Google Translator tells me that the above transliteration from the cyrillic script to the Western alphabet means "everything's fine." The "not so" was something I added.
With all the really important news of the day this week, such as Anthony Weiner's weiner, it may have escaped your attention that things are not fine in Russia. In fact they are very much not fine.
I have been thinking back to the possibly terrible thing I did to one of the guides on our Russian trip, innocent that I was at the time
It was toward the end of the trip and I was sitting alone in the front part of the ship, with nobody around except this one tour guide. She had not been our regular tour guide, though we had her for a special tour and we had listened to her giving some of the educational lectures throughout the voyage.
My "gay dar" kicked in whenever I saw her and I had the feeling she might be a lesbian, though of course I would never have asked her.
But there we were, just the two of us and I had the opportunity to ask what I'd been curious about throughout our travels around the country -- what was life like for the gay community in Russia.
She was flustered, muttered something how "those people" had their own clubs, and she fled as quickly as she could. I never found out, of course, if she was part of "those people" but watching what has been going on in Russia recently, I understand the look of panic on her face as she fled. That may have answered my unasked question after all.
Russia has recently passed laws allowing the police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being gay and outlawing "homosexual propaganda" as pornography. The legislation is vague but its intent is clear: It is now "illegal to spread information about non-traditional sexual behavior" to minors (under 18), and there are hefty fines for those who disobey. Foreigners are also subject to fines and can be deported. Recently four Dutch tourists were jailed under this law.
Just when the Pope has come out saying it's OK to be gay (just don't do anything gay!), the Russian government has stepped up the attacks on gay people in that country. A call for a boycott of the Olympics, to be held in Russia was deemed unfair to athletes who would be hurt by being unable to participate, and now there is instead a call for a boycott of Russian vodka as a protest.
But the scene in Russia is really serious for gay people. Gay rights marches are routinely broken up and scenes of police detaining activists, sometimes before demonstrations even begin, are commonplace. Activists of the Moscow Gay Pride movement were detained in Moscow for holding an unsanctioned rally and for "promoting untraditional sexual relations." (They were later released.) Gay pride participants were badly beaten during clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg last month, with Russian police arresting dozens of people.
In May, a 23-year old man was allegedly murdered in the city of Volgograd on the Victory Day holiday. A suspect reportedly told police the victim was killed because he was gay. In June, Russian investigators said another man in Kamchatka was also murdered because he was gay. It's all part of Putin's agenda of promoting "conservative values" (sound familiar?) and some 88% of the population agree with him.
Russian Neo-Nazis, calling themselves "crime fighers" are luring gay male teens, kidnap and torture them, photographing the torture. Some of these attacks take place in bright daylight in front of the public and the police, who ignore what is going on.
"We do not like homosexuals," the leader of one local gathering explained, according to a HuffPost translation. "If it was up to me, I'd kill them but the government doesn't allow that."
"I think practically all gay men -- pedophiles," he later explained. "Once you've crossed over once, you can cross over again. Today he likes boys, and then it'll be children. They're not suitable for life in society."
In some parts of our own country, things are looking up for gays and lesbians...not everywhere, but in a growing number of places. More and more straight people are looking at their gay neighbors and seeing them as just everyday people and accepting them for who they are.
But there are still places in the world where to be gay is to be a target for beatings, arrest, torture, and even death. Uganda hasn't quite passed the "kill the gays" bill, but it is still very much under consideration. The bill would still contain a penalty of lifetime imprisonment for homosexuality. Anyone who doesn't report a homosexual within 24 hours faces three years imprisonment. And the clauses which cover supposed 'advocacy of homosexuality' could conceivably lead to both lawyers defending gay people or parliamentarians proposing changes to the law facing charges. Any landlord renting to gay people could be accused of running a brothel.
There is little you or I can do from the comfort of our living rooms about the violence in Uganda or in Russia, but perhaps participating in the vodka ban will at least send a message to somebody in Russia. Although Stolichnaya is one of the most popular vodka brands in the U.S., owners and managers at gay bars across the nation are pouring out their last drops of Stoli and vowing to stop buying bottles indefinitely.
I'm glad my mother doesn't drink Stoli. I don't want to tell her she's going to have to give up her nightly vodka and tonic. But before I refill her vodka stash, I will make sure that whatever brand I buy was not made in Russia.
Fortunately, though there is still antipathy among the population in general toward the gay community in Ukraine, rules are loosening up and clubs are allowed to exist and pride marches have taken place peacefully. There is even an openly gay man serving as Minister of Internal Affairs in the country, though members of parliament still consider gays as "sexual perverts."