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SSEES Research Blog


A showcase of research from UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies staff and students


International responses to homophobia in Russia: A win-win for Putin

By Sean L Hanley, on 26 March 2014

Gay putin

Photo: Brian Minkoff-London Pixels/Wikicommons
CC BY-SA 3.0

Vladimir Putin has used the international backlash against Russia’s sweeping anti-gay laws as part of his wider strategy for asserting conservative Russian values against those of the West argues Richard Mole.

Despite the best efforts of President Putin to keep the focus on sport, the Sochi Winter Olympics became a focal point for international criticism of the Russian law banning the spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, with global media coverage of the Olympics casting a spotlight on Russia’s anti-gay laws and rise of extreme homophobia in the country.

The law did not initially contain a definition of what constituted propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations – not that this stopped the police from making arrests.  But in December the government published the Criteria of Internet Content Harmful for Children’s Health and Development, which listed the following as examples of homosexual propaganda:

  • Information that justified the acceptability of alternative family relations, including any statistics or stories about children adopted by gay or lesbian couples, which might lead to the conclusion that same-sex couples are ‘no worse than straight couples at coping with parental responsibilities’;
  • ‘Intense emotional images’ aimed at discrediting traditional family models and propagating alternative family models;
  •  Information that contains ‘images of behaviour associated with the denial of the traditional family model’ which promotes homosexual relationships;
  • Depiction of homosexual people as role models, including any mention of famous homosexuals; and
  • Anything that ‘approves or encourages’ LGBT people in their homosexuality.

The latter condition is so poorly defined, that it effectively means that any content which may be considered offensive by the Russian government can now be deemed illegal and subject to prosecution.

The international backlash was vocal. (more…)

Slamming Sochi?

By Sean L Hanley, on 17 February 2014


Photo: kenyee BY-NC-ND 2.0

The international media’s predictable appetite for Olympic bad news stories has led to  unduly negative coverage of the Sochi games, argues Valerie Pacer. However, the influence of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s ruling party still seems close at hand.

In the lead in to the Sochi Winter Olympics, much media attention has been focused on Russia’s controversial homosexual propaganda laws, environmental concerns, Russian corruption, and the composition of the national teams being sent to Sochi.

The week before the Opening Ceremony brought more negative coverage as journalists began to file Sochi-based reports. Neither has the Opening Ceremony escaped criticism. With all the coverage focusing on the negatives and less on the athletes and the events has the reporting been, as state-owned international cable channel Russia Today argued, a case of ‘see it, slam it’?

Some of the criticism has certainly been deserved, but has the coverage been overblown? As journalists began arriving in Sochi stories emerged of the non-existence of hotel lobbies, lack of door handles and uncovered manholes around the city.

But stories about the questionable colour of the tap water, although strange for Westerners, are not that unusual for a country where people who can afford it drink bottled water – and are more of a concern for Sochi residents than people who will be there for only a few weeks. The problems encountered show the difficulties of taking a city with limited modern infrastructure – and of building it into a modern Olympic calibre city in only seven years. (more…)