No Progress In Russia

Marten Weber

These days, it is hard to find a society that is more openly bigoted, racist, homophobic, antisemitic, nationalistic, corrupt and repressive than Russia. The big bear is growling and killing his own cubs.

Preposterous and dangerous, the situation in Russia is continuously and rapidly deteriorating. NGOs are being harassed, forced to register as ‘foreign agents.’ Gay help groups now barely exist. Any show of homosexual tendency is attacked by both the public and the authorities. There are now laws under discussion to criminalize gay sex, fine people for gay behaviour in public, and for the institutionalization of gay teenagers in psychiatric clinics. Whatever progress Russia has made after the fall of communism has been reversed.

My partner and I went to Thailand for a bit of sun and papaya salad, and ended up befriending a young Russian who is working there as a tour guide. His story is worth telling, because it is a story of courage and incredible resilience.

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G. told his parents that he was interested in boys when he was only fifteen, whereupon his father tried to set him on fire, shoot him, drown him, and when he miraculously failed to kill him (but managed to seriously burn his own right arm), he kicked him out of the house. For several years, G. lived in Moscow, sometimes homeless, sometimes staying at friends’ apartments, and for two years with a French diplomat whose bed he shared. He finished school and started university, where he joined a group of gay activists. Three weeks later he was beaten up so severely that he spent the rest of the year in hospital.

“Discrimination is everywhere,” he told us. “People spit on you. Gangs of thugs beat up young boys just for ‘looking gay.’ The offices of our society were ransacked several times. Being gay in Russia is akin to betraying the ‘values of the fatherland.’ What you have in Russia today is fanaticism worse than in Nazi Germany. People have no religion, no ideology, no values left, other than what Putin and his goons tell them. And their only message is a fascist one. There is no room for queer politics in a fascist society.”

After recovering from his injuries, he helped organized a gay march in Moscow. A day before the event, he was kidnapped, and with a bag over his head and his hands tied dumped in an ice-cold river. He survived even that.

“Gays are tough. Seriously. Come on, they’ve tried to kill us off for centuries, and we are still around!” G. says, smiling.

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After his last brush with death however, he thought it wise to leave Russia. “All things said and done, it’s not really a country you can live in if you like to think for yourself. It’s a place full of stooges and morons. There is almost no intelligence left in the country.”

To prove his point, he took us to meeting of gay Russians in Pattaya. There were almost a hundred young men and women for whom Thailand has become a new home. We sat around a fire, drinking Singha beer and listening to the waves breaking at the beach. “The tolerant spirit of Thai culture and the economic opportunities make this a great place to rebuild a life. That’s why there are so many Russians here. So many gay Russians.”

I watched G. put his arm around his Thai boyfriend, draw him closer and kiss him. The boyfriend was a little shy and looked at me, before protesting, “Oh, he kiss me all the time, everywhere! Even in supermarket!” Then his face turned red. G. shrugged his shoulders. “Well, you can’t do it in Russia! But here we are free.”

About Marten Weber

Marten Weber is of mixed parentage (a man and a woman) and has lived in more countries than he can count on hands and feet together. He speaks several languages, and believes in multiculturalism, tolerance, and free champagne in economy class. He is the author of the best-selling 'biography' of Casanova's gay brother Benedetto, dealing with the lives, the lust, and the adventures of men.