In a year of bad news for LGBT people across the global south and east, it’s been a good couple of weeks. A court struck down Uganda’s anti-gay law, and the country’s president has backed away from it. Kenya’s parliament rejected a draconian anti-gay bill. And now one of the nastiest men in Russia, Maxim Martsinkevich, has been sentenced to five years in prison.
You may know Martsinkevich from the dozen videos posted on the Russian social networking site VKontakte showing him and his colleagues threatening, beating, stripping, torturing, urinating on, and otherwise harassing gay people. His gang, known as “Occupy Pedophilia,” would lure gay men with the promise of sexual encounters, usually with teenagers, and then humiliate them online.
The video that got Martsinkevich—nicknamed Tesak, or “The Hatchet”—into trouble was a particularly odious one, in which he stripped and beat a gay Iraqi man, shaved his head, painted Stars of David on his body and a rainbow on his forehead, and humiliated him with sex toys.
Presumably, “Iraqi” was not the most startling word in that sentence. Yet interestingly enough, it was the one that got him into trouble with the law. Tesak was jailed not for harassing gay people—that’s basically the law in Russia now—but for being racist
There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, it is quite true that Tesak’s group of thugs has disproportionately picked on “foreigners,” from this Iraqi individual to a black South African and an Uzbek man whose brutal torture was thought, at first, to be a videotaped murder
In America, we call the ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and nativism all play off each other “intersectionality.” In Russia, it’s just nationalism. The Putin regime’s attack on LGBT people has been a piece of its revanchist nationalism, and indeed the extreme right that is now Vladimir Putin’s base has as much animus against foreigners as it does against gays. Long before Tesak launched Occupy Pedophilia, he ran an ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi group called Format 18, with the same practice of making hideous torture videos—only against foreigners, not gays.
On the other hand, it’s easy to see his conviction as a cynical move by the less than fully independent Russian justice system. Tesak was becoming the public face of Russia’s anti-propaganda law. He was an embarrassment to Putin.
But how can the government object to persecuting gay people when it also persecutes gay people? Tesak’s conviction looks like a convenient way out. He’s thrown in jail, but homophobia is still OK. Indeed, the anti-gay aspects of Occupy Pedophilia’s campaign were omitted from the prosecutor’s presentation of the case. Continued