Sunday, May 26, 2013

Putin On The Blame

I was tasked with writing a news piece for an upcoming issue of DNA Magazine on the horrific murder of 22 year old Vladislav Tornovoi, in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Russia. It was not something I particularly wanted to spend a day thinking about or focusing on. Tornovoi was killed outside the block of flats where he grew up, by people he knew, one of them since childhood. They stripped him, slashed his anal area, pushed two beer bottles up inside, bashed his head eight times with a concrete block and tried to light his body on fire. All because he admitted to being gay.

Vladislav Tornovoi, murdered in Volgograd
Anti-gay murder and violence often does not get reported as such in Russia. The reason this one did, is because the killers were trying to illicit public sympathy by offering their motive: "he said he was a fag." In my research, I discovered their aim may have been met. It seems even the victim's family are trying to protect the last shred of his dignity by proclaiming their son wasn't gay. Over three quarters of Russia's population think being gay is either a bad habit, disease or the result of trauma. Polls show that support for equal rights for gays have gone down by double digit percentage points since 2005.

Putin has overseen a renaissance of the Orthodox Church, now just an appendage of the Kremlin. Its leader has said homosexuality is one of the biggest threats to Russia. Putin himself blames the gays for Russia's population decline. Many regions, including St Petersburg, have outlawed "gay propaganda" which can be used to stop any form of open expression, including pride marches, kissing, they even sued Madonna for passing out pink bracelets. Russian parliament is pushing forward a national "no gay propaganda" law which is wildly popular. Is it any wonder that in such a climate, anti-gay violence is on a disturbing uptick? Never doubt that leaders wield not just power, but influence over a population. Tornovoi's brutal murder is the result of Putin's anti-gay policies.

Russian officials said that activists would not be allowed to gather in protest against his killing. It was "gay propaganda". The courageous activists went ahead with their rally protest, and 30 of them were arrested for breaking the law - while being savagely attacked by Orthodox vigilantes carrying crosses.

So yeah - I didn't want to spend a day focusing on the disturbing news out of Russia. But that in itself is the most disturbing. As we celebrate marriage equality in new states and new countries in the west, what's really important? Our Russian brothers and sisters are fearing and fighting for their lives, and we must think about this, write about this, dialogue about this. Silence still equals death.


Anonymous said...

Very well said Jesse.

Tony said...

Disturbing, to say the least. Aside from the horrible crime itself, the really scary thing is Putin's malevolent influence. You're right - it's shining the journalist's spotlight on it is critical.