In this exclusive interview, well-known Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, who was nearly beaten to death in 2010, talks with The New Civil Rights Movement about Vladimir Putin’s revenge against the West and a potential boycott of the Sochi Games
This is part two of a two-part interview conducted August 13-15, 2013.
Read part one:
Exclusive: Russian Journalist Oleg Kashin On Putin’s Politics, Anti-Gay Laws And Sochi Olympics
Editor’s note: The opinions of Mr. Kashin are his and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Civil Rights Movement.
Oleg Kashin, formerly a special correspondent and blogger for the Russian daily newspaper and media company, Kommersant, is well known for his bold reporting on Russian politics and business. Kashin was nearly beaten to death in 2010 over his political reporting. Kashin now travels to Russia frequently and occasionally writes on Russian affairs, but resides in Switzerland with his wife.
Kashin was a Paul Klebnikov Civil Society Fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute in 2012.
Domi: Russian gay men have often been beaten, tortured and some have been murdered by right-wing vigilantes. Knowing this, do you believe the Russian government officials who have said they will arrest gay athletes during the Sochi Olympic Games who might violate the propaganda law? How would you expect Russians officials to react if gay athletes demonstrated by waving a gay flag after they medalled?
Kashin: It’s understood that they won’t dare arrest anyone, but they will be seriously embarrassed—Russian officials are very sensitive to foreign criticism. So, I really hope that the actions you mentioned will be as prevalent as possible during the Olympics, to make it as difficult as we can for the government to hide them from the public on Russian television.
Domi: Do you think Putin and members of the Russian governments at different levels are surprised by the sharp reaction of Westerners to the Russian anti-gay laws? It also seems there is confusion within the Russian government about whether they would enforce the propaganda laws. Do you think Putin will crack down further on gays in Russia? Some commentators have suggested that Putin might sign a new law that would authorize government officials to remove children from same sex couples.
Kashin: I, too, believe that the law to remove children from same-sex couples will be enacted, and there will be more laws of this sort enacted. Putin understands that the West does not like it, but continues to act in this direction. I am convinced that the answer must be sought in the emotional, not the rational realm. For example, it is necessary to assume that Putin, being a very rich man, has dreamed of becoming a part of the international financial elite for many years—to sail the Mediterranean Sea and throw lavish parties in his castle on Cote d’Azur. In recent years, he realized that his dreams will never come true, because his prosperity is tied only to his power. So, he is engaged in revenge against the West, which has never accepted him into its elite circles.
Domi: Because the International Olympic Committee has asked the Russian government to clarify the propaganda law, do you think the Russians are concerned about being humiliated by the gay controversy? How could the Russian government be pressured to review and reverse their anti-gay laws? Do you think critics of Russian LGBT law who compare Sochi 2014 to Berlin 1936 are effective, or not?
Kashin: Any comparison in modern politics to Hitler and Nazi Germany is in poor taste–it’s Godwin’s law. I don’t think these particular comparisons will have any effect. Calls for boycott probably won’t affect Putin either—he’s a businessman, he knows the language of money and realizes that the probability of a boycott of the Olympic Games is very low, the Olympics is a business, and it’s very unlikely that a company like Coca-Cola (which, as we know, is continuing its active business in Russia) is ready to give up their profits for the sake of abstract humanitarian interest. So I do not believe in such tactics.
Domi: If the West were to begin a boycott of corporations sponsoring the Olympics, pressuring them to withdraw money and sponsorship of the Games. How do you think such demonstrations to stand up for LGBT human rights would be received in Russia? What do you think of the Stoli vodka boycott?
Kashin: It depends on how massive the boycott. So far we’ve seen the experience of Stolichnaya vodka (which has no relation to Russia)—by all accounts, it really shook up the owners of the company, so it’s the right tactic.
Domi: How are Russians reacting to their critics and about talk of these boycotts?
Kashin: So far, Russians aren’t noticing any active calls for boycott. The only name being discussed on the social networks has been Stephen Fry, the British writer and actor who called for a Sochi boycott. In general, there isn’t much enthusiasm about the Olympics in Russia; many are certain that for one reason or another, they will be cancelled, and even malevolently await bad news—for instance, news that the stadiums haven’t been built yet, and that there won’t be anywhere to hold the Olympics, is very popular. So, if the boycott becomes massive, I think it will find supporters even in Russia.
Domi: Do you think that the West’s strong reaction and condemnation of Putin and to the Russian anti-LGBT laws will result in a further crackdown in Russia toward the gay community there?
Kashin: It depends of the quality and strength of the reaction. So far, there has only been only one effective decision that really affected Russia, which was the Magnitsky Act [passed by the U.S. Congress that denies visas to and freeze the assets of those in the Russian ruling elite implicated in Sergei Magnitsky’s murder and other human rights violations and corruption within Russia]. Putin isn’t afraid of “hard talks” or “angry statements.” But Putin is afraid of losing the possibility to spend [his] money abroad. In reaction to the Magnitsky Act, Russia responded by prohibiting the adoption of Russian children to the U.S. [We will see] maybe later in the Western reaction to new [Russian] laws [on gays].
Translation of the original Russian into English was contributed by Masha Udensiva-Brenner, Columbia University, Harriman Institute
Images of Mr. Kashin via Facebook
Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University‘s Harriman Institute and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.