Russian President Vladimir Putin during an interview with the Associated… (Alexander Zemlianichenko…)
MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin is attempting to allay fears about Russia’s new anti-gay law, saying there will be no discrimination during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“We can be absolutely sure that Russia will support the principles of Olympism, which don’t allow discrimination of people on any basis, either ethnicity or gender or … sexual orientation,” Putin said in an interview with Russia’s First Channel television network and the Associated Press, which was posted on the Kremlin website Wednesday.
The law, which criminalizes public displays of support for gays and lesbians, has drawn international condemnation and calls for a boycott of the Sochi games.
President Obama rejected the idea because of the harm to athletes who have been training for years to compete. But some experts believe that concern about Russia’s treatment of gays and lesbians was one of a number of issues that lead Obama to cancel a Moscow summit planned for when he attends a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies in St. Petersburg this week.
Putin accused the media of stirring up fears of discrimination in Russia.
“People of untraditional sexual orientation are in no way infringed upon, either in a professional sense or in terms of salary,” he said in the interview. “I am working with such people.... We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything special in it.”
“They say Pyotr Chaikovsky was a homosexual,” Putin continued. “However we love him, not for that [but because] he was a great musician, and we all love his music.”
“There is no need to turn a fly into an elephant,” Putin said. “Nothing frightful and horrible is going on in our country.”
Putin defended the new law as a means to encourage population growth.
“Russia is living through difficult times in terms of demography and we are interested in full-fledged families to produce more children,” Putin said. “I think the authors of the law proceeded primarily from the necessity to resolve demographic problems and were far from being guided by the idea of infringing on somebody’s rights.”
Human rights activists accused Putin of a cynical attempt to conceal widespread homophobia.
“Putin is lying his head off about the situation with gay rights in Russia,” Yelena Kostyuchenko, a prominent gay rights activist and journalist, told the Los Angeles Times. “We have no right to marry each other; we have no right to protest; we have no right to security.”
She said a gay high school teacher in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk was fired Wednesday because he would not conceal his sexual orientation. The state Duma is also considering enacting measures that would bar gay people from donating blood and provide for the removal of their children, she said.
Human Rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, a board member of the Memorial Society, an influential Russian human rights group, said Putin would keep discrimination in check during the Olympic Games but warned that would not resolve the problem.
“Homophobia is being sown and nursed in the country on a large scale, officially approved from the very top and backed by restrictive and anti-democratic legislation produced by parliament,” Gannushkina said. “The Kremlin is getting more and more xenophobic, trying to direct the growing general discontent in the country towards some vulnerable groups, like gays for instance, who cannot even defend themselves publicly because any mention of their homosexuality can now be regarded as gay propaganda, punishable by law.”