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As Russia ramps up ‘traditional values’ rhetoric − especially against LGBTQ+ groups − it’s won Putin far-right fans abroad

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Northeastern University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

With LGBTQ+ rights continuing to expand across much of the world, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has doubled down on restricting them – and a new ruling has made the future even more uncertain for Russian LGBTQ+ groups and individuals.

The LGBTQ+ “movement” is “extremist,” and its activities will be banned beginning in 2024, according to a ruling a justice of the Russian Supreme Court handed down at the close of November 2023.

You can listen to more articles from The Conversation narrated by Noa.

This newest decision builds on 10 years of legislation pushed forward by President Vladimir Putin’s government in the name of “family values,” largely focused on limiting LGBTQ+ activism and same-sex unions. With theological support from the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin and his supporters portray Russia as a bulwark of “traditional values.” This trend is poised to only increase in 2024, with Putin’s decree that it is the “year of the family.”

That vision appeals deeply to many conservative Christians outside Russia, as well. As an anthropologist, I have spent years studying Russia’s family values rhetoric and its appeal to allies abroad – particularly Russian Orthodox converts in Appalachia.

Traditional values have become a fixture in far-right movements around the world, some of which see Russia as a model of the future they desire. In Russia and beyond, many conservative Christians in these movements have focused on LGBTQ+ populations, whom they portray as threats to their vision for society – and are not deterred by antidemocratic politics, if its figures voice support for their social goals.

 

In Russia, traditional family values have historically been linked to patriotism, Russian ethnic identity and service to country. These ideas were supported from the 1970s onward by writings from a young priest-monk named Kirill Gundyaev, who became head of the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROC, in 2009.

Though three-quarters of Russians say they attend church services once a year or less, the ROC remains culturally influential. During Putin’s nearly 25 years in power, he has often tapped into the church’s rhetoric about traditional values to advance his social and political goals. In particular, Russian leaders often portray much of Europe and the U.S. as threats to the traditional family.

Attempting to justify the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, for example, Putin and Kirill have both appealed to conservative ideas about religion and gender, arguing that Russia’s offensive stems from a need to protect itself from liberal values.

The West has “been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature,” Putin said in a February 2022 speech about the war. Kirill, meanwhile, has portrayed the invasion as a spiritual battle.

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