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Foreign Journalists Harassing Russian Gays More Than Putin?

sochi-gay-nightclub

Julia Joffe reports that, “The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists.”

As Olympic preparations have ramped up and now that the Games are in full swing, Mayak [Sochi's only gay nightclub] has been mobbed by foreign journalists eager to capture how the local gays live now that Russia has passed a law banning gay propaganda among minors and is now internationally known for hating gays. The foreign journalists buzz about the place. “Have you been to Mayak yet?” we ask one another.

“Too many,” Zhanna the butch cashier says rolling her eyes when I ask her how many foreign journalists have come through here. “Questions, cameras. And always with the same questions.” Are gays being persecuted? Beaten? “I always tell them that we observe all the laws. No one bothers us and we don’t bother anyone.”

The only people who bother them, it seemed, were the foreign journalists. Pointing cameras in their faces, asking questions. “People are annoyed because they don’t want to be on screen,” Zhanna explained. Though some people don’t realize they’re being taped—like one gentleman who did a drunken birthday dance recently only to find himself in an American news segment.

[...]

“We’ve given over 200 interviews in the last month,” says Mayak owner Andrey Tanichev. Every country has sent its correspondents, he says, “except the Spanish, God bless them.” The Americans have sent the most reporters, but the BBC has set a record: they came by four times.

Tanichev says the law hasn’t affected the club in any way. “The law applies to propaganda among minors, but we’ve never let in people under 21″ because of a local law that curfews minors. And business was a lot harder when Mayak opened almost a decade ago, Tanichev says. “There just weren’t many gays, people were embarrassed to come.”

“The Soviet Union was a closed country, it had its own customs,” he went on. “Norms change slowly, tolerance grows slowly. It’s much more tolerant now than it was ten years ago.”

Meanwhile, the 1:30 drag cabaret was getting started with the room rowdily singing the Russian national anthem as a rainbow flag waved in a digital wind on a jumbo screen. Cameramen scurried. A dark-haired woman near me whipped out a note pad. A man in front of me hurriedly set up a tripod.

After she came on stage and lip sang “I Will Survive,” Zaza Napoli decided to address the new and very busy guests.

“Don’t be scared of the cameramen, my friends! Relax!” she said to Mayak’s regular guests. “These are our international partners!”

Of course, Joffe hardly has a comprehensive view of the situation. But I am bemused at the breathlessness of the coverage of the plight of Russia’s gays given how recently our own attitudes have changed. Even aside from gays in the military and same-sex marriage, which are relatively niche issues, American states were arresting people for having homosexual sex until the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. In 2003. Incidentally, overturning their own precedent from 1986.  That’s right: a mere 28 years ago our highest court validated the arrest of people for having consensual sex with other adults. And that was still permissible—and done—a mere 11 years ago. During Putin’s first presidency.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t now look in horror at things that we used to do and even urge others to join us in modernity. But it should temper our vitriol.

And, even aside from that, the seemingly universal tendency of journalists to use the suffering of others as props for their own sensationalist reporting is galling. Even more so when they’re invading the privacy of people they claim to be trying to help.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Andre Kenji says:

    The problem is not that Putin is directly harassing journalists, the problem is that he is tolerant with things like militias to harass them.

    http://www.dw.de/homophobia-in-russia/av-17230265

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Andre Kenji says:

    By the way, I never thought that I would miss Marty Peretz on the TNR, but their “new” incarnation is simply horrible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. edmondo says:

    the seemingly universal tendency of journalists to use the suffering of others as props for their own sensationalist reporting is galling. Even more so when they’re invading the privacy of people they claim to be trying to help.

    You’ve just described every local newscast in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. C. Clavin says:

    The shortcomings of today’s journalism isn’t limited to it’s coverage of the political sphere…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. C. Clavin says:

    When you think about it…Putin really isn’t that different from the Republican party…which insists on injecting itself and it’s “small” Government into everyone’s bedrooms. If we were to hew to the Republican parties view gays in this country would be far less free than they are today…and a woman’s right to privacy would be far less than it is today. Of course the difference between the US and Russia is that there is an opposing party of equal strength here…which allows some amount of progress. We all know Republicans would do away with that if they could. Why do Republicans hate the US so? And why don’t they all just move to Russia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Our governments did not encourage thugs to go around beating up gays. At least not in most of the country.

    What Putin is doing to gays is what Hitler did to Jews in the 1930’s. He’s allowing/encouraging his own version of brown shirts, using gays as scapegoats, encouraging the dehumanization of gays, creating a despised underclass as part of toughening his people up, of trying to motivate them to crawl out of their vodka bottles and acquire the “masculine virtues” so important to any ambitious dictator.

    Of course it’s not yet as bad as what’s happening in parts of Africa where American conservative “Christians” are pushing for actual extermination, but Russia is not Nigeria. Russia is supposed to be taken seriously as a world power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    Whenever a journalist uses a Cavuto mark in the title — such as “Foreign Journalists Harassing Russian Gays More Than Putin?” — you can be pretty sure the answer is a big fat “No”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  8. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m no fan of Putin, who’s an autocrat and a thug, and think Russia, while a major power, is still a Second World country. But I’m not sure he’s “encouraging” the beating up of gays.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    On the one hand, Russian militia, police and private citizens attack, beat up, torture, rape and imprison gays, all with the consent and encouragement of the state security apparatus.

