06/08/2015 01:34 EDT | Updated 06/07/2016 05:59 EDT

Forget Russia, We Have Our Own Human Rights Problems


Russia: the monster under the Western bed, the perfect place to pin our fears and hysteria while actively ignoring so many of our own problems.

Mainstream Western media has this calculated obsession with Russia; highlight all the human rights abuses of Russia, and suddenly the West seems far more progressive, democratic and ethical. The truth is, there is no real truth in that statement. While the problems of the West often differ from the problems of Russia, they are, however, still problems, still signs of a failing democracy that is hell bent on deflecting all their problems on to our favourite Eastern enemy.

Here's the deal: we are not the equal, progressive utopia to Russia's "backwards," conservative society. In fact, we've got a lot of work to do in the West to really live up to standards of progressiveness and social equality.

The favourite argument for all those who still buy into the '50s, practically Orientalist, perspective of Russia is the gay rights debate. Yes, Russia is behind when it comes to rights for LGBTQ citizens; a discriminatory legislation created by Putin in order to stay on the good side of the extremely influential Russian Orthodox Church.

There's no doubt that America and Canada's average white, cisgender, gay man who is the poster boy for LGBTQ rights certainly has more freedom here in the West than in Russia. But we casually forget about the discrimination for every other subset of LGTBQ people; we forget that trans people are still dying at astonishingly tragic rates here in the west, rates that are especially bad for trans women of colour. And 45 per cent of transgender people attempt suicide in Ontario alone.

So in truth, this immense focus on Russia says two things about us: 1) That we don't believe grassroots Russian LGBTQ organizations and activists are capable of helping themselves, and 2) That we'd rather not focus on the problems we have here because it's easier to focus on a country we don't like than admit to our own nation's prejudices.

And the gay rights issue is only one of many. Our media's eye fixates on Russia, deeming them to be worse than us, when the West has an epidemic of police officers killing unarmed, innocent black citizens. But go ahead and believe that Russia is the big bad wolf and we are the multicultural, pro-gay haven. The entire Western anti-Russia sentiments can basically be summed up by: "Yay! Democracy! We have it!" Our polarized view of Russia as bad, West is better is childish and overly simplistic at best, imperialistic and ignorant at worst.

Several times I've been met with comments like: "But you have to admit, we are a lot more ahead." Are we? Is the West really more ahead? Take the United States for example -- it's among China, North Korea, Iran, and Yemen in a short list of the top five countries to execute the most people. Russia isn't on that list. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. No, not Russia. Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem like the progressive democratic haven that we've been told the West is.

In Canada, Indigenous communities face an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. So far, the numbers are over 1,000. The United Nations has urged Canada to launch a national inquiry into these deaths; something the Harper government has still refused to do.

Fixating on Russia is not going to solve the various human rights crises facing the West. Russia does have several of its own human rights abuses, several of its own problems that harm the society there. But let's not pretend for a second like the West is somehow incredibly different. By doing so, we forego the responsibility to address the problems that we have right here at home, and prove to the world that we are still holding onto simplistic "scary Russia" sentiments that were just as misguided and ignorant during the Cold War as they are now.


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