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Friday, January 24, 2014

"No Professional, Career or Social Discrimination against Gays" -- Putin

Andrew Marr: A lot of British politicians and celebrities, including Elton John, express concerns over the attitude towards homosexuals in Russia. I would like to ask you, do you think there are fundamental differences between the attitude towards homosexuals in the West and in Russia? Do you think homosexuals are born or made? And what does the concept of propaganda imply, is it philosophical?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I am not in a position to answer the part of your question concerning homosexuals being born or made. This is beyond my professional interest, and I just can’t give you a qualified reply. And as I can’t give you a qualified reply, I would just prefer to leave it at that. And as for the attitude towards individuals of non-traditional sexual orientation, yes, I can give you quite a detailed reply.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact, that in Russia, as opposed to one third of the world’s countries, there is no criminal liability for homosexuality. 70 countries in the world have criminal liability for homosexuality, and seven countries out of these 70 enforce the death penalty for homosexuality. And what does that mean? Does it mean that we should cancel all major sport events in those countries? I guess not.

The Soviet Union had criminal liability for homosexuality, today’s Russia doesn't have such criminal liability. In our country, all people are absolutely equal regardless of their religion, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal.

We have recently only passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality only, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse. But this has nothing in common with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation. And there is a world of difference between these things. So there is no danger for individuals of non-traditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as guests or participants.

Andrew Marr: And as for the Orthodox Church, it calls for returning criminal liability for homosexuality. What is your opinion about that?

Vladimir Putin: According to the law, the church is separate from the state and has the right to have its own point of view. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that almost all traditional world religions are in full solidarity on this topic. And is the position of the Holy See different from that of the Russian Orthodox Church?

And does Islam treat individuals with non-traditional sexual orientation in a different manner? It seems so, but this other position consists in a much tougher approach. Those 70 countries I have mentioned mostly belong to the Islamic world, and the ones enforcing death penalty all have Islam as state religion. 

Thus, there is nothing strange in the Russian Orthodox Church’s opinion as compared to that of other traditional world religions, there is nothing strange in that, but I repeat once again: the opinion of the church is one thing, and the opinion of the state is another thing. The church is separate from the state.

Sergey Brilev: Vladimir Vladimirovich, perhaps, to add to the issue. You know, once I was lucky to meet the smartest and the most beautiful girl, and I have been married to her for a long time, well, generally speaking, my sexual orientation removes me a bit from being able to discuss this issue, but the thing is as follows.

All Russians of non-traditional sexual orientation, who I know, ok - not all, but the vast majority are people with excellent careers, who have never in their life-time faced any job restrictions and so on, though against the background of our bill to ban gay propaganda among minors, our country is getting the reputation of being just about the most anti-gay country on the planet, however, to a certain degree quite the opposite.

Vladimir Putin: It is not getting the reputation, there are attempts to create it.

Sergey Brilev: Yes, I agree. I wonder whether we should review this bill causing all the fuss that has, actually, little to do with its name or content, and to adjust it a bit? Probably with a view to offering not less sex education needed for children, but less sex, in general, available to minors, no matter if it is homosexual or heterosexual, what would be demanded by many people who are quite heterosexual. Or, probably, to really examine this notion. Frankly speaking, I have never come across gay propaganda among minors. Basically, I agree that I do not understand what it is in practice.

Vladimir Putin: Why so? Could you read the bill thoroughly, and pay your attention to its name. The bill's name is "Ban on propaganda of pedophilia and homosexuality". The bill banning pedophilia, propaganda of pedophilia and homosexuality.

There are countries, including European, where public discussions – I have just talked about this at the meeting with volunteers – for instance, on the possibility to legalize pedophilia currently take place. Public discussions in parliaments.

They may do whatever they want, but peoples of the Russian Federation, the Russian people have their own cultural code, own tradition. It's not our business and we do not poke our nose into their affairs, and we ask for the same respect for our traditions and for our culture.

My personal view is that the society should look after its children at least to be able to reproduce and not only thanks to migrants, but on its own base. We achieved what we had not experienced for a long time. In 2002, 2003, 2004 it seemed that we would never redress that absolutely terrible situation we had with the demographic crisis (deaths far exceeding births). It appeared that it was a demographic pit that would prove to have no bottom and we would continue investing in it endlessly.

And at that time we developed and adopted a program aimed at supporting demography, to increase birth rates in the Russian Federation. Frankly speaking, I was much worried myself: we allocated a big volume of resources, and many experts used to tell me: "Don't do this, anyway, there is such a trend, which is experienced by many European countries. And we won't avoid it as well".

This year in Russia, the number of newborns has exceeded the number of deceased for the first time. We achieved a specific positive result. If anybody would like to focus on, so to say, developing the cemetery, they are welcome. But we have different goals: we want the Russian people and other peoples of the Russian Federation to develop and to have historical prospects. And we should clean up everything that impedes us here. But we should do this in a timely and humane manner without offending anybody and without including anybody in a group of secondary people.

