Tens of thousands of Russians are subscribed to online forums committed to rejecting mainstream scientific knowledge about HIV/AIDS and the Russian government has taken steps to ban this so-called denialism. Currently, only about a third of Russians diagnosed with the virus are taking steps to managing the progression of the disease through the use of antiretroviral therapy (ARTs). A key reason for such low intervention rates is the lack of outreach by the government to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Given that generally, the LGBT+ community has the highest risk of contracting HIV, it is not entirely surprising given the Russian government’s anti-gay policies that they are unwilling to intervene. This week’s readings directly tied homosexuality to modern-day Russianness. HIV prevalence which is often associated with the LGBT+ community can be interpreted as the loss of tradition, religious conviction and a general failure of true Russianness. To be gay is to not be Russian. One particular reading: Queer as Folklore from Plots Against Russia reimagined the rise in homosexuality as a literal virus; a virus that assaults the immune system of Russia. In my Moodle post, I spoke of the characterization of homosexuality as a virus, as a catchable, uncontrollable, and parasitic entity. In this case, HIV is simply a proxy for the LGBT+ community. It’s a similar narrative to that of the US government in response to the US AIDS epidemic during the 1980s, some labelling it the “gay plague”. What is ironic, is that the Russian government is actively trying to stamp down on HIV denial rhetoric. That is mostly like due to the fact that many children have died because parents refuse to have their children treated. Similar to the crusade against homosexuality in Russia, it’s for the kids.
Russia & The West
Directed in 1956 by Don Siegel, Invasion of the Bodie Snatchers is a sci-fi classic. On the surface, the film is like any sci-fi movie: suspenseful, a little scary and entertaining. The era the film was conceived, however, gives it a more sinister undertone with allusions to Communist paranoia many everyday Americans felt during the 1950s. The setting of the movie is a small, tightknit town in an unspecified region of America, and yet the town is very obviously American. The commonness of the town allows viewers to insert themselves into the horror, desperation and despair that the main characters are faced with almost from start to finish. The fear of invasion and infiltration permeates out of the movie. In an era where the United States feared the spread of Communism not only taking over allies (neighboring towns in the film) but also our very own citizens at home: your friends, your neighborhood police, your dentist and even your family. The fear that at any moment any one you know could be brainwashed with Communist ideals was very real. As for the portrayal of the aliens, they are very clearly meant to increase the fear and aversion to Communism. The aliens are replicas of human beings; they do not have love, they do not understand beauty and they do not feel emotions. They are complete devoid of human emotions; this is a warning to all about the dangers of Communism: yes, while those who support it claim it to be a perfect system, it accomplishes this by stripping away what makes humans, humans. Invasion and replacement during sleep is especially nightmarish because it suggests a level of uncontrollability as well as insusceptibility. In a blink of an eye and right under one’s nose, one’s way of life can be entirely changed.
The recent arrest of Julian Assange and the reminder of WikiLeaks’ involvement in the DNC hacking scandal forced me to relive the entirety of 2016, unfortunately. For many Americans, Russia had never been so important as it had been then. Their most widespread—and arguably their most detrimental—act was the thousands of Facebook ads they created and posted. Russia and Facebook do not have the most pleasant of relationships. Earlier today, a Russian fined Facebook a measly 3000 rubles ($47) for Facebook’s failure in providing information on user data as well as withholding where the company stores such data. Facebook in the past as made it very clear that they are simply a social networking platform, not a political entity and as long as uploaded materials do not violate their code of conduct policies, it cannot be removed, regardless of its political leanings. That is why Facebook was the perfect place for Russian ads to be posted and allowed to propagate. In my Digital Studies course last semester, we dedicated an entire class to looking into Russian Facebook ads, and in that class we perused a database listing all believed Russian ads and the following key information: the image, targeted/excluded groups, impressions, clicks, URL, text and most importantly the amount of money spent posting the ad and in what currency the purchase was made. The common narrative is that Russian interference was conducted with the goal of Trump victory. Searching with key words in the database, however, clearly show that ads were written from all points of view and of all major US issues. They casted a very broad net, probably with no real goal other than to undermine and weaken our trust in the democratic system. I encourage everyone to take a look at the database, it is worthwhile.
In 2017, three years-post Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine detailed the monetary hit they incurred as a result. According to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine the damage totaled to at least USD 100 billion. Not only did this damage the already strained relationship between the two former USSR territories, this was a very real financial assault from Russia. In class, we discussed the “in-betweenness” of Russia and the fragility of Russia’s confidence in itself as a nation, specifically an international power; Russia desires to garner international and specifically Western acceptance and respect. Ukrainian’s financial assessment called into question the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation. Therefore, Russia must find a way to rationalize its actions. As mentioned in last week’s post, Putin promised to better the life of Crimean Tatars, their Russian-speaking brothers. However, this flimsy claim was quickly disproved as many Crimean Tatars chose to preserve their Ukrainian citizenship and was only reinforced by the arrest of Crimean activists. To go beyond the supposed sentimentality motivating Russia’s annexation of Crimea, they also needed to legitimize their action through more “valid” standards.
Recently, Russia announced that while the annexation of Crimea may have cost Ukraine USD 100 billion, Crimea in fact incurred USD 23 billion in losses during the 23 years after the peninsula was “annexed” by independent Ukraine, this is a conservative estimate according to the State Duma. This USD 23 billion figure includes the USD 100 million per year Russia spent to maintain a naval base there as well as the difference between Crimea’s revenue under Russia and Ukraine. I was a bit perplexed at the inclusion of expenses for a Russian naval base because that is entirely a voluntary expense by Russia. I highly doubt Ukraine or Crimea requested their military presence, given their highly tumultuous historical relationship. This is most likely a desperate attempt to bolster the theoretical damage and therefore validate the annexation of Crimea.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin addressed State Duma deputies, Federal Council members, heads of Russian regions and civil society representative in the Kremlin in his speech in Moscow. In it, Putin evokes a sense of historical brotherhood between Crimean Tatars and Russians that was once strained but had been restored since the annexation wherein Crimean Tatars have “returned to their homeland”. Putin even assured to “restore them their rights and clear their good name”. Recently, however, 23 Crimean Tatars have been arrested on terrorism charges. Given that the individuals arrested consist predominantly of Muslims who largely opposed the annexation of Crimea by Russia, it is very likely that their arrest is simply retaliatory. The Crimean Solidarity movement, the group to which some of the arrested individuals belong, has been banned as an extremist group, but I have not found any acts terror associated with this group. Most likely then, this is simply an act to silence and marginalize those holding dissenting opinions and participating in civic activism, which directly contradicts his promises in 2014.
The executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatar, Mejlis, believe the raids are linked to the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election. This is relevant because most Crimean Tatars have yet to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship, meaning they are eligible to vote. The fact that many Crimean Tatars chose to maintain their Ukrainian citizenship contradicts Putin’s claim that Crimean inhabitants freely and wholeheartedly voted for the annexation. If that was true, Crimeans probably wouldn’t be so reluctant to embrace Russian citizenship. Clearly, these individuals are being used to set an example. This is obviously an intimidation tactic to suppress civic activism in opposition to the Russian government. The voice of exiled individuals in promoting free speech abroad throughout history in the Russian context has been essential in providing a voice outside of an oppressive society and in this case, Russia is squashing just that.