The current political regime in Russia has made it unconscionable for most Americans to even consider supporting the government through handing over U.S. dollars as tourists. President Vladimir Putin appears to be on a disturbing mission to drive out homosexuality from the country, first in legislation forbidding gay couples from adopting children and then in legislation allowing for foreign tourists who appear to be either gay or supportive of gay rights to be arrested and detained for up to two weeks. The latter law has already be enforced, with Dutch tourists being held against their will. Furthermore, he has signed a bill which will classify any documents containing support for gay rights as pornography.
It’s simply not possible for an American tourist to claim that these laws do not affect them. When a person’s belief and viewpoint is punishable by jail time, there is no telling how far the government will push its agenda. There have also been several incidents of violence toward those appearing to be homosexual or in favor of gay rights, including a campaign where young men were lured into public places and beaten and bullied, all for the viewing pleasure of an audience on YouTube.
While it’s questionable whether a boycott of Russian vodka brands such as Stoli (which is headquartered in Luxembourg and has spoken out against the new Russian laws) is an appropriate or effective response, one step Americans who are bothered by this active persecution can take is to cancel any vacation plans to the country until the situation improves. Trust me, your vision of attending the ballet in a grand Russian theater will be dashed anyway when you enter a tiny, shabby space that looks like it hasn’t been renovated since Nureyev defected.
As an alternative, consider the lovely little former Soviet republic of Estonia. It is a much more liberal country, where homosexuality is legal and anti-discrimination laws are in place. There are even annual gay pride parades where the participants aren’t attacked by the crowd! Plus, there is even a Depeche Mode-themed bar in the capital of Tallinn. It has beautiful architecture and interesting history as well as a lively party scene. It’s a great, inexpensive alternative to some of the larger countries in the area, and you can voice your opinion without fear of being arrested.
It remains to be seen whether the Olympic committee will decide to move next year’s winter games from Russia, given the cloud of fear that may hang over the games for many of the athletes and their families. Might we suggest nearby Estonia?