Sick and criminals. The book “Closed” about the persecution of homosexuals in the USSR is published in Russia
- Andrey Kozenko
Subscribe to our newsletter “Context”: it will help you understand the events.
The Individuum publishing house published the book “Closed” by the historian and philosopher from the University of Melbourne Rustam Alexander. She tells the story of the infection of homosexuals in the Soviet Union – from Stalin to Yeltsin. And this place is a retrospective look – the best answer to the question why modern Russia is far from being the most peaceful on earth for everyone who lives and meets “not like everyone else.”
How Rustam Alexander assessed various aspects of Soviet medicine, including the historian of its interaction with the cardiac system. And since “homosexuality” in the USSR was both a disease and a crime, he studied a sufficient number of documents in order to comprehend the phenomenon as a whole.
In the criminal code of Tsarist Russia there was an article banning same-sex relationships, but de facto it did not work. After the 2017 revolution, the Bolsheviks introduced a new criminal code, where until the 1930s there was no such ban. Alexander thought it was partly due to the demand for free love – in the 1920s, this idea had a flamboyant revolution. In part, the author believes, they simply forgot about it, doing much more global things.
“Homosexuality” became a crime in the 1930s. And surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the fact that it is perceived as a perversion or how they care about the way of procreation. The fact is that homosexuals were vulnerable to being recruited as spies – under the organization of a public disclosure of orientation. Stalin, with his spy mania, immediately signs the document.
Thus, the article “Homosexuality” appeared in the criminal code without the slightest scientific discussion. Its first part punished same-sex relationships in principle – up to five years in prison. The second part is up to eight years if the same-sex act causes cravings. Until the collapse of the USSR, it did not change anymore.
It is important to note: we are talking only about sexual intercourse between men. The Soviet authorities were indifferent to female homosexuality, perhaps they simply did not think about its subordination.
Homosexual men were persecuted both under Yagoda, and under Yezhov (there is historical evidence that he himself was bisexual), and under Beria.
Alexander tells this story as a whole through identified ordinary people. Some of them were simply actively looking for partners in public gardens and toilets (not about any life together in the face of a shortage of housing and communal apartments, who did not fight for their rights), someone even fought for their rights. For example, a Scottish journalist based in Moscow wrote a huge letter to Stalin, which discusses the reference that homosexuals can and should be good communicators. Stalin wrote to this written resolution: “To the archive. Idiot and degenerate.”
After Stalin’s death, the stigma changed. Everyone forgot about spies, but homosexuality has become extremely humiliating. Too many Soviet people went through prisons, and they knew perfectly well what was happening “under control” with the “lowered” – raped convicts. No one even shared utensils with them.
The thaw was in full swing in the USSR, but homosexuals are returning to be persecuted. It turned out that the first appeared with the mitigation of the criminal article itself, the reduction of punishment from five to three years, and this would be a humanistic step – in practice, a short term for a person with no previous convictions would most likely be suspended, and he would get out of control .
Moreover, the theoretical rights are perfectly qualified, what happens if same-sex sex occurs by mutual consent is extremely difficult – someone needs a denunciation. But totally desirable from the article would be too bold. Even despite the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s homosexuality ceased to be a crime not only in Western countries, but also in the countries of the socialist bloc.
Alexander tells how to treat homosexuality. In women – with the use of a tranquilizer, which completely destroys the libido. Then its dose is called simultaneously with the conduct of psychotherapeutic sessions using heterosexual relationships. In men – on the verge of psychotherapy and hypnosis, part of the therapy was considered erotic photographs torn from Western magazines.
At the same time, the doctors themselves were balancing on the edge: according to the Hippocratic oath, they cannot reveal the secret of the patient. They are required by law to report the crime to the police.
When perestroika began in the Soviet Union in 1980, the consciousness of people gradually, month after month, began to manifest that it was possible to live in a different way, with much greater sensitivity. Against this background, homosexuals were persecuted even more – the abbreviation AIDS was discovered in the USSR.
Against the backdrop of the 2022 news about “Ukrainian biolabs”, it was even funny to read about it – it turns out that in the 1980s, the KGB actively spread disinformation that AIDS appeared in American laboratories. And “homosexuals” spread the disease. So fear and aggression were added to their criminal prosecution.
Nevertheless, the global changes of the 1980s still affected homosexuals. For the first time in the Soviet press, a discussion about this took place, with the participation of homosexuals themselves (even if they asked for anonymity), doctors. expert. For the first time, the idea was voiced that homosexuality is actually not about sex, but about people’s love for people of their own sex, about their desire to build relationships. And then only these are about sex as part of a relationship.
However, writes Rustam Alexander, there were few such discussions. In the first half of the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin abolished criminal prosecution for “homosexuality.” Just as quietly and without discussion, as under Stalin it became a criminal offense. Stigmatization, homophobia, unwillingness to speak, inability to pronounce things by their proper names were especially relevant to the sports day.
On December 5, 2022, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a law banning “LGBT propaganda”. Previously, it was banned only among minors. The wording of the law is extremely vague, that under its action any statement or action can arise. A few days ago we met as activists destroy books that promote homosexuality.
Rustam Alexander writes: “The purpose of this book is not to scandalize, not to ‘propagandize’ this topic, but to show what objective reality looked like for homosexual people in Soviet society.
The publishing house Individuum also says that the genre of “Closed” is not fiction, it is simply not suitable for promoting anything, and in this particular situation it is a statement of past events.
The circulation of “Closed” in Russian is 5,000 copies.