This weekend, violent protests rocked Moscow in the hours prior to the beginning of the Eurovision song contest. Shockingly, these protests were not from music lovers objecting to the appallingly low quality of European pop music or the fact that the last cutting edge contribution of the event was "Waterloo" by Abba which if memory serves was so long ago that it was actually written as a contemporaneous tribute to the Duke of Wellington.
Instead, the protests were on behalf of gay rights groups objecting to what they perceive is widespread Russian homophobia. It's hard to argue with the perception, especially in the wake of Saturday's brutality or the comments of a spokesperson for Moscow City Hall, who argued that gay pride events "destroy moral foundations of our society." Which is saying something, given that the other moral foundations of Russian society include 70 years of totalitarian enslavement of their people, what are likely the largest mass murders of citizens by a government in the history of the world, pogroms and of course, whatever it was that made Catherine Great so popular in her stables. (I know, one of these is a myth, but sadly, it is just the one I threw in for comic effect.)
Russia, of course, is a great nation and has been home to much that has elevated the planet over the centuries. The music of Tchaikovsky and Musorgsky comes to mind as does the ballet of Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Nureyev. So too does the writing of Nikolai Gogol and the film-making of Sergei Eisenstein. All were among those that actually contributed to the true greatness in the foundation of Russian society and all, of course, were gay. Of course, the list of gay Russians, like those of any country extends over to the country's political life, as well, with some counting among their members some of the country's really macho heroes like Ivan the Terrible and Felix Yusupov and Dmitry Purishkevich, two of the guys who managed, after some difficulty, to actually murder Rasputin. And this is to say nothing of the fact the blinis are shaped like weenies, that they once had a prime minister named Gaydar, that every bowl of borscht has a big dollop of sour cream in it or that Brezhnev's wife looked so much like him. Or, for that matter, of Putin's compulsion to go shirtless, his obvious overcompensation when it comes to manly pursuits like hunting and invading neighboring countries, and those mushy, warm feelings that came when George W. Bush looked deep into his limpid blue eyes.
OK, maybe I've gone too far. We can debate that if you like. (But if we do, I want credit for having resisted the temptation to make a reference to Russia's unforgettable pseudo-lesbian pop duo Tatu.) But what is indisputable is that there was an unsettling display of repression on the streets of Russia's capital this weekend on more levels than is healthy for the country. That this represents further evidence still that the Russian government is as out of touch with the basic principals of democracy as they may be with their true sexual impulses is disturbing and offers yet further evidence that perhaps it is not just the State Department that needs to hit their reset button in order to ensure the U.S.-Russia relationship is not one that leaves us feeling violated or dirty.
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