This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi are the most expensive Olympic Games of all time. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has reportedly spent around €51bn on the event.
However, despite the large financial input, the festivities have been marred by the current discrimination against the LGBT community in Russia.
Disturbing videos have come out of Russia recently, showing mainly gay men being beaten and humiliated in public. These violent acts, which include a man being forced to sodomise himself, are the work of a group called the “Occupy Paedophilia” movement.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN general secretary, spoke out against these acts, saying: “We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonment and discriminatory restrictions they face.”
Members of this group hunt and lure suspected “paedophiles” and film them being physically tortured. The organisation has denied that it carries out “gay bashing”, but they admit that the majority of those that they attack are homosexual.
Conor McFall, the president of the LGBT Society of Queens University in Belfast (QUB), says that the recent “gay propaganda” laws will have little effect on the aggressions.
“It is my understanding that this sort of violence has existed in some parts of Russia for quite a while now and I highly doubt that these laws will do anything other than creating a suppressing effect on anyone wanting to speak out,” explains Conor.
There has been a lot of outcry from celebrities, foreign dignitaries and various activist groups, in an attempt to encourage Putin to redress the laws that were introduced last summer. These laws have made it illegal to teach or talk about homosexuality or paedophilia in front of children, for fear of “converting” them.
However, Mr McFall believes that celebrity uproar has done little in the way of protest and he said that other countries that discriminate against the LGBT community are being overlooked.
“I highly doubt Russian policy-makers care about what Stephen Fry for example has to say. I do think there is some level of hypocrisy surrounding this though. For example, the England cricket team is soon to play test matches in Jamaica and Barbados, where homosexuality is illegal, and this has been completely ignored,” he explained.
The George bar in Dublin, which is synonymous with the Dublin “gay scene” announced that it would not sell Coca Cola for the duration of the Sochi Games, in protest against its continued sponsorship of the Winter Olympics.
So will the boycotting of the product for two weeks have any impact on Russia’s opinion on the new laws? According to Conor, the bar has done nothing to help the LGBT community in Russia and their stance is pointless.
“I find it very naive that people expect multinational companies such as Coca-Cola to act as moral agents. Their only concern is profit. It would have been better if the bar had perhaps tried to donate money from sales of Coke to Russian LGBT activists,” he added.
In an odd move, the organisers of the Games got the Russian band, t.A.T.u, to perform at the opening ceremony. The Russian duo, who became famous for that one music video of them in schoolgirl outfits, kissing in the rain, were a strange choice in many people’s eyes.
Conor doesn’t believe there was any ulterior motive behind their appearance, saying that they were probably chosen “simply because they are a famous Russian group and because they have had exposure outside of the Russian market.”
There is hope that a surge of activist actions will have a similar affect to those that protested against Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s, when they banned the “promotion of a homosexual lifestyle” in schools.
Yet, with little government intervention on the horrific attacks on members of the LGBT community in Russia, it’s difficult to see what, if anything, will encourage Putin to redress the “gay propaganda” laws, currently running their society.