Putin's Anti-Gay War on Ukraine

tags: Russia, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, LGBTQ history

Emil Edenborg is Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Stockholm University and Associate Research Fellow in the Global Politics and Security Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. He tweets @emiledenborg.

In Vladimir Putin’s speech on February 24, announcing what would be a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine (in his official Orwellian euphemism, a “special military operation” in the Donbas region), a whole paragraph was dedicated to the West’s supposed undermining of “traditional values”:

Properly speaking, the attempts to use us in their own interests never ceased until quite recently: they sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature. This is not going to happen. No one has ever succeeded in doing this, nor will they succeed now.

To anyone following Russian politics and society, these words ring familiar. When Putin entered office for a third presidential term in 2012, in the wake of massive protests and declining popularity, his government wholeheartedly embraced the notion of “traditional values” as official ideology guiding both domestic and foreign policy. While a usefully vague and often undefined concept, “traditional values” are seen as encompassing patriotism, spirituality, rootedness in history, respect for authority, and adherence to heteronormative and patriarchal ideals of family and gender. In the rhetoric of the Kremlin and state-loyal media, LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and atheism are identified not only as foreign to Russia’s values, but as existential threats to the nation.

Feminists, whether activists in women’s peace movements or researchers in the academic field of feminist international relations, have long known that issues of gender and sexuality are at the heart of security. War is gendered not just in the sense that decisions to go to war are overwhelmingly made by men and that almost all the killing and other atrocities in wartime are performed by male bodies. Gender norms and gendered inequalities also shape how people are affected by war, whether we speak of men not being allowed to leave Ukraine, women being charged with the responsibility for evacuating children and elderly, or trans people whose mobility may be hindered by a mismatch between their gender and what is stated in their passport. As political scientist Iris Marion Young argued in “The Logic of Masculinist Protection,” ideas of masculinity, femininity, family, “proper” and “improper” sexuality are vital elements of stories about who and what needs to be protected, from whom and by whom. Keeping to this script, Russian Kremlin-loyal media circulate footage of women and children in Donbas who, the story goes, are under attack from Ukrainian “Nazi” forces forced to flee to Russia.

Of course, questions of gender are seldom at the forefront of analysis when bombs are falling, tanks are rolling in, and civilians are slaughtered. As militarization unfolds, establishment, masculinist national security expertise tends to be privileged as the only rational and objective way of explaining the world; other perspectives, including feminist security analysis, are dismissed as naïve, idealistic, and out of touch with reality. As Putin’s speech hints, however, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and its security policies more broadly—cannot be understood in isolation from the politics of gender and sexuality. The reality is that the Kremlin has constructed a pernicious ideology of homophobia as geopolitics, and in official Russian rhetoric the war in Ukraine is framed as the continuation of this politics by other means.

Read entire article at Boston Review

comments powered by Disqus