If you say on the internet or in the press that homosexuality is normal, or if you demonstrate for more LGBTI rights, you are propaganda according to Russian law and you risk a fine of up to 6,500 euros.
Companies that expose their customers to “pro-LHBTI information” can be fined up to 80,000 euros for spreading propaganda. This is how TikTok became a fine of 47,000 euros because there are videos on the platform in which homosexuality is accepted.
“The whole subject becomes taboo”
“What exactly propaganda means is a slippery concept,” says Russian correspondent Eva Hartog. “Even revealing your sexual orientation or wearing a symbol can be considered propaganda. In practice, this means that the whole subject is taboo, not only for minors, but for the entire Russian population.”
Russia hasn’t been a nice place for the LGBTI community for a long time, says Vitali Lomakin in a conversation with RTL News. He lives in St. Petersburg and works as a project manager for an organization that has been campaigning for gay rights in Russia for many years. “This law is above all a restriction on freedom of expression. LGBTI people in Russia must constantly watch their words to avoid saying anything on social media or in public that authorities might label as propaganda.
There has been a law since 2013 that “protects minors against LGBTI propaganda”, but very few people have been convicted for this in recent years. “It’s not like you get fined immediately if you say something wrong, but you know it’s always possible,” says Vitali.
Vitali expects the new law to lead to fines soon. “I think it’s mostly LGBTI people who are very public, like bloggers, who will get fined. The government can use them to set an example and show other LGBTI people what can happen if they speak out .”
Eva Hartog also expects the new law to be applied selectively and that in no case everyone will be fined. “But as a political lightning rod, it gives the Russians something they can agree on at a time when the war on Ukraine is straining that unity.”
“Everything goes on, but underground”
In addition to possible fines, the new law also has practical consequences for the LGBTI community. If people want to get together for an event or party, they can’t share information about the meeting. “Everything is going on as usual, but in hiding. We have to stay out of sight of the authorities as much as possible,” says Vitali.
Foreigners who authorities believe are spreading LGBTI propaganda can be deported. “And if you get fined, you know the money will go straight into Putin’s war chest. That’s another reason to shut up.”
No one opposes
When the Russian parliament passed the new law this week, no one voted against it. The State Duma speaker wrote on social media: “With this law, we can protect the future of our children and our country from the darkness spread by the United States and Europe.” According to experts, the fact that the stricter law is now being introduced is linked to the war in Ukraine.
“You see that the anti-LGBT discussion in Russian politics gets heated, especially when things aren’t going well with domestic politics,” Hartog says. “The subject serves as a lightning rod and a unifying factor, something that traditional Russian society can rally behind. This is probably also the case today. at war with a brother nation.”
Vitali also sees a connection between this law and the war. “Because the war in Ukraine is going badly, the government is looking for enemies in Russia. And the LGBTI community is seen as pro-Western, so we are a target.”
Despite the tightening of the legislation, Vitali retains a glimmer of hope. “When it comes to LGBTI rights, we in Russia are decades behind countries like the Netherlands. But I’m sure we’ll get more rights in Russia too. I don’t know when, but we hope the political system, and that we get more rights.”