Identity Politics

Russia is taking a number of steps to assert its views on key issues of minorities and free speech of late.  The Kremlin’s move to impose a nationwide ban on ‘homosexual propaganda‘, for example, makes a stark contrast to yesterday’s news that the U.K. parliament voted in favour of same-sex marriage. Sergei Markov argues in the Moscow Times today that Russia’s move to impose the ban is part of broader efforts to establish for itself a unique identity, distinctly separate from that of Europe.

It is no coincidence that the LGBT question has arisen at the same time as the Pussy Riot case and the issue of foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations. Russia is rapidly establishing its own identity with regard to a number of key issues, primarily measuring itself against Europe — a yardstick it has used for centuries.

Markov shields President Vladimir Putin from taking all of the blame for this current identity formation, suggesting instead that Russia’s capitulation to the desires of its majority is Russian society’s reaction ‘to the social disaster of the 1990s, caused in part by the uncontrolled and egoistic actions of a small minority.

Part of Russia’s recent efforts to keep its minorities under control include a crackdown on Internet freedoms. The Kostroma region recently announced plans to create its own ‘clean’ version of the Internet, which would limit users to  a self-contained ‘white list’ comprising acceptable sites, rather than giving them generally free access that excludes a blacklist of unpalatable sites.  The Safe Internet League, the NGO behind the whitelist, is reported to have close ties to both the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church.  No surprises there.

But Russia’s views on Internet regulation also expand beyond its borders. Bloomberg reports that Russia is also seeking to use its influence in the UN to push for global Internet regulation. It was one of 89 nations who approved a new telecommunications treaty which will come into force in January 2015, giving governments the power to inspect the content of Internet communications under pretexts such as ‘network congestion’ (55 nations refused to sign the treaty due to this new proviso). Russia is hardly a lone voice on this issue, but U.S. representative, Ted Poe, nonetheless blamed Russia and China for using their influence to spearhead the push for regulation:

Countries that want the UN to regulate the Internet are led by “Putin’s Russia and our good buddies, the Chinese,” Poe said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, on Russia’s immediate horizon you have Orthodox Internet restriction and the policing of the bodies of minorities.  Put them together and you have a recipe for a population that has no means of expressing political diversity. Perhaps Vladimir Putin thinks that the silencing of diversity amounts to its disappearance.  But is such a thing even possible?