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Dispatches: Putin’s Twisted Take on Tradition

Traditional values are getting a very bad name. Not because there is anything wrong with traditional values, but because President Vladimir Putin, who has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on human rights in Russia, has appointed himself as “tradition’s” chief spokesman. His latest state-of-the-nation address on Thursday is no exception.

In an oblique reference to progress in other countries toward ending discrimination against LGBT people, Putin said: ‘This destruction of traditional values from above not only entails negative consequences for society, but is also inherently anti-democratic because it is based on an abstract notion and runs counter to the will of the majority of people.

Putin’s comments were likely intended to justify the law banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors in Russia – a pernicious piece of legislation that has been accompanied by a sharp increase in homophobic violence.

Internationally, Russia is using traditional values as a way of repositioning itself on the world stage. In 2012, Russia led the international charge through a “traditional values” resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council. This was an attempt to assert a static and narrow view of culture and tradition. It also seeks to make human rights the preserve of some and not others – definitely not for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The Kremlin’s crackdown has tightened the screws on society but not filled the ideological void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Domestically, “traditional values” is Putin’s way of filling that void and consolidating a conservative support base. What exactly does he mean by “traditional values?” A glance at what is happening in Russia is illuminating.

It means intimidating non-government organizations, labeling them “foreign agents” and by implication enemies of the state. It means clamping down on political opposition. It means stifling a free press. And it means riding roughshod over the rights of migrants for political ends. Members of the LGBT community in Russia have become the latest targets of violence, also directed against migrants and certain ethnic minorities.

“The will of the majority” is language often used to repress and persecute marginal and vulnerable minorities. Yet a core purpose of human rights is to protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority.

Next time Putin attempts to dress up discrimination in the respectable cloak of “traditional values” take a look at what is happening in Russia. Putin is giving “traditional values” a very bad name indeed.

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