    On the other hand, foreign journalists ask gays questions.

    So really, both sides do it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I’m not sure he’s “encouraging” the beating up of gays.

    What a naive and credulous thing to write. Of course he is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    And, even aside from that, the seemingly universal tendency of journalists to use the suffering of others as props for their own sensationalist reporting is galling.

    If Russia wasn’t targeting gays for harassment, torture and arrest in the first place, then there’s be nothing sensational to report. This is one of the dumbest sorts of blaming the messenger that I’ve ever seen.

    Even more so when they’re invading the privacy of people they claim to be trying to help.

    Why yes, shouldn’t we allow a gay Russian and his attackers the courtesy of conducting their torture session in private, rather than shinning a spotlight on it in an attempt to stop it? This is just like when US journalists invaded the privacy of African-Americans who were being lynched in the South!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: No, the complaint Joffe makes and I echo is that, rather than report on actual issues gays in Russia are having, these guys are going into a gay nightclub in droves to do sensationalistic coverage. That’s not at all equivalent to the coverage of the civil rights movement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  13. Gustopher says:

    That’s right: a mere 28 years ago our highest court validated the arrest of people for having consensual sex with other adults. And that was still permissible—and done—a mere 11 years ago.

    A mere 11 years ago, this was still done in our country — but mostly in the South. See this lovely map on Wikipedia.

    Make of that what you will.

    I interpret it like this: if we can forcibly drag the South into the 21st century (albeit, a few years too late), maybe we can drag Russia a bit closer to being a civilized country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    a couple down-votes…I guess some Republicans can’t face facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  15. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I’m not sure he’s “encouraging” the beating up of gays.

    With all due respect, Dr. Joyner, this might be one of the most naive things you’ve ever written. This is the same guy that used to be a Lt. Colonel in the KGB.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Mr. Putin passed anti-gay laws, made statements demonizing gays, equated gays with child molesters, and then his police arrest peaceful protesters while turning a blind eye to beatings. Of course he’s encouraging thugs to beat up on gays, don’t be naive — Putin certainly isn’t. He knows exactly what will follow from his actions.

    The parallels to 1930’s Germany are not perfect but are pretty compelling:

    1) A nation that feels itself humiliated, now looking to recapture past glory and importance.
    2) A dictator who manipulated democracy to take power and now needs a more aggressive and confident population to realize his dreams.
    3) Minorities designated as scapegoats. (The Nazis chose Jews, gays, communists. The Russians choose gays for now, but with Jews and Muslims in the wings.)
    4) Olympics! (1936, 2014)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  17. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What Putin is doing to gays is what Hitler did to Jews in the 1930′s.

    Now Michael and Rafer are spot on with their analysis, and the political lesson for us that it dovetails nicely with the conservative strategy. The conservative strategy in the USA is that to protect the interests of the rich and powerful is paramount. How do we implement that politically unpopular program ? Why to appeal to the bigotry and fear of the poor and working class whites who are above all fearful of losing cultural supremacy and are concerned that the federal government will distribute “their” hard-earned tax dollars to “those” people.
    Putin’s Strategy to oppose the attempts of liberals to draw attention to the corruption and the oppressive power of the Putin and his allies ( the Russian ruling class) is to say “Look ! the gays and yellow people from the south of Russia”! We need to keep them down so that the cultural supremacy of white Mother Russia shall reign supreme!”
    No wonder conservative white Republicans here admire Putin. They recognize one of their own. TBH, I have to freaking laugh at Doug’s puzzlement at conservatives’ love for Putin. Can a politico like him really be that naïve? It’s sort of like seeing a skunk in the living room and wondering where the stink is coming from .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: @michael reynolds: That’s fair. I have mostly paid attention to the controversy over the legislation and how it’ll impact the Olympics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m no fan of Putin, who’s an autocrat and a thug, and think Russia, while a major power, is still a Second World country. But I’m not sure he’s “encouraging” the beating up of gays.

    I think, James, that you are a nice guy who underestimates the cynicism and lust for power of the ruling class in both Russia and the United States. I would urge to keep thinking on these issues and to put books like “What’s the Matter with the Kansas”, “Albion’s Seed” and the “American Nations ” on your reading list, and compare and contrast with what Putin is doing in Russia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  20. Stonetools says:

    BTW. and I know that this is at best tangentially related, are we ever going to do a World War One thread? It’s the centennial , you know…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  21. Al says:

    As Ian Betteridge predicted the answer to the question asked in the headline is “no”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. josh says:

    Are you “bemused” (confused) by the coverage, or “amused”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. James Joyner says:

    @josh: Like many words in our language, “bemused” has an array of associated meanings. I tend to use it in the sense of “feelings of wry or tolerant amusement,” which is pretty much the way the word is used in a modern context.

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