Saturday, December 26, 2020

Some in Birobidzhan Want to Replace Region’s Rainbow Flag Because of Its Links to Gay Movement

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 24 – Some residents of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East want to do away with the region’s flag which displays the seven colors of the rainbow on a white background because of the connections between such a “rainbow” flag and the gay movement in Russia and the West.

            As Zen.Yandex notes, “Birobidzhan is a place where there are no Jews but where everyone acts as if they are.” In fact, the few Jews who had been there have mostly left and about 93 percent of the population consists of ethnic Russians. Only one percent are Jews (

            Despite this, “the local authorities do everything to support the image of the only Jewish national-territorial formation in the world except for Israel.” Vladimir Putin has continued to appoint Jews to head the region, although ever more frequently they aren’t drawn from the local population.

            In the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, national self-consciousness grew in Birobidzhan as well as elsewhere, and its leaders decided to signal this by adopting their own regional flag. (In Soviet times, only republics, union or autonomous, had the right to a flag, Zen.Yandex notes.)

            What that flag should look like was then a subject of controversy because no one was sure how to combine the image of Jewishness with the reality of so few Jews there. Finally, in 1996, a decision was made to have the flag display a band of rainbow colors across a white background, symbolizing the importance of diversity.

            Now, almost 25 years later, this flag is rarely on display; and some in Birobidzhan want to do away with it entirely because its rainbow band reminds people of the gay movement’s rainbow flags, even though the Birobidzhan flag has seven colors while the gay flag has one fewer.

            Seven years ago, one Birobidzhan woman launched a petition drive to replace the flag because she said it was promoting “non-traditional” sexual relations. But experts at that time “did not find anything illegal.” Now, Zen.Yandex says, residents are again talking about replacing the banner, one more sign of the neo-traditionalism sweeping Putin’s Russia.


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