Reports in April 2017 regarding a state-initiated wave of homophobic persecution in Chechnya attracted worldwide outrage. Numerous witnesses spoke of arrests, abuse, and murders of gay men in the republic. In response, a spokesman of Chechnya’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, claimed that “you cannot … oppress those who simply do not exist.” In this article, with the antigay purge in Chechnya and in particular the denial of queer existence as their starting point, Brock and Edenborg examine more deeply processes of erasure and disclosure of queer populations in relation to state violence and projects of national belonging. They discuss (1) what the events in Chechnya tell us about visibility and invisibility as sites of queer liberation, in light of recent discussions in LGBT visibility politics; (2) what the episodes tell us about the epistemological value of queer visibility, given widespread media cynicism and disbelief in the authenticity of images as evidence; and (3) what role the (discursive and physical) elimination of queers plays in relation to spectacular performances of nationhood. Taken together, the authors’ findings contribute to a more multifaceted understanding of the workings of visibility and invisibility and their various, sometimes contradictory, functions in both political homophobia and queer liberation.
“You Cannot Oppress Those Who Do Not Exist”: Gay Persecution in Chechnya and the Politics of In/visibility
Maria Brock’s research examines the psychosocial dynamics of transitional and post-transitional societies focusing on the former Eastern Bloc, and the former GDR, and Russia in particular. Previous and upcoming publications have looked at satire and protest, negative societal mobilization and “returns of the repressed,” Camp in (post)Soviet pop culture, and nostalgia, memory, and nationhood.
Emil Edenborg is a postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. His research examines media narratives of nation, gender, and sexuality, as well as politics of visibility, populism, discourses of “traditional values,” and gendered processes of bordering and geopoliticization. His areas of empirical focus are Russia and the Nordic countries.
Maria Brock, Emil Edenborg; “You Cannot Oppress Those Who Do Not Exist”: Gay Persecution in Chechnya and the Politics of In/visibility. GLQ 1 October 2020; 26 (4): 673–700. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8618730
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