When a country begins to suffer problems internally, be they economic, political, civil unrest, disparities in income, its leaders employ a tried and true tactic for distraction and shift the blame from those in charge to the “others” in society. These “others” are quickly deemed misfits and enemies of the state, responsible for the woes and grievances present. In the most extreme of cases, these targets are dehumanized, publicly shamed, mocked, and in a kleptocratic, authoritarian state such as the Russian Federation, there is a not so tacit call to arms to eliminate those “guilty” of what plagues society. It worked to great effect in 1930s Germany, with gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, and countless others murdered or living in the most horrific of conditions. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Chechnya and the systematic torture and murder of its LGBT citizenry is becoming one of the 21st century’s ignored genocides.
Putin flirted with this idea back in 2013, when he passed an anti-gay law under the guise of protecting children and youth from “propaganda that corrupts”. In reality, this was an attempt to push back on what was perceived as western liberal influences prompting Russia’s youth from protesting against the Putin government and it’s blatant corruption.
As POLITICO has reported, the internalized homophobia present inside Russia was codified into law, and a concerted effort into repressing any and all LGBT movements, demonstrations or groups, and violence being encouraged by the state against gay and lesbian individuals was making many think seriously about their personal safety and risk of death. Dmitry Chizhevesky, a software developer from Saint Petersburg was forced to make the painful decision on whether to remain in his homeland or seek asylum in the United States. Ultimately, the situation became so bad, with local officials and police ignoring reports of attacks and doing nothing to protect those assaulted, Chizhevesky sought asylum in the U.S. and now resides in Washington, D.C.; the same cannot be said for so many others desperately seeking refuge from this savagery and who are pleading that if not their own government, that other, civilized Western democracies shine a light on what is happening and provide help.
The situation in Chechnya could not be more dire, with confirmed reports of men and women being persecuted, beaten, and the local government directing families to conduct the executions of those found “guilty” of their “crimes” by performing honor-killings to “cleanse the family name of the stain” of being gay or lesbian. Concentration camps have even been set up, with those fortunate enough to have been rescued detailing how the ones inside are subjected to electroshock therapy, severe beatings, including Chechen soldiers stomping on top of people and other forms of torture.
How much longer? How much more time need pass before this turns into a full blown genocide, where years down the line, people will do much soul-searching and handwringing and wonder why nothing more was done to aggressively shine a giant spotlight on these crimes against humanity and force the Kremlin to pay a heavy price for the war-crimes being committed and be held accountable?
It has fallen on other Western leaders, such as Angela Merkel and newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron to take on the mantle of leadership and directly confront Vladimir Putin — to his face in joint press conferences — on what is happening in Chechnya and condemning what is happening. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron must be commended for giving a voice to those who are suffering and being executed by a despotic regime who has zero regard for the value of human life and who gleefully targets segments of its own citizens for open persecution and death.
With June being gay pride month and a chance to strongly vocalize advocacy, I urge members of the LGBT community, allies, and others to roundly and as loudly as possible condemn and bring attention to this vastly underreported story. While many gays and lesbians are enjoying their rights to express who they are this month and past June, other gays and lesbians are systematically being oppressed, tortured and murdered. This cannot stand, and once again I urge everyone to raise their voices and make sure that the horrors of the 20th century under regimes like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others do not repeat themselves. This is not just an LGBT issue, it is a human issue; crimes being committed against fellow human beings.
To the print, cable and other media outlets, we call on you to make this a top issue and to relentlessly report on what is happening, bring this to attention for your viewers and others around the world with your platform and to hold the Russian government accountable and not allow them to brush this aside. To the legacy outlets of media, such as CNN, the BBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, POLITICO, FOX News, MSNBC, and many others, we urge you to use your journalistic reach and power to be the ones who expose Vladimir Putin not just for meddling into the U.S. election and other stories, but to also cover this extremely important one.
The men and women of Chechnya and Russia who have no voice are counting on you……and there isn’t a second to spare.
(Sources: The Guardian, POLITICO, NPR, Independent UK)