, so Weir loves the Russians. He’s like a sad high-school figure: the cheerleader for the same team of jocks that would beat him up if he weren’t also doing their homework for them.

Has anyone told Lucas that bullying fagboys is no longer considered a good thing?

I’ve never much approved of mocking Lucas for being a porn star with Tom Friedman pretensions. Tom Friedman is a Tom Friedman with porn star pretensions; what’s wrong with the other way around? (Just click the link, please.) Porn stars’ opinions are no less valid than those of sex workers, pop singers, or Human Rights Watch directors, each with their own realms of undoubted expertise. Lucas is perfectly free to write op-eds. The problem is, the op in them is a stinking mass of racist tripe. He can’t open his computer without something loathsome crawling out. It’s not just Arabs and Muslims, whom he hates and vilifies at every opportunity. It’s not just his despicable attempt to shut down all discussion of Palestine at the New York LGBT Center, where his partner was a major donor. He goes after every group at one point or another. Black people “are racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic,” he told Michael Musto, adding “Why does everyone attack the Mormons, but they’ll never go after African-Americans?” Show the man a need, and he’ll fill it.

License to shill: Porn and propaganda

License to shill: Porn and propaganda

But this latest insult is revelatory because it displays the common ground under Lucas’s various racist obsessions. His contention about Russia is pretty much absurd. Years ago I heard the great trans* activist Stephen Whittle remark that 90% of so-called homophobic violence is really gender-based violence. It isn’t about what you do in bed but what you look like, punishing men who aren’t masculine enough or women who aren’t feminine enough. That this is relevant to Russia is sufficiently proven by the sadistic “Occupy” videos now all over the Web: a bunch of worked-out macho Nazi wannabees abuse and brutalize people invariably presented to the cameras as flaming, weak, effeminate, and pathetic.  Obviously Lucas has never seen these. Or, if he did, maybe he got the wrong message. Spiritually, he’s on the side of the abusers. Buried in Lucas’s op-ed is his  admiration for the bullies, the “team of jocks,” the top guns, the fuckers who dominate the fuckees. (Lucas once boasted to Michael Musto that he’s never ever been a bottom, onscreen or off.) Lucas’ own peculiar brand of nationalism – his homonationalism, his Queer Nationism, his defense of his gay tribe against imaginary black or Muslim or Arab enemies – has a lot in common with Russian nationalism (and many others) as a cult of mastery and conquest. It just has the foes transposed. Even while calling Russia “the putrid country of my birth,” Lucas admires Russian chauvinism at its most murderous. Jamie describes it:

While he originally disagreed with Russia’s brutal policies toward Chechnya, he now believes that America could learn something from Vladimir Putin. “The American Army can’t take Fallujah?“ Lucas asks me, incredulous. “Level it!“

Don't enter. That's Michael's job.

Don’t enter. That’s Michael’s job.

Tied to his gay patriotism is Lucas’s other nationalism. A few years ago, while Lucas was fiercely protecting the Promised Land from a handful of pro-Palestinian activists at the LGBT Center, an Israeli friend wrote me that “The man doesn’t really love Israel because he’s Jewish. He loves it because it’s a country where even the bottoms look like tops.” I doubt this is true of Lucas, but it’s at least partly true of Israel. There, sculpting both by mandatory military service and by an ethos of strength produces a kind of body (personal as well politic) that can take masculinity to new heights. This in turn makes Israel a huge erotic fetish for a lot of people beyond its borders, particularly the gays. Some while back, in a post devoted to Dan Littauer’s fake news site GayMiddleEast.com, I tacked on a still from one of Lucas’s films: Israeli guys striding like impossibly virile Venuses from the half-shell. Every day that post still gets 100 or so hits, from searches for “men of Israel.” It’s like catnip.

Here we go again

Here we go again

Lucas sells that fetish (he offers guided tours of gay Israel starting at $2755), but he also buys into it. It’s not just the bodies that turn him on, it’s the beliefs behind them. The dominant version of masculinity in Israel, writes Oma Sasson-Levy, is “identified with the masculinity of the Jewish combat soldier and is perceived as the emblem of good citizenship.” The militarized version of Israeli manhood seduces because it promises access to power. It’s tailor-made for Lucas’s preoccupations.

As for Kirchick, respectability has been his concern for years. He wants to find presentable gays who will make the tribe look good, and kick out the losers who give a bad image. The latter include traitors like Chelsea Manning, cowards like war opponents or other lefties, freaks like most feminists, and combo platters like me. “The whole purpose of the gay rights movement has been to convince heterosexual Americans that gay people are just like them,” Kirchick insists. What he can’t stand, ever, anywhere, is this: kirchick sex shop copy 2Jamie’s ceaseless demands that we be nice and normal remind me, helplessly, of the most hilarious passage from that great comedy, Finnegans Wake — where the narrator evaluates the respectability of a slew of sordid Dublin lodging-houses:

Fair home overcrowded, tidy but very little furniture, respectable; open hallway pungent of Baltic dishes, bangs kept woman’s head against wall thereby disturbing neighbours, case one of peculiar hopelessness, most respectable; nightsoil has to be removed through snoring household, eccentric naval officer not quite steady enjoys weekly churchwarden and laugh while reading foreign pictorials on clumpstump before door, known as the trap, widow rheumatic, haunted, condemned and execrated, of dubious respectability; reformed philanthropist whenever feasible takes advantage of unfortunates against dilapidating ashpits, serious student is eating his last dinners, floor dangerous for unaccompanied old clergymen, thoroughly respectable; many uncut pious books in evidence, nearest watertap two hundred yards’ run away, fowl and bottled gooseberry frequently on table, man has not had boots off for twelve months, infant being taught to hammer flat piano, outwardly respectable; sometimes hears from titled connection, one foot of dust between banister and cracked wall, wife cleans stools, eminently respectable …

I think the next-to-last one is Jamie. The “pious books” are the giveaway.

Given Kirchick’s passion for respectability, it’s a bit odd he should care so poignantly for Lucas, the porn magnate and former sex worker. One likely reason is the latter’s propensity for calling everybody anti-Semitic, with a sweep only slightly less comprehensive than Jamie’s own. They share the same enemies. Kirchick’s distaste for Muslims brings him to embrace Bruce Bawer, the obsessive, secular Savonarola who helped inspire mass-murderer Anders Breivik. Lucas’s similar loathing leads him straight into the arms of unabashed crank Pamela Geller. (“Gays should join the anti-Islamic movement,” he told her. They haven’t already?)

Kirchick nightmare: Help, I seem to be surrounded by these Arab-like people, and that building behind me looks like some kind of "mosque," and I can't wake up. (Neocon junket to Lebanon, 2009)

Kirchick nightmare: Help, I seem to be surrounded by these Arab-like people, and that building behind me looks like some kind of “mosque,” and I can’t wake up. (Neoconservative junket to Lebanon, 2009)

But more basically, respectability for Kirchick, like power for Lucas, is a matter of being the right kind of man. Strength is part of it; so is soldiering. Most famously, back in the days of Don’t Ask etc., Jamie urged the US military to create a segregated gay brigade, to “put the lie to the charge that gays are effeminate and weak.”

But the most satisfying aspect of this policy would be its effect on our Islamist enemies, who not so long ago were burying gays alive … What humiliation, what shame these barbarians would endure if after every successful terrorist assassination accomplished by the Leonard Matlovich Brigade, U.S. Central Command issued a press release announcing that yet another Taliban fighter bit the dust at the hands of warrior homosexuals!

This could easily be a Michael Lucas Production.

Both Lucas and Kirchick lead vivid fantasy lives. Lucas does so by definition: porn is all about fantasy. It’s also all scenarios reiterated, though, and climaxes endlessly redone: in Freudian terms, the melancholy of repetition. Some of this melancholy seems to hang about Michael Lucas, who more and more relies on involuntarily campy excess to emphasize a masculinity that can’t quite prove itself: showing himself surrounded by adoring soldiers like some weird inflatable Mussolini doll. Jamie, meanwhile, dreamed of gay glory but didn’t battle for it; he advertised his imaginary brigade, but never volunteered. Yet as middle age has its way with him – a sad transmutation my own plump features testify to all too well – he’s settling into an eerie resemblance to that historical incarnation of la patrie and l’etat, the last King of France.

The King’s two bodies: They make a pretty pear

After Daumier. The King’s two bodies: Quite a pear

The cult of masculinity is always dreamlike. But it has real consequences. Below the surface it’s built on despising and excluding. And so are the passions and ideologies that draw on it for strength, from frat-boy loyalty to football thuggery to patriotic fervor. There’s hate buried in the foundations, like a time bomb or a sacrificed body. Somebody’s nightmare sustains the dream, somebody has suffer to keep the ideal of manhood going; and in this case you demonize the feminine, the effeminate, the ladyboy or Liberace. They all become traitors to the cause, Stepin Fetchits. 

There’s seems to be a bit of ¿Quién es más macho? in the air around this Russia campaigning. I’m not saying Kirchick and Lucas are typical — thank God, they’re not. But there’s John Aravosis, who launched the nastier attacks on Weir, that “freak of nature.” Redoubtable fellow, but with a rep for not being very friendly to trans* people or the issue of gender. (“What [do] I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”?) There’s Dan Savage, who kickstarted the whole boycott-Stoli thing. He too has voiced some serious discomfort in the past with a man who doesn’t like manhood, who “get[s] his dick cut off” — and he’s been glitterbombed as a result.

I mistrust the point when any of our movements start indulging macho anger as a driving force, a motive influence. I mistrust the moment any of them start using manhood as a criterion for membership, as though questioning the received, repressive value of manhood weren’t (despite all Jamie’s sanctimonious lies) the point of lesbian, and gay, and bisexual, and trans* activism at its best, from the start. I don’t care whether you like Johnny Weir or not — I’m not a figure-skating fan, and frankly I barely knew about him before last week. But you can argue with him without implying he’s a traitor to the meaning of being a man. Michael Lucas is a notorious racist. Now, though, he also shows how he speaks the taunting language of schoolyard bullies, mimics the poses of uniformed abusers. When it comes to imitating the oppressor, that’s more dangerously Stepin Fetchit-like than anything else I’ve heard lately.

Oh, yes, and one more question. Lucas ends his op-ed with this odd comment:

The boycott movement … will not harm athletes or Russian workers, because the boycott movement will almost certainly make little real impact. It is a moral gesture, and a media strategy. Its real point is to keep the Russian LGBT crisis in the news, and to keep people talking about it.

Come again? Sorry, but this wasn’t what they were saying at the outset. “Will almost certainly make little real impact”? What happened to “Boycotts helped end Apartheid, spurred the Civil Rights Movement, and curbed potential atrocities”? What happened to “Boycott Russian vodka until persecution of gays and their allies ends”? What happened to It’s time for us to put our foot down and say we will not be the scapegoat of the world any longer”? And what happened toheroic images of gay bars who are fighting back”? 

Again, I don’t know who Lucas thinks he speaks for. I know there is way more sophisticated thinking than his out there. But it’ll be hard to keep up momentum for a boycott if a really loud celebrity tries to sell it by promising it’s just a macho gesture, and it won’t help. It’s fine, I guess, to acknowledge that the goal all along was to get people’s attention. But what if those people say: OK, you’ve got our attention. Now what are you going to do with it? What’s the plan?

“Queer quislings”: Johnny Weir, and getting Russia wrong

A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men: NON-GAYS WALK AMONG US, and we must root them out!

A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men: BAD GAYS WALK AMONG US, and we must root them out.

Fellow gays, I want to discuss a subject which, in my opinion, towers in importance above all others. It is the subject of international homophobia.

At the start, let me make clear that no special credit is due those of us who are making an all-out fight against this force — a force which seeks to destroy all the honesty and decency that every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender person has been taught at his mother’s knee. It is a task which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth.

We must be sure that those who seek to lead us today are equally dedicated.  We cannot survive on half loyalties any more than we can find the facts of homophobia with half truths. 

Wise words! They’re as inspiring now as the day they were first spoken. That day was June 2, 1950, and the speaker was that famous gay campaigner Joseph McCarthy, a patriotic fighter and good-looking Irish lug equally at home under the Capitol dome and in the anal cavities of Roy Cohn. At least, so they say. I’ve changed a few words in Tailgunner Joe’s oration, just to bring it up to date for the era of Queer Nation. But the basic idea still resonates for us, as our great sexuality stands at a moral crossroads, caught between Us and Them, hope and fear, the dark burden of the past and the shining promise of the future, which just like tomorrow is always a day away. Right?

There’s no room for half-loyalties. Consider the sad Alger Hiss of the homos, Johnny Weir. Weir, an Olympic figure skater, is not just openly gay but flaming. Even so, it may be necessary to burn him at the stake. In an interview yesterday with Keith Olbermann, Weir – dressed, with typical traitorous élan, in a vintage Red Army uniform – said he doesn’t think boycotting the Olympics is the best protest of Putin’s anti-gay laws.

While many people can sit on their couch at home and say Oh, we shouldn’t go to Russia …  staying away is something I think is the worst possible thing we can do. … Even if we stay away, Russia will still put on an Olympics, they will win all of the medals and it will be even more of a propaganda machine for Russia. What we need to do is be there, to be strong and to be united. We have to show Putin who we are, what we’re about.

If you aren’t for us, you’re against us. John Aravosis promptly lit into the skater: “Johnny Weir is living proof that you can be de jure progay, and de facto antigay, at the same time.”

Weir has been somewhat – how shall I say? – unhelpful in terms of his lack of support for the international effort to help the gay and trans communities in Russia. Weir seems to be letting his Olympian side take precedence over his gay side.

Weir in costume: At least he's not carrying a Kalashnikov

Weir in costume: He may look gay to you, but  just ask him about the boycott

Two sides? People with an extra side need it amputated, fast. They can’t be trusted. Is this guy some kind of closet Communist? I’d guess the author really doesn’t like Johnny Weir personally, which is understandable, given that the kid is not only disloyal but, as Aravosis tweeted today, “a bit caricaturish.” His post is called “Nothing Good Can Come from Johnny Weir,” but if you judge from the URL — these tend to fossilize headings from early drafts — the title used to include something about a “freak of nature.”  (The URL is http://americablog.com/2013/09/freak-nature-johnny-weir.html) Oddly enough, that’s the kind of slur Johnny Weir has heard from homophobes throughout his career. ““We should make him pass a gender test!” “He should compete with the women!” a couple of Canadian sportscasters chortled on air during the 2012 Olympics. In the past, many people saw Weir as courageous for standing up against this shit. But that was before the fey little deviationist veered from the Central Committee’s line.

Then someone named Scott Wooledge stepped in — he has a business called Memeographs, which as you’d guess produces memes, those funny internet pictures that make you seem cool and original when you post them on Facebook along with 1,537,648 other individualists.  Here’s today’s viral sensation:

Meme for the day: Traitors in our midst

Meme for the day: Traitors in our midst

Queer quisling? Really? I have a dark confession. I, too, have a Soviet military uniform. You could buy them for a few forints in Budapest when I moved there in 1989; Russian soldiers were peeling them off and selling them right and left to scrape up spending money. For years, in the former Warsaw Pact, they were prized as ironic objects whose appropriation (for costume parties, not Party Congresses) mocked the onetime occupiers. This is a lot like the kind of thing gays used to call “camp.” Johnny Weir is campy, an attitude that tends to sit poorly with political correctness.  But these days, camp is for quislings. I wonder if the language here might be getting a bit over the top. This thought control, these charges of treason seem a little … Stalinist, somehow. Maybe Soviet attire would fit Scott Wooledge even better than Johnny Weir.

The enemy is clever – be vigilant! Stalin-era propaganda poster: A phobe in Johnny Weir's clothing, unmasked

The enemy is clever – be vigilant! Stalin-era propaganda poster: A phobe in Johnny Weir’s clothing, unmasked

But all this is nothing as against the righteous ire of John Becker, at the Bilerico Project, who practically dismembers Weir’s comments syllable by syllable, The incompetent little ice queen can’t do anything right. Weir, for instance, had the effrontery to describe himself as “an Olympian, first and foremost, before a gay man, before a white man, I am an Olympian. That’s what I worked for from age twelve.” That is not just disloyalty, it’s thoughtcrime. Wise up, traitor skaterboy, remember who you are! Becker explains it to him:

Note to Johnny: while you’re certainly entitled to view yourself as an Olympian “before a gay man,” that’s simply not true, biologically and chronologically speaking. You may have been training for the Olympics since you were twelve — and believe me, I have incredible respect for the training you and other athletes put yourselves through — but you were born gay. Sexual orientation is intrinsic to a person’s humanity; being an Olympian is not. So whether or not you place your gayness ahead of your Olympic identity, you were a gay person long before you set foot on the ice for the very first time.

Not only does this little ingrate not understand his own essential, primordial, primary biological being: he disses marriage. Weir made the mistake of saying that “the Western countries that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender unions” should unite at Sochi. Becker goes ballistic:

Ummmm, Johnny, it’s 2013, not 1983. LGBT people don’t have unions, we have marriages. … Those terms may have been acceptable in the 1980s, but they sure as hell aren’t now. If you’re going to be working the talk show circuit, you owe it to your community to update your vocabulary.

Wait a minute. 

You owe it to your community to use the M-word? I feel my own inner traitor coming out. But what if you don’t want to marry, or call your relationship a marriage — because, say, you believe along with generations of feminists that it’s a repressive institution sodden with the unpaid sweat of patriarchy, and no liberating model for your loves? Weir, as it happens, has married his Russian partner. But are we all bound to obey and imitate, in word and deed?

