But the show, with its horror film music and juddering camera
work, was another swipe at the gay community — not a gust of
tolerance. The force behind it is one of Russia's top propagandists,
whose programs have helped to bring criminal charges against others
on President Vladimir Putin's unofficial black list.
The primetime broadcast on state television points to the
double-game the Kremlin is playing on gay rights.
To the West, Russia has sought to extend reassurances as it prepares
to host the Winter Olympics that a law passed this summer banning
homosexual "propaganda" does not discriminate against gays. To its
domestic audience, the government has ramped up the anti-gay
rhetoric, unifying its fraying electoral base with a popular refrain
of traditional values.
The TV show by Arkady Mamontov — who made his name by taking a
hatchet to punk rock group Pussy Riot and other opposition activists
— is the latest example of Russia's unwillingness to back down from
its legislative crackdown on gays. Champions of the law melted away
when Western outrage reached a peak over the summer — but they are
now back in force on national airwaves.
Mamontov told a live studio audience that the scenes he filmed
should be a warning "that we have to save the family, traditions,
traditional love, or otherwise we'll be hit by something bigger than
the Chelyabinsk meteorite" that fell on Russia in February.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists filmed for the show
were carefully edited to make them seem alternately corrupt,
subversive, demonic or laughably inept. One shot created an awkward
juxtaposition of a gay activist with a poster of Che Guevara, a
none-too-subtle attempt to portray the activist as a trouble-maker.
Mamontov uses their stories to drive home a sinister message: Gay
organizations, funded almost exclusively by money from abroad, are
Trojan horses that will give the West control over Russia from
One scene shows behind-doors recordings of Igor Kochetkov, chairman
of the Russian LGBT Network, in which he thanks Western sponsors for
their support in what is supposedly a closed meeting for groups
supported by the Open Society, a foundation established by the U.S.
philanthropist, George Soros. Mamontov's crew spins the bland speech
as evidence that the LGBT movement is funneling vast funds from the
West, with very little indication of how the money is being spent.
The thesis is simple: Much in the same way Jews in Soviet times were
portrayed as pawns of foreign capitalist culture, gays are being
presented as spreading homosexuality — in what Mamontov dubs the
"LGBT-zation" of Russia — in a drive to push a foreign agenda.
"I believe that an influential (gay) minority is holding the
governments of Germany, France, England and Holland by the throat
and telling them: Do this, do that," he said at the program's
opening. "Normalcy is already in the opposition."
But Mamontov isn't just an ordinary pundit: The material dug up for
his shows has in the past landed people in jail.
A member of a leftist opposition group was sentenced to
two-and-a-half years in prison, while two other group members each
face up to 10 years behind bars, after a 2012 program showed what it
claimed to be footage of the three men accepting money from a
foreign government official.
LGBT groups could come under similar legal fire.
[to top of second column]
A 2012 law requires any NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging
in political activity to register as "foreign agents," in a country
where that term means spy. Any organization failing to do so can be
subject to heavy fines and jail time for its leaders. The law places
gay NGOs on perilous ground, in particular because many have
contacts with fellow groups abroad because of limited funding within
LGBT rights activists requested permission to hold a protest over
the program outside Moscow's television tower, a symbol of state
television. The request was rejected by the mayor's office, who said
the application violated the gay propaganda law.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia's ombudsman for children's rights, said last
week that anyone promoting the rights of single-sex families should
be "made outcasts, damned for centuries as destroyers of the family
and of human kind."
Statements like these play an outsized role in public perceptions
about gays in Russia, where polls show that the vast majority of the
population says they don't have a single LGBT acquaintance.
"In order to make people interested in the government, it chose what
it thinks are topics close to the people, like this one (the gay
issue)," said Anton Krasovsky, a journalist who was fired after he
came out as gay on air at a Kremlin-controlled TV station.
At the same time, Russia is trying to win back credit in the
international arena ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
"There is always Russia for Russians and then Russia for the West,"
said Krasovsky. "It's important to look at what (Russian officials)
are doing on the domestic market."
The head of the Sochi organizing committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko, has
assured American television audiences and members of the
International Olympic Committee that there will be no discrimination
against gay athletes during the Winter Games in February.
In an interview with Russian daily RBK last week, Sports Minister
Vitaly Mutko repeated his support for the anti-gay law, expressing
regret only that it had been passed before the games.
"Perhaps the government ought to have postponed the inclusion of a
ban on homosexual propaganda in this law," he said in the interview.
"It was easy to predict the resonance it would have in the West,
particularly ahead of the Sochi Olympics."
Putin himself has presented conflicting messages on the gay law.
"We should not create any xenophobia in society ... against anyone
whatsoever, including against people of non-traditional sexual
orientation," he said last week.
But he reaffirmed his support for the law, which he said was
designed to protect children.
Press; LAURA MILLS]
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