Russia Introduces “LGBT Propaganda” Law: Protecting family values and censoring culture

December 12, 2022

Ekaterina Kyazhina

On the 5th of December, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law that would ban the expansion of the so-called “LGBT propaganda”. This law is expected to affect multiple cultural sectors in the country, including cinema, literature, and advertisement as well as increase the number of repressions and criminal cases against LGBTQ+ activists in Russia. 

The concept of “LGBT propaganda” was introduced with the law of June 2013 that banned the propaganda of “non-traditional” family values among the underage. The entities accused of breaking the law were subjected to fines or deportations, in cases where foreigners were found guilty. 

The law was used on several occasions as a tool for restricting the voices of the opposition. In the summer of 2022 Russian journalist, Yuriy Dud’, was found guilty and fined after his interview with the performance-artist Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich was published on Youtube. The head of the international human rights group "Agora" Pavel Chikov clarified that Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich was an open homosexual but the interview itself was not centred around the topic of homosexuality.  

The new law is an extended version of the previous one. According to the documents, access to the information on the paid online resources that demonstrates “non-traditional sexual relations and preferences, as well as information that would make children want to change their gender”, can only be obtained using a unique code to confirm the user’s age. The amendments also expand the requirements for advertisement, stating that it cannot contain a demonstration of “non-traditional sexual relations and preferences”. Movies “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” will not receive a screening license. Legal entities might face fines of up to 10 million roubles (approximately, $163.492) while foreigners found guilty of offences would face deportation from Russia.

The State Duma’s chairman Vyacheslav Volodin has explained that the new law is supposed to “let our families live calmly” and “not to be afraid for the children who go to the cinemas or theatres since nowadays everything carries destructive values”. 

The law has not yet been officially implemented but it is already affecting cultural life in Russia. The day the Russian Senate approved a law the theatre in Novosibirsk cancelled the children’s play “Princess and Cannibal” due to the fact that one of the female roles was played by a man. The ex-director of the theatre Yuliya Churilova commented that “any sort of criticisms had turned into a report to the authorities, thus leading to a bigger reaction.” She mentioned they have been witnessing the cases  “of censorship and self-censorship for a while now”.

“Artists who collaborate with state institutions begin to think much more carefully.”, she said. 

The same concerns appear among the book publishing community, as well as the cinema industry. According to some of the publishers, the new law might lead to the removal of up to 50% of books from the Russian market. Russian screenwriter and film critic Ivan Filippov believes that the new law will drastically change the industry.

“In general, it is difficult to imagine a modern film or series in demand among the audience, which fits under the accepted formulations. This law is pure concentrated insanity, which is not only inhumane to the LGBT community, but it will also cause irreparable damage to the industry: film, television and publishing.

The law is, of course, formulated in such a general way that it is simply not clear what will be considered “propaganda”. Therefore, I am afraid that most publishers and distributors will turn on self-censorship and will try to be as safe as possible.” 

Human rights activists and lawyers are concerned about the possible violations of rights that might increase after the law comes into force. The introduction of such concepts as “non-traditional family values” or “non-traditional sexual relation and preferences” introduces a large space for interpretation. 

“Legislators are opening a Pandora box. An indefinite norm leads to the unpredictability of its application. The unpredictability of application — to arbitrariness. And arbitrariness means an inevitable violation of rights”, says Ivan Brikulsky, a lawyer at the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

The “LGBT propaganda” law will threaten the freedom of conscience, speech and media, as well as freedom of assembly, access to information and expression. Restricting the LGBTQ+ community, which is, from a legal standpoint, one of the most defenceless and vulnerable communities in Russia, is just one step in a much larger process of establishing a universal ideology, where the government decides the “acceptable” and “non-acceptable” topics, and citizens become caught up in self-censorship.  

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