Here’s where I leave the party. With all due respect to Becker, I invite him to fuck the hell off, and stop telling me how to define my intimacies or live my life. I haven’t been a human rights activist for a quarter century so that some small-minded blogger could straitjacket me in a new regime of canons, conformities, and exclusions. For his information, my relationship is not a marriage, nor is it any kind of regular, sell-out union. It’s a radical Trotskyist union with militant anarchist tendencies, wild as the Wobblies or the old Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. I’m going to stick to my principles, and I’m not going to play Brad-and-Janet just because John Becker orders me to. And If John Becker doesn’t like how I think of my own life, too fucking bad.

Model for my relationships

Model for my relationships

The abuse of Weir today was weird, an explosion of macho paranoia. But the rage and vitriol, completely out of proportion to what Weir said, suggest that something’s getting way, way out of hand. The demand that gayness trump any other identity or interest because you’re BORN THAT WAY, that’s ALL YOU ARE; the contradictory search for bad gays who don’t have any right to the name; the talk of treachery, the policing of word choice as well as opinion, the smearing of some gays as “antigay” — these kinds of things don’t just demolish nuance and discussion. They destroy movements.

They breed amid the mounting fever of ever more high-pitched rhetoric that surrounds the Russia campaign. The panic gets steadily more manic. The Holocaust comparisons are becoming not just offensive but insane. Aravosis warns Weir that “Jesse Owens won and the Nazis still killed millions afterwards”! — as if Putin is already testing his gas chambers. Harvey Fierstein seriously believes the next stop after Sochi is, if not Auschwitz, at least Bergen-Belsen:

Vigilantes [in Russia] have implied instruction to protect their communities from the rampant evil.  … And now the government comes in with “concern” for the gay community’s safety. They are rounded up for their own protection and isolated for the sake of the children at risk of infection. Welcome to the return of concentration camps.

This is all in the present tense: Fierstein seems to think it’s happening now, or anyway only a day away. If you really believe that, then of course you can’t waste a second on discussion, there’s genocide going on, something must be done immediately, and dissenters are as bad as killers. Johnny Weir has blood on his blades!  This kind of hyped-up desperation debases all debate.

This wouldn't have gotten out of hand if you'd listened to me earlier: "Death to World Imperialism," Soviet poster, 1920

This wouldn’t have gotten out of hand if you’d listened to me earlier: “Death to World Imperialism,” Soviet poster, 1920

There’s something even more disturbing about the abuse. The truth is: Weir’s opinions, whatever you think of them, are shared by a significant number of Russian LGBT activists. Many activist voices there have criticized the boycotts. The Russian LGBT Network issued a statement six weeks ago that said:

Participation and attendance of the Games in Sochi will not indicate endorsement of injustice and discrimination; they will only if they are silent. We hope to join forces and succeed in raising everyone’s voices for LGBT equality in Russia and elsewhere. We hope that together with those who share this vision, we will succeed in sending the strongest message possible by involving athletes, diplomats, sponsors, and spectators to show up and speak up, proclaiming equality in most compelling ways. …

Do not boycott the Olympics – boycott homophobia! Stand in solidarity with people in Russia and bring LGBT pride and values of human rights and freedoms to the Games in Sochi!

So? Is the Russian LGBT Network “antigay”? Are they fake gays, mere gays “de jure,” as Aravosis says? Are they quislings, Scott Wooledge? Are they only concerned about their selfish interests, instead of a bunch of American boycotters’ needs? Attacking Weir is actually a way for these folks to attack Russian activists and Russian arguments by proxy. They’d be shouting insults and heaping abuse on some of the Russians they claim to defend, if they dared.

Surprise! There are divisions among Russian activists. All the attention paid in recent days to the sheer looniness of Nikolai Alekseev — whose pathology and prejudice truly put him beyond the pale — obscures the fact that serious, respected activists in Moscow and Petersburg differ, for the most part civilly, on what to do. Some people support the Stoli boycott but not the Olympics boycott, some support both, some want neither. The first obligation on Western supporters in this kind of situation is: Do no harm. Whatever you do, try not to worsen the divisions unnecessarily, try not to turn disagreements into civil wars by the sheer weight of your influence. But when Aravosis and Wooledge demonize a perfectly credible strain of opinion by abusing it viciously as “antigay,” they are really, really, really not helping the movement within Russia.

Working together, we're pretty rad: "Worker and peasant women, all go to the polls! We bring fear to the bourgeoisie!" Soviet poster, 1925

Working together, we’re pretty rad: “Worker and peasant women, all go to the polls! We bring fear to the bourgeoisie!” Soviet poster, 1925

More than that, though: There have to be strategic discussions. Western activists actually can play productive roles here. They can help create virtual spaces for talking strategy — Skype, Viber and Internet chat are wonderful inventions that, surprise again!, are useable for more than hookups. They can serve as sounding boards for their Russian colleagues, to figure out what methods will sway foreign governments as well as their own. They can learn about what’s worked in Moscow or Rostov, and, with a little humility, they can offer examples of what’s succeeded elsewhere. Doing this would require getting off  the high-horse of urgency, discarding the frantic certainty that we are summoned to do something, anything, and it has to be now. It would mean admitting that this is going to be a long fight that will stretch way beyond Sochi. It would mean trying to settle on some common and realistic long-term goals, which might not be the stuff of headlines (Putin overthrown! Anti-gay law repealed) but could be very meaningful all the same: arrests that aren’t made, trials that don’t happen, organizations that actually survive. It would mean building a movement for the long haul, too, reaching out to the backbone structures that power real, successful international campaigns — labor unions, anti-war and women’s groups, minority lobbies, mobilized students. It would mean putting the Western activist ego in abeyance a bit, admitting that you’re not going to save a bunch of Russians solo, that Russians are more likely to save themselves.

Of course, this would all be slow and boring and terribly unsexy, and much of it would be out of the public eye. Which is why the Dan Savages will probably never go for it.

How much are the U.S. campaigners bothering to listen to Russians at all — you know, the kind inside Russia, the ones who are going to be directly affected by what they do? Not much, from what I see.

Exhibit One. Dan Savage gave an interview to Radio Free Europe a week ago:

RFE/RL: Are you in communication with Russian LGBT activists about the situation on the ground?

Savage: I’m getting a very clear picture. I live in Seattle, Washington. And there isn’t a large Russian or Russian gay community here. The large Russian community and large Russian gay community is in New York City. And I’m following very closely their statements and following meetings that are going on there.

I visited Moscow in 1990 and met with gay people there. And it just breaks my heart that they were so full of hope for their futures and for the progress that they hoped their country would make as it joined the civilized world.

This all means “No,” with a little overlay of “I can see Russia from my house.” Savage weirdly answers a question about whether he’s ever talked to a Russian activist in Russia by saying he “follows” –whatever that means — what Russians living in New York are saying. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that these aren’t the same thing. He does let us know, however, that 23 years ago he talked to some people in Moscow. It’s a pity they still aren’t civilized. They do have Starbucks now, though.

It makes you wonder whether Savage thought Russians should have any input into the boycott campaign he started. John Aravosis began his attack on Johnny Weir today with this immortal line: “It’s time we stopped pretending that every guy who sucks d*ck, as my friend Dan Savage would put it, is somehow an instant expert on our civil rights.” But how many blow jobs does it take to make you a Russia expert?

Exhibit Two: Also last week, Eric Sasson, a Wall Street Journal blogger, published a piece at Salon on the Nikolai Alekseev mess. He reviews the grim record of Alekseev’s anti-Semitism, but then gets down to the 64,000 ruble question: “Just how does the Russian LGBT community move forward when its most prominent voice loses his credibility?” The answer is, it can’t, and its credibility is shot. The whole initiative lies with activists in the West: “We have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot do so.  This is exactly what the propaganda ban is about: denying a class of people the right to stand up for themselves.”

Shut up, she explained: Soviet propaganda poster, 1941

Shut up, she explained: Soviet propaganda poster, 1941

In the process he attacks Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who dared to suggest that “a truly effective fight for LGBT rights” means listening and giving priority to what Russians themselves say and do. Vanden Heuvel, he says, simply seeks “to dismiss the efforts of Westerners (including activists such as Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage and journalists such as John Aravosis and Richard Socarides).” We need to remember how important those people are, “given that the propaganda ban effectively denies Russian LGBT citizens the right to protest freely.”

The law is awful, but Sasson is silly if he thinks it has shut “Russian LGBT citizens” up for good. They continue to organize, protest, and write. Of course they demand and need Western support, but they are also perfectly capable of saying what they want, and telling Aravosis, Fierstein, and Savage what to do. It’s their country. For Sasson, the law really seems less a human rights abomination than a wonderful opportunity for Westerners to speak for “silenced” people. No matter how loud they scream, Putin says they’re “silenced,” therefore we’ll do the talking. The good intentions shouldn’t obscure the terrible methods here. As Teju Cole wrote, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”

Exhibit Three: Lesbian Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen gave an interview last week to Michelangelo Signorile, in which she said: “It’s high time to talk about asylum. The only way at this point that the U.S. can help Russian gays and lesbians is get us the hell out of here.” Masha’s an old friend of mine, and somebody whose opinion I respect a lot. She’s been a power behind the boycott movements, but she’s also consistently discouraged expecting quick results. Repealing the propaganda law is unlikely, she’s stressed, for instance; the best one can hope for is scaring Putin into seeing that it’s not enforced. It’s hard not to read this statement as a reminder that the US has limited clout in Russia, that persecution and arrest are real threats, and that we have a responsibility to clean up our own act where the human right to asylum is concerned.

That’s not how the comment played, though. By the time the meme-makers had mangled it, this was spreading over Facebook like kudzu:

1003392_631726586860265_1239272419_n

Bullshit. No activists are “begging” for asylum. They’re not abject mendicants. Most activists in Russia are courageously working and fighting on. But we need to feel that Russians need us. So we translate even a message that there’s not much we can do into a satisfying cry for help. How great to live in a country people want so desperately to get into! Let’s not think about immigration reform, though (does anybody even remember that?) As Teju Cole wrote, for the White Savior Industrial Complex, “The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.”

None of this is the stuff of successful campaigning. It’s the raw material for personal catharsis, not change. And in fact, despite all the urgent talk of concentration camps and gas chambers, the Russia campaigns aren’t going swimmingly. The anti-Stoli side of the boycott came in for withering ridicule in last week’s New York Times. More importantly, nothing in Putin’s Russia has budged; new, worse law proposals keep coming. Aravosis tried to tabulate the boycott’s successes today, while reproving Weir:

The only reason that Johnny Weir is even on Keith Olbermann’s show is because the boycott took an issue that most people didn’t care about and made it an international scandal with non-stop coverage going on seven weeks now. No one outside of the gay blogs and the very occasional news article was talking about Russia’s draconian crackdown on its gay and trans citizens, and it certainly wasn’t being discussed on a daily basis like it is now.  Yet, just days ago, the issue was raised at the G20 summit by both President Obama and the British Prime Minister. … It happened because some activists called for a boycott which caught the attention of the gay community, the media and the world.

This is getting the cart before the ass, I think. The boycotts creatively rode a wave of indignation that was already rising; they didn’t create it. But even granting the point (which Gessen also agrees with) that the boycotts have done a lot to crystallize public attention: what do you do with that public attention? Just getting publicity is not, is never, the point. Even pressing Obama to talk to Putin is not the point, as long as Putin doesn’t listen. If the Olympics stay in Sochi, what’s the plan? What are you going to do when Sochi’s over, and the law’s still there?  Can you mobilize people for something more sustained and demanding than dumping vodka in a drain? What actually are your concrete goals, short of bringing Putin down?

I don’t yet hear answers to any of these questions — and that’s partly because even to take a stab at answers, you’d have to pay some serious heed to Russian activists, especially Russians outside New York. Short of that, all this attention-catching and publicity-grabbing mainly mean attention and publicity for Dan Savage and the rest. Russian activists, Russian movements, and ordinary Russians facing silence or arrest are still waiting to see what it means for them.

Soviet sports education poster, 1951: "If you want to be like me, just train!" No comment.

Soviet sports education poster, 1951: “If you want to be like me, just train!” No comment.

Promoting homosexuality versus promoting one homosexual: Putin, Nikolai Alekseev, and the publicity machine

Brokeback Moscow: Everything is fine here in Marlboro country

Brokeback Moscow: Everything is fine here in Marlboro country

Vladimir Putin dabbled in the promotion of homosexuality this morning. After all, he can get away with it. In an interview published by AP, he praised the notoriously decadent Tchaikovsky, and promised that everything for LGBT folks in Russia will be fine, fine.

I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields. We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here. They say that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Truth be told we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician, and we all love his music. So what? There’s no need to make a mountain out of a molehill, there’s nothing horrible or scary going on in our country.

Great; unlike scary Syria, which understandably took up most of the conversation, Russia continues in the peace that passeth understanding. In response to a question that has all the marks of being planted (“You said earlier that President Obama was welcome to meet with members of gay and lesbian groups in Russia. Would you also be willing to have such a meeting?”) Putin voiced eagerness to listen not only to the musical gays, but to the ones who just talk.

If any of them would like to meet me then, by all means. But so far there hasn’t been any such initiative. We have many such groups, various organizations, societies, and as a rule I meet with anyone who voices a request for a meeting and offers to discuss an important problem. So far there haven’t been any such requests, but why not?

Convenient. It cocks a snook at Obama, and allows Putin to show that civil society (all those “groups, various organizations, societies” now hamstrung by draconian registration requirements under his laws) is functioning just fine despite everything.

In an interval so brief that subatomic particles would envy it, anti-Semitic activist hero Nikolai Alekseev announced he is asking for a meeting.

Quick, before the Jews find out:  "A formal letter requesting a meeting today will be sent by me to the Administration of the President of Russia." "Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! I ask you for a meeting to discuss the situation of LGBT people in Russia and around the world!"

Quick, before the Jews find out:
“A formal letter requesting a meeting today will be sent by me to the Administration of the President of Russia.”
“Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! I ask you for a meeting to discuss the situation of LGBT people in Russia and around the world!”

For a long time, some activists in the West — along with the US and UK gay press, and others — have proclaimed Alekseev the leader of Russia’s gay movement, despite ample evidence of his pathologies and prejudices. They didn’t give a damn, either, about the disinclination of Russia’s actual, vibrant gay movement to follow Alekseev’s erratic lead. “Not many people would have dared continue to put themselves in the frontline and take on the power of the ruthless tyrannical Russian state,” Peter Tatchell wrote in 2011 (this despite Alekseev’s insistence, over many years, that he was in no way an opponent of Putin). “Sadly,” Tatchell added, “too many people were ready to believe some of the malicious things said against him.”  Alekseev’s faithful scribe and oddly fawning promoter Doug Ireland called him, in Gay City News in 2010, “the internationally recognized symbol of the nascent new generation of liberated Russian queers.” 

Now, for the first time, Russia’s government agrees with them.  The official news agency RIA Novosti referred to him today as “the leader of the Russian gay movement.” The Presidential press secretary told the agency that “Putin is always a supporter of dialogue. Certainly, it is important to determine the theme of the meeting …  If he wants to ask a burning question, of course, I am confident that the meeting will be considered as [a matter of urgency.]”

If this meeting happens — and if Putin is smart, he will do it, perhaps after putting some tranquilizers in the samovar — you can expect a communique from the duo saying that everything is fine across all of Russia, maybe even for the gays in Syria too, that those crazy human rights activists (whom Alekseev was deriding as “extremists” as far back as 2007) should be jailed, and that the law really doesn’t make any difference. Maybe Moscow Pride will finally be allowed, as a moneymaking venture, as long as it’s indoors. Maybe Alekseev will get one of those State prizes. Maybe he will even sing Evgeny Onegin for Putin, in a command performance.

I am not one of those who believe (as Oleg Kashin speculates today at Svobodnaya Pressa) that Alekseev has somehow been captured, bullied, or blackmailed by the Kremlin and is now under their control.  That easy explanation seems to me a product of the same naiveté about the man that his Western fan club helped promote. The government doesn’t need to pressure Alekseev for him to be erratic and divisive. They just need to wait. Anybody who’s watched him for years knows that jealousy and opportunism come to him as second, or first, nature.

What’s at work isn’t State intimidation; it’s much simpler. It’s Alekseev’s passion for publicity, something that he’s learned at the feet of stuntmen, pseudoactivists, and journalists in the West. He could certainly use some good publicity right now; here’s a way to get it. His pursuit of the paparazzi, and Putin’s need for a friendly headline, have just converged. Alekseev’s fan club plucked the man from obscurity, kept him in the limelight for years despite burgeoning doubts and questions, ignored and actively insulted other Russian activists doing serious and important work, and fed his hungry ego till it burst. They made him. He’s their golem — a Jewish legend Nikolai wouldn’t like, but in which he might feel the shock of recognition. But unlike the golem of the old stories, Alekseev can’t hurt his makers. Instead, it’s Russia’s LGBT community whose rights will suffer.

 

Nikolai Alekseev speaks: “I’ve been called a faggot on every corner, and I can’t call someone a Yid?”

