This is a lovely piece of anti-Putin pop art, but it’s illegal. Don’t share it.
We’re simply spreading the information so that other people can avoid breaking Russian law (which, incidentally, we’ve now broken). This is by no means an endorsement of this image; we absolutely refuse to remark on Putin’s gorgeous eyelashes, his ruby-red lipstick, or his beautiful blonde hair.
After all, we’re not trying to break the law here.
Make no mistake: There is an actual law against this photo.
The Justice Ministry in Moscow has listed this photo as an “extremist material,” so Russian nationals who distribute or share this photo can face 15 days in prison or a $50 (3,000 ruble) fine. In practice, the penalty can be somewhat worse—more on that later.
First, what’s up with the gay clown imagery, and why is it such an affront to Russia’s president?
CNN reports that images of Putin as a gay clown have spread since 2013, when Russia enacted a law barring the public from discussing gay rights or relationships “anywhere children might hear it.” This essentially banned gay voices from playing any sort of a role in Russian politics.
Gay rights groups in Russia see this as clear government-sponsored efforts to diminish their political options. They became quite angry and started spreading images of Vladimir Putin in makeup, backed by the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ movement.
That was very, very wrong of them. They’ve made Putin very angry, and they shouldn’t have done that.
A man named Alexander Tsvetkov reportedly shared the photo on Russian social media, which attracted the attention of authorities; he was quickly charged with “incitement of hatred or enmity,” which led to the recent ruling.
The court noted that the image addresses “an allegedly non-standard sexual orientation of the Russian president.” That’s a big deal, since people who openly claim those “non-standard” orientations are effectively banned from speaking in public throughout the entire nation.
Here’s the scariest part of the case: Tsvetkov wasn’t fined or officially imprisoned for spreading the “gay clown” meme. He was committed to a psychiatric institution, and it is unclear whether he has been released.
Still, the Kremlin says that Putin’s not really that upset.
“You know how such things might hurt somebody’s feelings,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “but the president is quite resistant to such obscenity and learned how to not pay attention.”
He’s right; such things might hurt somebody’s feelings, provided that the person was the homophobic leader of a shadowy authoritarian regime. But that’s not Putin; he rolls with the punches.
Oh, and then he makes those punches illegal, by the way. So don’t share them.
Seriously. Sharing any image of Putin as a gay clown only draws attention to how LGBTQ groups are denied a political voice in Russia. And it draws attention to people like Tsvetkov, who may be languishing in a political prison right now.
Most important, it implies that Putin’s got something to hide—and we all know that that isn’t the case.