Russia is actually ahead of the United States on many issues championed by the American Left
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
We all know what it feels like to log onto the Newsweek-owned Daily Beast, or the puerile random listicle generator known as Buzzfeed, and peruse the invective-laden anti-Russian, anti-Putin screeds contained therein. These hysterical publications serve a function; that function is to convince members of the American public who might balk at militarism that today's Russia is a dangerous, dirty, backward, evil place, and its leader is some amalgamation of Dr. Evil and Emperor Palpatine.
Unlike during the lead-up to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the left took the lead in opposing the Bush administration's reckless Middle East policy, American liberals have more or less given Obama a free hand in his dealings with Russia and the Evil Putin. Liberals opposed the Iraq War, and spent many an hour arguing with Bushies about the errors of his foreign policy. It just so happens that these individuals turned out to be right, but their insistence on facts, logic, and commitment to the truth have gone out the proverbial window when it comes to Russia and Ukraine. “Putin is just like Stalin,” my earnest, well-educated, liberal friends tell me. “His next target is Moldova and he hates gay people and Pussy Riot and now he wants to use prison labor to build the World Cup venues and he hates all women and doesn't support women's rights. I don't understand why you are so pro-Russian.” I am pro-Russian because I can tell the difference between right and wrong. I can also realize when a country and a leader are being demonized to further an American geopolitical agenda. Furthermore, I can see that the more the United States tries to create some philosophical difference between the U.S. and Russia as existed during the Cold War, the more the former opens itself up to critique.
I guess it comes as no surprise when the U.S. mainstream media spends pages of copy wringing its hands over the deaths of con artists like Boris Nemtsov, but can't find a smidgen of space to tell the story of innocent victims like Vanya – who suffered horrific injuries as the result of Kiev's “anti-terrorist operation.” I would like to point out to the well-meaning urban hipsters who may be reading this that they are siding with people like John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and are being duped into supporting a neo-conservative war agenda. American liberals may not be on the same page with Vladimir Putin on many issues, which is great for them, because American liberals are not required to live in Russia. However, it must be pointed out that, in many ways, Russia is actually ahead of the United States on issues that tend to be dear to liberals' hearts. Due to the constant deluge of invective on Russia's “backward” slide, when I am aware of the precise extent and stench of America's dirty laundry, these sanctimonious moral lectures from Americans on “human rights” don't exactly gel with me.
Rather than getting its panties in a twist about a piece of legislation that a foreign country has merely proposed, perhaps the NYT would prefer it if Russia followed America's lead and started executing its prisoners instead of asking them to repay their debt to society. Capital punishment in Russia has been indefinitely suspended – in contrast to the U.S.'s busy death chambers. Since 1976, the U.S. has executed 1,408 individuals. Thus far in 2015, 14 prisoners have been executed. Texas and Oklahoma alone are responsible for 637 executions. Even for those who support capital punishment, it cannot be denied that America's death chambers have likely put innocent people to death. By contrast, when Russia entered the Council of Europe in 1996, Boris Yeltsin bumbled his way into abolishing the practice.
Capital punishment has not been reinstated under the administrations of Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin. In 2008, the UN took a vote on passing a moratorium on the death penalty. Russia was one of the 106 nations that voted in favor; the U.S was among the 46 that voted against. Despite the objections of countries such as the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Iran, the measure was approved. Not only does the U.S. far outpace Russia in use of the death penalty, America executes individuals who would not be eligible for the death penalty in Russia. Women, children, and the mentally disabled are exempt from capital punishment. The last person executed in Russia was Sergey Golovkin, a convicted serial killer. In fact, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has spoken out against the death penalty.
Rates of Incarceration
Perhaps the Russians do not need to clear out their prisons through the use of a barbaric and outdated punishment simply because they don't have as many individuals in prison. Think Progress reports that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the developed world. Additionally, minority American men are more likely than their white counterparts to land in prison.
According to this chart, the incarceration rate in Russia lands somewhere between the U.S. states of Washington and Utah. You read that correctly. The entirety of the Russian Federation has a smaller percentage of its population in prison than the state of Washington. Washington has approximately 7 million residents; Russia has 143 million people. While Russia, China, and the United States overall have the highest prison rates per 100,000 people, the United States has 707; Russia has 470; and China has somewhere between 124 and 172. I wonder when I will see the New York Times gleefully trumpeting this fact as part of a smug commentary on the U.S.'s backward slide.
I also wonder how many World Cup venues could be built with just the population of the Louisiana penal system.
Recognition of Palestine
This is a map of countries that recognize Palestine as an independent state. See that big blob in green? The one in your top right? That's Russia.
According to a Gallup poll, Democrats are slowly withdrawing their support for Israel. The left-wing Slate writes of the importance of Palestinian independence. Slate's Josh Keating mentions naughty Russia in passing because they are unlikely to recognize Kosovo, but neglects to tell its readership that the Soviet Union voted to acknowledge Palestine in 1988. It's safe to say that this is a cause for concern for many Western liberals, as the Guardian became rather worked up over the firing of an American professor because of his pro-Palestinian stance.