"They are trying to seize power in Russia," and my little LGBT organization is the first target: Russian edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 1992

“They are trying to seize power in Russia,” and my little LGBT organization is the first target: Russian edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 1992

Nikolai Alekseev, the activist who has for long enjoyed a near-monopoly on Western media coverage of LGBT issues in Russia, had yet another social-media meltdown last night, spewing a flood of unequivocally anti-Semitic Tweets and Facebook posts. This is the latest eruption among several in recent weeks; John Aravosis covers the repellent content here. This morning, Alekseev followed up with an interview given to the independent news website Slon.ru. Here is a translation, completed with the help of Russian-speaking friends. (Please, if you notice any inaccuracies, note them in the comments.) This may at least settle the fears of many of Alekseev’s diehard fans and supporters who still suspect he’s been hacked or made away with, and can’t bring themselves to admit he’s saying these things himself. Or, the human propensity for naive belief being what it is, maybe it won’t. Anyway, let the man speak for himself.

[NB. Alekseev Tweeted this article this morning, and posted it on his Facebook account. So, unless the same Kremlin puppeteers who kidnapped him and hacked his passwords also impersonated him in talking to Slon, one can assume that he approves of how he was represented in the interview.]

Alekseev: “Americans do not help the LGBT community in Russia, they just undermine it” 

Ilya Shepelin

Alekseev, from Slon.ru

Alekseev, from Slon.ru

Today, the most famous Russian LGBT activist, the head of human rights project GayRussia Nikolai Alekseev, lashed out at U.S. gay organizations. In particular, he called their leaders “Jews, who want to control the LGBT movement in Russia.” Recently, foreign LGBT rights activists have come out with frequent proposals to take action against Russia because of a law banning “propaganda of homosexuality among minors,” but Alekseev’s statements seem perhaps even sharper than the reaction of the Russian authorities. Slon contacted Alekseev, to find out what angers Russian LGBT activists.

– Nikolai, why do you have to use anti-Semitic slurs against members of Western LGBT organizations?
– I don’t understand what ‘s the big deal? They are trying to seize power in Russia – power over the LGBT movement. For example, right now in America, there is a group of people who are actively doing everything to frustrate my trip to the U.S. They put pressure on Human Rights Watch [sic: Human Rights First initially invited Alekseev to a U.S. meeting], so I wouldn’t go to Washington in early December. They just bombard them with emails and all that they’ve got, so that I was disinvited. Moreover, this whole campaign is about the boycott of the Olympic Games and Russian vodka, which is not supported by the active part of the LGBT community in Russia.

The entire campaign which they’re now cranking up is pure PR for a topical subject which has recently come up around Russia. They don’t help the LGBT community in Russia, but simply undermine it. They sit there for themselves in New York and London, and they are not at risk. And we are here. Therefore, the whole of their activity does nothing but harm. The way they operate – and behind the scenes to boot. They say something and say they have freedom of speech, but there is no there is no freedom of speech! All this is a myth. I played there in the University of Harvard [sic: Alekseev is referring to a lecture at Columbia University in New York in 2011], so they just went to the rector, and urged him to cancel my lecture there! [sic: I was at Columbia at the time, and nobody urged that. His lecture went undisturbed.]

– I don’t really understand why you disturb them.
– But I do not do what they want. I don’t support their methods – the boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi, the absolutely ridiculous boycott of vodka. They operate by their own methods, which we have to accept and act the way they should. But we will not! All of our court cases and complaints to the European Court were initiated by us. Any suggestions as to how to deal with the laws on propaganda, they pooh-pooh. But no one listens to us. They just continue to do their PR.

– And tell me, what is this gay lobby in America?
– Oh, yes, there are a lot of them! You read what they’re writing in their articles! It feels like they’ve got nothing better to do than read my Facebook and Twitter, and search out the things that they find, in their opinion, unacceptable. Now they’re trying in every possible way to attribute some anti-Semitism to me!

– But you called them “Yids”  [жидами] a few hours ago on Twitter.
– Yid – is that an offensive anti-Semitic word?

Lyudmila told the truth: Lyudmila Alekseeva

Lyudmila told the truth: Lyudmila Alekseeva

– Actually, it’s a term of contempt for the Jews [евреев].
– I’ve been called a fa**ot [п*******м] on every corner, and I can’t call someone a Yid? I don’t run to the courts when I’m name-called. [sic: Alekseev famously sued Lyudmila Alekseeva, no relation, the widely revered 86-year-old leader in the Russian human rights movement, for libel, Peter-Tatchell-style, after she called him a “liar.”] 

– If you’re name-called, I think it’s no reason to name-call the Jews [евреев].
– I didn’t name-call the Jews [евреев]! [sic: check Alekseev’s Twitter feed.] I said that there is a group of people in America which is engaged in clandestine subversive activities. It includes pornographer Michael Lucas, who fled from here in 1994, journalist Masha Gessen – now she’s settled in America, under the pretext of these laws on “promotion” [of homosexuality], just to get away from here quickly, though she’s not doing anything for the LGBT community. Twice she took a job, and then they drove her out from everywhere. All these people are promoting their agenda, and it doesn’t suit us. I said nothing about Jews in general. [sic] I talked about specific people in America who are engaged in such activities and who have tried to disrupt [my] event there. Well, what kind of freedom of speech can you speak of there?

– And you’re trying to say that American LGBT organizations should just take your position?
– No, but here all the leading organizations opposed the boycott of the Olympic Games, and opposed the boycott of vodka.

– But these organizations, quite frankly, aren’t likely to reflect the views of the majority of Russian gays.
– And who can represent the views of anybody else, unless there is an election? You can say that something reflects the opinion of the majority of Jews [евреев] in Russia? What do you mean, referendums were held there?

– There are organizations that have some authority.
– I’m talking about them – about the active LGBT community. People who are on the front lines and fight for their rights. And what ordinary members of the LGBT community think doesn’t matter, because they do not affect the development of the situation.

– Foreign LGBT organizations do not have the right to express their opinion?
– For God’s sake. But what are they trying to do? To do what’s  best for the LGBT community in Russia, or to make a universal noise and get more grants?They are doing it for their own sake, or for Russia? If it’s for their own sake, then let them be. And tomorrow I can arrange a protest against Obama, for example. And then what?

– It is not exactly clear what successes are due to these active LGBT organizations in Russia.
– Very big ones. The first victory in the European Court of Human Rights (the case of “Alekseev v. Russia”), the victory at the UN Committee on Human Rights about the law “On the promotion of homosexuality” in the Ryazan region. There the law was adopted in 2006, back then nobody was interested in it – now everybody pounces on [the issue]. Now in Ryazan, a court is reviewing the case – and the review would be a terrible blow to Ryazan, and to the federal laws “On the promotion of homosexuality”! And we have a lot of achievements!

– Of course. Only these achievements take place outside of the Russian Federation, in Strasbourg and Brussels.
– So these solutions will just have to do! If there are dozens of such decisions and Russia doesn’t take them into account, it’ll just be removed from the Council of Europe! Because the issue has already been before the Cabinet of Ministers of the Council of Europe for two years, and every six months they require an explanation from Russia. And it won’t last forever!

– However, the situation for the rights of gays in Russia is certainly not getting any better. And I have to say, among some of my gay friends you have a dubious reputation. I’ve heard that there have been cases when you were supposed to come to the unauthorized gay pride parades, and don’t show up.
– When was that? I went to all of them except 2012. Then I did not go simply because at the time my father was dying – for your information. You all just show up, and I’m working!

– Well, why do we just show up? Because you will too. Now, remember, you spread information that the City Council had agreed for the first time to allow a gay pride parade in Moscow, but it was not true.
– Oh, how do you know whether it was true or not true?

– City Hall immediately denied your claim. You didn’t show any documents that allegedly were a tentative agreement.
– Denied? And so what?

– It turns out that you lied.
– No, that isn’t true! So what?

– The fact is, it’s pretty sad. 

The emergency of everyday life: What activists who care about the Russia Olympics should learn from sex workers, and why

This town's not big enough for Johnny Weir and me: Life-size wax figure of Stalin sits in his former dacha in Sochi

This town’s not big enough for Johnny Weir and me: Life-size wax figure of Stalin sits in his former dacha in Sochi

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by authors of simile and metaphor…
They always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I’ll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we’ll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you’ll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

What Ogden Nash believed was good for the literary goose would surely be even better for the activist gander (that’s a metaphor, I know).  Yet once you’ve got a comparison in your head, it takes a brain tumor to dislodge it. The reigning simile these days is that Russians are Nazis. Therefore: Putin = Hitler, gays = Jews, 1936 = 2014, and the day after the Olympics = Auschwitz. The latest item is a Huffington Post piece which argues Russia’s anti-gay-propaganda law is exactly the same as Hitler’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws. The author proves this by replacing “homosexuality” in the new law’s text with the words “interracial relationships.” Q.E.D.

Unfortunately what his argument lacks is the other half of the comparison — a look at what the Nuremberg Laws said. Evidently the author hasn’t read them, because they say something quite different from Putin’s bill, and a single search-and-replace won’t make them identical. The Russian law treats sexualities as a kind of virus of persuasion, and restricts freedom of expression to keep unwanted ones from spreading. The German laws regarded race as an absolute divide, an unfathomable chasm in morality and biology that the State had to reflect. The Russian law is about defining and closing the public sphere; it censors what people say. The German laws ripped away both public rights and private safety: they stripped Jews of citizenship and began the process of criminalizing all relations, sexual and social, between the “races.” Race as it was in Hitler’s eyes can’t be turned into sexuality as Putin sees it.  You’ll never change the latter hatred if you imagine what it wants and where it comes from in the former’s terms.

Interspecies marriages are discouraged but tolerated

Interspecies marriages are discouraged but tolerated

But there’s no stopping comparisons. Apartheid, of course, comes in a close second to the Holocaust as a travel guide to Sochi. Just yesterday, blogger Melanie Nathan delivered a death-blow to the credentials of a scholar who studies Russian society and history. His crime? The schmuck wrote an op-ed arguing the Stoli boycott was misguided. “His voice should drown in one shot of vodka,” she says devastatingly:  “He also did not live through the collapse of an Apartheid South Africa.” Throw him off the ivory tower! It takes a South African to know the Russian soul. Indeed, Cape Town and the various Holocaust museums around the world contain the only qualified Russian experts in the world; all those silly Slavic departments should just shut down. Endless showings of Cry Freedom and Schindler’s List will teach us all we need to know. If we just mimic the non-black, non-Jewish heroes that Kevin Kline and Liam Neeson so movingly served up (“bridge characters,” in Nick Kristof’s helpful explanation, who “get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved”), tyrant Putin’s nyets are numbered.

So I give up. Or maybe I can join in myself. One comparison’s as good as another. The news today is that Putin has just released a decree (“On the use of high security during the XXII Olympic Winter Games”) that essentially ends freedom of movement in and around Sochi from January 7 till the end of March.

The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

There’ll be a “forbidden zone” — this is like a Tarkovsky movie — blotting out most of the city of 350,000 as if it were Chernobyl. Access for regular Russians will be severely curtailed. Any “meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets that are not associated with the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games” are banned during the period.

Western gays are the loudest ones sounding alarms over the restrictions. But they’ll hamstring plenty of other dissenters: human rights groups and Russia’s environmental movement, which hoped to protest the destruction the Games’ construction boom has brought. Independent TV channel Dozhd warned that Sochi 2014 will be like the 1980 Moscow Games, when barbed wire sliced up the city to keep “antisocial” elements distant.

And here’s the thing. This actually is one point where we can learn from the experience of Olympics past, and from other sporting events as well. Putin’s exclusions, though sweeping in their scope, are far from unprecedented in their nature.

Dozhd on Twitter: "Putin's ukase is turning Sochi 2014 into Moscow 1980."

Dozhd on Twitter: “Putin’s ukase is turning Sochi-14 into Moscow-80.”

The Olympics are always a chance for hosts to do some moral cleansing, and drive away undesirables by brute force. Gay activists join a long list of victims from past Games. Among the exiled have been the homeless, immigrants, drug addicts. They pretty much always include people selling sex, though. If Western gay bloggers or activists want to know what Putin’s decree will mean in practice: ask a sex worker.

Try a sex worker in London, for instance. Before every big sporting event, the same rhetoric reverberates: Prostitutes are going to take over this town.  All those repressed athletes with pent-up body fluids, all those spectators rutting! It was everywhere in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. The press trumpeted: “Vice girls hope to strike gold”! Local councillors “called for politicians and police across the capital to work together to tackle the problem of prostitution”:

There needs to be speed of action and there needs to be a London-wide response to this … It’s not legal so why are we tolerating it? I have asked for it to be a policing priority.

This could be your daughter: Notorious human trafficker (top right) eyes unsuspecting victim (bottom)

This could be your daughter: Notorious human trafficker (top right) eyes unsuspecting victim (bottom)

“Major sporting events can be a magnet for the global sex and trafficking industry,” intoned Dame Tessa Jowell, the Labour Party’s Olympics maven. “I am determined that traffickers will not exploit London 2012.” (Jowell’s husband had been jailed as a result of his lawyering for Silvio Berlusconi. Perhaps a vision of the Italian lecher descending on England like Count Dracula, and making bunga bunga parties proliferate much as the Transylvanian spread toothmarks, clouded her objectivity.)

All predictable. None of it true. The same terrors, the same answers always recur. Before the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canadian advocates denounced “The shame of Olympics prostitution,” demanding a clampdown on women to restrain “the sexual desires of fans.” Germany, hosting football Babylon in 2006, braced for a “World Cup sex explosion,” “an influx of sex slaves.” But none of the influx happened. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) debunked the paranoias in a detailed report:

Prostitution abolitionists have argued that large groups of men at sporting events result in increased demand for commercial sex, and that this demand is supposedly met through trafficking women. Anti-trafficking organisations, sex workers rights organisations and other stakeholders have strongly refuted this claim.

They neatly lay out how predictions stacked up to realities:

GAATW Cost of a Rumour table

The predictions are nearly always couched as concern for “trafficked” women, but they mostly come down to twinned anxieties over nuisances to “normal” neighbors, and over the reputation of the host city. Yet, however based in fear and faked statistics, the demand to drive out sex workers is hard to resist. What major sporting events bring is not an “explosion” in prostitution, but an explosion in repression.

Repression! — not in evil Russia, but in liberal Canada and the UK, countries that value human rights, except for sex workers, who aren’t human. Local researchers found that “increased police harassment” of sex workers around the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics endangered their health as well as safety. There weren’t many arrests — this is Canada, eh — but much of the city became a no-go zone. The onslaught displaced them to “more isolated spaces away from health and support services, and increase[d] risks of violence and transmission of HIV/STIs.”

London’s crackdown was worse. In the first eight months of 2010 — fully two years before the Olympics — police carried out 113 brothel raids in the seven boroughs where contests and tourists would cluster. (There were only 29 raids in the capital’s other 25 boroughs.) This pace quickened as the Games drew near. In Tower Hamlets, police arrested 14 alleged sex workers in 2010, then 37 in 2011, and 44 in the first four months of 2012 alone! Toynbee Hall, an anti-poverty charity, said prostitutes were being “cleaned off the streets.”

Prostitutes are being told to stay away from parts of Newham … They have also been given curfews from 10pm to 6am, according to Toynbee Hall. One sex worker told the charity she was not allowed onto the street where she lived after 8pm.

Cops asked for “cooperation” from phone companies in shutting down one of the safer ways for sex workers to screen clients.

They want help targeting numbers advertised on thousands of sex calling cards that litter phone boxes throughout the capital. Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for policing, said the mobile phone numbers are a valuable resource for those behind the sex industry. He said an agreement must be reached between mobile phone networks and police … “Hopefully it will become dangerous to advertise your number in these boxes.”

Call me, call me any, anytime: Forms of sexual expression at the London Olympiad. L: Good. R: Bad.

Call me, call me anytime: Forms of sexual expression at the London Olympiad. L: Good. R: Bad.

A 2012 report by a Conservative member of the London Assembly, Andrew Boff, found that Olympics-related brothel raids were forcing more sex workers onto the streets, making them in turn more vulnerable to further arrests — and to violence. The risks of women being trafficked actually grew. As crackdowns drove sex workers out of their usual work spaces, police lost touch with (and trust from) sources who might have helped them identify abused women. (This situation was not helped by the UK’s appalling Sexual Offences Act of 2003, a product of Tony Blair’s oily moralism, which redefined “sex trafficking” to mean something other than “trafficking”: the term could now cover any travel to the UK to commit a sexual offence, whether voluntary or not.) But helping women wasn’t really the goal. Tower Hamlets Council said, “Where they [sex workers] aren’t willing to work with us, we are taking enforcement action against them.”

Two notorious international sex traffickers escort unwilling victim to their lair

Two notorious international sex traffickers escort unwilling victim to their lair

And this is nothing next to what’s happening in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro will host the World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics two years later. The latter honor fell to the city just months after Eduardo Paes, a chameleonlike center-right politician, won the mayoralty in 2008. Paes’s campaign money came from real-estate and construction magnates. They dreamed of gentrifying tenderloin territories across the Rio landscape. They’d hired Paes as a repo man, to evict the occupying poor.

