1. Dibyesh Anand 4 years ago

    The struggle against homophobia and other forms of bigotry is a global struggle which is contextually dependent. There are very few countries in the world where sexuality is not a source of discrimination, bullying and repression. Russia is no more repressive than some Western allies, including, for instance, Saudi Arabia. A shaming strategy can sometimes backfire. In this case, selectively demonising Putin and Russia for its slide towards homophobia has not achieved much so far. However, inaction and silence would be most unethical.
    The Winter Olympics is indeed a good opportunity to highlight that, for many countries, their athletes and representatives, homophobia is seen as unmitigatedly unacceptable. The potential audience of symbolic protests from anti-homophobes is going to be big during the Olympics and it would be a shame to let the opportunity go to waste. Bold gestures in support of the rights of sexual minorities should be welcome.
    However, the experience of the Beijing Olympics, where the initial hope of a positive move toward human rights was dashed and where there was no tangible embedding of human rights discourse within China, should offer a sober reading of what to expect from Russia.
    In this unjust world, we have no option but to hope against reality.

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  2. Shen Dingli 4 years ago

    Obviously not. That doesn’t mean that one must support the current Russian policy which might be controversial. But to stand up publicly against a certain policy of Russia on that particular occasion may generate new controversy. For instance, when the Beijing Summer Olympic Games were convened in 2008, should politicians, visitors and sportspeople from all over the world have used that opportunity to stand up publicly against China’s population-control policy, as such a policy is controversial in many other countries?
    Despite the argument that sports should be separated from politics, it is intrinsically impossible to do so. However, there are ways to express concerns about homophobia through effective dialogue. In spite of China’s population-control policy, the then US President George W. Bush and his family graced the Beijing Olympics, which in turn allowed more room for China-US dialogue on issues of mutual concern. Through constructive engagement, some of these concerns will be more likely to be addressed adequately, leading to their smooth resolution.

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  3. Andrey Makarychev 4 years ago

    Yes, absolutely. The best scenario would be to change the whole script of the Sochi Olympics and transform it from the Putin-centered celebration of the Kremlin’s regime to a cosmopolitan performance of cultural tolerance and diversity in lifestyles. This would be much closer to the original ideals of Olympism as an inclusive, emancipatory and trans-national movement. After all, Russia does not have a monopoly on the Games – it is the International Olympic Committee who runs the show as well. And Putin, by the way, is not that invincible: he has reconsidered his earlier total ban on public demonstrations during the Olympics, promised to de-facto discontinue the application of the anti-gay propaganda law, and released the Pussy Riot artists.

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12 Comments

  1. Robert Sloan 4 years ago

    @ Shen Dingli: I´m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. How does a constructive dialogue with Putin over gay rights will look like? I think politicians should use the opportunity in Sochi and shame Putin for his outrageous anti-gay policies. It´s like politicians should have used the Olympics in 1936 to protest against Anti-semitism in Germany. It’s just the perfect opportunity to do so – you´ll hardly get that much attention another time. The fact that Putin recently said that he welcomes gay athletes and visitors is just an appeasement strategy. It´s cheap talk.
    Another politician once said, that the Olympics “awaken the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die.” It was Adolf Hitler, 1936.

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    1. Cathy 4 years ago

      Agreed. We cannot truly come together in unity as long as that means excluding a group because of their sexual orientation, and nations and leaders are blind to think otherwise.

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  2. heidijoey 4 years ago

    I must agree with Robert. The clemency shown to Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky and others so close to the Olympics should be seen as nothing more than a publicity stunt by Putin to give the appearance of upholding civil rights. This couldn’t be further from the truth – after all, it is also not only LGBT rights that are violated in Russia on a daily basis. Regardless of what or who Putin says is welcome in Sochi, the daily story in Russia is far from one of tolerance and citizens remain unable to exercise some of their most basic civil/human rights.
    I believe criteria for hosting cities should include a good score on the corruption perception index, adherence to human and civil rights and genuine democracy – not simply the financial ability to host the games.
    I agree with Andrey that if Russia had genuinely followed the spirit of the games by championing diversity and tolerance, then I would be less inclined to boycott the affair but as things stand, Sochi is far from an advert for either.
    Giving Putin the satisfaction of believing he’s convinced the world into thinking him a genuine advocate for his citizen’s rights makes a mockery out of all who take part in this event.

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  3. Shen Dingli 4 years ago

    I understand all those who don’t agree with me. Let me salute you! You believe in a value that I often sympathize and agree with. I think all those problems – homophobia, birth control, apartheid, racial segregation etc. – have a nature of hindering human rights, and we need to work against them. There are places, officially the UN Human Rights Council, as an example, to raise these concerns, and there are other outlets such as media to express disagreement. Indeed, the international Olympic community boycotted South Africa for 32 years for its apartheid, and the Moscow Olympic Games were boycotted by many because of the Soviet’s aggression into Afghanistan which posed a huge human rights incursion. However, it is also noted that none of the past Olympic Games have been used to stand up against American racial segregation, either officially or unofficially, or the US wars on Vietnam and Iraq which generated massive human rights violations. In reality, when the Moscow Games were boycotted, sportspeople were also hurt. So the world and reality is complicated. My idea is that we shall stand up against homophobia everyday, including during the Sochi Games. But during the upcoming Olympics, let us focus more on the sports, and communicate our concerns in a measured way, so that it doesn’t alter our value but potentially increases our chance to see the Kremlin more willing to be open.

