Did you know that only 10% of the world’s population lives in countries where same sex marriage has been legalised? Homosexual behaviour is still criminalised in more than 38 countries around the world. Tolerance and acceptance is not the norm. However in countries which are lacking in education and resources it is almost possible to understand how this might be the case. It is easier to look at a third world states and understand how ignorance can flourish. It is then all the more shocking when a country of resources, education and international standing begins to change its laws to walk down the dark path of criminalisation of homosexuality in any form.
Although male homosexuality was actually decriminalised in 1993 in the Federation of Russia, there is a distinct absence of legislation, which protects against all discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Russia. Notably same-sex marriages and civil unions are not recognised. However, it is the most recent of the Russian Federation’s legislation, which has the international community protesting. Many states within the Federation have had their own legislation for some time prohibiting information dissemination with reference to homosexuality. This year, a federal bill was passed which banned the distribution of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ to minors. One could be tempted to see it as one of the biggest smoke-screens for some time and wonder what other legislation or political manoeuverings are taking place in or by the Russian Federation. Human Rights, after all, provide a perfect eclipse as any audience is forced into an emotional knee jerk reaction to such laws. What else is happening in Russia?
But whether this is an incredible elaborate smokescreen or not, the issue remains, that an educated country is closing the door on basic human rights. There is no complicated argument which needs investigation here. It is a simple case of repression and oppression; some have been quoted as saying that the Russian Federation is taking a step back into the Middle Ages. It matters not what century one is looking at, we all live in the present and cannot ignore today.
What is next? With international governments making very little difference to the Federation’s legislative bent, can it be expected that Tchaikovsky’s vast legacy will be published and performed under a different name in case minors are affected by the history of one Russia’s (up until now) favourite sons? Are Maria Feodorova’s literary works to be burned or banned? Will Lenin’s own decriminalisation of homosexuality or even Yeltsin’s 1993 decriminalisation be removed from the history books in schools and universities? Perhaps the Ballets Russes will be disbanded considering it was founded by Sergei Diaghilev and will all traces of Nijinsky and Nureyev be scratched from view? Pushkin might not have been gay but openly wrote about the bonus of male bedfellows when communicating with his gay friend Philip Vigel. Perhaps all of his prose and poetry needs to be removed from the bookshelves instantly too?
Let’s not forget Nikolai Gogol’s plays and stories or even Tolstoy’s musings on his own homosexual attractions in his autobiographical writing of his childhood. The list of gay/bisexual Russians who are prominent in the arts is extensive. Poets Mikhail Kuzmin (1972-1936), Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (1866-1946), Nikolai Klyuev (1887-1937), Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) and Ryurik Ivnev (189-1981). Let’s not forget the painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858), composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), publisher Anna Yevreinova (1844-1919), and filmmaker Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1989-1948) to name but a few who are part of not only Russia’s cultural history but more notably the cultural history of the species homo sapiens on this planet.
Today’s gay and bisexual artists, writers and composers not only need acknowledgement but also protection and nurturing. It is safe to mention Slava Mogutin (1974 -) Siberian born artist, sculptor and author who is currently based in New York. Thanks to the United States and the work of Amnesty International and PEN American Center, he has been granted political asylum. How many other incredible creatives such as Slava are left struggling in the Russian Federation?
Perhaps we should also begin to wonder whether gay engineers or architects who have built prominent buildings, bridges or icons will now be forgotten as their creations are destroyed or their own histories re-written? Do not be sidetracked. This issue is not just about the arts; it’s about the situation we should all enjoy not as a luxury or privilege but as a basic human right.
It is time for the Pandorian to take a stand, smokescreen or not. Let none sit idly by, loving the arts, whether music, dance or literature to the detriment of not only our mutual history but also the present day cultivation of what humans have to offer which separates us from animals, which is the sophistication and demonstration of beauty in all its forms and those who create it and perform it, regardless of their gender preference or sexual orientation.
Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: © Slava Mogutin