Since 2010, the rights of lesbians, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have gained increasing prominence in the international arena. In 2010, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted that as “men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity…. Together, we seek the repeal of laws that criminalize homosexuality, that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that encourage violence.” In June 2011, South Africa successfully championed a UN Human Rights Council resolution requesting a study on LGBT rights worldwide. In December of the same year, Hillary Clinton indicated in her high-profile speech marking the International Human Rights Day that the Obama administration would prioritise LGBT rights in its foreign policy. Fast forward to 2013, the passage of a law in Russia prohibiting propaganda promoting ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ caused international uproar. The law also led to a host of Western celebrities such as British comedian Stephen Fry and American actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein to call for or threaten the boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi.
Published: September 23, 2013
However, despite the rising prominence of LGBT issues in international organisations and political discourse, LGBT rights remain a predominantly domestic issue. The Putin regime enacted anti-LGBT legislation to counter domestic political pressures – as a result, international criticisms, including a boycott of the Sochi winter Olympics, have little influence on the government’s stance. The same phenomenon can be observed elsewhere in the world.
The Putin government is facing strong domestic pressure. While the erosion of Putin’s popularity among middle class voters in Moscow has been underway for some years, support for him in the Russian hinterland also seems to be faltering. Quoting a study by the Center for Strategic Research done this year, Mikhail Dmitriev and Daniel Treisman argue that while Russians living outside of Moscow are still sceptical of the political opposition, they are increasingly frustrated with the government’s inability to provide decent public services and a fair judiciary. This trend is reflected in federal election results. In the 2004 presidential election, Putin received 71.9% of all votes; in 2008, Medvedev received 71.2%; in 2012, Putin only won 63.6% of all votes. In the 2007 State Duma election, United Russia, Putin’s party, received 64.3% of all votes; in 2011, the figure was only 49.3%.
The government’s fall in popularity is compounded by its inability to resort to traditional methods of quieting dissent through redistributing oil wealth. A combination of slowing economic growth (hence lower tax revenue) and unstable oil and gas prices is, in the long term, likely to decrease Putin’s ability to distribute largesse. The Russian government predicts that by 2015, its non-oil deficit will reach 9.6% of GDP, while the overall deficit will be 1% of GDP. In January 2012, Putin was able to consolidate support for his regime in the armed forces by doubling military salaries. In contrast, the government announced this month that all military salaries would be frozen through 2014.
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