Men in black: BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) soldier near convenient local business

Men in black: BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) soldier near conveniently situated local business

Even before the Olympics bid succeeded, Paes launched a massive police assault on favelas and poorer quarters of Rio, terrifyingly called Choque de Ordem — “Shock of Order.” It means semi-military invasions of whole neighborhoods to root out drug gangs as well as other illegal or informal activity: street vendors, squatters, tax evaders, people who don’t pay utility bills, and of course sex workers.  Usually, there’s a two-pronged assault. First troops from BOPE (“Special Police Operations Battalions”) attack the district and drive out or kill any dealers or leaders who offer resistance. Then the UPP (“Pacifying Police Units”) move in to deal with non-violent recalcitrants, like prostitutes, and to establish a permanent Pax Paesana in the area. With the Games coming, the aggression grows. To poorer Cariocans, the UPP are the Olympics Police.

Shock and Order police, and reporters, with an alleged sex worker in Jacarézinho favela, 2009

Shock of Order police, and reporters, with an alleged sex worker in Jacarézinho favela, 2009

Prostitution is legal in Brazil (though pimping and keeping a brothel are against the law), but Paes doesn’t care. It’s disorder, and deserves a shock. Earlier this year one judge, who acquitted detainees from a brothel raid, described a “repressive political climate rising from the adoption of hygienist measures, aimed at preparing Rio de Janeiro for the mega sporting events in 2014 and 2016.” One reporter recounted last year how

On the eve of June 14, as tourists streamed into town for the highly publicized Rio+20 [UN] Conference [ironically, on sustainable development], armed members of the Copacabana Police Precinct and Rio’s public prosecutor’s office arrived at a brothel called Centauros, in the heart of Ipanema Beach. They arrested prostitutes, management and the owner, seized documents, computers and used condoms, and walked out with $150,000 dollars in cash. The owner of the brothel spent a week at a maximum security prison. …

Rio has already shuttered 24 sex establishments in the rapidly gentrifying downtown and tourist‐ friendly South Zone neighborhoods. Another 33 venues have been threatened or harassed by the police. The Rio+20 raid included Centauros and another dozen of the most popular sex venues … It’s the biggest crackdown on prostitution in a generation.

Shock of Order = Extermination of the Poor

Shock of Order = Extermination of the Poor

Putin could hardly dream of remaking Sochi in the way Paes and the neoliberals are rebuilding Rio. They’re as drunk on eminent domain as Robert Moses or Albert Speer. 3,000 homes will die by bulldozer, their residents evicted, for a huge highway to exempt Olympic visitors from Rio traffic jams. In the vast favela of Rocinha, the cleanup started by shutting down street parties, a venue for sex as well as fun. The local UPP commander, “a kind of manager in Rocinha,” explained that “Citizenship is a two-­way street. Parties ended because they weren’t fitting the rules.” What fits the rules are rich people. “Property values have risen…. Rents are rising as well: a little room costs 450 reais ($225) per month, ­­the price of a house before the UPP.” As the poor are priced out, their homes become hotels for sport-loving tourists. In Rocinha, one posh auberge

covers four floors of a building that once had 106 apartments. Half of them were converted to rooms charging 98 reais ($49) a night. …. [According to the manager], the first shipment of tourists are due to arrive this month. “A group of 29 French people confirmed they were staying for one week. They want to see what a slum looks like.” 

Prostitutes exit for more respectable guests. The city envisions converting 60 “four-hour-nap hotels,” used by sex workers and clients, to fancy digs for Olympic spectators. Activists also face exile. “In the Cinelândia cultural district downtown, Rio’s oldest and most active prostitutes rights group, Davida, was evicted to make way for a boutique hotel by a French hotelier.”

"Meanwhile in Rio de Janeiro: Public policy, for real. For what?" "Marvellous city" is a nickname for Rio.

“Meanwhile in Rio de Janeiro: Public policy, for real. For what?” “Marvellous city” is a nickname for Rio.

Brazil’s resistance should be our inspiration. The massive protests of recent months unleashed indignation at the evictions, exclusions, violence carried out for sport and profit. Sex workers too have been on the march.

Yet in London, few powerful voices opposed the Olympic rollback of sex workers’ freedom — and certainly few LGBT activists. Andrew Boff, who’s gay, was a rarity in raising objections. By contrast, Peter Tatchell spoke out to “end prostitution around the Olympics.”

Anyone remember Carl Schmitt? If you seriously want to make comparisons to Nazi law, Schmitt really should be a starting point. A legal theorist of how democracies die, he wrote: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

I can make an exception for you, soldier: Carl Schmitt (R) with Ernst Junger in occupied Paris, 1943

I can make an exception for you, soldier: Carl Schmitt (R) with Ernst Junger in occupied Paris, 1943

For Schmitt, the key to authority (and, in equal degree, the indispensable secret weapon and the Achilles heel of democracies) was the legal ability to declare an emergency, to invent a moment or a place when law and due process stop. There, pure, arbitrary power can rule. The state of emergency is a paradox; provided for in law, it is nonetheless a “suspension of the legal order in its totality”; it appears to “escape every legal consideration.” Most democracies make allowances for an emergency to stop the democratic order, temporarily. The Weimar Republic did; the President could declare lawmaking, rights, and justice in abeyance, and rule by decree. It seemed like a useful idea at the time. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben sees the ultimate form and zone of the emergency, the “suspension of the legal order in its totality,” in the concentration camp.

The emergency has become both basic metaphor and fact in our modern moment. This dates at least to 9/11, when an act of terror proffered an excuse for setting ordinary legality aside, for Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. The way that law can delineate preserves of lawlessness — much as it draws borders around national parks — obsesses both right and left. And it’s an issue everywhere. I write this in Egypt. An emergency law suspending ordinary rights and justice — allowing detention without trial, trial without evidence, military courts, sentence without appeal — has been in effect in one or another form for all but about 20 of the last 113 years. There’s a curfew now, the Cairo streets close down at 9 PM, tanks hunch at intersections, you can be arrested for wearing a beard. What Putin is doing in Sochi is simply another version: making the city an emergency zone, restricting rights of movement, putting bodies in extralegal cages, using terror as a reason.

There are people, though, for whom the emergency isn’t an exception. There are people who endure the state of emergency every day.

State-of-Emergency-2

Sex law has never worked the way the rest of law does. It doesn’t play by the same rules or ask for similar evidence.  Law tends to see sex as an emergency where the regular principles don’t apply. 

Sex workers suffer an extreme example. They often live their lives under a police regime where due process plays little part — an Olympic repression without end, a perpetual state of suspended justice.  Provisions allowing detention without a chance of trial are everywhere. Police can impose fines on suspected prostitutes whenever they like, or curfews, or confine them to particular areas of a town. Morals campaigns in Zimbabwe and “quality of life” policing in the US carry comparable effects. “After dark,” several Turkish trans* women told me ten years ago, “if a transvestite goes out even for a social reason, they will arrest you for prostitution. Whether you are a prostitute or not, they assume you are.” To be arrested once for street prostitution in Turkey means to be placed on a register, subject to arrest whenever they notice you again: “Police have such powers that they can arrest you because the way you dress is against general morality or public health, or disrupting traffic.” Until a few years ago, the UK mandated (many ex-colonies still do) that any woman the police judged a “common prostitute” was suspect and could be arrested just for showing herself on the roads.

Walls around us: Sex worker street art, Buenos Aires

Walls around us: Sex worker street art, Buenos Aires

Street sex workers often circle in a public jail, with daily movement hemmed by invisible but palpable borders. But workers in state-regulated brothels may live in more literal prisons, where police protect public morality by not letting them out. To be a prostitute, in those regimes, is to lose the right to be seen. Why do you think your pungent spaghetti meal with capers and anchovies is called puttanesca — “whore’s pasta”? Because prostitutes confined in state-regulated brothels in early 20th-century Italy were only let out once a week to shop. To live, they needed to make a salty, preservable sauce that would last till their next allowed excursion.

Under such regimes of surveillance and constriction, you are a criminal; you don’t need to be judged guilty to become one. Proofs don’t matter, courts don’t intervene. The New Yorker recently reported on the scandal of “asset forfeiture,” by which police simply seize property from suspects who may never even be charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. Alleged sex workers and accused clients are among the commonest victims.  One US state just passed a law that “permits authorities to forfeit the cash that was used in or intended for…sex solicitation”; it “applies to prostitutes, patrons or pimps.” Any money you have on you, or maybe even in your ATM account, will go to the cops.

And then, in the UK, there’s the “ASBO”: the “Anti-Social Behavior Order.” We owe this work of genius as well to Tony Blair, who introduced it in 1998. It allows a magistrate to control someone’s movement or behavior, not because they’ve committed a crime, but because they’ve done something “anti-social.” It must last for at least two years, sometimes longer. “ASBOs rely on hearsay and police evidence alone,” the English Collective of Prostitutes notes.  Liberty, the British human rights organization, explains that even though the order is served under civil law, “Breaching the conditions of an ASBO is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison … Individuals are being sent to prison for committing acts which may not be in themselves illegal.” Even if the act prohibited in the ASBO is something as innocent as playing loud music or walking through Sussex Gardens, you can be treated worse than an armed robber if you commit it. 

Sex workers and allies demonstrate against abuse by ASBO, Stratford Magistrates' Court, London, July 12, 2013

Sex workers and allies demonstrate against abuse by ASBO, Stratford Magistrates’ Court, London, July 12, 2013

“There has been a massive expansion in the availability and use of civil orders to regulate conduct outside of the criminal justice sphere,” Liberty says. And who are the targets? The Guardian reported in 2005,

Anti-social behaviour orders are increasingly being used against prostitutes as a “quick fix” way of clearing women off the streets, campaigners warn….

Harry Fletcher, spokesman for the probation officers’ union Napo, said … “Some local authorities, in conjunction with police, are using them as a way of clearing the streets of people whose behaviour is undesirable, but not antisocial. The actual offence of prostitution is not imprisonable, but we are ending up with people facing up to five years in prison for it.”

The orders dictate sex workers’ daily movements. Here’s a headline: “ASBO bans Roehampton prostitute from Tooting Bec Common.”

Sarah Caldecott, who has several convictions for soliciting in the area, was given an antisocial behaviour order banning her from entering the zone for the next five years. …  Sergeant Jill Horsfall, of Wandsworth police’s Bedford Ward SNT, said: “Now she is the subject of an ASBO Sarah Caldecott should not be under any illusions about what will happen to her if she is spotted anywhere near Tooting Common.”

Contradiction in terms?

Contradiction in terms?

Restricting where sex workers can go, confining them, controlling them out of the public eye — isn’t that what the “pimps” and “traffickers” stand accused of doing? Tony Blair trafficked in women’s bodies. It taught him to traffic in terror.  His limits on civil liberties for despised nuisances foreshadowed some of the “anti-terrorism measures” he would introduce even before 9/11, allowing search without cause, detention without oversight, interrogation without check. The English Collective of Prostitutes says, “[As] with anti-terror laws, ASBOs have spawned a parallel legal system where the normal rules of evidence do not apply.”

“Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.” Sex workers in the post-Blair UK, as in many other countries, carry their own Sochi about with them, shadow and burden above their heads. Yet LGBT activists who protest Putin rarely worry about the infringements of sexual freedom on their kerbs, in their own back yards.

You can learn things from sex workers’ resistance: slogans to borrow, strategies to share. LGBT advocates could look at the campaign to call out politicians on the 2012 repression in London. They might figure out how sex workers got the Greek government to back off from brothel raids before the 2004 Olympics — actually easing a law restricting brothel locations! They might take some lessons from sex workers fighting the restructuring of Rio. But they don’t.

Our Western LGBT activists lack imagination, the kind of imagination that connects you to reality. They don’t imagine sex workers as allies; don’t see their repression as relevant and urgent; don’t believe their activism entails models, their experience examples, or their lives value. Meanwhile, the injustices go on, and no athletes stand up in righteous anger, and Dan Savage and Jamie Kirchick have other things to do. The Republic of Ireland introduced the ASBO in 2007. It’s almost never been used since then, “shunned” out of some instinctive, civilized revulsion at its restrictiveness. Four days ago, though, police tried to invoke it against eight women, mostly Romanian, “to curb prostitution in Limerick.” Ireland cages women. Boycott Guinness, anybody? No.

2012-07-29-Sex-Olympics5

Stoli and sympathy, and the new LGBT public sphere: What to do about Russia

The eternal question

The eternal question

It’s good to go beyond oneself. The world is so full of borders that moral value accrues simply to those moments when thought exerts itself to cross them. In that sense, the worldwide fury against Russia is moving. No cynicism is proof against seeing people experience sympathy for others they do not know.

This is especially true among LGBT people, whose broader solidarities have been troubled and, for all those grating choruses of”We are family!”, pretty rare. “Sexuality poorly repressed merely unsettles some families,” Karl Kraus wrote. “Well repressed, it unsettles the whole world.” But how often does anybody let themselves feel that world-shaking force of resistance? In an article on Russia, Eric Sasson says “the worldwide LGBT rights movement” has “proven to be one of the savviest political and cultural movements in history.” That’s nice flattery, thank you, but the kind in which you can’t possibly see yourself. What he dubs the “movement” is a tiny minority of hunchbacked, monastically dour activists thwarted in their aspirations and alienated from the dancing masses for whom they claim to speak. Any such stunted revolutionary must straighten his back and take a purring pleasure when folks actually show they care about the larger world. And any time the denizens of Sidetrack or some other megabar consider the politics behind their pleasures should occasion some rejoicing. 

I want to go to Sidetracks and drink a certified non-human-rights-abusing Sex on the Beach

There is no “worldwide LGBT movement,” at least if by “movement” you mean something that’s genuinely mass-based and political, that has its own decision-making structures, and that moves. You could say, though, that we’re seeing a worldwide LGBT public sphere emerge. There’s now a common space on social media — even if a virtual one — where queers can carry their concerns and argue them out. In that diverse agora, all kinds of things can happen: many ad hoc movements, hardly embracing the planet but transcending plenty of boundaries, can flourish. That’s no small development.

This makes it all the more important, though, to keep a critical eye on that space’s shortcomings and inequalities.

It’s clear that it’s not yet an adequate arena for coming up with common strategies. For one thing, the sphere and the technologies that power it may be new, but it’s hardly broken free of more archaic prejudices and motives.  You can’t help noticing there’s agitation and panic over what happens in some countries, and not over others. Old geopolitical enmities seem to matter as much as present-day facts in determining which. We carry the whole burden of our fears and fantasies into debate.

He ain't heavy, he's my Big Brother: 1975, Idi Amin forces British businessmen in Uganda to serve as colonial bearers as he enters a diplomatic party. A Swede is holding the umbrella.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my Big Brother: In 1975, Idi Amin forces British businessmen in Uganda to serve as colonial bearers as he enters a diplomatic party. A stray Swede holds the umbrella.

Thus it’s easy to gin up outrage over legislation in Uganda –which a few decades back was a byword in the West for how rebellious the Third World was, and which a sizeable percentage of Americans and Britons of a certain age probably think is still run by Idi Amin. It’s much harder to get anyone to notice a similar bill in Nigeria, though that one has been hanging over its potential victims’ heads for even longer. But then, no post-colonial Nigerian leader ever forced a contingent of white British citizens to cart him on their shoulders.

A tale of two T-shirts: US images of Iran, then and lately

A tale of two T-shirts: US images of Iran, then and lately

It’s easy to rouse anger over mere rumors of abuses in Iran –which is, after all, a favorite foe since 1979, and more recently a bête noire for Israel as well as the rest of us (even though the Likudniks once loved to snog the mullahs in a halcyon, more romantic time).  There was never such intensity of feeling over documented arrests and torture and deaths in Egypt.

Meanwhile, Poland, under its previous right-wing government, prohibited Prides, looked away from skinhead violence, and flirted with bans on speech similar to the Russian one. But anger in the West never spread in the same way over the Poles as over Putin, and isn’t this partly because of how much larger and longer Russia loomed in the Cold War imagination? Even the panic about Moscow’s “anti-propaganda” legislation has coincided eerily with a revival of those Paleolithic, pre-Gorbachev tensions, after the decision to give shelter to Edward Snowden.

Captain America, 2013 style

Captain America, 2013 style

This is far from saying that people should hesitate to campaign against the Russian bill, or the Ugandan one, both intolerable violations of human rights. It’s simply to say that a modicum both of self-examination, and of looking at the larger picture, benefits activism — among other ways by lending it a larger political perspective. Context is good; and if it’s the enemy of urgency, sometimes false urgency is our enemy. The problem is, instead, that those caught up in the moment’s frenzy treat that context as a hallucinatory distraction. The problem is that such intense and atavistic emotions often drive these mobilizations that people resist discussing what’s realistically possible, or how to adjust ends or methods to get anything done. We end up seeming to stagger in delirium toward an unseen, unknown goal.

With Uganda, Western LGBT activists were lucky in a lot of ways. The government was concerned about its reputation, addicted to US support, and just open enough that a working domestic civil society could even dictate terms to its international supporters. Western activists could have a real impact, both by showing solidarity with a Ugandan movement that was vocal on its own, and by prodding their own governments to quiet action. As a result, the odious bill hasn’t passed, and with luck and some sustained pressure never may. Iran shows the opposite extreme. It’s hard to get its government to budge on anything. The “pro-gay” vigils and protests that sprang up in the US and UK seven years ago simply convinced the Iranian regime that this was a foreigner’s and not a domestic issue. They also convinced it that this didn’t involve shared rights like privacy or freedom from arbitrary arrest, but only a “minority identity” which — Ahmadinejad was right in this — didn’t exist in most Iranians’ minds. It’s anybody’s guess, at this point, where on the spectrum of success the Russia campaigns will fall. 

