MIRIAM LANSKOY, National Endowment for Democracy: There’s more than one thing going on. The law itself is part of a general crackdown. There’s been several pieces of legislation, laws against NGOs against public protests.
GWEN IFILL: Non-governmental organizations.
MIRIAM LANSKOY: Non-governmental organizations against different forms of public protests, new restrictions on the Internet.
It’s come to a head because to remain in power and to remain the dominant party at all levels, Putin’s government needs to clamp down and it needs to find internal enemies and try to change the subject away from things like transparency or elections or government accountability.
GWEN IFILL: Is this a sentiment that runs deeper than the Moscow elites or the government? Is this something that is speaking to an underlying general feeling within the Russian population?
MIRIAM LANSKOY: There’s polling that finds — Russian society is very homophobic still.
They find that most Russians still consider homosexuality to be a disease or a perversion. It’s trying to show it as a — kind of a type of foreign influence. And what Putin has done is to try to use — to try to create a narrative of what is truly Russian and to use very primitive, nationalist, homophobic, xenophobic attitudes against critics.
GWEN IFILL: Does the Russian Orthodox Church play a role in that?
MIRIAM LANSKOY: Yes, the church plays a role in that.
There was a very famous case of the Pussy Riot, a punk band that performed a song in a church that was against Putin, got three years in jail. Subsequent to that, there were laws to protect Russian values and Russian church.
So the part — what is really a horrible campaign against gay activists and increasing in violence against gays is part of this larger picture……
GWEN IFILL: How much would we be paying attention to this in the broader world if it weren’t for the Olympics, and how much is the coming Olympics in February driving some of this international debate?
MIRIAM LANSKOY: I think the Olympics is an obvious kind of rallying cry for people.
I think we would be paying attention to it regardless, because there was a terrible killing in May, where a man was tortured and killed. There are Russian groups that have become better at getting their message out that use social networks and kind of get traction abroad. There’s a more confident international gay rights movement.
The Obama administration has made gay rights a priority. And that’s something that is — from 2011, they have asked the State Department to start reporting on instances of abuses against LGBT. So there are a number of different things that are coming together, but the Olympics is a focal point for this.