It seems to me that the bill we adopted does not hurt anybody. Moreover, people of non-traditional sexual orientation cannot feel like inferior people here, because there is no professional, career or social discrimination against them, by the way. And when they achieve great results, such as, for instance Elton John achieves, who is an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him with no regard to his sexual orientation, and his sexual orientation does not affect attitudes to him, especially as to a distinguished musician. I think that this quite democratic approach to people of non-traditional sexual orientation alongside with measures aimed to protect children and future demographic development is optimum.

Junyi Shui: I also would like to proceed on discussing this issue of homosexuality.

Irada Zeynalova: And I would like to ask why we are discussing this issue in the context of Sochi when we gathered to speak about Sochi?

Junyi Shui: But I would like to continue.There were talks that the snow of 2014 in Sochi would be lonely because many Western countries spoke about homosexuality, about oppression of homosexuals in Russia, and those messages reached China. By the way, in 1980 there were also attempts to boycott the Soviet Olympic Games in Moscow for different reasons, and it was the same case at the Beijing Olympic Games. Why do such voices appear when a country is developing, for instance, China is developing, Russia is developing? What do you think, may be these are manifestations of the "cold war"?
Gay Activist

Vladimir Putin: I don't think that these are manifestations of the "cold war", but it is a demonstration of competition. When such a powerful country, potentially powerful country as China starts showing rapid pace of growth, it becomes a real competitor in global politics and in the global markets, and, of course, tools to restrain such growth are switched on.

Probably, you know that once Napoleon said that China was sleeping, and let it sleep as long as possible. This is a traditional attitude of Western Civilization towards the East, and towards China, in particular. But China has awakened. And I think that the right option to develop relations with such a big, potentially powerful and great country as China is to search for shared interests, but not to restrain. I believe that some old approaches towards Russia still exist from the perspective that there is a need to restrain something.

And as for the issue that we cannot leave, I would like to say the following. I explained that homosexuality is a criminal offence in 70 countries. The same is in the USA. It is still a criminal offence in some states of the United States, for instance in Texas, and may be in another three states. But what the heck, we shouldn't hold any international competitions, should we? Why does nobody speak about this and why do they speak about us, though we do not have criminal liability for this. What is this, if not an attempt to restrain? This is a remnant of the previous, old way of thinking and this is bad.

It is even worse when it comes to major sports events, especially Olympic Games. I know what many top US politicians that I respect and that are respected across the world think. They believe that the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, for all the serious grounds it had — I mean the introduction of Soviet troops in Afghanistan — was a great mistake even in those circumstances. Indeed, any major international competition, and Olympic Games first and foremost, are intended to depoliticize the most pressing international issues and open additional ways to build bridges. It is unwise to miss such opportunities, and it is far more unwise to burn such bridges.

Ed Hula: President Obama has appointed Billie Jean King and other members of the delegation who would represent the United States in Sochi. There are homosexual athletes. Do you believe it to be a political component of the Olympic Games? What political background does it create for the Olympic, if there are homosexuals there? Will you meet Billie Jean King as the head of the US Delegation in Sochi?

Vladimir Putin: People have different sexual orientation. We would welcome all athletes and all guests at the Olympics. At some point President Obama asked me to help make arrangements for a large US delegation to come. His request was related to a limited membership of relevant national teams, including both athletes and members of various administrative bodies.

The International Olympic Committee has its rules, but we did the best we could. We found solutions to that, bearing in mind that the US has traditionally had a larger delegation at the Olympic Games than other countries, they have a large team and many representatives. We complied with their request. So, I certainly will be glad to see the representatives of any countries, including the United States, there can be no doubts as to that. If they would like to meet me and discuss anything, they are welcome, I see no problems about it.

Billie Jean King
 George Stephanopoulos: President Obama said he was offended by the act on gay propaganda. He has also recently said that if there are no gay sportsmen and sportswomen in Russia, its team will be weaker. However, if they start protesting, meaning gays and lesbians, will they be prosecuted under this anti-propaganda act if they decide to hold protest actions?

Vladimir Putin: … protest actions and propaganda are after all two slightly different things. They are similar but if we look at this from the legal point of view, a protest against a law is not propaganda of homosexuality itself or child sexual abuse. That is first point.

Second point, I would like to ask our colleagues – my colleagues and friends – before trying to criticize, to solve the problem in their own home first. But I have already said that it is well known. In some US states, homosexuality is criminally punishable. And how can they criticize us for a far gentler and more liberal approach to these issues compared to the one they have at home?

However, I understand that it is difficult to do since there are a lot of people in the US itself that share the view that the laws of their state or of their country are just, reasonable and correspond with the sentiments of the larger part of its citizens. But we need to discuss this in some more appropriate international forums, to elaborate some common approaches. Anyway, we have got the message. And I am telling you that none of our guests will have any problems.

We remember how some African-American citizens of the US protested during the Olympic Games – a large-scale international competition – against segregation. I saw that myself on the TV screen. But that is all in all a general practice aimed at stating one’s rights.