Moreover, the spaces where these truncated and emotional discussions about strategy happen are still riven by bias: unequally accessible, far more attuned to some voices than to others. The people most affected find it hardest to get heard.

Lady G as babushka doll: A a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma inside a publicity stunt

Lady G as babushka doll: A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma inside a publicity stunt

Why are celebrities, not Russians, the ones we’re listening to in figuring out what to do about Russia? Why are people taking their cues from Lady Gaga, George Takei, Dan Savage, Harvey FiersteinStephen FrySome of these people are smart; Fierstein and Fry, whom I adore as actor/writers, are especially savvy. But they’re not experts on Russia, or on gays in Russia, or really on anything helpful. (As for Dan Savage: he blogged back in 2002, as Bush and Blair plotted their mass-murdering imperial adventure, “Say “YES” to War on Iraq.” He’s apologized, but I see no reason to listen to him on other international interventions until he does a really comprehensive penance, perhaps by rimming a few gay Iraqi refugees on top of the Space Needle.) 

The blind faith that celebrities know more about anything than us, because we know more about them than anything, is a pathology of modern life. But it’s a particularly pronounced sickness among the gays, perhaps because the long experience of the closet breeds an unthinking fascination with publicity and fame. I certainly see the use of strategically-placed stars to draw attention to crises. There’s a reason the United Nations seduced Angelina Jolie, in the intervals between child-choosing junkets, into being a “Good Will Ambassador.” But they recruited her to publicize what the UN is doing; they don’t let her decide what the UN should do. Only in GayWorld do we so religiously believe that a looney Madonna ripoff, or the ex-pilot of an imaginary intergalactic vehicle, has unique wisdom ex officio; that those paparazzo flashbulbs bursting round them are effusions of inner illumination; that they possess insights into Russian politics completely inaccessible to Russians themselves.

Good will ambassadors, their side

Good will ambassadors, Cold War version

There are now at least two statements signed by Russian human rights activists, urging what to do about Putin’s law. And Russians have been talking strategy in public fora for months now. The most depressing thing is that none of the Western celebrities pontificating about Russia have bothered to mention anything Russians recommend. Not Fierstein, not Fry, not even Dustin Lance Black, who is usually relatively aware. (Dan Savage was a partial exception — he alluded only to a letter signed by LGBT Russians living in the United Stateswhile condemning the ones living in Russia to continued invisibility.) This is disgusting. It’s shameful. It means that probably nine-tenths of those demonstrating and dumping vodka have no idea that, in this situation, Russians have strategic opinions, are not helpless victims, can speak for themselves. It encourages the worst fantasies of Western white-saviorism.

Good will ambassadors, now

Good will ambassadors, today

One result is a parody of intelligent analysis like Time’s recent contribution to Russia news. Their take on the anti-propaganda law is entirely about brave Dutch rainbow missionaries who fell into its clutches while trying to rescue gay Russians from ignorance about Amsterdam’s bars. One of the heroic Hollanders, Time tells us, offered Russian activists

a seminar comparing and contrasting equality in the Netherlands and Russia. … Though bullying is still rampant in the Netherlands, the LGBT movement there is past its adolescence. In April 2001, the Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. But in Russia, the gay-rights movement is in its infancy.

Putin couldn’t ask for a better justification for the law. This bullshit tells the oppressors exactly what they want to hear.

Petition politics: Tremble, puny Putin

Petition politics: Tremble, puny Putin

The other result is that, with no ballast from some sense of what Russian activists think feasible, people’s appeals fly off in all sorts of directions. I can’t even count how many petitions are running riot on the web, each directed at somebody different, demanding something else. Move the Olympics! Boycott the Olympics! Hold the Olympics but protect the athletes! Screw the athletes, let them get arrested! Protest at Sochi! Write to the White House! Boycott Stoli! No, make Stoli give more money to the gays! … and on and on. The most ridiculous, and that’s saying a lot, comes from Wayne Besen, who has a one-man LGBT group called Truth Wins Out. He launched an opportunistic petition aimed at MSNBC, that doyen of brutal homophobic regimes, demanding they name Rachel Maddow their “special human rights correspondent” during the Sochi Games. This has nothing to do with helping Russians. Voting for celebrity journalists is maybe the least likely path for our limited energies to create meaningful change. But it’s a great way for Besen to flatter Maddow into inviting him back on her show. Last time I checked, 10,000 had signed.

Now, let’s be clear: Russian activists don’t have a consensus on what international colleagues should do. The two statements now circulating show the divide. There’s a letter from 33 activists (posted on the website of the revived Queer Nation in New York). It’s brief; it says

We appreciate and support all attempts to let the Russian authorities know that homophobic and inhumane laws will not go unnoticed and that Vladimir Putin’s regime will not get away with antigay violence. We speak out in favor of boycotting Russian goods and companies and the Olympic Games in Sochi.

Then there’s a statement from the Russian LGBT Network, specifically opposing a boycott of the Winter Games.

We believe that calls for the spectators to boycott Sochi, for the Olympians to retreat from competition, and for governments, companies, and national Olympic committees to withdraw from the event risk to transform the powerful potential of the Games in[to] a less powerful gesture that would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity. …

We hope for the support of national organizations in making sure that the athletes publicly take a stance against violence toward LGBT people and stand strong for LGBT equality; that the national houses fill the gap of the banned Pride House and support LGBT athletes, staff, spectators and their allies on their grounds; that sponsors follow through with their policies and visualize their commitment to justice and observance of human rights in regards LGBT people at the Games…

When there’s a divide among domestic activists, international supporters must stop and think things through. You’re going to have to take a side sooner or later (even inaction is a decision), but you need to figure out the different priorities put forward, and the reasons behind them. The fact that there’s a conflict, though, is not an excuse to do whatever you want without thinking things through at all.

I have Russian friends on either side here. To generalize: Many pro-boycott signatories strike me as experienced at political advocacy and tied to the human rights community. Meanwhile, the anti-boycott Russian LGBT Network speaks with the voice of activism within LGBT communities. The first statement, I think, comes more from considering what could budge the notoriously impervious Putin government; the second, more from thinking about the safety and political viability of LGBT communities.

You can’t reconcile the two recommendations: either you boycott things, or you don’t. You can try to negotiate between the concerns they represent: between having maximum effect on the Russian regime, and protecting LGBT people from backlash and isolation.

What follows are seven thoughts on how to do this. They are purely my own, but I hope they can provoke some debate.

This aggression will not stand, man

This aggression will not stand

ONE. Protest has a goal, and it’s in Russia, not London or New York. “International solidarity” actions tend to fade into the fake activism of catharsis. The aims you strive for affect others, not yourself; and those Others are too often abstract rather than known. On both grounds, it’s easy to lose sight of concrete ends while flooded with moral superiority, all passion spent. You hear this whenever people talk about “raising awareness” as a purpose in itself — as though, having been on the evening news, they’ve done enough. You can raise a million people’s awareness, but unless you plan to do something with it, it’s a waste of time.

What matters? Actions that will have move the Russian government toward change. Pressuring the IOC is fine if the IOC can then apply pressure on Putin, not just to protect its own brood of tender athletes, but to reform his human rights record. Pressuring a private company is pointless unless there’s reason to think that company can actually influence the regime. You need to keep your eyes on the prize.

Calls for Olympic boycotts past: 1980, 1984, 2008, 2012

Olympic boycotts past: 1980, 1984, 2008, 2012

If you do keep your eyes there, it’s possible to imagine different campaigns, apparently at cross-purposes,  working toward the same end. There’s a case that calling for a Sochi boycott can give Putin’s government some shivers, even if it doesn’t succeed, by casting a pall over his limelight moment. It probably won’t succeed, though. Demanding Olympic boycotts is a political strategy going back almost 40 years. But only three went anywhere: the 1976 boycott of Montreal by (mainly) African countries, over the Games’ lax enforcement of anti-South Africa sanctions; the 1980 boycott of Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and the tit-for-tat Soviet-bloc boycott of Los Angeles. And only the first had anything to do with human rights, rather than Cold War retaliation. The present calls may “raise awareness” if enough people pay attention.  But they must mesh with a Plan B assuming the boycott doesn’t happen, to channel that awareness into ongoing pressure. The boycott campaign can be just the first stage of a project to embarrass Putin’s government at Sochi — and beyond.

A useful chart of which nations participated in the three main Olympic boycotts in history, 1976, 1980, and 1984

A useful chart of which nations participated in the three main Olympic boycotts in history, 1976, 1980, and 1984

Such calibration of strategies, though, requires Western activists to talk to one another about what they want and how to get there. All the clashing rhetoric lately conceals the fact there hasn’t been much communication between people making different demands.

It also requires talking with, not just about, Russians, to get their views. Among the most vocal Western campaigners, there’s little evidence of regular dialogue with Russian groups, still less that they take strategic advice. Queer Nation in New York has that letter from Russian activists on its website, but mainly treats it as a weapon to be brandished against other campaigners with different priorities. (Indeed, when the Latvian LGBT group Mozaika objected to their assault on Stolichnaya, which is bottled in Latvia and gives Latvians jobs, Queer Nation responded by telling the Latvians, in effect, that New Yorkers know better about the region than they do.)

"Here Lives a Foreign Agent": Banner over offices of Memorial human rights group, November 28, 2012

“Here Lives a Foreign Agent”: Banner over offices of Memorial human rights group, November 28, 2012

TWO. Learn about the context. The human rights crisis is way larger than one law. More’s at stake in Russia — much more — than LGBT issues and the “anti-propaganda” law. There are two reasons for Western LGBT activists to stress this. One is moral: it’s the truth. Many Russians are suffering, and even the new repression against gay people grows out of older patterns. The other is pragmatic. This is the best way to protect LGBT Russians against a backlash over the campaign.

Manifold rights violations have burgeoned under Putin — even overlooking the fraudulent elections, or the torture and mass murder in Chechnya. A few others:

  • Suppression of free expression. This year, Reporters Without Borders placed Russia 148th out of 179 countries on its World Press Freedom Index. Since his 2011 re-election, Putin has enacted repressive new laws and policies to restrict access to information. Almost unnoticed in the West, the anti-gay-propaganda bill has a twin: a law that would create “a registry (or ‘blacklist’) of any online materials containing illegal information relevant to children.” That’s any information the State doesn’t like, not just the gay stuff. Meanwhile, most major media are under state control, and bureaucrats bully independent outlets into self-censorship. Attacks on journalists, including murder, are common — and rarely investigated or solved. At least 56 have been killed since 1992. In 2012 alone, “two journalists were killed and 33 were physically attacked in connection with their work.”
  • Persecution of whistleblowers. In 2009, Sergei Magnitsky died in prison after being beaten and denied medical care. He’d been jailed for an attempt to expose interlocking corruption among business magnates and state officials. His death pointed not just to torture in detention, but to the increasing paranoia of a secretive state (a point where the US is ill-poised to offer criticism, given its pursuit of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden). Recently, new amendments to the criminal code have expanded the definition of “state secret” as well as “treason.” The latter now means transmitting a “secret” not only to a foreign government but to an “international organization or its representatives.” (Obama would love this.)
  • Attacks on freedom of assembly. Moscow Pride is hardly the only gathering authorities have banned or broken up under the Putin regime. After the demonstrations against his rule in 2011-2012, Putin pushed through new restrictions on legitimate protest. The two-year sentence meted out to members of the punk band Pussy Riot in 2012 shows the fate of loud dissent. Amnesty reported this year that “Peaceful protests across Russia, including gatherings of small groups of people who presented no public threat or inconvenience, [are] routinely dispersed by police, often with excessive force. The authorities regarded every such event, however peaceful and insignificant in number, as unlawful unless expressly sanctioned, although gatherings of pro-government or pro-Orthodox Church activists were often allowed to proceed uninterrupted even without authorization.”
  • Racism and xenophobia. Recent skinhead targeting of LGBT people originated in a long barrage of attacks against immigrants, guest workers, and non-ethnic Russians (and the more traditional object, Jews). Human Rights First estimates racist violence “claimed as many as many as 470 lives since 2004.” The government condemned these attacks in the past and prosecuted them sporadically, but the Putin administration’s rhetoric against “terrrorist” Others, including Muslims, promoted hate. Just this week, “police and migration officials mounted raids at markets across Moscow, in factories … in the city’s subway system and on the streets. At last count nearly 1,500 foreigners had been detained … That number included 586 people, most of them Vietnamese, who were being held in a temporary tent camp more appropriate for a war zone or the scene of a natural disaster than the center of a capital city.”
  • Destroying civil society. After his faked re-election in 2011, Putin’s parliament began enacting laws to prevent Russian NGOs from functioning. The worst, passed in November 2012 but almost forgotten in the furor over the anti-gay bill, requires groups receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” subjecting them to stigma and constant official oversight. Within days of the law’s passage, the premises of two of the best-known Russian human rights groups, Memorial and For Human Rights, were defaced with graffiti and banners saying “Here Lives a Foreign Agent.” As of June 2013, Human RIghts Watch could identify 62 organizations severely harassed under the law. Prosecutors told the New York Times they had targeted 215 groups. Two LGBT organizations, including Side by Side, a St. Petersburg cultural festival, were among the earliest ones taken to court under this law.

The last instance makes crystal clear that Putin doesn’t need the “gay propaganda” law to shut down LGBT civil society. Nor, as I’ve stressed, would scrapping that law end skinhead violence against LGBT people, or ensure them free assembly, or guarantee they can express themselves without fear. Getting rid of the propaganda ban is one important step, but one of many. Protecting the human rights of LGBT Russians means fighting for the human rights of all Russians.

LGBT activists in Russia rightly fear that the more Western protests focus on gay concerns and ignore other vital issues, the more they’ll be punished in retaliation. If you don’t want to harm the LGBT communities you’re trying to defend, look at the big picture. Stress connections. Talk about all fronts of Russia’s human rights struggle.

THREE. Get ready for the long haul. This won’t be easy. No LGBT campaign of the last decade — not gay marriage, not getting Betty White on Saturday Night Live — can equal the difficulty of changing Vladimir Putin’s mind. And changing the corrupt system that rules Russia would, will, be even harder. LGBT activists in Russia know years of struggle lie ahead. If you really want to support them — if you want to help them tackle the interlocking rights abuses and systems of oppression — don’t expect quick victories. Don’t give up. And don’t return to regular programming if and when one bad law goes down, forgetting the many repressions that remain.

FOUR. Foreigners to the rear, please. God in heaven, I’m begging you, enough of this:

What we did on our summer vacation

Fool Britannia: What we did on our summer vacation

“A British tweeter has unveiled his pink Union Jack in Moscow’s Red Square, outside the Kremlin, to defy Russia’s anti-gay laws. In response to a tweet by LGBT activist and political campaigner, Peter Tatchell, Mathew Benham attached his photo with the words ‘our little gesture’ … Tatchell had nothing but praise for the activist, applauding his efforts for managing to surpass the Russian officials.” Victory! Let the word go forth from Minsk to Pinsk: pink is the new Red! Putin, you’re punk’d!

This kind of stunt activism by tourists, à la Tatchell, is usually naïve but harmless. But in Russia, where xenophobia is rife, and where the law specifically targets groups and movements that can be deemed “foreign agents,” pinning a UK flag on LGBT rights can only hurt Russians. It’s the wrong thing to do.

Why do Russians identity LGBT issues with foreign influence? A least a little derives from the disastrous way the first attempts to hold Pride in Moscow were handled. I was there in 2006 and 2007; non-Russians swarmed the events. The day before Pride in 2006, at a meeting tasked to decide whether to proceed with the march in face of multiplying threats of violence, more than 100 people crowded the room, all but a dozen of us aliens. I suggested politely that we all leave and let the few, overwhelmed Russians decide an issue that disproportionately affected them. The proposal enraged some prominent guests.

Most ominously, the Prides were played for foreign press and foreign cameras, who wanted to film foreign celebrities being telegenically bruised. How Russia media and Russian audiences saw things could matter less. They spread an impression that the whole issue was the hobbyhorse of a few well-photographed tourists with time on their hands.

We need to talk about Putin, and then talk some more: Tilda Swinton's PR man urges retweeting her photo

We need to talk about Putin. Then tweet. And retweet. Tilda Swinton’s PR man urges retweeting her photo

It’s too late to unmake that impression completely, but at least you shouldn’t add to it. An embargo on flag-bearing foreigners in Red Square would only be a start. Maybe we also need to voice a bit less indignation over the prospect of our sexy visiting athletes getting arrested at the Games, and more over what might happen to Russians themselves.

More than that, though: Russian voices must be heard. The fact that the Russian law targets “propaganda” gives extra impetus to the idea that silenced Russians don’t need supporters, but ventriloquists — that we must “use our voices to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Nonsense. Russians are not cowards (the grandparents of these gays survived Stalin) and, law or no law, they can speak for themselves perfectly well. It strikes me that the Western protest organizers are very good at using Facebook and Twitter to promote their own proclamations — but somehow haven’t figured out how to give space to others. Why not Skype in Russian activists at meetings, rallies, press conferences?  Why not retweet what Russians are saying? Why not lend your Facebook pages to Russian movement leaders, to share their opinions?

FIVE. Drop the comparisons. Is Russia South Africa? Yes.

