CIS News Roundup
Gay Pride hits the streets of Moscow
This past weekend, LGBT activists attempted to stage Russia’s first ever gay-pride parade in Moscow. Despite Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s vow to prevent the festivities from occurring, parade organizers went ahead with their plans to highlight the continued discrimination they face in living an openly gay lifestyle.
As the parade proceeded on Saturday, violence did indeed break out, as skinheads, members of far-right political parties and Orthodox and Muslim believers swarmed LGBT marchers chanting, “Sodom won’t pass here” and “Death to Fags”. Some 120 people were arrested and several were hospitalized including Volker Beck, an openly gay member of the German Bundestag, who travelled to Moscow along with Clementine Autain, Vice-Mayor of Paris, and European Parliament member Sophie int Veld, to support the marchers.
Homosexuality was, until 1993, a crime punishable by lengthy prison sentences and forced detentions in mental health facilities. However, even today, Russian gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals clearly continue to face an uphill battle in being able to live free from fear and prejudice. Employers are notorious for firing workers suspected of being gay and police rarely investigate physical or verbal attacks against homosexuals.
Russian scientists test new vaccine
This past Tuesday, Russian scientists began the first human clinical trials for a new H5N1 bird flu vaccine. The 120 adult volunteers were chosen from among several high risk groups, and will be monitored for the next several weeks by the St. Petersburg Flu Institute and the Moscow Vaccine and Serum Institute.
Experts have long feared that the bird flu virus will eventually mutate into a more easily transmissible strain which could trigger a devastating pandemic. The Russian government is cautiously optimistic that the trials will yield promising results as several regions in Western Siberia – Novosibirsk, Omsk and Altai Territory – have already seen their avian population stricken by the H5N1 strain. As yet, however, the virus has not claimed any human lives in Russia.
Russian military expenditures up
In a recent meeting with members of the state Duma, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Russian military expenditures would rise to $29.6 billion by 2007, a figure representing 2.7 percent of the national GDP. An additional $185 billion was also being allocated to speed up the acquisition of next-generation heavy artillery equipment. The meeting followed an earlier address to the Federal Assembly by Putin, in which the President argued that “the stronger the armed forces, the weaker the temptation to dictate one’s terms”.
Many analysts have pointed to both statements as evidence that Russian – U.S. relations are indeed deteriorating rapidly. Yet, despite threats from various U.S. political leaders that Washington would adopt a harsher line, Moscow has continued to aggressively rebuild its armed forces and develop strategic military alliances with various states deemed hostile to U.S. interests to counter-balance what it argues is the harmful unilateral domination of international affairs by the United States.
Together with rising domestic military expenditures, in the past week Russian defense officials have also confirmed the delivery of 29 TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles to Iran and announced that negotiations to license the manufacture of Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition in Venezuela were proceeding quickly. Both developments further heighten the stakes for the upcoming meeting between Presidents’ Putin and Bush at the G8 summit in July, as the U.S. and Russia attempt to resolve their ongoing disagreements over Iran, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Russia on verge of AIDS crisis
While most associate the AIDS epidemic with Africa, Russia appears on the verge of a crisis of its own, as experts have predicted that well over a million Russians are now living with HIV. Everyday in Russia, one hundred individuals will contract the AIDS virus, while twenty infants will be born to HIV-positive mothers, many of whom will be abandoned at birth.
The unfortunate reality is that both the Russian state and the international community have failed to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. Critics have long argued that AIDS sufferers are “stigmatized and neglected” by the state and the Russian population at large, which has only further fuelled the crisis as misinformation abounds from a lack of public debate and where shame of contracting the virus keeps victims from seeking treatment.
Worse still, even as only ten percent of victims receive funding for treatment, Russia is in danger of losing what little aid it receives because the World Bank has recently reclassified it as an “upper middle-income” country. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have however, pointed to Russia’s crumbling public health system, growing problems with illegal drug use and the widespread lack of public knowledge as evidence that the state is dangerously ill-prepared to deal with AIDS in any substantial way.
Russia, which is hosting this year’s G8 Summit in July, is planning on using the meeting to call attention to the crisis in the hopes of raising the more than $100 million necessary to help treat and educate its citizens. The campaign is being applauded by activists who, while acknowledging that more needs to be done, recognize the announcement as the first step towards opening a dialogue with the state on the problem.
A special thanks to mwm for passing along some great articles!
Posted by Judy
Born and raised in Toronto, I'm now heading over to the UK to pursue an MA in Russian Politics, Security and Integration. I'm crazy about feminism, multilateralism, peacekeeping, the Toronto Maple Leafs and puppies.