When citizens would protest in Russia, the regime would call them queer.
Russian journalist, writer and gay rights activist Masha Gessen calls this “queer-baiting.” She says this is one of the most effective methods to the Russian regime uses against protesters.
Queer is the west. Queer is worthy of fear.
The regime also proliferates propaganda that says gays are a danger to children. This portrays the group as less than human as well as very destructive and powerful. Gessen called this a “common trope” used by regimes and groups around the world in order to suppress minority groups.
The common tactic used by the regime is unfortunately effective.
“Russian words mean too much,” Gessen said. Even common words have been twisted by Russian officials, and their societal implications are no longer what they used to be.
For Gessen, this is important. She writes in both English and Russian.
Gessen contributes to The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian, The New Republic, Slate and The New Yorker. She has written numerous books, including Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of The Pussy Riot and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.
The School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures invited Gessen for a three-part lecture series this week. She addressed topics such as freedom of speech in Russia and Putin’s war against the West, and conducted a seminar at McKeldin Library.
It is commonly viewed as unacceptable to state the obvious, that “there is nothing you can do” to combat Putin’s oppressive regime, Gessen said. However, that seems to be the reality.
What should the West’s response be to a “country that is declaring war on western values themselves?”
Gessen detailed a study done by Lev D. Gudkov, which detailed the “soviet person.”
She said this study found many individuals in Soviet Russia and Post-Soviet Russia held two separate sets of beliefs – one public and one private. The public belief is that the state is just, and the private belief is the authorities could never give them what they need.
These views are not in conflict – they just do not cross, she said.
Because of this, Russians live with what Gessen calls a “fragmented consciousness.”
This fragmentation exists largely because there is little public conversation, she said. It can be attributed to the depleted state of the media in Russia.
“I’m completely hopeless,” Gessen said as she discussed the future of Russia. “[However] I have the luxury of talking about it and writing about it, and perhaps that creates the illusion of doing something.”
In an apparent reference to Holocaust death camps, Russian priest and actor Ivan Okhlobystin said he would like to see gays burned alive in ovens.
When there are uprisings, Putin’s concept of the world leads him to believe nothing can happen unless the Kremlin allows it, Gessen said.
In speaking with sociologists, Gessen found those in totalitarian societies react similar to abuse victims. They live in a state of “low-level dread,” constantly under the threat of violence. They see it happening all around them, but are removed enough that they are not in full terror.
A change of regime is what we would need, Gessen said, not merely a reform of the one that exists.
Raye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.