South Africa had institutionalized racism through the discriminatory laws enacted by Parliament which became known as Apartheid. Well now Russia has institutionalized homophobia through discriminatory and prejudicial laws enacted by its Parliament … I think that that a boycott must be called and the United States, and all concerned about homophobia and LGBTI equality should refuse to set foot on Russian soil to participate in any sport whatsoever. … And then what about the matter of principal? [sic]

That’s by Melanie Nathan, who as a white South African living in the US unquestionably has a proprietary claim to apartheid-as-metaphor. (It’s odd, though, that a single law in Russia justifies the comparison in her view, whereas if you use the simile for the whole battery of laws, regulations, and policing that Israel deploys against West Bank Palestinians — denying them political rights and free movement, enforcing segregation, seizing land, destroying homes — she finds it “anti-Semitic.”)

But wait: Russia’s worse. Is it … Nazi Germany? Well, guess.

Consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books … The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer … Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians.

I think the first sentence has something to do with Tolkien. Didn’t an exultant aegis swoop down and save Frodo from Mount Doom?

I'm furious at this Führer: London anti-Putin demonstration, August 2013

I’m furious at this Führer: London anti-Putin demonstration, August 2013

These analogies don’t aid in understanding what’s happening in Russia. They prevent it. A law attacking freedom of speech isn’t the same as a sweeping denial of citizenship. (Nor did a minority of invading Russian heterosexuals colonize the East European plain and rob the gay majority of its land.) And Putin has not passed the Nuremberg Laws. Even amid the current manic carnival of emotion, the writers should flinch in embarrassment from the implications of what they’re saying. Will Putin launch a new blitzkrieg against Poland so its gays can be carted off to extermination? Don’t go there — but unfortunately these guys do. Hitler’s Olympics “gave him confidence,” Stephen Fry warns, and of course we don’t want to make Putin cocky, because “what [Hitler] did with that confidence we all know.” Another writer’s even clearer about the coming storm:

 In 1935—as in 2013—the International Olympics Committee was keen to pretend that sporting events could wash a clearly politicized setting of its politics, or wipe a dirty city clean. … In this Faustian bargain, Hitler hid the most obvious signs of what would later become his Final Solution. … And then, once the international community had left, Hitler and his willing minions invaded neighboring countries and incinerated every fucking Jew, queer, or dissenter they could get their hands on. 

Help.

Alex Gabriel argues that this death talk makes us feel good about ourselves. “Fry’s recourse to anti-Nazism enlists [Great Britain] in helping ‘save’ sexual minorities in Russia, as Britain loves to remember it saved European Jews, replaying on memorial loop its empire’s one moment of apparent heroism.” That’s a grotesque comment on our moral self-image.

The Holocaust against the European Jews was a genocide that slaughtered millions. (I’m not sure why I feel the need to say this, except that some of these folks talk so casually it’s as though Hitler didn’t kill people, just film Schindler’s List.) Comparing some other serious human rights abuse to the extermination of a people doesn’t make the former more urgent, it makes it trivial. For some strange reason, a lot of gay (not so many L or B or T) intellectuals over the years have taken the Holocaust as a standard by which the undoubtedly awful persecutions inflicted on dissident sexualities over the years can, and should, be measured. (Gore Vidal, Larry Kramer, ACT UP, many more.) Maybe it’s because silence didn’t just enshroud the latter persecutions — silencing was part of them. To identify with the most condemned and public atrocity of modern times promises that some of the dignity of visibility can be regained. It doesn’t work that way, though.

San Francisco demonstration against Putin, August 2013: http://bit.ly/14147ub

San Francisco demonstration against Putin, August 2013: http://bit.ly/14147ub

The extreme talk is getting out of control. A new slogan’s all over the Internet, based on the unconfirmed stories that skinheads have killed young gays: “YOU SPILL GAY BLOOD WE SPILL RUSSIAN VODKA.” The quid doesn’t quite fit the quo; vodka’s not equivalent to blood – even in Russia, where the latter may well be 40% composed of the former. But you can easily imagine the menacing sentence spun around, spoken by the skinheads themselves: “YOU SPILL RUSSIAN VODKA, WE SPILL GAY BLOOD.” The lunatic register of revenge would be the same. Any time we start mimicking the mad rhetoric of neo-Nazis, we’re on the wrong road.

SIX. Chuck the Tchaikovsky talk. I don’t like Tchaikovsky that much, but even if I did, I would be tired of you people talking about him. Western activists hold him up incessantly as proof positive that Russian culture contained and was shaped by queers. O Kremlin hypocrites, attacking your very heritage! “Tchaikovsky. Genius. Gay. Outlawed” was a sign at one New York protest.  “All Out Tells St. Petersburg Governor Not To Tarnish Tchaikovsky’s Legacy With Anti-Gay Bill,” a headline reads (they even handed him a video set to the camp chords of Swan Lake). Has anybody heard of a Russian musician, or writer, or artist other than Tchaikovsky? Didn’t I see Tolstoy the other night at Sidetrack?

Hero of the Homintern: Tchaikovsky worship at London anti-Russia protest, August 2013 (http-/www.flickr.com/photos/zefrog/9479752671/in/set-72157635017804350)

Hero of the Homintern: Tchaikovsky worship at London anti-Russia protest, August 2013 (http-/www.flickr.com/photos/zefrog/9479752671/in/set-72157635017804350)

No homophobe was ever persuaded by these appeals to Great Gays in Your History. In my experience people hate few things more than having folks who know nothing about their culture explain it to them. (Imagine a Russian telling you that Obama has betrayed the rich heritage of Negro obsequiousness in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) Moreover, the diehard supporters of the “gay propaganda” bill, if they listen to classical music at all, most likely hate Tchaikovsky. They’d see him as the effete creature of cosmopolitan St. Petersburg who turned away from healthy Russian tonalities toward Western decadence. In his one unequivocally patriotic piece of music, the 1812 Overture, he even dared to insinuate the heathen Marseillaise, which is like finding a dead rat in your blini. If these people think about high culture at all, they’re the heirs of nineteenth-century Slavophilia: ultranationalism in art. They’d listen not to the Nutcracker but to the narodnik notes churned out by The Five (true, one of that circle’s members, Mussorgsky, drank himself to death in unrequited passion for young men, but there’s one poison mushroom in every Russian dish, right?). And probably even that would be too highfalutin. As Putin’s own deputy culture minister said last spring, “Who needs Tchaikovsky?”

They don't call it the Nutcracker for nothing: #FuckyeahTchaikovsky tweets

They don’t call it the Nutcracker for nothing: #FuckyeahTchaikovsky would be a nice hashtag

What’s interesting is that Western LGBT advocates describing Russia instinctively treat “culture” as their friend: a reserve of enlightened values and liberal tolerance, regrettably sidelined by the uncultivated thugs who happen to rule the country now. They would never blame the new legislation on Russian “culture” or “tradition,” though in fact those are exactly the terms that Russian right-wingers use to justify it. Contrast how these activists talk about Africa. There “culture” is the enemy, a monolithic blob of primitive practices that no enlightened idea can penetrate without either missionaries or soldiers to escort it.  (When the US President travelled to three diverse countries at different corners of the continent this summer, a headline read, “Obama to Visit Homophobic Culture.”) Newspapers doing the obligatory stories on homophobia in Africa hardly ever bother to mention politics or politicians; they come and go, but the magma of tradition remains.

Yet all this measures the degree to which Russia, despite those decades of enforced Cold War enmity, remains like us in our minds: a country of white people and European values. Out of racial solidarity comes an affinity transcending historical difference. In fact, talking about “culture” can’t tackle a political problem; it’s a bankrupt strategy. Appeals to “Russian culture” won’t help us change a single Russian mind, any more than condemning “African culture” has changed a single African one. They only show that we’re still unable to disentangle our advocacy from our darker fantasies.

SEVEN. Think gas pump, not Stoli dump.  Boycotts are such an easy form of activism, except for the ones that work. It’s looks so simple just to sit back and not buy things!  Of course, once you actually start to figure out where your target’s vulnerable and how to exploit that, things change. When facts enter, the work gets hard.

ACT UP disrupts Stoli promotion, New York, July 2013: The upside-down poster is a signal of distress

ACT UP disrupts Stoli promotion, New York, July 2013: The upside-down poster is a signal of distress

The campaign to punish Putin by abjuring Stolichnaya impresses me as one of those extremely easy boycotts that nobody thought through first. The point isn’t so much that the vodka’s actually bottled in Latvia — a fact that has only prodded boycotters into Jesuitical arguments over what it means for a vodka to be “Russian.” (Note to campaigners: when the dispute sinks to this level, you’ve lost.) The point is that the brand is owned by a private company, not the State. As several people have noted, the boycotters assume that Russia is like the US, where corporations tell the government what to do. But in Russia’s crony capitalism, most private companies bow and tremble before government clerks, begging to hang onto the last shreds of their independence. Putin’s State has been trying to wrest back control of Stolichnaya for some while; arguably the boycott, if it actually weakens the owners, will only speed the takeover. I have zero sympathy with the corporation or its “support” for gay rights in the US — read: its bribes to LGBT institutions in order to keep the community profitably soused. But vodka dumps in San Francisco are unlikely to make Putin tremble. 

For a decade now, no international pressure has been able to make Putin tremble.  As long as the West was slavishly dependent on the country’s vast natural gas and oil resources, the President could pretty much do as he liked. Russian politics run “on conventional oil and gas,” the Economist says, and “Vladimir Putin is in essence the CEO of Russian Energy Inc.” Recently, Russia’s fuel exports have been declining, and with them the profit machine. Why not exploit this weakness? Why dump vodka, when Russia’s engines run on more precious liquids?

Running on empty: Problems of a petro-state

Running on empty: Problems of a petro-state

The Russian economy is slowing down. Growth has gone from 7% a year in the heady mid-2000s, to under 4% in 2012, to only 1.6% in the first quarter of 2013. One word explains a lot of the slippage: shale. The “revolution” in shale oil and gas may not be “changing the geopolitical and economic map of the world,” as its boosters bray. But new (environmentally disastrous) ways of extracting fuel from recalcitrant soil have turned the US from a dependent energy importer to a power source, in fact the world’s largest producer of natural gas. And they’ve given formerly Russia-addicted buyers new energy sellers to choose from.

Fuel exports run the Russian economy. A few facts:

  • Russia is the most oil-dependent of the world’s 10 largest economies;
  • Oil and gas account for more than half of federal government revenues;
  • They make up nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP);
  • They account for 50% – 60% of Russia’s exports;
  • Nearly 50% of Russian energy production is for export.
Oil outlflow. Source: http://www.turkishweekly.net/columnist/3782/rosneft-the-new-star-of-russian-energy.html

Outlflow: Russia’s oil production vs. export since 2000. Source: http://www.turkishweekly.net/columnist/3782/rosneft-the-new-star-of-russian-energy.html

Lots of the exports run through three giant corporations: the State-run duo Gazprom and Rosneft, and the crony-controlled Lukoil. (The oil industry was imperfectly privatized under Yeltsin, though it’s heading back into Putin’s hands, but natural gas remained mainly under State management). Gazprom’s activities alone make up 8% of Russia’s GDP.

But oil and gas flowing from the US have shaken Russia’s market position — and its political power. It’s been forced to make unprecedented concessions to its consumers. In Asia, where Beijing claims even larger shale reserves than the US, “Russia has had to agree to the majority of China’s demands in recent purchase negotiations of crude oil and natural gas.” In Europe, it’s even worse. The Economist explains,

The shale revolution is changing the balance of power between the Russian bear and its European customers. In the past Russia was so confident of its producer power that it felt able to bully clients: it cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in both 2006 and 2009 during contract negotiations. But America’s shale-driven transformation … is pushing down the price of gas on the world market. Supplies of Middle Eastern liquefied gas that America no longer wants are now being offered to Europeans. This week a consortium was chosen to pipe gas from Azerbaijan to western Europe, further reducing dependence on Russian supplies. Europeans are finding they have bargaining power: Bulgaria recently negotiated a 20% price cut in its new ten-year contract with Russia.

Putin’s pals at Gazprom are especially suffering. The company draws 40% of its revenues from sales to Europe, and those are no longer pliant customers. Russia’s share of Europe’s natural gas purchases dropped from 45% to 31.8 % between 2003 and 2010; with some ups and downs, it’s still dropping. As a result Gazprom’s value fell from $369 billion in 2008 to less than $77 billion this June. “Russia is shooting itself in the foot,” Lithuania’s president recently remarked.

Russian_gas_exports_pie_chart

I’m not particularly thrilled about LGBT rights drawing advantage from the despicable practice of fracking; but let’s face it, there’s a window of opportunity here.

The Gazprom logo on these shirts in no way indicates tolerance for this homoerotic behavior: From the Gazprom Germania Sport website

The Gazprom logo on these shirts in no way indicates tolerance for this homoerotic behavior: From the Gazprom Germania Sport website

LGBT activists in Europe have a particularly ripe chance to press for change. Now is the time to demand their governments buy less Russian gas and oil. There’s a pragmatic reason: energy diversification is good. There’s a moral reason: Russia’s whole human rights record — not just its oppression of LGBT people. You can protest, demonstrate, make the case. You can hurt Putin in his bulging wallet, which is also the padded seat of his political power. (Germans, Italians: look at the chart above! Repression fires your stoves. Here’s the website of Gazprom’s German branch: and here is the page of “Gazprom Sport Germania,” its football-sponsoring PR side, an Olympic-sized irony just calling out for a nice demo.)

US activists’ options are more complicated. We don’t import so many Russian hydrocarbons. But look: Lukoil has moved into the US market. They bought Getty Oil some while ago; they own a bunch of former Mobil gas stations in the Northeast, including dozens scattered across New Jersey, right under Queer Nation’s nose. (Those stations created a local furor last year for price-gouging, by the way.) Here, too, is a sitting target: a chance to hit Putin in his petro-power, where it just might really hurt.

A light at the Frankenstein place: Lukoil station in New Jersey

A light at the Frankenstein place: Lukoil station in New Jersey

 

Truths behind the gay torture images from Russia

Abuse of an "Uzbek": From Mikhail Solovyov's page at vk.com, http://vk.com/id162104250

Abuse of an “Uzbek waiter”: From Mikhail Solovyov’s page at vk.com, http://vk.com/id162104250

Russia now is a story told in pictures, still and moving. Everybody knows about Putin’s anti-gay law, because it’s been at the top of the news, gay and straight, for two weeks running; and if you’ve been following this even slightly, you’ve seen images like these — of homophobes brutally abusing Russian queers.

But what do they mean? Clips and snapshots keep cropping up on Western blogs. Here’s a  “horrific video showing Russian thugs have started entrapping gay men and boys,” posted by John Aravosis, with 85,000 hits on YouTube. Yet how can you evaluate it if nobody bothers to say where the hell they got it?  Nor do most of the reposters have any qualms about showing the full faces of the people in these videos and photos: apparently once they’ve been outed and humiliated in Russia, they’re fair game in the rest of the world. (“While I am loathe to expose this young man any further, but [sic] this must be shown,” Melanie Nathan blogs while hawking one video. No, it mustn’t.) There’s a panicked compulsion to give us more and more pictures to consume, partly because they drive up Web traffic, partly because they lend an urgency that makes mere explanations seem distracting. But you can’t make sense of it unless you can say, not just see, something about what’s going on.

Pictures are problems. Photos pretend to tell us truths — a photograph “seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects,” wrote Susan Sontag — but, of course, they’re limited in what they tell. A photograph, or even a YouTube fragment of film, lacks context, is pulled free from the background that would give it meaning. You could argue (I’m sure someone has) that photographs of violence have an especially insidious appeal because all photographs are made in violence. Atrocity photos simply express the essence of the form: a few moments ripped from the seamless substance of the world, propped up in lopped and amputated isolation. You can use them, abuse them, put them in new contexts where they say and mean something completely different.

Russia is, as it happens, used to having its story told in images. Orthodoxy pioneered the use of icons for narrating religion to illiterate masses. To many Russian faithful still, these pictures don’t just show the sacred, they are it: a second, visual Gospel, sharing the authority and infallibility of the first. All those modern propaganda posters and imposing Red Square pageants draw on the same tradition: that seeing induces believing.

I like my mother better: Divine parenthood in the Russian visual tradition

I like my mother more. Divine parenthood in the Russian tradition

But we’re talking politics, not religion. And a picture must never be left to speak for itself. It’s not that hard to trace some of the stories behind these images. Due diligence requires it. At the very least, it can show Western activists how repression in Putin’s Russia goes far beyond a single “anti-gay law.” Moreover, you can learn much from the international economy of images in which these pictures circulate.

For example: the photograph at top comes from the page of Mikhail Solovyov, a neo-Nazi in the small, remote Urals city of Kamensk. (More on Kamensk soon.) It’s gone round the world; it’s become symbolic. Last week, a march against Putin’s law in Sweden saw the photo restaged as a tableau vivant, with a bear and a leather queen playing the abusive skinheads. (Isn’t this a peculiar way of protesting violence? I’ve been to countless demonstrations on Darfur, but never saw street theater enacting the invasion of the janjaweed.) How do I know that? Because a picture of the demo made its way back to Kamensk, and Mikhail Solovyov. He put it on his page too: with the caption,

Following the “advanced” West, you first recognize LGBT marriage, then pedophilia [as a] normal sexual orientation. … Pictured, representatives of foreign LGBT organizations protesting against catching pedophiles.

Swedish demo, August 2013: From Mikhail Solovyov's page, at http://vk.com/id162104250

Swedish demo, August 2013: From Mikhail Solovyov’s page, at http://vk.com/id162104250

So where did all these pictures start?

