I think anyone who has thought seriously about Nazi Germany has probably asked herself: if I had been a Jew in that time and place, would I have been smart or lucky enough to get out? Would I have chosen uprooting and exile, if such was possible?
Russian gays are asking themselves the same thing, for the same reason: they are targeted by their own state for who they are, not anything they have done.
An authoritarian state apparatus has chosen to mobilize Russia's latent cultural homophobia to fuel nationalist zeal. Russians need an ego boost. Communism and the country's imperial superpower status collapsed in the 1990s; Russians were left with a kleptocracy and a secret police thug for a permanent president. It has not been an inspiring trajectory. Where else in the world did life expectancy fall during the 1990s? Maybe Afghanistan?
Last November, journalist Jeff Sharlet captured this explanation for Russia's surging homophobia from a journalist named Elena Kostyuchenko.
Kostyuchenko was beaten so viciously at a Gay Pride demonstration that her skull was cracked and she lost most of her hearing. The whole Sharlett article is chilling and absolutely essential reading if you care about LGBT people.
David Remnick, the New Yorker editor, asked two former Pussy Riot activists how the Olympics fit into Putin's plans when they were in New York last week speaking for prisoners' rights. They'd just been released after serving nearly two years for an episode of pro-feminist iconoclastic performance art they'd done in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Such cultural sacrilege is punished in contemporary Russia.
So these Olympics are the play fantasy of a fascist gay basher of the most vicious sort: not just a bigot, but a manipulator who incites the resentments of others for his own purposes. These women think we in the outside world fail to realize how hollow Putin's autocracy is. May they be right.
Meanwhile, no opening pageantry can make me feel the Sochi games are anything by putrid, through and through.