In spite of The New Republic's dire warnings about drunken redneck Russians shooting anyone who looks at them cross-eyed, even with the new regulations, Russian gun laws are still considered to be restrictive. Even a cursory glance at Russia's gun policy would make many GOP voters explode with rage.
Russia places limits on the types and number of firearms citizens can own – a very significant distinction from America's “anything goes” gun policies. Possession of shotguns and other firearms is regulated by law, and gun owners must provide documentation and a “statement from a territorial police officer that weapons can be safely kept at the applicant’s residence” to their local police department.
Russian gun owners must also obtain a gun license. Gun licenses are valid for five years and have to be renewed. Russia also does not allow the controversial practice of open carry, which most American liberals oppose. Additionally, the Russian government requires that citizens who acquire a gun for the first time not only attend firearm safety classes and pass a federal safety exam, but they must also pass a background check. Sensible gun legislation. What a backward sewer!
Of course, perhaps I am being too hard on the United States. Russia doesn't have the National Rifle Association buying off every politician from dog catcher to members of Congress.
It's been brought to my attention that Russian ladies need Western feminism. I disagree. Acquiring access to family planning is central tenet of mainstream feminism. American feminists have been trying for years to get conservative Republican politicians to stop trying to restrict their access to birth control and abortion. I am not here to argue for or against abortion. I am here to tell you that abortion is free and legal in Russia, and has been for quite some time. So what would the appeal of Western feminism be for Russian women? Are they going to give them something they already have? American feminists can't even get free abortion and they can? So Russian women need feminism for what, exactly?
While abortion has been legal in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, individual states have passed legislation placing limits on abortion. While legislators in the Russian Duma have proposed a bill that would limit access to abortion, the proposal seeks to limit state insurance payments for abortions. This is still more generous than American abortion practices, where no public money goes to pay for abortions. As of right now, abortions are available to women over the age of 16 up to the 12th week of pregnancy. No Russian woman seeking an abortion under her government's health plan is required to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.
Yes, Russian women have it rough without the vicissitudes of feminism. If only they lived in the more advanced and civilized United States, they could give up their maternity leave benefits. In fact, the United States is so far ahead of the curve in their lack of same that they are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers.
Russia has led the world in citizens with college degrees. A 2011 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation found that 53.5% of Russian adults held a degree. Even though Russian women are not getting on board with feminism do not support FEMEN's cultural appropriation of African protest, some of these college graduates (maybe as many as half) actually have ovaries.
Health care continues to be a contentious issue in the U.S. Although Obamacare has lowered the percentage of uninsured adults, there are still 42 million Americans without health care. Russia, like many developed nations around the world, has universal health coverage. No, it is not perfect. Most systems like Russia's face problems such as coverage gaps and budget shortfalls, but it is a system that Russia has had in place since Soviet times, and is a guarantee that it gives to all of its citizens. Also, did I mention there is free abortion?
Admittedly, I do not know much about the Russian health care system. They are protesting their right to hang onto their Soviet-style health care system. Although the Western media gleefully reported that Russians protested cuts in health care due to sanctions and low oil prices, I am pretty certain that citizens taking to the streets to express their displeasure with their government's policy is a sign of a healthy democracy. Furthermore, taking sick pleasure in other people having a hard time because you don't happen to like their leader isn't what I would call progressive. It also doesn't make America's health care system any better.
The Down & Dirty
Since Russia will hopefully still be hosting the World Cup in 2018, it's safe to assume that the Western press will continue to beat the same very dead horses they banged on about during Sochi – gay rights and Pussy Riot – because these issues take precedence over the humanitarian tragedy occurring right now in Ukraine.
Let me take my American liberal friends on a little tour, and show them why the focus on these issues is actually war propaganda. It's very cleverly disguised war propaganda, but war propaganda nonetheless.
Americans are exceptional. We know that. They are exceptionally specious when it comes to the issue of the LGBT community in Russia.
During the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics, we heard day after day after day how the “gay propaganda” law in Russia would soon lead to gay people being rounded up in cattle cars and shipped off to concentration camps in Siberia. The blame for all of this was laid at the feet of one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who calmly and rationally explains his views on the subject here. Despite the fact that Putin actually does not hate gay people, the Western press forged ahead painting a picture of a Russia where homosexuals are “hunted” with the full support of the Russian public and its demonic leader. In fact, when Russia jailed anti-gay nationalist Maxim Martinskovich for his crimes, it wasn't good enough for the Daily Beast and CNN tried to take the credit, even though Martinskovich had been on the Russian government's radar for a while and had actually been jailed in 2007. CNN even tried to claim that before his arrest, Putin was refusing to arrest Martinskovich, conveniently leaving out the fact that Martinskovich had fled to Cuba.
Facts continue to be pesky things for the U.S.'s campaign to vilify Russia over its LGBT record. The United States does not own the patent on LGBT equality. Far from it. Several U.S. States have “no promo homo”laws that are similar to the one passed in Russia. So I guess no Olympics for Utah. Oh, wait.
