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24th Jul 2016

Russia repeats criticism of EU attitude on gay rights

  • Canadian rally: Putin's 'propaganda' law has attracted international disdain (Photo: [Rikki] Julius Reque)

The Russian foreign ministry has hit back at EU criticism on gay rights in Russia ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Brussels and the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Konstantin Dolgov, an official tasked with reporting on human rights, spent Wednesday and Thursday (23 January) in the EU capital promoting his annual study on civil liberties in Europe.

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He met with MEPs on the human rights committee on Wednesday and held a press conference at Russia’s EU embassy the following day.

According to Reuters, he told media at the press briefing that: "If a skater is planning to come as a member of the Olympic team not to compete, but to fight against a law in the host country, it is very bad. It means that this particular skater does not respect Olympic principles.”

He also said in an interview with The Voice of Russia: “There is absolutely no discrimination of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans] community in Russia as such. There definitely are some incidents, but incidents happen everywhere.”

He complained that MEPs only gave him three minutes to speak at Wednesday’s hearing, while giving more time to people from NGOs, such as Russia’s Memorial and the US-based Human Rights Watch.

“I had to counter the widely and wildly, I would say, politicised views expressed by some representatives of the so-called Russian human rights community,” he added.

The report itself, a 153-page study, which Russia has published each year since 2011, says: “The European Union and its member states consider, as one of their priorities, the dissemination of their neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community.”

It adds: “Attempts have been made to enforce on other countries an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon.”

The official English translation also refers to “a liberal attitude towards queers,” itself using vocabulary considered offensive by LGBT people.

The push-back comes after Russia passed a new law banning gay rights “propaganda” in what rights campaigners say gives the state sweeping powers to arrest anybody promoting gay rights.

Putin has invested $50 billion in an effort for the Olympics - in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, starting on 7 February - to make Russia look good on the international stage.

But the gay propaganda law has prompted boycotts of the opening ceremony by some European leaders, including the German President, as well as highly publicised complaints by European and US pop stars and athletes.

The Russian leader has made matters worse by, in recent days, urging gay visitors to Sochi to stay away from children, linking homosexuality to paedophilia - a homophobic stereotype.

In another aspect of Russian diplomacy, Russian diplomats in Ukraine have distributed pamphlets in local schools saying that if Ukraine signs an EU association agreement, Ukrainian children will be given up for adoption by same-sex couples in Europe and sexually abused.

Putin is likely to face demonstrations by gay rights groups when he comes to the EU capital on Tuesday.

Top EU officials have also shortened the meeting, compared to previous events, and included a special brainstorming session on the future of EU-Russian relations in view of what they see as Russia’s interference in EU-Ukraine ties.

The Dolgov report also notes: “The most pressing human rights issues in the EU still include a steady growth of xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism.”

It links the trend to the economic crisis, but accuses the EU institutions of quietism, because they have not triggered EU treaty provisions to suspend allegedly abusive EU countries’ EU Council voting rights.

“As a result, all the words about the EU commitment to human values remain on paper only,” it says.

It makes similar accusations about EU officials’ response to US snooping, brought to light by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently sheltering in Russia.

“All declarations of the October 2013 EU summit to receive the full explanation on this issue from the United States have not yet gone beyond rhetoric,” the paper notes.

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