Maxim Martsinkevich is probably the place to begin. Nothing about the 29-year-old would-be architect’s page at VK, Russia’s answer to Facebook, suggests a particularly distinctive skinhead. He goes by his nickname, “Tesak,” variously translated “machete,” “cleaver,” or — my favorite — “slasher.” He likes steroids, protein shakes, pointless displays of masculinity (three videos show him having a tooth pulled minus anesthetic), and Adolf Hitler. Yet he’s quite innovative as Nazis go. Early in the Putin years, he was the driving force behind Format18, a violent group that called itself the “armed wing” of Russia’s National Socialist party.

Not your father's fascist: Slasher, from his profile at http://vk.com/resstruckt

Not your father’s fascist: Slasher, from his profile at http://vk.com/resstruckt

Format18 regularly assaulted immigrants and dark people. Its creativity lay in deciding that visibility — movie cameras coupled with social media — was not its enemy, but its friend. It filmed the attacks, turning them into imitation music videos that went viral on YouTube and VK. Google “Format18” and “funny” and you’ll figure out why: their savage sense of humor. “Lol, I love those videos,” one European neo-Nazi says. “It’s funny when they beat people up then burn their passports.” Some of the videos showed murders.

You might say Slasher dealt in iconography, that Russian tradition of showing, not telling. Made visible, the violence spread terror among the people Format18 wanted scared; made consumable, it helped Format18 recruit. Many Russians had loathed foreigners and especially Southerners at least since the Chechen wars. (There’s ample evidence that Putin sealed his 2000 election victory by having the ex-KGB carry out apartment-building bombings that slaughtered hundreds of Russians — then blaming them on Chechen “terrorists.”) Format18’s videos changed killing foreigners from drab fascist duty into something sexy.

Slasher even became a minor star in Putin’s mainstream media, soundbiting his way onto talk shows. Then disaster struck. Starting in 2008, he was convicted twice for “inciting ethnic hatred”: once for breaking up a debate between democracy activists, and once for a video supposedly showing a Kazakh being hanged and dismembered. (The latter turned out to be staged with actors, though it was rumored to re-enact a real killing.) Format18 fell apart while he was in prison. Slasher’s popularity still smoldered, though. When he was freed in 2011, a video celebrating his release immediately became one of the most-watched YouTube offerings in Russia.

Slasher politely interviews a "pedophile": photo posted on his VK page, http://vk.com/resstruckt?z=albums180496638, July 31, 2013 (blurring not in original)

Slasher politely interviews a “pedophile”: photo posted on his VK page, http://vk.com/resstruckt?z=albums180496638, July 31, 2013 (blurring not in original)

Slasher’s second act really got going sometime in 2012, though. His new idea was to apply Format18’s social-media methods to hunting down sexual perversion. His conceit was that Russia swarmed with chickenhawks chasing young men in impunity; he started gathering skinheads into a movement to combat them, called “Occupy Pedophilia.” The project’s genius lay in the potential drama. Most foreigners, after all, don’t or can’t hide their origin. But someone accused of pedophilia has every incentive to avoid exposure. Hence the titillation of humiliation, of violated privacy, topped off the violence. Reality TV replaced music videos as a model. Slasher seems to draw direct inspiration, in fact, from Dateline NBC‘s deranged To Catch a Predator series. He tries the same tactics: lure “pedophiles” with online ads allegedly placed by kids, then shame them with candid cameras. Except, unlike Dateline‘s wordy hosts, Slasher doesn’t waste time moralizing. He gets straight to the beatings.

Slasher catches a "bisexual hair stylist," from a video on http://okkupay-pedofilyay.ru/, now removed: blurring not in original

Slasher catches a “bisexual hair stylist,” from a video on http://okkupay-pedofilyay.ru/, now removed: blurring not in original

Unaware Westerners call Putin a “czar” and focus on the letter of legislation, but this ignores the peculiarly lawless character of his rule. Police persecute dissidents, journalists, and businessmen who don’t pay and play along; meanwhile, many laws go unenforced, much actual crime unpunished. Slasher’s vigilantism thus is a ready route to popularity. And he can carry on his own obviously criminal campaign in the full light of YouTube with little tangible threat of prosecution.

But it’s worth stressing: the passionate, extralegal revulsion against “pedophiles” that Slasher exploits is not just a Russian emotion. The mania’s international. If Slasher donned mufti and put the skinhead clothes in mothballs, he’d have plenty of fans in the US or UK. At one American website, you can cast a ballot: “Should pedophiles and serial rapists be killed?” 86% vote yes; 14% no. That law-and-order Pasionaria Sarah Palin called for lynching child abuser Jerry Sandusky instead of trying him: “Hang him from the highest tree, I’ll bring the rope.” In Britain in 2000, News of the World, Rupert Murdoch’s now-sunken flagship, launched a campaign of “naming and shaming” sex offenders who had already served their time in prison. It

led to lynch-mob attacks, firebombings and rioting in at least 11 communities, with vigilantes in some cases attacking people who looked like the men pictured or who had been incorrectly identified as past offenders. In one town, the home of a pediatrician was attacked when anti-pedophile campaigners got their spelling confused.

Slasher, who probably thinks “pediatrician” is what you call a Jewish pedophile, would have been proud.

Slasher torments a weeping young "pedophile," whom he calls "Whiner." From a video on his page at http://vk.com/restrukt,

Slasher, at left with dildo, torments a weeping young “pedophile,” whom he calls “Whiner.” From a video at http://okkupay-pedofilyay.ru, posted December 18, 2012.

To be sure, there are specifically Russian inflections to Slasher’s popularity. “Protecting children” has taken on acute political meaning: exaggerated anxieties about Russia’s falling birthrate translate into fears that the national future is in danger. Putin’s state-promoted homophobia feeds on that. And Occupy Pedophilia is explicit in its homophobia. They have no evident interest in men who seek girls for sex. (One member told a reporter, “Why should we catch girls who have sex for money? That’s normal for me. A pedophile is a different kind of person.”) For them, male homosexuality and preying on children are pretty much the same thing.

In Kamensk, the online news source Lenta.ru interviewed Occupy Pedophilia members. “Homosexuals are almost sacred in this country,” one leader complained. “We are against pedophiles, but we also do not like homosexuals. I don’t know why homosexuals protect pedophiles.” He added:

Some representatives of homosexuals came to my home recently … They said we mock people. They asked why we hate them. They said they feel oppressed. It just happened that they both somehow jumped into the garbage cans.

“If you see two young men walking down the street and holding hands, what would you do?” the reporter asks. The answer: “Interrogation. And then it all depends on them.”

 Catching a "pedophile" in Kamensk: Photo from Mikhail Solovyov's VK page, http://vk.com/id162104250?z=albums162104250


Catching a “pedophile” in Kamensk: Photo from Mikhail Solovyov’s VK page, http://vk.com/id162104250?z=albums162104250

That slippage between gays and predators is a common enough prejudice, in Russia as elsewhere. On the other hand, when Western activists redefine the men simply as “gay” victims, they should be aware they’re just reinforcing a widespread Russian belief that gays are identical to pedophiles. They need to note the nuance and stress the difference, not just confirm the belief.

"Well, friends, the summer season on pedophiles is open :-) We give you the latest photos from a safari." Photo from http://vk.com/okkupay_pedofilyay, posted August 10, 2013 (blurring not in original)

“Well, friends, the summer season on pedophiles is open 🙂 We give you the latest photos from a safari.” Photo from http://vk.com/okkupay_pedofilyay, posted August 10, 2013 (blurring not in original)

Occupy Pedophilia has taken off. Its website claims groups in 21 cities. A Russian journalist counted 359 Occupy Pedophilia groups on VK; one of those pages has 75,000 followers. Most of the videos circulating in the West that show “gays” being beaten are from Occupy Pedophilia’s sites. (This page has almost 400 clips from around the country.) I’m not going to embed the full videos here, because I’m not going to show the men’s faces. Slasher’s own films are less violent than some of his provincial acolytes’. He strips victims, interrogates them, humiliates them. Other groups douse the victims with urine, or force them to drink it.  This month, a police raid on the Occupy Pedophilia HQ in Sverdlovsk found “20 knives and sharpeners … 5 brass knuckles, 3 shuriken (Ninja throwing stars), nunchaku [Japanese chain sticks], a self-defense weapon ‘Blow,‘ 12 rounds of ammunition of various calibers and labels, as well as a wooden handle attached to a weighted chain, a metal hook with a chain, a metal hedgehog, 2 scythes, axes, wooden bats, and pepper spray.”

The same man doused with urine: Photo from http://vk.com/okkupay_pedofilyay, posted August 10, 2013 (blurring not in original)

The same man doused with urine: Photo from http://vk.com/okkupay_pedofilyay, posted August 10, 2013 (blurring not in original)

Several things should be emphasized. The entrapped men are of varying ages — from early 20s to 50s or 60s. Most were apparently lured by ads that promised teenage youths.

But there’s no evidence that most of them would be “pedophiles” under Russian law, or that, answering the ad aside, they’ve done anything wrong. The Occupy goons don’t care about the legal age of consent, which is 16 in Russia. Homosexuals “say a 16-year-old boy is already an adult, and can’t be corrupted,” a Kamensk skinhead complained to Lenta.ru. Reminded this is the law, “he shrugged.”

Indeed, sometimes Occupy Pedophilia doesn’t bother with the ads and the bait: they just pick up guys they think are gay on the street. One victim, Evgeny, told Rosbalt News that he went for an excursion with a girl “who’s dating a guy from ‘Occupy Pedophilia.’ … Based on others’ opinions, he decided I was gay, and it’s terrible that his girlfriend is talking to me.” At a bus stop,

Suddenly the guy attacked me. Hit my face and kicked my body… When I started bleeding from the nose, he stopped. I tried to get away to a safe distance, where a couple with a child were sitting. They lent a handkerchief but refused to help. After 10 minutes, three men approached. They began to ask me obscene questions and take pictures with their phones. … “When did you become gay? Do you have anal and oral sex?” They told passers-by that I was gay and would become a pedophile in the future. Some people got in conversations with them and even laughed. Next two of them tried to shove me into a car. They said they want to interview me … A woman waiting for a bus shouted she’d call the police. Hearing this … they jumped into the car [without me] and drove away. 

Slasher slaps a "pedophile" whom he's forced to strip in a tub. From a video at http://vk.com/video119910902_164053325, posted December 29, 2012

Slasher slaps a “pedophile” whom he’s forced to strip in a tub. From a video at http://vk.com/video119910902_164053325, posted December 29, 2012

Any hit TV series spawns a spinoff. Slasher’s violent reality show already has one. It’s called “Occupy Gerontophilia.”

Chicken and hawk: Philip Doeznitz, né Rosinsky, with Slasher. From a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w96iWzMOio.

Chicken and hawk: Philip Doenitz, né Razinsky, with Slasher. From a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w96iWzMOio.

Things get especially vicious here. “Philip Doenitz” founded Occupy Gerontophilia. That’s a pseudonym for Philip Razinsky, a fresh-faced Moscow student and Slasher groupie. He renamed himself after HItler’s successor: perhaps that’s how he sees himself next to Slasher, who probably should watch his back. At one point, Slasher used him as bait in entrapping older “pedophiles.” Then Philip branched out on his own.

Instead of hunting hawks, Occupy Gerontophilia chases the chickens. Doenitz assembled gangs of homophobic teenagers; they try to entrap other young guys into meetings with imaginary older ones, sometimes with the promise of money. A blogger explains,

Caught through social networks, 12­-16 year-olds are invited to meet, then beaten and forced to talk to their about their homosexuality. Then it’s all laid out in VK groups, with the slogan “Do repost — break his life.” The teen is terrorized by sending out these videos to his friends, acquaintances and parents.

Still from a video of a 12-year old being threatened and abused in Tambov; faces not blurred in the original

Still from a video of a 12-year old (R) being threatened and abused in Tambov; faces not blurred in the original

Occupy Gerontophilia is smaller than its anti-pedophile model: a reporter found only 14 VK groups, against over 300 for Occupy Pedophilia. VK keeps closing these down, much more often than it does Slasher’s direct progeny. In early July, a video Doenitz’s followers took in the town of Tambov provoked a surge of indignation. Local news recounts that “On a dating site [the Occupy members] posed as a 23-year-old man and met a 12-year old schoolboy. They promised him money for the meeting; during all this, services of a sexual nature were not discussed. The child agreed and went.” Instead they bullied him in a 15-minute video, taunting him for homosexuality and prostitution. Police opened an investigation against the abusers; the video has been removed from the web. The newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets followed up on the 12-year-old’s fate:

He now refuses to go out or socialize with friends. But sadly, he doesn’t have many friends. Teenagers are cruel; the majority turned away from the humiliated boy. He will likely be removed from the school where he was studying before. … His mother even thinks about moving to a remote province, where there is no Internet and no one will know her son.

Shallow, just a little bit: Doenitz (right) bullies a helpless victim to give a blow job

One time only, just a little bit: Doenitz (right) bullies a helpless victim to give a blow job

According to the Russian LGBT blog AntiDogma, in another July video Doenitz is seen blackmailing one of his victims, promising to release him and suppress the footage they’re filming if he gives one of his abusers a blow job. “I understand you don’t want it, but this is the only option or the movie hits the Internet. Your friends will see it 100%, and your parents.” He tells the child that sucking the guy won’t hurt: “One time only, shallow, a little bit.” This video too is mercifully gone from Doenitz’s VK page. 

If Dateline offered inspiration to Slasher’s scams, Doenitz’s abuses are pure kid-on-kid bullying — but with a brutal, militaristic edge. Interviewed by Moskovskij Komsomolets, Doenitz defended his videos. Better that a child’s life “be broken in this way, than that he grow up gay, and continue to engage in prostitution for money. I care about their future. But a quiet life? They’re just not going to have it.” He added that, as outrage over his methods grows, he’s getting tougher.

I’ve decided to apply the methods of urine therapy with regard to juvenile gays — simply pour urine on them at the meeting. I will lead the conversation, too, in a more rigid form. The level of aggression at the present time will increase significantly.

In the provincial city of Lipetsk, Oleg, an Occupy Gerontophilia member, explained to another journalist that “I do not want to live in a society where they tell me that homosexuality is the norm. And if a teenager is selling himself for money, where’s the guarantee that after a few years he won’t start to seduce children?” Oleg says his group has “50 like-minded people, but I think there will be more soon.”

The kids are all right: Philip Doenitz, from his page at http://vk.com/restrukt_88?z=albums24422330

The kids are all right: Philip Doenitz, from his page at http://vk.com/restrukt_88?z=albums24422330

Among the questions all this raises, some stand out.

a) What’s the relationship between skinhead violence and Putin’s State? Through the first decade of Putin’s rule, neo-Nazis were usually found, if uneasily, among the opposition. Putin used them to divide his opponents — many democrats wouldn’t be seen at the same demo with them — but distrusted them. The 3 1/2 year sentence meted out to Slasher for staging a Kazakh’s mock-murder was indicative: where possible, Putin wanted their violence kept under control.

Ultra-rightists march in Moscow to protest Putin and immigration, November 2012: @Reuters

Ultra-rightists march in Moscow to protest Putin and immigration, November 2012: © Reuters

When the current Occupy antics go too far in rousing outrage, the authorities will step in with at least token threats of prosecution. (In Sverdlovsk oblast, Occupy Pedophilia is under investigation by the Ministry of the Interior’s Center for Combating Extremism; most Russians would be surprised there is such a thing.)  But since the 2011 protests against his rigged re-election — the most serious challenge to his rule in over a decade — Putin has lurched rightward in calculated fashion. He hopes to peel off ultra-nationalists from the anti-Putin coalition, where they’ve been perhaps the most reliable street presence. His current nationalist, natalist, morally conservative language (and legislation) is part of the plan.

In this sense, Slasher et. al. are playing Putin’s game, rousing public anger against imaginary enemies — and, by their vigilantism, whipping up demand for an ever-stronger State to step in. The very fact that they’ve dubbed their moral-minority movements “Occupy” is telling. “Occupy” was a totemic term among the 2011-2012 anti-Putin demonstrators, as for many democracy activists around the world. By co-opting it for trivial moral policing, Slasher depoliticizes the word, and helps channel those revolutionary energies toward private ends. He makes deviance the issue, not democracy. Most ultra-rightists in Russia still loathe Putin.  But whether or not Slasher realizes it, he’s acting out Putin’s strategy.

b) Are the abuses a recent thing, a product of Putin’s new law? You’d think so, to read the gay blogosphere, which only just heard about them. Most Western gay commentators haven’t followed anything in Russia for the last ten years except the highly public, counterproductive efforts to stage Gay Pride in Moscow — a fiasco that has run at cross-purposes to other Russian LGBT activists’ patient efforts at building communities. So naturally, all these stories surprise them, and get lumped together with the panic over Putin’s law.

Melanie Nathan blogs that “since the introduction of new homophobic laws in Russia, the violence against gays has increased.” But there’s no evidence for this. It’s language that creates an atmosphere of urgent crisis (“the terror is so rife at this time, that it is equally criminal for us to be silent”), in which something — anything — must be done (“To my way of thinking it should be all or nothing“). It negates the fact that the repression in Russia has been going on for a long time and has deep roots. Occupy Pedophilia is at least a year old, and many of the videos cited as evidence of abuses now actually go back months. The Occupy Gerontophilia film that Nathan points to, as proof of “new terror unfold[ing] before our eyes” in August, shows snow on the ground.

