We spoke to Andrey Glushkó, who moved to Spain to live in ‘’freedom’’, his friend Anastasiya Belickaya, the young political scientist Nina Ivanova and the correspondent for El Mundo (daily Spanish newspaper) in Moscow to discover why 74 percent of Russians do not socially accept homosexuality.
Russia and Spain are located on completely opposite sides of Europe: north to south, east to west. Russia shares a border with Asia, and Spain with Africa. An enormous geographic separation that has not prevented a flowing relationship between the two countries.
However, despite these things in common, between these two states one can find big differences in the socio-politics, which the Pew Research Centre brought out into the open with a simple question. “Should society accept homosexuality?”. 88% of Spaniards replied saying “yes”, the highest figure in the world; 74% of Russians said “no”- the lowest figure in the world.
The data suggested by this study corresponds on a legislative level in both countries. Since 2005, gay couples are permitted to marry in Spain on equal terms and with the same rights. According to a report by the BBC about discrimination against sexual orientation, in Russia same-sex unions are not legislated nor does any law exist,
In addition, a law has recently been passed in Russia which sanctions those who spread the idea, amongst young people, of “non-traditional sexual orientations” or “the idea that traditional sexual orientations and non-traditional ones have the same place in society”.
This quote from Xavier Colás, El Mundo’s correspondent in Moscow, explains the way he interprets the law in Russia “Although the law has been formulated as a tool to keep the message of ‘gays’ far away from children, in practice, homosexuals are not able to organise functions nor public protests or are even able to utilize the media…”
Behind all of these surveys and laws, there are people and their own opinions. At Meeting Halfway we wanted to produce a multifaceted survey with four points of view about this one matter. Andrey Glushkó, who left Russia because of his sexual orientation; Anastasiya Belickaya, who doesn’t believe homosexuals are homosexual by nature; the young political scientist Nina Ivanova, says that all young homosexuals in Russia have to hide their sexual preferences because they could be attacked by ‘hooligans’; and the El Mundo’s correspondent in Moscow, Xavier Colás, who claims a mania exists in Russia of linking gay people with paedophilia which complicates the debate.
Interview with Andrey Glushkó
Andrey Glushkó was born 26 years ago in Krasnodar, a city with a million inhabitants in the south of Russia, close to Cáucaso. He studied economics in Pyatigorsk and has agreed to tell us why he decided to leave his homeland and settle in Madrid.
How was your life in Russia?
I was happy; I was interested in the history of Russia – its culture, its literature, its paintings. I love the cultural aspects of my country, but life isn’t very good, especially for homosexuals. If you are gay, and want to lead a quiet normal life and want a family in the future, you will never have freedom, you will never have a quiet life, a basic life, pretty much a normal life.
Why did you leave?
The thing is that in Russia everything moves at such a fast pace and by the time you are 22 you are supposed to be an older, stable, more settled person and if you get to this age and you don’t have a wife and children then people look at you strangely. I had already reached 22 and I had finished my degree, I had a job and everything was going well until I realised that there was nothing else for me. I couldn’t have a partner or a family, my two worlds were colliding. I had to decide whether I wanted to stay in my ‘’normal’’ life or whether I should leave and start my life again from scratch. I decided that it was better to start from nothing…because I already had nothing. In my world in Russia, homosexuality wasn’t even spoken about. I have had a small circle of gay friends but it was all very secretive. Therefore I left everything, I told my family that I wanted to go and study abroad, that was the only thing that I told my parents. My father still thinks that I am here for cultural reasons because my parents don’t know I’m gay and in reality they won’t ever know. My sister knows because I told her about a year ago.
How about Spain, are you comfortable?
Yes I’m happy, I adore Spain, it is my second country. I find though that it is very difficult to survive alone, because the Spanish are a little…well you’re open people but it is very difficult to actually make friends with a Spanish person. They all chat and start with the normal pleasantries but then everyone leaves. The Spanish are very social up to a certain point but after that they aren’t very social people. But I feel very comfortable in Spain; I would live here for the rest of my life. I have travelled a lot around Europe and this is the country that I like the most. I feel more protected here than I did in my own county.
Do you feel that the data in the surveys, those that say that the majority of Russians are not tolerant of homosexuality affected you on a day to day basis?
I didn’t see cases of aggression in Russia, because in reality it was as if homosexuality didn’t exist. It is spoken about more with the new government of Putin. I don’t know why they are addressing this topic so much, perhaps it is to deflect attention away from other things which are more serious. The matter of homosexuality is now being spoken about every day, they are saying that homosexuality is a bad thing, and in the end people will start to believe it. In fact, when they passed the law banning homosexual propaganda my father called me to tell me how happy it had made him. There is even a political party that openly advocates propaganda in favour of killing gay people in Red Square. There are people who are starting to lose the plot a bit…
In the times of the USSR homosexuality was considered to be an illness. Has there been any progress more recently?
