I am queer. I am also a vehement antinationalist. These facts make it impossible for me to offer ideological support to either Moscow or Kiev.
Let’s start with the obvious one: the Putin regime. Russia has heightened its repression of LGBTQ+ people, including a new Supreme Court ruling that effectively outlaws pro-queer activism as “extremist.” LGBTQ+ activists face the risk of fines and imprisonment up to 12 years. Putin has already used these tactics against dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. Putin’s Russia tries to contrast itself with the “decadent” West with its persecution of LGBTQ+ people, even though our right-wing politicians hold views that are just as bad as Putin’s. Like western conservatives, Putin weaponises religion—in this case, the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than evangelical Protestant denominations or the Roman Catholic Church—to impose an authoritarian social agenda. And I could go on about Russia’s other reactionary, repressive policies and laws, but there’s already ample coverage in CNN, the New York Times, NBC, The Guardian, etc.
Ukraine, for its part, is aggressively pursuing an ethnonationalist agenda that conflates Russian ethnicity and language with Putin’s vile regime. Even soldiers in the far-right, extreme nationalist Azov Battalion have been attacked for speaking Russian, primarily by the now-fired Lviv Polytechnic professor Iryna Farion, who used to be a member of the Nazi-adjacent Svoboda party (link in Russian). Nationalism has infected even otherwise progressive circles in Ukraine: according to the Kharkov-based anarchist group Assembly (link in Italian and English; English is on the bottom), many feminist and LGBTQ+ activists are closely tied with Ukraine’s nationalist movement. Instead of uniting the entirety of the Ukrainian people against the Russian state, the Ukrainian government and many of its supporters have chosen instead to create even more divisions. As I’ve said before, Kiev’s own-goals push people towards supporting Russia, even though it’s unlikely they’ll get any more freedom there than they do in Ukraine.
The situation is undoubtedly worse for people who find themselves ostracised from both sides—for example, I can’t even imagine what it feels like to be a queer leftist in occupied Eastern Ukraine (especially one who primarily speaks Russian) who runs the risk of being persecuted by Kiev or the Russian occupiers. Or for pro-Ukraine (or merely anti-war) Russians who want to leave the country: many of Russia’s European neighbours have closed the border; Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Poles distrust Russians, regardless of their support of Putin; and Putin’s dictatorial rule has made it impossible for them to stay home in Russia with the people they love the most. They’re being told that there is something inherently evil inside them for being from Russia, and they’re also being told that there’s something inherently wrong with them for opposing the Russian regime.
I can’t support either position. Both Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ repression and Ukraine’s ethnonationalism are incompatible with a functioning pluralist society. They imply that if you’re not an ethnic Ukrainian who speaks Ukrainian, you’re not a real Ukrainian, or that if you’re gay or bi or trans, you’re not a real Russian. If you’re not a nationalist, you’re not a real feminist. If you’re a leftist, you’re not a good Ukrainian. If you’re a liberal or progressive, you’re not a good Russian.
And once you’re no longer seen as a real member of your society, you’re open to persecution, since civil rights and liberties are reserved only for real people, not superfluous ones.
I don’t know what the right answer is, either to put a stop to Russia’s increasing repression or Ukraine’s nationalist obsessions. I don’t think anybody does, no matter how many thinkpieces are written, no matter how many declarations are made on TV, no matter how much people rant and rave on Telegram and Reddit and Twitter.
What I do know is that people are suffering, dying and praying for a better chance for themselves, their families, their friends and their communities. And neither Russia’s sexist repression nor Ukraine’s reactionary ethnic nationalism will bring their people the peace they so desperately deserve. You don’t want real liberation or justice if your goal is to make a new group of second-class citizens.