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  4. Johannes 4 years ago

    Sports and politics go hand in hand, whether you like it or not. Probably the best thing would be to not host sport mass events like the Olympics and the FIFA football world cup in authoritarian countries like Russia, China, Kahtar. These events don’t generate change, they are just a chance for dictators to be in the spot light. Seriously, when will we see the Olympics in Teheran or the World Cup in North Korea? Just a matter of time…

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  5. Daniel Cardoso 4 years ago

    LGBTI rights are universal human rights. This means they have to be nourished, promoted and protected in every circumstance, especially when they are threatened.

    When it comes to defending LGBTI rights in Russia, I am of the opinion that a boycott is simply not enough. As Prof. Shen Dingli, I consider that it is extremely important to talk about LGBTI rights within the scope of the UN. The challenge is to have finally a legal framework that make it to possible to defend and protect LGBTI communities all over the world. As we can all see from the examples of Russia, Croatia, Nigeria, Uganda, India, Malaysia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and so on, it’s not enough to leave the protection of these communities only to the states. Actually, relying on the state to protect LGBTI communities does, in these cases, more harm than good

    However, I disagree with Prof. Shen Dingli in his suggestion to limit the demonstrations of support for the LGBTI rights during the winter olympic games to a “measured way”. Not really sure what a “measured way” entails, but, in any case, I’m in favor of every single action during the Sochi Olympics that raises awareness about the poor conditions that LBGTI have to live in not only in Russia, but in so many other countries. We shouldn’t have a moratorium on the process of raising awareness just because it’s Russia or because it’s the Olympics. If we do, we will be missing out on an amazing chance to send a strong message to the world saying that “homophobia is not ok and can’t be accepted!”.

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  6. Wisam 4 years ago

    @ShenDingli : I agree! Although, I’m not sure what you mean exactly by constructive dialogue, but the point is to boycott would mean to remove yourself from the discussion and issue altogether, thus rendering yourself irrelevant. Such policies of boycotts (at least in this context) become political tools of the government of the day. Instead, countries should look to utilize this opportunity by sending in champions of this particular cause, as President Obama did (see below link). If this is what Professor Dingli is referring to by engagement, then I completely agree. Critique American foreign policy all you like, but this is one that the Obama Administration got right.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/sochi/2013/12/17/white-house-sochi-olympics-delegation-to-include-gay-athlete/4051581/

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  7. I don't want to know who you sleep with!!! 4 years ago

    Is this a trendy thing to stand up for gays nowadays? Couldn’t gays live without having to actually let everyone know that they are gay? I mean how about the Russian handicapped who are unable to access a public bus because none are handicap-ready, how about stray dogs killed en masse to make the city look more modern, how about the environment destroyed to dig tunnels and lay new asphalt roads for a 2-week event, how about, how about, how about??? I mean, should I dress up in pink, kiss in public while dressed like a cheap one-night-thing thing in order to show the whole world I sleep with women? I am sure gays can be happily gay without having to make everyone aware of them being gay.

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  8. Bartosz 4 years ago

    “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version (1611), “The Gospel According to John”, chapter 8, verses 3–7)…
    … I am sure there are far less evil states than Russia, but where would you propose to hold a global sports event? Which place is discrimination free please?
    I am siding with Shen. Either we concentrate on sports or let’s skip this event all together or else we will use anything to politicize everything

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  9. Jake Evans 4 years ago

    “I am sure gays can be happily gay without having to make everyone aware of them being gay.” Really? I think it’s plainly evident that we’ve tried that… for millennia… and it hasn’t worked particularly well. This argument is staunchly rooted in heteronormative bias. I think it’s pretty clear that the lived realities, and therefore constraints, of homosexuals is still vastly different from heterosexuals. When you hold a woman’s hand walking down the street are you making everyone aware of something about your identity and perhaps your sexuality? Absolutely. Far from being a skimpily-clad stage-show spectacle (sadly I don’t look that good in pink), as a gay man I’d simply love to be able to hold my partner’s hand walking down the street, but I still can’t for fear of being beaten to a bloody pulp. How about you? But underneath this, I think you’re touching, quite rightly, on a larger issue that relates well to this question: When, where, and how much in order to eek out an equal space for happiness and security of the person?

    So in that vein, I’m not sure I agree with Shen, but I’m not sure I disagree either. That argument seems to rest on working with the status quo, the hegemonic reality to promote change from within current norms and constraints. I think there have been many times in history where this has worked, and where it has not. So this normative question about whether or not to engage the homophobia dialogue at the Sochi Olympics seems a bit incomplete, and it ends up with people debating the underlying assumption. I think the clearer question, which Shen’s comments allude to, is: Given a classification of LGBTQI rights under a more universal set of human rights (which if you don’t support, then I’m not sure how you’ll weigh in on the issue at all), will using the international Sochi Olympics as a opportunity to support this assertion, be effective? And I can see both sides of the argument. But further to the question I raised above, if not in Sochi with the world watching, then when, where, and how much eek out an equal space for happiness and security of the person?

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  10. Elena 4 years ago

    I am a bit late with my comment as the Sochi Olympics finished last weekend… Just wanted to say that in my view the aims of recent homophobic laws in Russia were to create strife within Russian society, distort attention from other more pressing issues and futher promote the idea of Western vs. Russian values dichotomy.
    From the global point of view, of course, all opportunities (Olympics in this particular discussion) should be used to fight homophobia. However, I don’t think that such kind of approach will help end sexual discrimination in Russia and in general have a positive impact for Russian society. Unfortunately, it’s much more tricky. By condemning Russian anti-gay laws, West actually helps Kremlin to achieve its above stated aims.

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