Friday, April 21, 2017

Chechnya: Image and Reality


Those who have been following the reports of gay men fleeing Chechnya in the face of a Chechen government-backed campaign of intimidation may have wondered exactly why Novaya Gazeta has decided to publish these accounts right now. While homophobia is widespread in Russia, and given a certain degree of official toleration, the fact (vigorously denied by the authorities) of its being official state policy within Chechnya is acquiring a much higher profile than its prevalence elsewhere in the Federation.

The stories and narratives emanating from the Republic are certainly disturbing: “They want to exterminate us,” says Ruslan, a gay man forced to leave his wife and children

Human rights organisations like HRW and Caucasian Knot have been quick to take up the stories and investigate them further. In spite of official denials, it does appear that some kind of campaign of intimidation has been started against those whose sexuality deviates from the locally accepted norms. But perhaps it’s as well to reflect that the reports first appeared in Novaya Gazeta, a paper that has a strong tradition of human rights reporting – Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist on the publication – but one that also (like nearly all other mainstream Russian media) has some links to the Russian state and its intelligence services.

Few will question that the LGBT community in Chechnya – as elsewhere in the Russian Federation – do not have an easy time, and that indeed their personal security and their lives may be in danger. But a question-mark does hang over the timing of the reports, and the inevitable danger that they may be used to further bolster the negative image of Chechnya and Chechens that has been built up over the years in the minds of Russians – and Westerners – by Russian press and media. 
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