In the anger at Sochi there seems to me to be a weird inverted compliment, albeit one that our paranoid Russian brethren are very unlikely to hear. There is enough data around that shows that Russia is a long way from being the worst place in the world for gays, but I don’t remember the last time I saw an enraged article concerning the plight of LGBT people in Saudi or Nigeria
And yet we see a tidal wave of comment pieces damning Russia. Clearly much of this is a direct result of their hosting the Olympics and, doubtless, sheer mischievous joy in pissing off that absurd, shirtless Putin bot plays a massive role, but even so it seems disproportionate.
Remembering endless conversations with Russian friends about corruption suggests one answer. When Russians look at information like this, they express anger at being compared with countries they judge to be miles below them in the long running, international civilization tournament. Even accounting for the implicit xenophobia in such notions, there is a certain validity in this argument. Russia, for all its periodic attacks of self destructive mania, sees itself, and is seen by many outside its straggling borders as part of that Judaeo/Greco/Christian matrix of white (ish) people doing clever stuff. Even if we grant that the very idea is a patronizing, hegemonic delusion, still the “How many famous Belgians?” test works very well in Mother Russia’s favour. I mean they have: Pushkin, and Mendeleev, and Dostoevsky, and Diaghilev and Stravinsky, Kandinsky and Tchaikovsky and Gagarin and Lomonosov. They have: Chagall and Pasternak and Gogol and Tarkovsky and Chekov, Chekhov for god’s sake, he’d be enough on his own. And there are more, many more.
At the same time there is no Saudi Tolstoy or Rachmaninoff, Yemen has no Bolshoi ballet and Lagos never put a man into space. So you can see their thinking, even if it is a problematic as any other nation’s patriotic list making, and yes they all do it.
Maybe, I tentatively suggest, they ought to grasp that one of the reasons people are so outraged about recent laws is the feeling that Russia ought to know better, that we expect more from them because they have done so much. Putin’s notion that Russia is defending deeply held moral principles against a tsunami of depraved western evil is such a farcical notion that even Russia Today struggles to stick to the script. Even so, there are Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn and Akhmatova to remind us that this is not quite a banana republic, even one with imported bananas.
Obviously I’m pissing into the wind here: all logic left this debate months ago and you can’t swing a dead Cheburashka without hitting someone boasting an indignant and unshakable moral certainty regarding the matter, on either side.
Still, no one is writing angry blogs about Oman or Jamaica and if your aim is to be way above Nigeria on the list…you know what to do.