Russia budges in response to Olympic protests

Sochi logoRussia is nowhere near to repealing its new ban on “gay propaganda,” but the government has softened its stance in response to Western opposition to that law and the prospect of a boycott of or protests at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin this week agreed to a statement that it would “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind” at the Olympic Games.” That wording was included in this year’s version an “Olympic Truce” document, which the United Nations routinely passes before the Olympic. As the International Business Times reported:

The United Nations adopts an Olympic Truce every two years aimed at promoting “the cause of peace” and laying out some basic guidelines about the handling of civil rights and other issues at the Olympics. The relevant resolution generally passes with little fanfare, but in light of new laws that criminalize gay activity and threaten to lead to the detention and deportation of Olympics attendees, there was great consternation over the truce this year, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Vitaly Milonov (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Vitaly Milonov (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Amid concerns about the impacts of the laws and vows by a number of Russians, including St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, that the laws will be enforced at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, negotiations over this year’s Olympic Truce grew intense, and eventually led Russia to add new language aimed at including all people to its version of the resolution.

Russia’s Olympic Truce initially stated that its Olympics would be inclusive of “people of different age, sex, physical capacity, religion, race and social status,” according to the New York Times. After much deliberation, Russia reportedly agreed this week to change the wording of the truce — which the U.N. will likely vote on within the next month — to state that it would “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind” at the Olympic Games.

The decision to amend the truce from one that did not seem to offer protections for gay and transgender athletes to one that ostensibly eschews discrimination in all its forms will likely be a welcome yet insufficient development for the many people around the world who have decried the so-called gay propaganda laws and vowed to boycott the Olympics and various Russian products in protest against the statutes.

If such activists are to be appeased, the Russian government will need to go further than simply signing a U.N. resolution, especially in light of Milonov’s comments this summer, which drew attention from observers around the world. “If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority,” Milonov told the Interfax news agency in a piece published by Russia Beyond the Headlines. He added, “Any normal athlete or sport fan arrives to support his team and to watch sport events in their splendor, not to violate the laws of the hosting country.”

Three new federal anti-gay laws authorize Russian authorities to apprehend foreigners who are found to be “pro-gay” and to detain them for as long as 14 days before deporting them.

The New York Times said:

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Past truces, including the one that Britain sponsored for the 2012 London Olympics, did not mention gay or transgender people. But this year, with global attention focused on the matter, countries are aiming to set a precedent of inclusion.

“Along with like-minded partners, the United Kingdom is keen to see principles of nondiscrimination included in the Olympic Truce resolution,” said Iona Thomas, a spokeswoman for the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations.

Russia’s law, signed by President Vladimir V. Putin in June, bans “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” It led to calls for protests and even some boycotts of the Sochi Games. The International Olympic Committee said it had received “strong written reassurances” from the Russian government that all would be welcome at the Sochi Games, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The United Nations is likely to vote on the truce in the coming weeks.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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