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Anti-gay campaign gaining nationwide status in Russia

March 30, 2012, 16:18 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

An anti-gay campaign in Russia seems to be gaining nationwide status. Lawmakers from Novosibirsk’s legislative body have suggested that a ban on “homosexual propaganda” among minors should be extended to the entire country. A number of Russian regions have already passed such laws.

Russia’s gay rights activists have condemned this ban as discriminatory. Lawmakers however divided on the issue. Some support the ban, others say it is a mere trick to distract Russians from more pressing problems.

The bill’s authors want to amend Russia’s Code of Administrative Offence to impose fines of 4,000-5,000 roubles on individuals, of 40,000-50,000 roubles on state officials, and of 400,000-500,000 roubles on legal entities.

“Propaganda of homosexuality is being widely spread in the present-day Russia,” says an explanatory note to the bill. Same-sex relations are popularized in media and also “through public actions that seek to present homosexual relations as normal behaviour.” It is extremely harmful for children and teenagers, according to Novosibirsk lawmakers.

In the period from 2003 to 2008, the Russian State Duma, or lower house of national parliament, four times voted down similar bills, saying that the mere notion of “homosexual propaganda” was worded vaguely.

The bill submitted by the Novosibirsk lawmakers follows similar laws passed in a number of other Russian regions. As of now, four Russian regions have imposed fines for propaganda of homosexuality among minors.

After the Ryazan region in central European Russia outlawed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) propaganda in 2006, LGBT people tried to challenge it at court but lost the case at all instances, including the Constitutional Court.

In September 2011, lawmakers from Russia’s north-western Arkhangelsk region followed the suite, and in 2012, similar “gay laws” were passed in two more Russian constituent regions, the Kostroma Region and the city of St. Petersburg.

The initiative of St. Petersburg’s authorities, who outlawed paedophilia propaganda along with propaganda of homosexuality, has come under criticism from both inside Russia and from abroad. St. Petersburg’s gay community staged several protest actions against the law. In late 2011, the U.S. State Department condemned the “gay law.”

According to Nikolai Alexeyev, a leader of Moscow’s gay community, it is vital to discriminate between propaganda and providing knowledge, a thing lacking in the law.

“Thus, because of the lack of clear wording we have been penalized for placing a poster reading ‘Homosexuality is Normal’ near a children’s library in one of Russian regions whilst in another region the court acquitted us for the same thing,” he said.

Alexeyev’s complaint on a similar law passed in the Ryazan region is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in his words, will pass its decision on the matter in July.

International human rights activists from the Human Rights Watch have condemned the bill proposed by the Novosibirsk lawmakers.

They labelled the document as “discriminatory” and “homophobic.” “Moreover, it is even more illiterate than the similar law passed in St. Petersburg,” Russian LGTB activist Igor Kochetkov told the Gazeta.ru on-line publication.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who initiated the homosexual propaganda ban in St. Petersburg, admitted that “the law ensures 100 percent protection to no one.” In an interview with the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, Milonov said that the ban is rather a way to influence the youth. “This law has marked Russia’s adherence to traditional values nor only of the Christian civilization but of the world culture in general. These views are shared by both believers and non-believers, while the new European and American liberals only seek to obliterate universal human values,” he said.

The State Duma in not unanimous on the matter either.

Thus, Vyacheslav Lysakov, a deputy chairman of the constitutional legislation committee, has voiced support to the bill. “It is an absolutely right initiative. Relations between adults are a delicate sphere which can be neither legally regulated nor stepped in. But it is necessary to protect minors with their yet unformed mentality so responsive to outside influences. It is necessary to protect children because they cannot do it themselves,” he stressed.

“On the one hand, I agree that children should be fenced off homosexual propaganda. But before demanding high fines, the initiators must provide evidence that such situation do take place,” Yelena Mizulina of the A Just Russia party, the chairperson of the Duma’s committee on the affairs of the family, women and children, told the Vzglyad on-line newspaper.

“Such bills only stir up interest to what they are against. So, the more such bills are discussed the bigger is propaganda,” the RBC Daily newspaper cites another A Just Russia lawmaker, Dmitry Gudkov. “There are much more acute problems in our country, and such bills look like a red herring.”

MOSCOW, March 30