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Russia's Supreme Court has recognized the LGBT movement in the country as extremists! What's next?

Russia has declared LGBT an "extremist movement". What does it mean and how to help Russian queers?

On November 30, Russia's Supreme Court upheld the Justice Ministry's lawsuit to recognize the LGBT movement as an extremist international organization. Of course, there is no such thing as an international LGBT organization. Queer people are not united in any organized structure anywhere in the world, including Russia. But Putin and his entourage are not embarrassed by this. And millions of gay, lesbian, transgender and other queer Russians will be at incredible risk.

All quirks are extremists? What kind of nonsense is this?

In our world this is indeed nonsense, but the Russian Supreme Court agreed with the arguments of the Ministry of Justice, which essentially required that direct affiliation or expression of loyalty to LGBT people be recognized as extremism. Extremism in Russia is punishable by criminal penalties. Those charged under this article face either a large monetary fine or prison. Today it is up to 12 years in prison, and it is suspected that the instruction may be further tightened.

In normal countries, such laws are used to deter radicals of all kinds. But in Russia, during the Putin years, the law has been used as a tool of political repression. The most famous example is the opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his supporters, many of whom, like himself, are already in prison. Now you can be imprisoned in Russia even for having once donated money to Navalny and his headquarters to participate in the elections, even though it was perfectly legal at the time.

Queers will be tried just for being queers?

It turns out, yes. According to the court ruling, to be a queer in Russia now means to be an extremist, and the law prescribes that extremists in Russia must be fought against. Gay clubs, any kind of queer activism, including counseling and assistance on legal issues or healthy sex, will be outlawed. Gay pride parades have long been banned in Russia, but now it won't even occur to anyone to try to coordinate a Pride parade. The rainbow flag, which we can see almost everywhere in Germany in June, is now an official extremist symbol in Russia. If you're found in possession of it, you're in trouble.

Now imagine you live in a gay or lesbian couple. You have a conflict with one of your neighbors who doesn't like your lifestyle. They don't like you just because you are gay or lesbian. Or even just guess about it, because it has become dangerous to shout about it on all corners in Russia. For 20 years, Putin's propaganda has been pushing the public against queers, labeling them as "agents of the West" and "enemies of the traditional family". Now, after the Supreme Court's decision, another domestic conflict may end with the police simply removing you from your home. And if they find a rainbow flag in your house during a search (it is not a fact that it was not planted), it will be enough to charge you with extremism. And then there will be a trial and imprisonment.

So it turns out you don't have to be a queer activist or a queer in general to be punished?

Exactly. It's enough if you just speak out in defense of queers. Just remind everyone that gays, lesbians and other LGBT people are human beings and have the same rights as others. In the language of Russian law, this would be called cooperation with an extremist organization. Or assistance to its activities. And for this, of course, there is punishment as well. That is why it seems that there are not many lawyers in Russia who will agree to defend LGBT people in courts. The appointed lawyers, of course, will mostly be on the side of the state.

Russia decriminalized same-sex relations 30 years ago, but over the decades of criminal law, tens of thousands of Russian gay men have ended up in prison. Death awaited a great many of them there, because there are no more despised creatures in Russian prisons. In fact, these times are now returning, but in an even more heinous form. In the USSR, only gays were imprisoned, but now it threatens all queers. And not just them.

So Russian prisons could be filled with quirks?

It's unlikely. We have no desire to dig into Putin's head, but we find it hard to believe that a cannibalistic regime would dare to carry out the kind of mass repression that was once carried out in Russia by another dictator, Joseph Stalin. Again, there are millions of queers in Russia, and the regime simply does not have the resources to put them all behind bars.

But it is obvious that the law will become a convenient tool for targeting the remaining representatives of free civil society. Those who continue to resist the dictatorship. Those who oppose Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. Those who denounce Putin, his entourage, his officials, and the security apparatus for extreme corruption, total violation of basic laws and human rights. There are still many of these people in Russia, no matter how much they try to convince you otherwise. And these brave people are the ones the regime plans to hand down judicial sentences that may turn out to be actual death sentences for many.

Why is Putin doing all this?

Vladimir Putin really wants to keep his power in Russia. To do so, he is going to the next presidential election, which is to be held in March 2024. It is important for Putin to convince Russians and the rest of the world (and at the same time, it seems, himself) of the unconditional support of his compatriots.

A quick victory over Ukraine will not work for Putin. In February 2022, the Kremlin hoped to take Kiev in three days, but the invasion plans fell through, and as long as the free world helps Ukraine, there is little chance Putin will win. War is losing popularity. Already a majority of Russians, according to polls, favor ending hostilities and starting peace talks. Against this backdrop, it is crucial for Putin to find someone who can answer for his own failures. Queers have become the perfect target. Putin has come up with nothing new; he is following the trail left behind by all the bloody dictatorships of the past.

How can we help?

We call on European politicians (and we ask all of you to support this call) to take seriously the new circumstances in which the Russian LGBT community finds itself. By some terrible misunderstanding, Russia is still not recognized as a country dangerous for queer people, even though Putin's regime has long and consistently restricted their rights and threatened their well-being, freedom, and even their lives. A clear message needs to be sent that the Kremlin's policy toward Queers has all the hallmarks of a crime against humanity. And, of course, measures are needed to provide protection to those LGBT Russians who manage to find a way to leave their dangerous country in search of safety.

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