In actual fact, they used to take you to prison. I think the worst of it is there is a fine line which has been blurred. There is a law that has recently been passed called “prohibition of homosexual and paedophilic propaganda”. It is as if there are the same thing. The problem is that in the Russian language there isn’t much difference when you hear the words “fag” and “paedophile”, so for this reason many people believe that this is normal, that a paedophile and a homosexual are the same.
This law which prohibits the making of homosexual propaganda was approved by nearly all of the members of parliament. Is there no party that is tolerant?
There is a circle of politicians who are openly gay and who openly fight for our rights. Anyway this whole issue is that Russia is supposedly a democratic country but it isn’t. Russia is not a democratic country and it never has been. It doesn’t strike me as being a democratic country; it strikes me of being more of a dictatorship again, or something similar. We are going back in time.
The decisions that Russia makes regarding this topic are affecting other countries. In Spain, for example, Russia has prohibited the adoption of Russian children until the Spanish authorities can demonstrate that these children won’t be adopted by a homosexual.
In Russia there are a lot of children that don’t have anyone. I attended a college which also admitted orphans and abandoned children. I have seen what their lives are like, always trying to survive. So I believe that it will always be better for these children to have a mother or someone that can look after them, and that will be there for them even during the bad times. But what the Russian government is doing implies that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to go near children nor speak to them because they are worried that they will pass on some sort of disease.
Why do you think this is happening in Russia?
Firstly I think that is it because, in terms of homosexuality, the Russian orthodox religion is one of the strictest, it is stricter than Catholicism. Secondly, I think that Stalin is partly to blame, as he created the first laws against homosexuality, and there are still many people with his communist mentality. It is an accumulation of things really.
But when we look at Spain, there is a large percentage of Catholics that aren’t against the growing acceptance of homosexuality…
But here in Spain the homosexuals just don’t appreciate it.
So they don’t appreciate the liberty that they have?
No, they are used to living a calm and easy life. I myself have become used to be too, but when my friends come to Madrid to visit, they are astonished. You walk around and you think, has it really become this extreme? Sometimes it is exaggerated there a bit too I think. For me the most important thing is to be able to live a peaceful and free life.
So we have got to the end of the interview. The final question is whether you want your name to appear on this interview or would you prefer to use a pseudonym?
Put my name, I have nothing to hide.
Interview with Anastasiya Belickaya
Anastasiya Belickaya lives in St Petersburg and is a close friend of Andrey Glushkó. She signed her email to me with an apology, “I’m sorry if I have hurt anyone’s feelings”.
“I do believe in real homosexual love BUT in reality, I don’t think that every homosexual is inherently gay, some people are easily influenced by fashion trends, it may be a creative phase or even just a need to try something new sexually. As for me, I do know some of these people but I just don’t share their way of life. On the other hand, the whole world is naturally heterosexual, you, me, everyone. But everyone has weaknesses and desires. One man may choose a traditional relationship, as a result of mimicking existing familial relationships, whilst others, and this may sound religious, may not cope with their own internal confrontations and therefore turn to homosexuality.
It’s very difficult for me to write to you, to the men that live in Spain, a country with a completely different mentality and philosophy of life, which differs so much from Russia. Our attitude towards this issue dates back through our history, and homosexuality is, historically, not a typical type of relationship, and I agree. I don’t want my children, my father and my grandmother to see camp gays on the street who by nature should be a symbol of courage, confidence, and ultimately the stronger sex.
With regards to the public protests, I’m against “pornography” shows. If gays want to live normal lives, they should stop imposing this issue upon everyone. I understand how it is important for gays to protect their way of life and I understand how hard it is to get by when every day you are subjected to psychological pressure. I have a lot of gay friends and I don’t talk to them about their homosexuality, because I just treat them like all my friends without discriminating against them.”
Interview with Nina Ivanova
Nina Ivanova, who prefers to appear under a pseudonym, is 23 years old and studied International Relations and Regional Studies, she now lives in Ekaterimburgo – the capital of Urales. She has offered us insight into her personal view about the passing of the law against propaganda regarding non-traditional relationships to minors.
“I suppose that sexual orientation is a private part of life. Every person, he or she, should be able to choose it. But this person should not force others to choose the same as them ie. homosexuality. On the other hand homosexuals should not feel pressure from society because of their sexual orientation. In Russia people are often very conservative when it comes to accepting homosexuality around them. Young gay people have to hide their sexual preferences; otherwise they could be attacked by hooligans or aggressive homophobes. I find this very sad.
I think that my friends share my opinion. We live in a big city, we travel a lot and understand that we should be tolerant and respect other people, no matter their religion, age, nationality or sexual orientation. However, when anyone, homosexuals and heterosexuals, demonstrate their feelings and engage in public displays of affection in open spaces, I feel very uncomfortable, because this should be a private part of life.
I have also heard people say – “This problem they are going on about is not that serious, people pay too much attention to this LGBT topic. In Russia there are more significant social problems, for example many people have to wait several years for places kindergartens, etc.”
Interview with Xavier Colás: El Mundo’s correspondent in Moscow
Xavier Colás is El Mundo’s correspondent in Moscow; El Mundo is one of Spain’s most popular newspapers. He has held this post since January 2012, before this he lived in St Petersburg as a student.
