Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Not Just in Chechnya: Gays are Being Attacked and Killed Across Russia, New Study Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 25 – Last spring, many in Russia and abroad focused on the mistreatment and even murder of LGBTs in Chechnya, a development that called attention to the impact of the Russian law against gay propaganda but had the effect of distracting attention from the mistreatment and even murder of LGBTs not just in the North Caucasus but across Russia.

            Now, Aleksandr Kondakov, a sociologist at the European University in St. Petersburg, has corrected that imbalance in a new book, Crimes of Hatred Against LGBTs in Russia, which focuses on court cases where the sexual orientation of victims or perpetrators is noted. He gives his findings to Natalya Granina of the Lenta news agency (lenta.ru/articles/2017/09/25/gey/).

            According to Granina, Kondakov has found “on average” about 20 to 35 crimes directed against lesbians and homosexuals in Russia in recent years, a figure she suggests that give Russia’s size is “not shocking.”  But the sociologist says that these figures are incomplete because today “for the police crimes motivated by hatred to LGBTs don’t exist.”

            Consequently, he and his colleagues were forced to make use of the most reliable “but also the most conservative source, the courts,” and then extrapolate. But at the same time, Kondakov says, “even when one person dies, this is a tragedy, and here dozens are dying only because they are gays and lesbians.”

            He reports that he encountered only two cases between 2010 and 2015 when the victims in cases were identified as the victims of hatred on the basis of sexual orientation.  But a search of court records using various terms allowed him to identify far more cases where that in fact was the case.

            “If before 2013, there were on average 32 cases based on hated to LGBTs, in 2015, there were already 65,” Kondakov says. But not only have the number of crimes of this kind increased: they have become more severe. Now, a far higher percentage of the victims are in fact killed, and deaths from this cause have gone up far faster than murders for other reasons.

            In some regions, such as the North Caucasus, prosecutors and judges simply don’t talk about this cause and therefore it appears there is less of a problem, he continues. In fact, the situation is worst in small cities and least bad in the major metropolises where people are generally more tolerant of differences.

            Despite the anti-gay propaganda law and widespread propaganda against gays, most Russian judges in fact appear to view anti-gay attitudes not as an extenuating circumstance but rather as one that justifies even more severe punishments, a pattern reflecting the general view that crimes committed against groups are worse than those against individuals.

            More research on this and other questions is needed, the sociologist say. But unfortunately, in Russia today, “there are practically no monographs or dissertations on this issue.” Most work in the area is done by psychologists rather than anthropologists, sociologists or political scientists. 

            A major reason for that pattern is that grants for research are only rarely given for investigators working in this area.  Another is that prejudice continues to inform even nominally scholarly articles. Thus, in some, he says, one encounters unsupported claims that “same sex marriages will destroy Russia.”

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