When a wave of protests started in Russia in response to the 2011 legislative election process, dissident Alexey Navalny, along with many other protesters, argued that ‘in a fair election Putin would be defeated.’ Latest poll findings from the independent Levada Centre prove that if ‘a fair election’ was held today, Putin would come out an indisputable winner. Public support for Putin’s political actions has reached 88%, a stratospheric percentage, when compared to 48% of Americans that approve of Obama’s job performance and meagre 29% of Brits that approve of Cameron-Clegg coalition. The chances of the “Snow Revolution” reviving any time soon are slim, as Russians’ propensity to protest has gone down to a historic low, only comparable to 2000, when Putin first came to power. If things continue like this, Ben Judah might have to re-write the unhappy ending of his romance story “How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin” into a happy one.
To many westerners, who are used to seeing Putin either airbrushed with Hitler’s moustache or with make-up on against a rainbow backdrop, these Levada poll results will be confusing, if not alarming. There is only one thing, which is worse than an evil dictator – it’s an evil dictator, who’s backed up by his nation’s majority. And even worse still – an evil dictator, backed up by a majority, who are brain-washed by a ‘zombie-box‘, controlled by that dictator. In case you are panicking, not knowing how to protect yourself against this Demon, who represses at home and aggresses abroad, don’t worry – George Soros has thought of a strategy on your behalf: “All available (EU) resources ought to be put to work in the war effort (in Ukraine) even if that involves running up budget deficits”. Needless to say, George didn’t offer to chip in himself, but we should all tighten our austerity belts, unless we want to see Russian armies marching through Ukraine and all the way to Warsaw and beyond.
By now Russian people must be used to all the open calls to war, hysteria, hypocrisy and double standards applied to their country by western politicians and media. Even before the Ukrainian war started, Russia was bashed for gay rights, following its controversial law on gay propaganda to minors , culminating with major world leaders snubbing the Winter Olympics altogether. Barak Obama was one of the leaders who refused to come to Sochi, explaining: “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” This impatience clearly doesn’t apply to the 13 US states that have “Crimes Against Nature” statute, outlawing sodomy between consenting adults. Nor does it prevent the US president from continuing their ‘long history of friendship” between Washington and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are executed.
These hypocrisies and double standards must be truly frustrating for Russian people to witness. Russia is not amongst the ten countries, where homosexuality may be punished by death, like Qatar, where despite the truly draconian law on gays, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held. Homosexuality is not banned in Russia like it is in 79 countries worldwide, including 40 commonwealth countries with whom the West is more than happy to deal with. Yes, Russian society is conservative and favours ‘traditional’ family values, but so are most other countries in the former Soviet bloc, where homophobia is as much of an issue, but which are not criticised for it as much.
For example, US and EU-backed Kiev has recently seen an attack against the gay club Pomada (Lisptick), the oldest movie theatre Zhovten went up in flames during a LGBT film screening, while the Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov declared that his party “People’s Front” will only enter into coalition with ‘democracy forces, not queer ones.’ Western politicians and media are turning a blind eye to these statements and attacks, as the Ukraine with their US-puppet government is their ally, but if similar events occurred in Russia, the western media would instantly use these news as a stick for bashing.
While most Russian people I know are not homophobic at all, some Russians could use an anti-gay card as a way of differentiating themselves from people in the West, especially now when they feel shunned and prejudiced against by the western world (which is why aggressive condemnation and confrontation of Russia over gay rights is counter-productive) However, when coming face-to-face with gays, these very same people will be tolerant, if not fascinated by them. In the public sphere, many Russian celebrities are openly gay, like Boris Moiseev or Diana Arbenina, or are in drag, like Verka Serdyuchka, and one should watch the recordings of their live concerts on Youtube to see how much they are accepted and adored by their Russian audiences.
