Victory Day 2014
Distributed by Cinedoc Film Company
Produced by Alina Rudnitskaya
Directed by Alina Rudnitskaya
DVD , color, 88 min.
Russia, History, World War II, Myth, Memory, Homophobia, Homosexuality
Date Entered: 04/16/2015Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach
Straddling Europe and Asia, Russia in the Putin era has warmed the hearts of homophobes throughout the world, resisting the more general European and American trend toward tolerance of non-traditional sexual relationships. In 2013, the Russian State Duma passed a law forbidding propaganda for non-traditional relationships “directed at minors.” The law was sufficiently vague in both its definition of what would constitute propaganda (simply being gay?) and what would constitute a non-traditional relationship. That vagueness has served as a pretext for oppressive measures by the authorities – and by everyday citizens.
The ultimate purpose of this documentary, which is directed toward mobilizing world public opinion against state-sponsored homophobia in Russia, is to explore the impact of the homophobic current on the everyday lives of gay couples living in St. Petersburg. While exploring the position of gays in Russia, the documentary also illustrates the power of the state to shape social attitudes. Passage of the State Duma law largely preceded rather than followed social attitudes. Prior to the law people mostly tolerated homosexuals in school and in the workplace; after the law self-appointed enforcers of public morality took it upon themselves to purge and harass homosexuals from their midst and to force them back into the closet. It is a powerful illustration of the state’s ability to shape culture and attitudes – in this case, in the direction of intolerance and violence against supposedly alien elements.
What everyday citizens believe to be necessary to defend their way of life was and is useful to the state and to demagogues in the Russian parliament. Russian society’s increasing hostility towards homosexuality has become a linchpin of a particularly insidious form of patriotism that associates all non-traditional relationships as a direct attack on Russian national security and the Russian way of life. As one of the gay couples interviewed notes, attacking homosexuals has served the purpose of unifying society – just as hatred of Jews has frequently become a vehicle for creating and mobilizing nations at various junctures in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The documentary sets interviews with gay couples and others against the backdrop of a military parade in St. Petersburg outside their windows. Given the aggressive climate of homophobia in Russia, the interview subjects themselves have made a courageous step in agreeing to be filmed – especially given the very real threat of being fired for their sexual orientation or beaten by Russia’s lumpenproletariat (punks featured in the documentary attacking gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg). That the interview subjects agreed to be interviewed is perhaps the one encouraging message of this film: the refusal of many in Russia’s gay community to retreat back into the closet.
One of the great strengths of this documentary, especially for classroom use, is its brevity. Less than a half hour, the film provides a snapshot of gay responses to the 2013 state law. It juxtaposes these interviews with news clips of Russia’s most prominent homophobes – two deputies in the Russian State Duma and Russia’s most reactionary journalist, Dmitrii Kiselev, who declared on national television, to a studio audience’s vigorous applause, that gays should be prevented from donating sperm, blood, or organs.
The film’s brevity, however, is also a liability. More background on Russian culture’s historical attitudes toward homosexuality would have helped viewers less familiar with Russia. It also would have been enlightening to hear the view of supporters of the 2013 Duma law, which outlawed “propaganda” in favor of non-traditional lifestyles aimed at minors. Finally, the English subtitles were clearly written by a non-native speaker, and they also mistranslate or ignore some of the points made in the interviews. But despite these flaws Victory Day provides an important window into the state of tolerance in Putin’s Russia – and more generally into the backlash against tolerance for non-traditional relationships that increasingly defines mainstream culture in many parts of Europe and the United States.