The existing laws alone would make the United States look hypocritical, but the number of states proposing anti-gay laws continues to increase. Twenty-eight states have proposed laws that range from religious refusals to anti-transgender laws. Indiana infamously passed a “religious freedom” bill earlier this year, and Michigan is moving forward with an anti-gay adoption law. Michigan already has a “right to bully” law, passed in 2011. As a matter of fact, Russia's anti-gay propaganda law is nothing compared to the laws that exist in 79 countries – some of which are U.S. allies. Here are the countries where you can die for being gay. Please note that Russia is not among them – but Saudi Arabia is. Israel restricts same-sex couples from using surrogates. Likewise, the democratic and peace-loving Ukraine is the most homophobic country in Europe. And EU candidate Georgia isn't much better.
One doesn't have to agree with Putin's views on the subject, nor do they have to be particularly supportive of Russia in general to see that it is being singled out and demonized
for a policy that was passed through a democratic process. To my knowledge, the U.S. has never changed a domestic policy simply because a foreign press was whining about how unfair it was, so I am uncertain why Russia is expected to do so.
You guys cannot be serious with this. How is walking into a church, interrupting a service, going into a sacred area of said church, dancing around like five-year-olds, and scaring a bunch of little old Russian ladies brave? Or a protest? Seriously? I am all for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but if they wanted to protest Putin I am sure they could have found a service that he actually attended. Even then, I am doubtful that he would have cared. I am not religious myself, but I believe there is such a thing as freedom of religion, and people have a right to worship in peace.
Pussy Riot calls itself a “feminist punk band.” First of all, there is nothing feminist about Pussy Riot. They are grown women in their mid-20s who don't mind men twice their age referring to them as "girls." Western Feminism 101 will tell you that calling grown woman a girl is degrading. Secondly, there is nothing "punk" about them. Punk is about being real, and challenging the status quo. If Pussy Riot is about being real, why did they change their name from the Russian “Bойна” to the English “Pussy Riot”? Perhaps because their intended audience is actually outside Russia?
Then there is the matter of their chosen venue. The original Cathedral of Christ the Savior was demolished by Joseph Stalin in 1931 and was rebuilt only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Considering that this church symbolizes the utter hatred of religion that was par for the course during Soviet times, it is little wonder that today's Russians were so offended. Not only does the church have symbolic value, but the Romanovs were canonized there in 2000. It is where Yeltsin lay in state after he finally keeled over from heart failure in 2007. What exactly made them this angry that they chose this church for their protest? Were they murdered for their beliefs by Stalin? Were they shot and bayoneted to death for being the daughter of a tsar? Is this challenging status quo? Protesting in a cathedral that is charged with the weight of sad chapters in Russia's history? Is that challenging the status quo, or being an insensitive brat?
And what exactly has the Russian Orthodox Church done to incur this ire? There have been no abuse cover-ups. There have been no sex scandals. There have been no Orthodox Christians with reality shows on TLC who pretend that their son isn't molesting his sisters (and who maintain the support of prominent politicians). There was nothing"brave" or"heroic" about their performance, just like there was nothing brave or heroic about them throwing live stray cats at McDonald's workers to "protest capitalism." Personally I think they should have gone to jail for animal cruelty.
American liberals like to pretend this "song" was about Putin. There are only a couple of lines in the song that actually refer to Putin and the Patriarch. Most Western media claims they were arrested for "hooliganism" when they were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Read that last part very carefully. The rest is about how backward they think the Orthodox church is. That's fine if they feel that way, but I am pretty sure there is no law in Russia that demands that you join.
Americans were outraged! How dare they? How dare they what? Employ their own laws? Prosecute crimes and hand out punishment i in a manner in which they see fit? And what if this had happened in the United States? You're telling me that the country that lost its damn mind when Miley Cyrus gesticulated with a foam finger at the"sacred" VMAs would have looked the other way if someone protested in this manner at the National Cathedral in D.C. or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC? How about you go to Boston and interrupt Sunday mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross? I'm sure everyone would have been totally calm. Just like everyone stayed calm when Seth MacFarlane had a potty mouth at the"solemn" Academy Awards. Or how like nobody cared when someone spray painted graffiti at a national park.
I suppose I am not an arbiter of what is and what is not acceptable speech, and what is and is not a challenge to the status quo. But I do know that, had Pussy Riot not been little white girls, maybe the American media would have called them thugs.
I know Russia isn't perfect, and that's not the point. But whatever issues Russia has, I feel it is always better to let a country sort these sorts of things out for themselves. Take it from me, the U.S. has plenty of problems of its own. If anything, Russia should take the U.S.'s constant nagging as a compliment. After all, this is the same country that called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.
The United States talks all the time about winning “hearts and minds.” Through the sheer preponderance of facts in their favor, Russia has won my mind. I have freely given it my heart.
Lisa Marie White is a regular contributor to Russia Insider. If the United States tries to take away Russia's World Cup, she promises to stage a topless protest outside the White House. To tell her to knock it off with her sass already: @lisa_white
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