Unfortunately, homophobic attacks do happen in Russia, but it is a problem endemic to most of the world. We all have a perception that British society is much less prejudiced towards gay people, but a 2013 report by Stonewall revealed that one in six lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the UK had been the victim of a homophobic hate crime or incident in the previous three years. This month Welsh referee Nigel Owens “revealed he has considered quitting the sport because of an increasing level of homophobic abuse in stadiums and on social media’, while Rugby Football Union has launched an investigation into alleged homophobic and racial abuse. There’s much work to do at home before we start bashing others abroad.
The above-mentioned double standards and hypocrisies over the Russian gay rights issue (which I agree is a big problem, which needs to be resolved over time, but not through blind outright confrontational condemnation) would be viewed by Russian people as a proof that gay rights are used as a political tool with which to delegitimize Russia’s government, thereby increasing Russian people’s distrust of the West and giving a boost to the popularity of Putin.
Most Russian people are familiar with Crimean history and know that when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine voted to be independent, Crimean support was the lowest of all of the Ukraine (only 54% in favor) with very low turnout (65%). The following year the Crimean parliament voted in favour of a referendum, but it was forcefully suppressed by Kiev’s administration, as a New York Times article from 1992 testifies. Since then separatist activism in Crimea is well-evidenced on a historical timeline of the UN resources library, while Kiev suppressed Crimea’s constitutional right to self-determination for many years, including the unilateral stripping of the post of Crimean President in 1994.
The West’s “Russian annexation of Crimea” narrative totally ignores Crimean history and disrespects Crimean people’s right to self-determination, which was finally exercised during the Crimean referendum in March this year. Maidan’s nationalist rhetoric did not chime with most of Crimeans and the violent takeover of administrative buildings in Kiev was a major motivational factor in organising a referendum, in order to become free of the coup-installed Kiev regime as soon as possible. Russia, having its own economic and geopolitical reasons, has provided military support for the referendum to avoid a violent attack from Ukraine, which would have been inevitable as the Odessa massacre and the subsequent war in Donbass showed. Now that Crimeans have re-unified with Russia, most of them are happier than the Russians themselves - hardly an attitude of people who were ‘annexed against their will’. Russian people are aware of all of this and are undoubtedly happy with the firmness, decisiveness and efficiency of their leader on the Crimean issue, thus boosting his popularity even further.
Western media attempts to portray Russians as euphoric nationalists brainwashed by Kremlin propaganda, while spreading the culturally and historically ignorant narrative that “Russia annexed Crimea”, are often classic cases of propaganda in themselves (e.g. see my analysis of BBC’s Bridget Kendall’s article) and only strengthen Russian people’s views that they are being prejudiced against, making them more distrustful of the West and more fond of their protective leader. Russians would see sanctions, both post-Crimea and post-claim (before any investigation) that Russia downed MH17, for what they are: tools to weaken Russia economically, which appears to be part of a bigger open plan for US energy dominance in Europe. It’s no coincidence, that amongst some of the targets of the U.S. sanctions against Russia or Russian-linked companies, two were directly aimed at slowing down or stopping South Stream.
For the majority of the world, who follow mainstream western press and thereby believe that Putin is a new Hitler, who annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, the rise in Putin’s popularity and decreased propensity to protest, as evidenced by Levada poll results, might be frightening. For any westerner, who has done a little bit of research beyond the mainstream media, and for the Donbass civilians, who dissented against Kiev, and who are shelled and killed for initially only wanting federalization for their region, these widely-accepted stories of Russian invasion and Putin being a new Hitler are sometimes ridiculously funny, but often extremely frightening – frightening because they are a reminder that we live within a topsy-turvy world, where truth is found in what is called ‘propaganda’, where European leaders can openly state their intent to terrorise civilians into submission and where they commit hideous war crimes with impunity without one western leader even so much as expressing one word of disapproval, while other nations, in this case Russia, who, despite having their own economic and geopolitical interests in Ukraine, are actually supporting and are trying to help the Donbass civilians, are blamed and sanctioned for it.