I swear to be true to the Lord, Grand Prince, and his realm, to the young Grand Princes, and to the Grand Princess, and not to maintain silence about any evil that I may know or have heard or may hear which is being contemplated against the Tsar, his realms, the young princes or the Tsaritsa. I swear also not to eat or drink with the zemschina, and not to have anything in common with them. On this I kiss the cross.
--Oath of the Oprichniki to Ivan the Terrible
Let me preface this by saying that I oppose Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws. They’re a violation of what the rest of the Western world has come to know as basic civil rights, such as the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. They’re also a violation of the basic human right to not be beaten in the street or shot for your opinions or because you love someone against the Russian cultural norm.
The Orthodox Church has held the same belief system for 2000 years, hence the name Orthodoxy. They’re not going to change any time soon. They’ve become partners with Vladimir Putin, whether willing or not, in his desire to stomp out any opposition to any Russian cultural deviancy. He views contrarian beliefs as a challenge to his power. He always has. I don’t have to go in here in depth about his previous human rights transgressions – I like to believe that they’re all well known.
People compare him to Josef Stalin, especially since Putin is an old KGB man himself. The Communist comparison is an easy one to make, but one does not have to limit oneself to recent history. Ivan The Terrible and his secret police, the Oprichniki, are probably a better parallel to the current situation in Russia. Ivan declared himself the “Hand of God,” and they were his weapon. Putin has not declared himself the “Hand of God” quite yet, but it is more than implied.
The modern day Oprichniki are the police. They haven’t roasted anyone over an open fire yet, or blown up any dissenting monks to get them “closer to the angels,” but they’ve beaten people for their public protest of laws. They’ve targeted family members of protesters and those rumored to be gay.
And there’s nothing to prevent them from doing the same thing to those who come out against the law while wearing the Russian national hockey uniform.
I don’t agree with the following statements from Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk one iota.
“I agree, of course,” said Ilya Kovalchuk. “I’m Russian and we all have to respect that. It’s personal and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.”
“I'm an orthodox and that says it all.”
Neither of those statements are in line with what athletes from other nations are saying. Would you expect them to be? Does anyone seriously expect members of the Russian national hockey team to be free to say what they want to, especially if what they feel goes against the government?
Public dissent means not playing in an Olympics hosted in their home nation. Public dissent means arrest. Public dissent means political pressure on their KHL teams to invalidate contracts. Public dissent means that their families are targeted.
The days of the Soviet Union may be done, but the current Russian regime is as oppressive as the Soviets and as bad as the pre-Romanov tsars. Ironically it’s not a “free world” over there, as much as Kovalchuk would like to think so – or may be told to say. As a historian with extensive studies in Russian history, it’s difficult for me to criticize the players despite completely disagreeing with their statements. Perhaps if they played for a nation with actual freedom of speech, criticism would be appropriate. Here? Ivan the Terrible may not be present to sic the dogs on them, but Putin has other ways to rip them limb from limb.
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Oh please. This law is right out of pogrom playbook. Kovalchuk deserves any criticism he gets for collaborating.
Homophobia comes from Russians, not the government. Exploitation of homophobia to scapegoat LGBT people comes from the government. Gay teenagers are being preyed upon and killed now. And Kovalchuk is all but explicitly supporting that.
Kovalchuk is an associate of Putin and his Oligarchs. He is not even potentially a victim. The idea he deserves to be defended? Dumb.
@lakeline im suprised more people dont get upset by reporters putting them in that position.
Public dissent also means getting beaten and thrown into jail. Public dissent means losing your job, your family, your freedom. Standing up for human rights is, and should be, more important than playing a game, even if it's in their home country.
Datsuyk and Kovalchuk's families are already targeted; every Russian is targeted by a broad-reaching discriminatory law in which someone can be arrested for being suspected of being gay. In fact, Kovalchuk could have been sent to jail just for answering the question, regardless of his response. Children might have heard him, after all.
When one group's human rights are taken away, everyone's are threatened. Putin needed no history lesson to create and pass this law - he won't need one to pass the next law, either. Is playing a game more important than peoples' lives?
@danorrmite I'm unsure how I can defend him saying something that I completely disagree with. I was giving historical and political context so people better understand why he's saying what he is.
Also, I was unaware that being an associate of Russian leadership protected you whenever your opinion differed from theirs. I'm sure that these associates of Josef Stalin would appreciate knowing that if they were still around.
You use the example of a progrom. I chose Ivan the Terrible and his secret police because a progrom implies a religious persecution. The Oprichniki killed anyone with personal or political differences from Ivan the Terrible, including those that he did not understand or those who he had a dispute with. They torched the city of Novgorod, which contained 30,000 people, over a tax dispute. Their extermination of "enemies" had nothing to do with religion, was unpredictable, was swift, and was vicious - just like the Russian government now with gays. Ivan used Orthodoxy as an excuse for many of these crimes, again, like the government is now doing. It seems that you agree with me that the government's policies are abhorrent.
If Putin is using the gays as a distraction for the fact that he's ruining the lives of Russians, much like he's used Chechen Muslims, then the government hysteria that he's drummed up among the people is helping him. That hysteria, much like their fear of the Chechens, is based in religion and culture, sure - but I highly doubt that all Russians are homophobic, and that a majority of Russians want gay people killed, beaten, and tortured.
@livefierce I totally agree with you - like I said, I'm not offering justification, just context. I will say that Russian prisons, or even Russian trials, are about 100 times worse than what you can expect in any Western country. I'm sure that the lessons learned from Pussy Riot aren't lost on people who would like to speak out but don't.
I'm the most shocked at the fact that Ovie's "no comment" hasn't caused more of a to-do in Russia (that I've heard of). I wouldn't be surprised if some people view what he said as disapproval of the laws - to me, no comment'd be more dangerous over there with their screwed up, corrupt system than anything else.
@hildymac Here you have it: a comparison of reactions in context:
Pretty clear that Kovalchuk deserves no defending.
@hildymac No, the vast majority of Russians want LGBT people in the closet. My read is that if LGBT people push the envelope, most Russians think they'll deserve whatever they get coming to them. Homophobic Russians will be like the abusive parents who blame their kids for making them whoop them
As for Kovalchuck's association, you missed my point. The point is that he's part of the group that is supportive of policy. He's out there, he's open. He is flaunting his ability to be the public face of the Olympics. He could just be a hockey player. He put himself in the position that he can't do an Ovechkin-dodge. That's his problem; he doesn't deserve any absolution for it.
@danorrmite Honestly, Ovie and the others who are standing there playing dumb are a) just as insulting or MORE so than the players like Kovalchuk and Datsyuk who have come out in favor of the law and b) just as much a result of the culture and government as Kovalchuk. They're "being diplomatic," but they're being dishonest by not saying what they feel. Why aren't they saying what they feel? Because of the reasons I mentioned in the post. Russia is pressuring athletes and their people through their government and their culture.
If this were another country in the West, we wouldn't be having this discussion.