Madonna -not- on the hook for 333,000,000 rubles

There’s been a suit running against Madonna in connection with her concert in St. Petersburg earlier this year. She was charged with violating a recently-passed law against propagating homosexuality. The case was just heard and found in her favor. (Here in English.) This more or less accords with what I’ve been hearing anecdotally about the law: it’s on the books, but cases so far have been few and largely unsuccessful.

But as I read the linked article, what I found striking is the claims made by the plaintiffs (in agreement with the law and its justification) that Madonna was threatening the traditional family by promoting immorality. In a certain way, isn’t this…precisely true? Madonna first became famous (slash infamous) as a symbol of modern female sexuality. Her image, even her stage name, are directly opposed to the demure maternal femininity of “traditional values.” To the extent that Madonna is celebrated by feminists (and certainly there are plenty of feminist critiques of her, as well), it is because she expressed a certain freedom and unabashed sexuality. Which is to say, celebrated because she transgressed “traditional” morality.

The RFE/RL post I linked above makes fun of the case, as we often like to do with court cases in Russia. And it would be exceedingly hard to make such a case–plenty of dissertations are written about suggestive evidence that pop culture influences values, but it’s extremely hard to prove one way or the other, particularly to the standard required by a court of law. Still, I wanted to suggest that it’s not absurd to take seriously the influence of a pop figure like Madonna, and that bringing a case against her is, in a way, taking her quite seriously.

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Attacked in the metro

Many participants in the march covered their faces, presumably to hide their identities in photos like this one. Photo via RIA Novosti. Photograph by Ilya Pitalev.

This is an unpleasant story, but I wanted to share it because of what it shows about the current political climate in Moscow.

Since 2005, November 4 has been the Day of National Unity in Russia. Part of the new holiday tradition [1] is a massive “Russian March” in which nationalists and other far-right groups gather and air their views, including among other things xenophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT sentiment. Reports of this year’s march included word that some participants had even waved around Nazi-style swastika flags. Some of the activists I’ve been in contact with had organized an anti-fascism rally to show that was an alternative to the ideology expressed by the Russian March. I’d gotten word the day before that we would meet up in the center of the metro station at 3:30 for the 4:00 rally. This is typical; for rallies and marches participants often gather in a nearby station beforehand to check in, adjust plans, and make sure everyone gets to the right location together.

I hadn’t been to this station before, so when I arrived a few minutes early I walked around, admiring it. The hall itself was all hard surfaces, gleaming polished stone. A series of wide pillars separated the center of the hall from the train platforms. I photographed the beautiful black-and-gray marble mosaics of Dostoyevsky’s most famous works. The station was nearly empty with less than a dozen people milling around waiting to meet friends. At the time I wasn’t paying attention, but afterward it would seem unusual that there were no police in the station. They’re almost always on patrol in stations near the center, especially on days when big marches are planned.

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