By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com September 13 2013 6:00 AM ET
Russian president Vladimir Putin's op-ed in The New York Times sparked intense debate on whether the Times overstepped its editorial authority in offering so much space to a borderline dictator proud of his displeasure with everything American. The Times itself published a blog explaining its decision.
While Putin's op-ed advances some reasonable — if also refutable — arguments against a U.S. military strike on Syria, it keeps in line with his generally dismissive, holier-than-thou rhetoric. And after some vague threats about future chemical weapons attacks in Israel or against U.S. targets by al Qaeda militants, Putin extols the virtues of "civilized diplomatic and political settlement" over "brute force." Because if there's one lesson Russian history teaches us, it's that the nation serves as the paragon of tender diplomacy and peaceful, nonviolent resolution to sectarian conflict.
But Putin saves his most blatant grandstanding and hypocritical morality lecture for his closing paragraph. Citing President Obama's Tuesday address, in which he mentioned "American exceptionalism," Putin gets downright paternal.
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional," writes the president who this summer signed into law a nationwide ban on any discussion of LGBT identities that could be accessible to minors. "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us all equal."
Putin's actions, however, belie his supposed belief in universal equality. In June, Putin signed that law on so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations after similar local legislation had been passed in several Russian cities. One month later, Putin signed another law barring gay or lesbian couples — or any single people from marriage equality countries — from adopting Russian orphans. The Russian parliament is reportedly considering a bill that would mandate removing children from the homes of gay and lesbian parents. Putin hasn't commented on the proposed law, though the other antigay bills sailed through parliament with unanimous support.
In the face of widespread international criticism of the country's increasingly violent antigay climate, Putin has claimed that gay and lesbian Russians are "not discriminated against in any way." To make sure no one says otherwise, the democratically elected president has also banned any type of demonstration, protest, or gathering during the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia. Putin's top advisers, including the sports minister, have offered contradictory messages about whether LGBT Olympic athletes and spectators will be subject to the fines and possible jail time imposed by the ban on positive depictions of homosexuality. Government officials have repeatedly said that everyone is welcome in Sochi, regardless of sexual orientation, and that athletes will be safe, as long as they don't disclose or discuss their LGBT identity.
"If a person does not put across his views in the presence of children, no measures against him can be taken," Alexander Zhukov, head of Russia's National Olympic Committee, told state news outlet RIA Novosti. "People of nontraditional sexual orientations can take part in the competitions and all other events at the games unhindered, without any fear for their safety whatsoever."
So while Putin and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad are busy hamming it up on American TV programs and in newspapers, we're tempted to side with Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, who had this to say after reading Putin's op-ed:
I hope President Obama submits a pro-gay marriage op-ed to http://t.co/XKoKnOyCwP tomorrow. Not that they'd post it.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 12, 2013
Ultimately, I'm inclined to agree with Slate's assessment of Putin's op-ed, which said "the Russian President's lecture about peace in Syria is all hypocrisy and lies."
SUNNIVIE BRYDUM is an associate editor at The Advocate. Like the president, she has "no patience" for hypocritical politicians of any nationality who target LGBT people.