Thursday, February 13, 2014

Russia's Anti-Gay Stance is Only the Tip of the Iceberg of its Human Rights Violations

The big news coming out of Western (Canadian) media for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics hasn't been of the athletes, or the sports, or even the potential of a terrorist attack:

It's been Russia's stance against any and all things gay or the LGBT communities.

I applaud the Canadian Government for not sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Olympic opening ceremonies - although they stated the move was not politically motivated. I firmly believe that one must take a stand against injustice, even if the move may seem to be entirely symbolic.

I applaud the widespread media coverage being given to the global plight of any marginalized group(s).

I applaud the courage of gay athletes to attend the Games and compete to the best of their abilities. I understand the feeling of having to live and work in a space designed to exclude who you are as a person and what you believe in.

However, I think the media, and our politicians, have been blinded by Russia's anti-gay policies and have turned a blind eye to the country's rampant xenophobia, racism, and human rights violations.

The focus of most major media outlets, and discussions during the Opening Ceremonies, have been centered around gay rights. Yet, no one is mentioning the fact that there is a large - and growing - neo-Nazi movement in Russia.

There have been numerous attacks on foreigners and "Russia for Russians" and "White Power" movements sweeping across the country. In 2012, 19 people were killed and approximately 200 were injured in racially motivated hate crimes across Russia. The numbers stayed relatively the same in 2013. 

Many more acts of violence go unreported.

If you needed more proof than Vladimir Putin with his shirt off riding a shark down a mountain while delivering a baby, and the Opening Ceremonies montage to Russia's hardworking "yeoman" characteristics, there is a growing Russian nationalist sentiment fuelled by violence.

You would think that when a state turns a blind eye towards violence against marginalized groups that comprise of millions of people, it would get some kind of attention during the Olympics from the international media. Especially when said xenophobia has been well documented.

The attacks are against Muslims, Central Asians, and groups from the Caucasus.

Yes, Caucasians.  White people.

We have been so programmed in North America to see race relations in Black and White, literally and figuratively, that we can't fathom that the "Other" is a social construct. We can't fathom that "Whiteness" is not necessarily a "get out of jail free" card wherever one goes in the world.

We celebrate Black History Month with the belief that Blackness and Black identity are reified concepts, while not understanding that brave souls like Dudley Laws and Viola Desmond fought for human rights and social justice.

A while back on vacation in the Caribbean I met a Russian and in conversation she told me that in her home country she is considered Black.

She had dark hair, blue eyes, and was sporting a red corvette-coloured sunburn.

Injustice is colour-blind and while I applaud the West and the media for covering Russia's anti-gay policies, I think it's time to recognize and shed some light on the fact that human rights are human rights. 

If someone is being persecuted/violated/assaulted/killed for being different, it must be acted upon.  We can't pick and choose what group we believe has more of a "right" for recognition and protest.

Maybe Putin is doing a better job than we all thought:

He gives us in the West something to chat about for two weeks in February and he continues on with his "business-as-usual" nationalist movement. Without a shirt.

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