It’s quite plausible that the Occupy twins, Pedo and Geronto, have fed on the anti-homosexual rhetoric of Putin’s party. They certainly will feed on the political restrictions and stigma that the new legislation will create. Easy to fight enemies who can’t talk back! But it’s equally plausible that they’ve been nourished by the same general environment  — of demonizing difference, marginalizing minorities, doling out rights like sweets to the deserving — that powered Putin’s legislation in the first place.

Demonstrator beaten by police at an anti-Putin rally, May 2012: © AP

Demonstrator beaten by police at an anti-Putin rally, May 2012: © AP

The anti-propaganda bill is odious, and must be scrapped. But repealing it will not make Slasher go away, or ensure gay men’s and children’s safety, or guarantee the civil liberties of LGBT people or anybody else in Russia. The problems are more profound than a single law. They involve the regime’s use of violence and murder against opponents, its stigmatizing and scapegoating of convenient Others, its suppression of civil society across the board. The current publicity is a chance to engage Western activists with Russian issues over the long haul; letting them rest content with short-term answers is a catastrophic failure. To tell Western gays that they need only pressure Putin about a single issue, then sit back satisfied if their demands are met, is to offer all the Slashers carte blanche for a future career of abuse.

c) Is this just a gay issue? No. Slasher and other neo-Nazis were attacking — and murdering — guest workers, immigrants, and other foreigners, along with dark-looking Russians and Muslims of all sorts, for years before Occupy Pedophilia started. That’s still their first priority. Even the Occupy Pedophilia thugs are never happier than when a gay-seeming “Uzbek waiter” or Korean student falls into their hands.

Friends commemorate Lamzar Samba, a 28-year-old Senegaleses student and activist, murdered by neo-Nazis in St Petersburg, April 2006

Friends commemorate Lamzar Samba, a 28-year-old Senegalese student and activist, murdered by neo-Nazis in St Petersburg, April 2006

No Russian LGBT activist would fail to see the link between homophobic violence and this history of racism (possibly excepting Nikolai Alekseev, who’s flirted with racist extremists at various points in his career). It’s irresponsible for Western LGBT activists to ignore it. When they complain of “terrorism” against gays, and don’t admit that immigrants and ethnic minorities have faced the same terror for decades, they’re not just wrong: they hurt their own cause. “We should not be silent when a country is being oppressive to our friends,” Duncan Osborne of New York’s Gay City News said in promoting a Russia boycott. Are gays the West’s only friends? Are ethnic Uzbeks, Koreans, or Chechens strangers or, worse, enemies? To foster that impression is morally intolerable.

d) Are they killing gays? There have been horrible homophobic murders — most recently a 23-year-old in Volgograd, killed by two acquaintances in May when he told them he was gay. But for some of the stories circulating now, there’s no evidence.

"Uzbek waiter" being brought in for "interrogation": from a video on Mikhail Solovyov's VK page, http://vk.com/video162104250_165741706, posted July 31, 2013

“Uzbek waiter” being brought in for “interrogation”: from a video on Mikhail Solovyov’s VK page, http://vk.com/video162104250_165741706, posted July 31, 2013

The latest account comes from Kamensk (again).  In mid-July, Mikhail Solovyov of the Occupy Pedophilia group posted a video showing an entrapped “Uzbek” being questioned: a “pedophile, who worked as a waiter in a restaurant,” and “came to visit a 14-year-old teenager.” There were also photos of him (like the one at top) abused and humiliated: stripped, smeared with red paint, forced to hold a dildo, painted blue and doused in piss. These were picked up by Valentin Degterev, a doctor living in Kamensk, on his blog, and went around the world.

"Uzbek" being abused: From Mikhail Solovyov's VK page at http://vk.com/id162104250?z=albums162104250, posted July 15, 2013

“Uzbek” being abused: From Mikhail Solovyov’s VK page at http://vk.com/id162104250?z=albums162104250, posted July 15, 2013

On August 1, Degterev announced that the Uzbek had died of his injuries. No one has been able to confirm this, and a number of things don’t quite make sense. For one, this news came more than two weeks after the first pictures of the “interrogation” appeared. For another, the images circulating show the victim being degraded, but don’t suggest life-threatening injuries. Degterev is a passionate, even heroic anti-Fascist who follows the local neo-Nazis obsessively: but I can’t vouch for his reliability on this without independent verification. Still, the story mushroomed on the Internet in grossly distorted form. In the UK, both Pink News (which called the killing a “claim”) and Gay Star News (which reported it as gospel) turned the “murder victim” into a “gay teen” for sensation’s sake — despite the obvious fact that he was, from the pictures, in his twenties at minimum.

Earlier stories of deaths in Kamensk had failed to check out. In April, Occupy Pedophilia entrapped a 19-year-old, Alex Bulygin, to meet a fake 16-year-old. They “interrogated” him, beat him, and forced him to drink urine. In June, the group gloatingly claimed on their VK page that he had hanged himself in shame, which they presented as an “exemplary” encouragement to their members. Yet a Lenta.ru reporter, visiting Kamensk in July, learned that Bulygin was alive.

Occupy Pedophilia members in Kamensk spray foam on a victim: video from the VK page of Lev Vychurov, http://vk.com/videos16595071, posted July 30, 2013

Occupy Pedophilia members in Kamensk spray foam in a victim’s rectum: video from the VK page of Lev Vychurov, http://vk.com/videos16595071, posted July 30, 2013

Occupy Pedophilia Kamensk is, however, renowned for its toughness even among the movement’s reprobates. As one journalist writes, it “operates much more harshly than other branches.” Allusions to death haunt its doings. At a July 1 rally in support of Putin’s anti-propaganda law, in the nearby town of Bogdanovich, the okkupatsi carried banners saying “50% of gays are pedophiles,” and a coffin. They titled a clip of the march “Bulygin’s funeral.”

Weapon found in Occupy Pedophilia's Sverdlovsk HQ: from http://rusplt.ru/society/pedoisteria_ugolovka.html

Weapon found in Occupy Pedophilia’s Sverdlovsk HQ: from http://rusplt.ru/society/pedoisteria_ugolovka.html

If the Kamensk group hasn’t killed anybody yet, they stand a good chance of doing so in future. The weapons cache I mentioned, found at their lair in nearby Sverdlovsk, is telling. Their videos seem more violent than others in the Occupy Pedophilia movement, too — at least judging from those on the page of movement activist Lev Vychurov (whose permanent status is “I HATE YOU ALL”). They force foam in victims’ anuses (as in the video above, titled “Anal Watchman”). They make them swallow urine, which they call the “magic elixir.” In one film, “Loser on the Run,” a man is electroshocked, sprayed with what seems to be urine in his eyes, beaten both indoors and outdoors, and kicked in the head. And here I’ll break my own strictures and show part of his face — because the face says more than all my words ever could:

Still from Оккупай -педофилия Каменск Выпуск No.5: беглец-неудачник (now apparently removed from VK.com)

Still from Оккупай -педофилия Каменск
Выпуск No.5: беглец-неудачник (now apparently removed from VK.com)

The world and the Internet are now full of passionate proposals for doing something about Russia: boycotts, protests, shows of solidarity from the sincere to the specious. I don’t know what to add. But I’d suggest pressuring VK.com to act vigorously to remove pages from its site that portray abuses or promote criminal acts. (The company’s financial history is shady, but information on its ownership structure can be found here.) That would at least slow the ceaseless circulation of these images of violence, which (to paraphrase words that Jorge Luis Borges once attributed to an imaginary heretic) multiply the most abominable aspects of humankind.

Some more terrorists for Hillel Neuer to hand over to the authorities: Myself included

I’ll start with this tweet.

Maikel Nabil #FuckSCAF jpgThis was one of the first things Maikel Nabil Sanad tweeted after release from almost a year in military jails. Maikel Nabil is a heroic campaigner against the Egyptian military. He’s also, unfortunately, one of the (only) two local informants that Hillel Neuer and UN Watch have tried to enlist to lend fake credibility for their smears against human rights activist Mona Seif.

Mona Seif using mobile phone to trigger bomb: © Matthew Cassel, justimage.org

Mona Seif, probably using mobile phone to trigger bomb: © Matthew Cassel, justimage.org

One of Hillel Neuer’s points is that the Twitter hashtag #FuckIsrael, used on occasion by Seif and many other Egyptian twitterati, is an incitement to hate and terror. “Tweets for terror,” they call these. Or as one of Neuer’s media mouthpieces writes, “Seif’s Twitter account reveals a propensity to express the most vulgar kind of hatred towards Israel …. in terms of how she expresses herself: #F[expletive deleted]Israel is a popular choice.” The “anti-Israel, pro-terror woman”‘s messages “advocate terrorism against the Jewish State.”

Applying the F-word to institutions, then, is — like the use of “insh’allah” and other clever code — a mark of terrorist sympathies. So it’s hard to account for Maikel Nabil’s tweet above, which urges fucking the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF): the military junta that guarded order against the forces of Islam, darkness, and democracy during the post-Mubarak interregnum. Is Maikel Nabil a vulgar anti-government terrorist? Moreover, the tweet reads: “Stand in solidarity with Samira Ibrahim, tomorrow 11am. You’re needed so that crimes won’t be repeated.” Samira Ibrahim had the courage to press a case against the military for subjecting her and other women to virginity tests. She’s also, however, distinctly on Hillel Neuer’s bad side.

Maybe Neuer shouldn’t have been so quick to exploit Maikel. I wrote to Hillel Neuer and others tonight, asking just this question:

Neuer 1 copy

So far, no reply.

Unquestionably the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would think that tweet was terrorism. They jailed Maikel Nabil and almost killed him for “insulting the military,” after all. And this tweet is perfectly consistent with Maikel’s record of standing up to military rule. But — although I admire Maikel Nabil as a hero for his struggle against forced conscription, and loathe the idea of him returning to prison — it does seem as though Hillel should realize the magnitude of his crimes. As Neuer would undoubtedly remind us, SCAF kept the peace treaty with Israel going. Therefore this kind of obscene opposition only flouts peace and encourages terrorist violence. Maikel is outside Egypt now, but probably Hillel Neuer, that supporter of the powers that be, will arrange with European authorities for his extradition.

I do not want to single out Maikel Nabil. Alas, I have to tell Hillel that there was a lot of #FuckSCAF terror-tweeting going around, among Maikel Nabil’s supporters. Mona Seif called for some SCAF-fucking in Maikel’s defense, as you’d expect from a pro-terror woman:

FUCK SCAF MONA SEIF copy

But so did other activists like Mona Eltahawy and Gigi Ibrahim:

FREE MAIKEL FUCK SCAF copy

Was everybody around Maikel promoting vulgar anti-government violence? The question becomes: Why is Hillel Neuer palling around with terrorists?

People in Egypt terror-tweet against the government for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they’re upset because the government is shooting at them.

FuckSCAF 1 copy

Sometimes they’re irrationally irritated because they’ve seen other protesters murdered.

FuckSCAF2 copy

Sometimes they take their friends’ problems far too personally.

FuckSCAF 3 copyEven Palestinians terror-tweet across the border, in sympathy.

FUCKSCAF 4 copyMany things can lead people into terror-tweeting. The point isn’t to waste time examining causes, though. The point is to respond to terror-tweeting firmly, with unequivocal force. Hillel Neuer can surely persuade SCAF to deal with these people (except for the last one: he may be Israel’s problem).

The crisis we face is bigger, though.

Hillel Neuer’s main work as a human rights activist is trawling through his enemies’ tweets and public and private statements, looking for criticisms of Israel. But in his singleminded search, he’s missing a lot of other terrorist obscenities. How would Hillel Neuer respond to things like this — people so offended by “human rights abuses” that their blind anger draws them into terror-tweeting?

Fucksaudi copy

Of course, Saudi Arabia isn’t Israel. But if Mona Seif exposed herself as a terrorist by objecting to gas sales to Israel, then what can you say about somebody who wants to fuck the oil supplier for the entire world? Gitmo is too good for these people. They deserve some sophisticated form of torture, like interning at the UN Watch offices.

Then there are the anti-Putin tweeters, who are probably Chechen terrorists.

FuckPutin copy

In truth, though, there’s a moral dilemma in all this for Hillel Neuer (or there would be if the word “moral” didn’t get the willies being five words away from his name). The fact is, terror-tweeters don’t just call for fucking good guys. Sometimes they encourage fucking things that Hillel Neuer also dislikes. 

Think of what mixed feelings Hillel must have on reading this:

FuckGAddafi copy 2

On the one hand, Gaddafi was not Hillel Neuer’s kind of guy. On the other hand, undoubtedly this is terror-tweeting, and deserves the maximum penalty. (Not to mention that Gaddafi was actually menaced by fucking with a rebel’s baton in the moments before his death. That preceded this tweet by five months, but the terror-tweeter still bears moral responsibility.)

And there are all the #FuckAssad tweets that follow Syrian atrocities. Sometimes these even boast a #KillAssad hashtag. But I haven’t seen Hillel Neuer raise a single faint twitch or twoot in objection to these calls for violence!  Probably he’s too busy.

Fuck Assad 2 copy

Or could it be — I’m just speculating — that Hillel allows people to get angry about rights abuses when caused by Israel’s enemies, but not when they’re perpetrated by Israel itself? That would be awfully inconsistent for a “human rights activist.” But I wonder.

Then, of course, there’s el-Ikhwan el-Muslimun, the Muslim Brotherhood. Hillel hates them, of course, not least because they contain some real anti-Semites, unlike the anti-Semitism Hillel’s job requires him to invent. How hard it must be, then, for him to wrap his head round the fact that so many Egyptian activists who tweet #FuckIsrael also tweet #FuckMorsi, or #FuckIkhwan! How can Hillel manage to condemn the first as terror-tweeting, but not the second? Really, I’m afraid they all should go to jail, if Hillel wants to be true to his principles (an open question). The miscreants range from really angry people —

Fuck Morsi 1 copy

to those unreasonably offended by the Ikhwan’s mimicry of Mubarak —

Fuck Morsi 2 copy

to those who sound almost idealistic in their embrace of vulgar terrorism.

FuckMorsi Nora Younis copy

Sometimes I don’t know how Hillel does his job, it involves squaring so many contradictions; it’s like Machiavelli mated with non-Euclidean geometry. But I’m sure if you spend enough time in the UN Watch offices at Minitrue, it all makes sense.

And here it’s time for a confession. I realize I’ve outed some of the most prominent figures in Egyptian activism as terrorist supporters. Sorry! But I am guilty also, just like Maikel Nabil and the rest. I have used #FuckSCAF too — not only on Twitter, but in my own blog, here. I am ashamed by my flirtation with fundamentalist terrorism; I feel I should get a cushy job at the Quilliam Foundation and do penance by consorting with idiots like Shiraz Maher; but that isn’t punishment enough. If Hillel Neuer can find somebody who speaks Arabic, I suggest he phone the military prosecutor here in Egypt, and turn me in. I have plenty of free time to go over to their sinister compound, called C28, in Nasr City and (as the prosecutors tend to put it) “sit down for a cup of coffee.”

L: Big Brother. R: Mommie Dearest.

L: Big Brother. R: Mommie Dearest.

In fact: I know the place. I snapped these photos of C28 in December 2011, while I was demonstrating for Maikel Nabil; I took them surreptitiously since I was under the scrutiny of a number of guards. Photographing army installations is illegal. You might give away where power’s nerve centers hide; and if Israel (or Lesotho, or Liechtenstein) ever attacks Egypt, the first place they’d want to bomb is the military prosecutor’s, since without it the whole country would collapse into the state of nature, uncensored, brutish, and short.

The image on the right is a close-up of the figure of Justice on the building, wearing a long robe and carrying two empty scales that look more like coat-hangers. The message is apparently that military justice either is an avenging Joan Crawford (“No wire hangers!“) or will deliver your dry-cleaning for a small fee.  Either role is preferable to what the military prosecutor actually does. And cleaner.

Mohamed el-Gendy, tortured to death by Egyptian security forces, 2013

Mohamed el-Gendy, activist, tortured to death by Egyptian security forces, 2013

Does Hillel Neuer know anything about the filth that the people he defames are giving their lives to clean up — filth he only adds to with his smarmy lies? Does it occur to him that his fake charges of “supporting terror” lend comfort to their enemies: that he echoes the same smears they hear at home (and sometimes face in court) for their rights work? Does he ever try to understand the brutality that Egyptian democracy activists have confronted: under Mubarak, under the military, under Morsi? Does he have an inkling, could he endure even a glimpse, of the criminality and killing they’ve faced on the streets and in torture chambers alike?  Is he capable of comprehending what drives them to anger — and why they instinctively grasp the abuses in Cairo and the abuses in the Occupied Territories as similar, continuous, connected? I didn’t notice him among the handful of demonstrators outside C28; anything Neuer has garnered about that kind of thing, even the misery that Maikel Nabil underwent, he’s picked up from a distance. Indeed, I doubt he’d ever have the nerve to come to Egypt.  If Neuer did show up at C28, he’d probably be among the informers.

One Twitterer wrote a while ago:

Fuck as a word copy 2All the more so if you’re living what folks have lived through in Cairo, or Damascus, or Gaza. Hillel Neuer, though, doesn’t know directly what it’s like either to suffer or witness human rights abuses. He’s above all that.