I’d like to think I’m not easily shocked. That there is very little that could disturb me. And I’m not. And there isn’t. But upon watching the documentary Hunting in Russia presented by the CBC’s The Passionate Eye, I was disturbed. Wait, disturbed isn’t really the word. Shocked maybe, sickened, but mostly a feeling of despair had washed over me and the images of the film stayed with long after I stopped watching. That quality alone is a testimony to the effectiveness of this film.
We had such high hopes for Russia after the collapse of communism. Remember (for those of you old enough) the sense of relief that nuclear Armageddon would no longer be a part of our daily thoughts. Of course it was less of a threat as the premise of MAD (mutually assured destruction) took hold but we still had Sting singing I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too (yikes what an awful dirge that was). But the iron curtain was lifted and a jolly drunk fat man, Boris Yeltsin, danced and bafooned and handed out democracy like Santa Claus on a three day bender. And we were so happy to see that Russia was no mystery to be feared but a place full of people just like us. They want blue jeans, Big Macs, rock music, choice, and distraction. All the things that the tv show Dallas had promised.
But there is an ugliness displayed in Hunting in Russia that is a slice of nightmare. If you are gay and live in Russia then you are persecuted. Vigilante groups, gangs, that are organized and cunning, are prevalent in over thirty cities are seeking out gay men to beat, humiliate, degrade, and film. The films are then uploaded on the internet. Anyone can see these horrific acts. Gay men have urine poured on their heads, are made to rape themselves with bottles, dance naked, and are in many cases beaten unconscious. One man had a gun put to his head and made to confess his homosexuality. Then, to make the nightmare a little more horrific you can be fired in Russia from your job for being gay. Which no doubt will have happened to these men once the video is released on the internet. The clips shown were graphic and terrifying and filled me with dread.
I say dread because the hatred displayed by these vigilante groups is so unbridled and irrational. One of the leaders, an impish red headed woman in her mid twenties, leads a gang of muscled up young manboys like a perverted Peter Pan, claims that she is protecting children. That’s right. Children. The predominant belief in Russia is that homosexuality and pedophilia are the same thing. This Bizzaro Peter Pan tells the documentarians that what her and her testosterone zombies are doing is going after pedophiles and, she says laughingly, that it just happens that they are also gay. But then later she also attests that being a gay man means you are a pedophile. It is this kind of circular, twisted logic, that allows her and many, many, others like her, to infuse a measure of righteous justice into the hate crimes they engage in. This hate, and it is a hate I don’t think I’ve ever seen to this degree, is committed in the name of protecting the children of Russia.
The state more or less endorses these gangs by making almost no arrests, prosecuting seldom, and if a case does go to trial it is stalled and delayed and eventually thrown out. One thing I found interesting is that the gay community is forbidden by law to protest the state endorsed hatred but orthodox religious groups are free to protest, say, an abortion clinic. So you aren’t allowed to get together with a sign or two and say “hey, we are not liking the systematic terrorization of our community,” but if you feel like telling a woman what she can or can’t do with her body then, by all means, feel free.
I feel as though I have gotten a sudden blast of how far away Russian ideals and attitudes are from most Western principals. How do you reason with an anger and hatred that turns a person into an animal? Or was the person always an animal and now has found a focus for their feral nature to turn loose upon? And I use the term animal probably incorrectly as a dog or a dolphin are capable of some empathy and sympathy for the suffering of others but clearly those who terrorizing gay men in Russia are not. Though some talked about boycotting the Sochi Olympics the gay community in Russia was against this because they felt it would bring down some very nasty repercussions. So, if baby wasn’t given his bauble, it would be hell to pay. I guess in a manner of speaking the gay community in Russia was held with a gun to their collective head, forced to silently endorse Putin and his policies. An impossible situation.
The gulag is still an ever present aspect of Russian society. The bricks and mortar of the prison have been replaced with stigma and hatred and, for me, Russia is as confusing and scary as it had been when I was a child and wondered why they hated so much.