Thursday, August 27, 2020

Queer Culture Re-Entering Russia's Cultural Mainstream, Swedish Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Despite the Putin regime’s open hostility to gays and lesbians, a hostility now enshrined in the Russian constitution by amendments defining marriage narrowly as between a man and a woman, queer culture is nonetheless reentering the cultural mainstream in Moscow, according to Swedish researcher Maria Engström.

            Whether this represents the Kremlin’s focus on other things or presages a new attack on LGBTQ people is not certain; but Engström says that the interest of the mainstream media in gay culture as it emerged in the 1990s, a time defined as one of “’total freedom,’ has been most successful in competing with the official version of ‘the roaring nineties’” (

            But she argues that what is happening now and what occurred in the 1990s are very different things: “In the 1990s, rights of sexual minorities were not a relevant agenda in Russia. Hence, gay communities of the time were mostly apolitical and sought to preserve their autonomy.”

            Now, Engström continues, it is becoming more political with younger people fighting for “recognition of non-binary genders and against gender-based, racial, and sexual oppression.” As such, queer culture is already “an interesting ideological and commercial resource for cinema and show business, mass media, and the music and fashion industries.”

            This is not to say that it has won the day in Russia, she acknowledges. “Russia’s conservative electoral majority still views queer culture as a ‘Western’ threat to the sexual sovereignty of the nation.” But rather it is to insist, the Swedish analyst says, that the regime has now tasked media figures to “neutralize” the threat by “framing it in a patriotic/populist context.”

            As a result, she argues, “today we are witnessing the transformation of the queer non-conformism of the 1980s and 1990s into something safe,” as alternatively amusing or offensive but not as threatening to the status quo as many had been led to believe.  In some respects, Engström says, this recalls how the Soviet narrative tried to absorb Perestroika values.

            That worked in part but only in part; and she suggests that the repetition of this approach with regard to queer culture and its manifestation in the popular media are likely to have the same mixed results.

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