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Masha Gessen’s Mixed Messages On Putin, Gays, And Civilizational Chaos

Masha Gessen says that Putin’s war on gays is really a war on the West. It’s an interesting line, given what she’s said about gay marriage.

The Washington Post published a very interesting op-ed by Masha Gessen headlined “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.” Gessen is in many ways the perfect person to write a piece like this. Deeply knowledgeable about Russian history, she’s the author of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” passionate political biography.

Gessen’s piece revisits ground covered here in David Ernst’s “Putin’s Right Hook: The Strategic Implications of Russia’s New Conservatism,” which looked at how Russia is challenging Western hegemony on ideological terms.

Gessen begins by noting that Obama said on Wednesday that Russia leads no global ideology. Yet that’s exactly what Vladimir Putin hopes to do, she says, citing a speech he gave to parliament in December:

“We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values,” he asserted. Russia’s role is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.” In short, Putin intends to save the world from the West. He has started with Crimea. When he says he is protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the West. A few days after the December address, Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma committee on foreign relations, defined that threat on the floor of the chamber: “European Union advisers in practically every ministry of any significance, control over the flow of finances and over national programs, and a broadening of the sphere of gay culture, which has become the European Union’s official policy.”

Gessen says that the “anti-gay agenda may seem like a thin basis for forming a militant international alliance of state-actors, but it has great unifying potential when framed in terms of a broader anti-Western effort and, indeed, a civilizational mission.”

Indeed. And I’m glad that Gessen is raising the alarm about Putin’s unifying message and the threat we face from it.

It’s just kind of weird coming from her. She said publicly in 2012 (audio here):

It’s a no-brainer that (gay people) should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist… Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there—-because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago. I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three . . . . And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.

These comments were received generally favorably by fellow activists in the gay marriage community and I don’t recall anyone of note denouncing her views expressed above.

Various people have various ideas about the importance of private institutions in a free society. But Putin’s scaremongering about the West being thrown into a chaos that will be deeply harmful to children is much harder to fight in light of Gessen’s own comments and the reality they reveal, no?

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