I have just watched the first two episodes of Reggie Yates Extreme Russia on BBC 3 and I have to say I am utterly shocked. I was aware of the current anti gay legislation and culture there, but what Reggie has shown with this courageous documentary is that things are so much worse. Episodes 1 and 2 are available on BBC iPlayer – with episode 3 later this week on BBC3.
To understand just how courageous this amazing guy is you need to watch episode 1 because what he shows is that this not just an anti gay movement – it is a White Russian Supremacist movement not unlike the Nazi movement. The organisations of young people he visited were like a 21st century Hitler Youth with Vladimir Putin as a modern day Hitler.
It was clear that at times Reggie was unable to maintain his usually buoyant, positive attitude as he was personally subjected to racist abuse, comment and conversations that simply would not happen in the UK today. How he held it together marching with the Russian Nationalists with their Nazi like banners I just don’t know. His only saving grace was that the political leaders were keen to present themselves as more moderate and were consistently keeping their more radical members in check and stopping them from taking violent action against Reggie.
Like most of the more successful western countries, Russia is facing a huge challenge with immigration. Ironically most of their migrants just 20 years ago would have been part of the USSR but now these people, mostly from Muslim countries to the south, are rejected, beaten in the streets and abused. I was shocked at the number of times people were randomly attacked by nationalist thugs for no reason other than they were immigrants, a constant real threat for Reggie himself as he frequently found himself to be “the only black man in the village” and the focus of tense observation.
I was firmly in the closet in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and with good reason because those same attitudes, often as extreme, existed here. I was so terrified of being outed I once refused to stop my car for the police because I was cross dressed. I considered it was far better to be arrested later for failing to stop, than risk the humiliation of being discovered. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which made it illegal for the public sector to promote homosexuality as a normal lifestyle, was not dissimilar to the current Russian anti gay propaganda legislation.
Since 1997 that has all changed and now our laws for people with protected characteristics are some of the best in the world. But I wonder for now much longer. Is the undercurrent of nationalist feeling we are seeing in Russian society indicative of what we may yet see again in the UK. Political party leaders being elevated to guru like status. nationalist organisations being allowed to express their more extreme attitudes without challenge. Political parties hiding their white supremacist undertones with carefully constructed photo calls and press meetings showing them embracing minority leaders.
What if the undercurrent of nationalism and anti immigrant, anti EU feeling in the UK results in UKIP gaining a significant representation in parliament. I think there is little doubt that the Liberal Democrats have had a moderating influence on the largely Conservative government to their cost. But what would a Tory/UKIP coalition bring? We have already seen significant attempts to water down the Equality Act 2010 and render the EHRC virtually powerless. And I have already voiced by concerns about the proposed bill of rights that UKIP also supports.
Watching Reggie Yates Extreme Russia has certainly taken “visiting Russia ” off my bucket list. But I would be interested to hear what you think about the underlying nationalist agenda – is what is happening in Russia just a foretaste of what may come? Feel free to comment below.