While homophobia and homophobic violence have been a problem in Russia for years, international attention to the issue has skyrocketed recently, once Vladimir Putin signed a controversial bill banning ‘gay propaganda’ into law in the middle of last year. The bill was passed unanimously by the Duma, Russia’s highest legislative body, and is supported by as much as 88% of the general population according to recent polling by the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre. Unfortunately, this law is part of a much broader shift in public opinion against homosexuality. Deviating sharply from the dominant global trend, the percentage of the population opposed to same-sex marriage has actually increased, growing from 59% in 2005 to 86% in 2013.
What are the causes of this rash of anti-gay sentiment? Russian political discourse has been dominated in recent years by an omnipresent sense of siege. Leaders in Moscow, especially those allied with Putin, view human rights organisations in Russia as dangerous foreign implants threatening to destabilise the Russian state. Debate between the Kremlin establishment and the opposition is routinely shut down by invoking Russia’s independent national identity, and complex and worthwhile social and political arguments are often dismissed out of hand as stemming from differences of culture. Authoritarian ideologues in the country have spread the idea that tolerance for homosexuals and respect for their civil liberties are part of a Western plot to weaken Russia by corrupting its children, undermining its traditional values, spreading disease, and exacerbating its demographic problem. Unless the free exchange of information is protected and promoted in Russia, fighting back against this tide of intolerance and violence will be an uphill battle.
With this new Channel 4 documentary by the BBC, many hope to do exactly that.
In “Hunted”, BBC reporters penetrate the ranks of Russia’s most violent anti-gay organisations, revealing the dark side of modern Russia, ”where gay people are hunted like animals,” on national TV. With the Winter Olympics in Sochi now in full swing, this documentary is a must-see for civil libertarians all over the world.