A Sochi Boycott is the only option

Nailya Shamgunova 7 February 2014

Yesterday I found out that a fourteen-year-old Russian girl is now registered with police services. Her crime is honesty: saying that she liked girls. This happens at a time when Lena Klimova, author of an online project helping LGBT teenagers, is being sued by Vitaly Milonov, creator of the original anti-propaganda bill. Her project, a modest Vkontakte (Russian Facebook) page – media space acknowledging the existence of LGBT youth – will almost certainly be closed down in the next month or so.

Who wrote the anonymous stories on that page? At worst, and sadly all too often, teens who are bullied, attacked by peers – shouted at, beaten and forced into treatment by parents – and maybe even ‘correctively’ raped. This all happens at the time of the Winter Olympics, where the picture of prosperous Russia will be duly presented to the world. Putin’s lukewarm proclamations of tolerance towards LGBT individuals (‘if only they do not touch the minors’) should help run the event smoothly. The fact that several countries will send openly LGBT athletes and that several world leaders are not going to turn up, is a straightforward diplomatic stage game: one of symbolic statements.

The Games will come and go, but children will still be abused, families torn apart, lives broken forever. What the West does at the moment is too subtle, and foreign governments are missing a unique opportunity to make powerful statements supporting the rhetoric of human rights – so popular at home – by direct action. It is not just Britain that must boycott the Olympics, but the entire world: countries in which liberty, equality and human dignity are not empty words.

That might have solved the problem astutely voiced by Jonny Weir, the gay American figure-skater; he doesn’t support the boycott because it’s unfair to individual athletes who have trained for years for the Olympics. In a profession where age matters so immensely, missing a prestigious one-in-four year opportunity can be a career breaker. If the Olympic Committee were to revoke Russia’s right to hold the Games and move them elsewhere, that would not be much of a problem.

It’s not that bad in Russia though, is it? There’s Uganda, after all. Why is everyone focused on a relatively mild case? Well, Russia’s law, for one, is quite clever – deliberately mild to make everyone think twice before putting it next to Nazi Germany – discriminating instead against LGBT individuals and stirring up hatred towards them in the populace. Too many ordinary Russians are annoyed by the prominence of the topic in liberal media, which led to this line of argument: ‘they should sit quietly in their homes and then no one will touch them.’

Meanwhile, hate crime is on the rise and statements along the lines of ‘they all deserve to burn’, made by senior politicians, are ignored by authorities. However, all the law does is protect children so that it can still be served up with the national tradition sauce.

Foreign governments need to clearly show that they are not fooled: by boycotting the Olympics. Unless, of course, they don’t want to take decisive action in favour of international peace and human rights.

For an alternative viewpoint see 'Olympic boycott – far too inconsistent'.