Staunton, July 9 – Russia, it is sometimes said, has entered a “vegetarian” stage in which government oppression does not have to be widespread to be effective in intimidating the population. This reality is clearly demonstrated in the case of the anti-gay propaganda law adopted four years ago.
That law, which imposed heavy fines on anyone who according to the authorities was promoting “non-traditional” sexual orientations, sent a powerful message to Russians (and to the world) that official Moscow was “a defender of traditional ways of life” and that it would suppress gay activism wherever it found it.
That certainly sent a chill through Russia’s LGBT community and sent a signal to Russian traditionalists opposed to gay life that they could likely attack gays with impunity, as a drumbeat of violence against gays across Russia since that time has shown. But the law has not functioned as a law is supposed to, as a standard for government action against violators.
A new Rosbalt study has found that “over the course of four years,” Russian courts have brought back verdicts against supposed violators of the 2013 act in “no more than 30 cases.” Even in St. Petersburg, a hotbed of anti-gay activism, there have been only two, and neither of them involved a Russian citizen (rosbalt.ru/piter/2017/07/07/1629028.html).
Rosbalt’s Ilya Davlyatchin says that his agency “examined tens of thousands of administrative cases” in order to reach that conclusion. He doesn’t say but it follows from that statement that the Russian government has not released data on its enforcement of this odiously repressive law.
The journalist concludes his report by citing the words of Vitaly Cherkasov, a Russian lawyer, who says that Rosbalt’s findings show that the law was all about PR and sending a message to Russians about what the government thinks or wants them to.
“In principle,” Cherkasov says, “we have quite a large number of so-called ‘dead’ paragraphs both in the criminal code and in other codes which are applied exclusively in special circumstances, [particulary] to put someone in his place or to show him where that is. It is possible such ‘dead’ paragraphs will be annulled.”
But that really isn’t the point, he suggests: they for the time being represent “a trend” in Russian government practice, in which laws themselves are as much hybrid phenomena as anything else the government does, announced for one reason but used or not used for quite another.