Why do you think that homosexuality isn’t accepted in Russia?
I think that in Russia there is a tremendous lack of empathy, its civil society is so weak, almost non-existent in fact. In Spain, thirty years ago, we didn’t approve of homosexuality, but there was a certain respect towards those things that we didn’t understand. Over time we have listened to this community and begun to feel proud of them. In Russia it is more difficult for people to listen to others because of their own insecurities produced by Russia’s own identity crisis. On top of all this, it’s a very traditional society in certain ways, without any traces of feminism, environmentalism or associationism, despite being quite liberal and open towards issues such as divorce, sex and the internet. There is a tendency here to link gays with paedophilia, and I feel that this complicates the debate.
Do you think that this intolerance is due to homophobia or do you think it is something more cultural?
The government manifests an organised opposition to gays, but not to those who keep their relationships hidden away. The Kremlin doesn’t want gays complaining or giving interviews in English to the press to raise the profile of the issue and ultimately marring the Russian appearance. The Russian people on the other hand are traditional and they admit it. They really think that gays have a problem and that they are perverting society. I don’t think people know what they are saying. They don’t know because they don’t listen and many people don’t even talk about it. They just stay hidden away in the darkness. The problem isn’t that that there are prejudices which continue to exist, but actually that there isn’t many people that address these prejudices. Distrust of outside forces, as Russia is seen as a closed continent, makes it hard to reach a solution.
Have you attended any demonstrations that defended the rights of homosexuals, or to any protests that opposes them? What was the atmosphere like?
Yes I have, the atmosphere is tense and there are some brutish people there who just go to insult others. The most noteworthy thing about this fight in Russia is that there aren’t many heterosexual people that are willing to fight for gay rights. Something that many people don’t know is many of those who are injured are in fact anti-gay. The fight for gay rights is stirring things up here in Russia. When people shout “paedophiles” eight times in a row across the square, protesters will cross the police cordon throwing punches as they go, to face the anti-gay protesters, throwing a few more punches along the way before getting back to the demo. Once I went to a gay protest and nobody came, it was just the police and I. Gay pride flags are a common sight at extra-parliamentary opposition rallies; despite this, extra-parliamentary leaders are failing to bring this issue into the spotlight. It’s like talking to a brick wall. Now all gay rights protests are banned; the law prohibiting underage gay propaganda is a joke. Because in reality, there are under aged kids everywhere so you can’t come out as gay at all in fear of offending these children. Russia has closed its doors to homosexuals.
Do you think that the situation will improve in the future?
Without a doubt. Homosexuals will win the battle like they did in Spain. It’ll be like living in the USA in the sixties when they were first facing the gay rights issue. Difficult, but continually progressive. Russian society isn’t dictated by the government, the people are ready to suffer under the governments grasps so that in the future they can be free.
Do you see a more tolerant younger generation?
I don’t think they are more tolerant but they are definitely more open minded and more easily convinced. Young people spell their views out more readily, and are less obedient to the government’s every whim. You can see a massive difference between Moscow and St. Petersburg with the rest of Russia. In some places it’s a complex issue, because many gays are attacked by local gangs who continue to get away scot free. In the capital, everyone shares the frustration, since on a personal level homosexuals are doing what they want behind closed doors.
I am especially interested in understanding your personal views about what is happening.
A year ago I was talking to two Russians at a party, I brought up gay rights. Both of them avoided implicating themselves, but they couldn’t help using a derogatory tone. They kept saying things like, “No, well I have nothing against them, they have done nothing to me, that is what they are like and they can’t change, we don’t want to do them any harm.” It’s was like they were taking pity on gays. A few months later there was another party, a gay colleague of mine was there. He’s not at all ugly, a really friendly Latin American guy and spoke good Russian. Finding himself amongst a huddle of people, he remembered everyone’s name and complimented each of them. He brought his attractive boyfriend with him, a quiet Russian guy. These were the same two guys. Everyone was enchanted by them, because they were better on so many levels than Russian guys. Everyone at the party wished their co-workers were like mine. Finally, last week there was another party. The same thing happened. There was a lovely gay couple there, one Russian and one Spanish guy – both fitness and dance instructors. The couple was surrounded by folk the whole night, at the end of the night they added each other on Facebook and invited them to join in on birthday celebrations. “They are amazing!” “What nice guys!” This of course is not a sign of a paedophilia. The image of gays as mad, filthy paedophiles will continue to exist if people aren’t shown otherwise. But as soon as people begin presenting themselves for who they are, this charade will begin to crumble, in Russia too. And when the charade that depicts homosexuals as a waste of space has been dropped, history will follow in its footsteps. As a heterosexual, I had always scoffed at the “Gay Pride Festival”, what have they got to be proud of? Being gay doesn’t deserve any merits. In Russia I learned that although it has no merit, having pride and faith in oneself is fundamental to fighting discrimination. In this homophobic war, the first thing that Russia will lose is the women, just like it had happened with those two guys. The women will always be out in front of them. So as soon as they have lost the women, the homophobes will have lost the war.