President Obama touched down in Russia today for the G20 summit. While he's expected to deal with problems such as Syria and perhaps taking Czar Putin aside for a chat regarding Edward Snowden, he also has a meeting with human rights activists. The meeting will focus on Russia's repressive anti-gay laws and how they may affect the Olympics to be held in Sochi Feb. 7th-23rd.
Across Europe, Russia's anti-gay laws are beginning to be answered by various groups and individuals who are suggesting the idea of a boycott. Let's take that idea off the table right now. It's not fair to the athletes who trained and competed for years to make it to the pinnacle of their sports.
That said, everything else is on the table during the Olympics: political statements, civil disobedience and demonstrations. After the Olympics, people could boycott Russian goods, services, business and tourist travel.
First, some background. On June 30, Putin signed a law, passed by parliament, that sets a fine of up to 1 million rubles for disseminating "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors." According to a recent Bloomberg report, the law also prohibits the "distorted conception of the equivalence between traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships." There are other similar laws.
Russian officials have explained the laws as needed in light of declining birthrates. But Putin also adheres to a conservative ideology aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church that clearly views homosexuality as a sin.
Such thinking, combined with the anti-gay laws, has led to LGBT people being arrested, beaten and urinated on in the streets in Russia. The laws also call for the banning of LGBT history books, and cause the parents of LGBT children concern for their safety in schools. But if that were not enough, the laws -- if enforced during the Olympics -- would most likely mean the arrest of those attending the games, even the Olympians themselves.
The question is not whether there should be action against Russia, but what action should be taken. Any action should be planned, coordinated and with a structure. Thus far no one group has stepped forward to show any such leadership.
It takes a willingness to put your neck on the line and stand out, but so far all we have gotten are press releases praising vodka pouring. Those who poured the vodka were braver than our national organizations. But as well-intentioned as the pouring was, Russian vodka is a small part of trade with U.S. It was off target.
But there is a much better target. In fact, it's the top of our trade list: oil. Maybe activists could take aim at Lukoil and others who distribute Russia's oil. That would call for old-fashioned civil disobedience -- are today's activists up to that?