Shooting swans and other Russian pass times…

IAP Blog

Blog Post 22

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shooting swans and other Russian pass times…

Will it get to the point that Swan Lake can’t be performed in Moscow anymore?  What happens when something created by a person who has known same-sex attractions is produced in Russia?  Will it count as propaganda?  Or will the reality of the person behind it be hidden, ignored, lied about as an alternative?  Will swans be shot if same-sex attraction or homosexuality is ever attached to the music and ballets of Tchaikovsky in Russia?

This morning, the Duma (written Monday, January 28), the lower house of the Russian parliament backed a piece of legislation that is the first step towards writing a national law against “gay-propaganda”.  A similar law is already on the books in three Russian cities including St. Petersburg.  The legislation (in its first phase) passed with 388 votes for it and 1 (count them!) vote against it.  There were 61 missing or abstaining votes in the 450-member chamber.

The night before this legislation was passed I was sitting in a concert hall in Berlin watching a ballet called “Genie und Wahnsinn” (Genius and Madness).  The ballet used Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music to score a biographical ballet about his life.  The performance was magnificent.  In fact, it may have been divine.  The dancers, choreography, music, acoustics, location; everything about the evening was perfect.  Except for the one irony that was discussed at the end of the show when the 20-minute ovation ended: this ballet, this tribute to one of Europe’s, the world’s and particularly Russia’s cultural treasures could not be performed in St. Petersburg.

The ballet very candidly and openly handled Tchaikovsky’s same-sex attractions and the homosexuality he acted on in his life.  It was a beautifully performed discussion and the emotions in the dance were high.  The struggle and pain of life not lived free were put on display for the whole audience to see, to hear, and more than anything to feel.

The ballet was a piece of homoerotic art at its best.  It was an element that seems almost obvious and a necessarily inherent part of telling Tchaikovsky’s life story.  Yes, it could be taken as saying, “homosexuality killed him”, but that would be too simple and the unavoidable beauty of the performance and the unavoidable reality that the ballet depicts the discrimination as being the cause of Tchaikovsky’s death would not be lost on a Russian audience.

This could not by law be performed in St. Petersburg and soon perhaps all of Russia.

A ballet.  A biography of Tchaikovsky’s life. His music telling his story.  This could not be played in Russia!

There is a cultural shame to that, which is ironic and sad.  The bigger shame though is that such a law can be passed in the 21st century at all.  Yet is does; similar laws remain in place across the world as well, some of which going as far to punish homosexuality by death.

Countries with such laws are seen as blotches on humanitarian approaches to government and international civil rights by their peers in Europe, North America and multiple other parts of the world; Uganda was threatened with sanctions when it recently tried to pass ant-gay legislation, which would have entrenched already deep homophobia deeper in Ugandan law, and Mozambique received the ire of European nations similarly for homophobic government actions.   Yet the United States Department of State simply publishes a statement saying they are against such actions and is addressed by a lower level member of the Department of State.

That’s it!?  No greater discourse is made to force Russia’s hands?  No attempts to threaten the Russia government with the implementation of sanctions are attempted through the collective power of European countries, the European Union, the United States and allies?  What about the United Nations?

Historic moves and speeches on the importance of extending civil rights to people who are LGBTQ were made this year by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, and the extension of LGBTQ rights have been expanding at an ever increasing pace in various parts of the world, yet setbacks are still tolerated.

By implementing such laws the Russian government under Vladimir Putin will manage to shut the mouth of any dissent from the LGBTQ community and any voices for even modest improvements in the civil rights situation of Russians who are LGBTQ.  It acts as an attempt to squash dissent and empower the ruling party.  It is sad and unacceptable.

Being abroad I’m growing more adept at reading how events that occur on a seemingly local scale (that includes at a national versus international level) can have global ramifications that are both seen and unseen.  My particular understanding of German culture and history has added to the acuteness of this and the angst that occurs when increasing rather than decreasing attempts at curtailing civil rights and liberties are made.

Nothing is gained by moves like those of the Russian Duma—things are only lost.  Russia smears its record and oppresses its people.  The ability of foreigners to visit and discover a new land is lessened because of newly erected safety issues.  Culture, the thing that makes humanity unique and beautiful and also establishes the differences that creates diversity and which we celebrate, gets restrained.  It no longer is able to spread its wings and reflect the full scope of human ingenuity, passion, love, and freedom.  Rather it dies, like a swan shot upon its ascent.

Studying abroad gives me the lucky opportunity to see the world and experience life in a new land while learning a new language and culture; being an American affords me an unprecedented amount of privilege; living in Europe makes me lucky enough to experience the results of democratic development and enlightenment thinking and a high standard of living.  How can I not sit in a theater in Berlin, watch a beautiful piece of art performed in front of me, and not be sad that the subject of such a piece means it is (potentially) forbidden in the land of its true origin?

1 thought on “Shooting swans and other Russian pass times…”

  1. I’m studying abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia right now. On Tuesday night I will be attending a ballet called “Tchaikovsky” by the choreography Boris Eifman. It appears to be a ballet about the sufferings and torments in the composer’s life (i.e. his failed marriage and trying to cope with his sexuality). Here in a synopsis if you’d like to read it. There must be loopholes around the ban on “gay propaganda,” because this is being performed at a very famous theater here.

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