What the heck is wrong with Vladimir Putin? Has the man lost his mind?
Is he, as my son suggested recently, acting out like some sort of international brat because he’s jealous of all the attention the Middle East is getting? Is he nostalgic for the days of the Cold War? Or is he just a massive jackass?
Putin’s government recently thumbed its nose at the U.S. and granted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s request for asylum in Russia, despite our insistence that Snowden be returned.
Snowden accepted, thanking the Russians and quickly settling into his new home, where I’m sure that none of his phone calls or other private communications will be monitored. Because, as we know, the Russians are all about protecting privacy when it comes to phone calls and the Internet.
Another thing that has a lot of people, including President Obama, seeing red is the Russian government’s recent crackdown on gay and lesbian people. Putin recently signed a law not only prohibiting adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples, but also forbidding such adoption by parents living in any country where there are marriage equality laws.
He’s also signed a law allowing the police to arrest tourists and foreigners “suspected of being gay or pro-gay and detain them for up to 14 days,” according to a story in The New York Times. Another law threatens jail time for “homosexual propaganda,” an offense so broadly defined that a person can be arrested for advocating tolerance. Beatings and violence against LGBT people are up all over Russia, with the authorities turning a blind eye.
It’s increasingly clear that the motivation for all of this is pure, classic scapegoating. A totalitarian regime needs an enemy, someone to blame for the loss of some imaginary golden age. Hitler needed the Jews, our homegrown wingnuts blame immigrants, and Putin has decided to pick on gay people to draw attention away from his own shabby failures.
Some LGBT activists are suggesting that the Putin regime be punished with a boycott of Russian vodka, particularly Stolichnaya, even though Stoli’s actually made in Latvia now.
More seriously, some are pushing hard for the U.S. Olympic Committee to declare a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics planned for Sochi, Russia, especially since there’s no indication from Putin that American athletes, coaches or Olympic committee staff who are gay, or even ones who speak out for tolerance, will be safe from arrest, confinement and deportation.
Some Putin supporters are claiming that this is because only straight athletes “meet the ideals” of the Olympics. Apparently they’ve forgotten that the event originated in Ancient Greece, where guys wrestled naked and one of the most famous poets was a woman named Sappho of Lesbos. Yeah, that means what you think it means.
Until recently, I’ve been an advocate of what I call the “Jesse Owens” theory. As you may remember from your history, Owens, an African-American runner, went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even though Adolf Hitler saw the Games as a way to promote the ideals of Aryan superiority, and the Nazi party newspaper was demanding that blacks, Jews, and other what they called “undesirables” be barred from competing.
Faced with threats of a boycott, Hitler backed down, and Owens went on to win four gold medals, becoming the most successful athlete at that year’s Games. So I’ve always thought that the best way to deal with bad behavior from an Olympic host country is to get their athletes out on the field and whip their tails, fair and square.
I’d love to see an openly gay athlete, like American figure skater Johnny Weir or New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, beat the Russian team on the ice (although given Weir’s age, that’s a longer shot than it used to be).
On the other hand, I have to acknowledge the point made by some boycott advocates, like British actor and comedian Stephen Fry (who’s both gay and Jewish) that even Hitler wasn’t threatening to arrest Owens for being black. If Russia’s threatening to lock up our country’s citizens for who they are, or even for advocating for other people’s rights, then yeah, we’ve got a boycott-worthy problem.
Imagine if Putin were reviving the old Soviet-era oppression of Christians by signing laws keeping Christians from adopting children, or saying non-Russian Christians were subject to being locked up and kicked out of the country. A boycott would be a no-brainer in that case, and it should be in this one.
We need to tell Putin if he doesn’t cut this nonsense out, we won’t be sending an Olympic team: We’ll be sending those idiots who picket soldiers’ funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs instead. If that doesn’t back him down, nothing will.