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Gessen is openly lesbian, an opposition journalist active in anti-Putin protests, and has a widely read book exposing Putin as a scumbag. She lives in Moscow with her partner and children. One can't help but fear for her safety.
Russian Journalist Pulls Back Vladimir Putin's Iron Curtain
By D'Anne Witkowski
Originally printed 8/5/2013 (Issue 2136 - Between The Lines News)
Do a Google search for Vladimir Putin and you'll find a treasure trove of photos of the President of Russia in iconic tough-guy poses: shirtless on a horse, shirtless in a lake, shirtless with a rifle, arm wrestling, playing hockey, riding a snow mobile, staring down a leopard, throwing a man to the floor in a judo match, deep sea diving, driving a race car, flying a plane, riding a motorcycle with a biker gang. That guy from the Old Spice commercials? He's got nothing on Putin.
Note that these aren't paparazzi photos like that shirtless photo of Barack Obama frolicking on the beach. Putin very much wants these photos to be seen. But why? I mean, the guy is one of the most powerful people in the world. The whole thing smacks of narcissism and desperation.
Then again, calling Putin a desperate narcissist is probably one of the gentler ways to characterize journalist Masha Gessen's portrait of him in The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, out in paperback last month.
Gessen basically hates the guy. She writes that he has "the wit and social-graces of a street thug." The Man Without a Face provides ample evidence that Putin is a corrupt, violent, incompetent, greedy, lying, tyrannical sociopath. Shady business deals, assassinated rivals, gagged media, government stacked with cronies. Putin has hardly been the progressive leader many Russians had hoped for.
"He's a small guy. He's a small guy in every sense," Gessen said on The Daily Show With John Stewart in February of last year. Naturally Stewart and his audience cracked up, immediately thinking of Putin's penis. Gessen, however, was not trying to be funny. She takes the topic of Putin very, very seriously.
Gessen argues that Putin, who was "elected" (Gessen argues that the election was a sham) president of Russia for the second time last year (he'd previously served from 2000-2008), was literally a faceless bureaucrat who rose to power almost at random. Putin was a member of the secret police early in his career, and as a result, Gessen argues, no one really knows much about his past. He was a blank slate. "Everyone could invest this grey, ordinary man with what they wanted to see in him," she writes.
Once in power, he systematically dismantled Russia's every progressive step, creating a country in which people live in constant fear of retribution and violence.
According to Gessen, Putin employs "a rhetoric based on homegrown vulgarisms even when many Russians seem to have had enough of his ways. What used to look like macho decisiveness and directness now looks unenlightened. Putin's thug myth may ultimately contribute more to his demise than it did to his rise to power."
There is an ever-growing opposition by the Russian people to Putin's reign.
"What's going on is a very diverse, very massive movement of people who are fighting for their dignity," Gessen told NPR's Fresh Air last year. "The battle cry of the movement is fair elections. But really the main motivator is this humiliation that you feel from dealing with the Russian state. And the elections have become the focus because in a way there's nothing more humiliating than going to vote and having your vote blatantly stolen and essentially being told you don't exist."
Although she is not speaking specifically about gays and lesbians here, she might as well be. While the average citizen in Russia is oppressed, gays are doubly so even though homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993.
Currently on the national level there's a law that passed which bans "homosexual propaganda." It makes things like gay pride parades and civil rights demonstrations illegal, as well as bans public displays of affection by same-sex couples.
The bill was heavily supported by Orthodox Christian activists. In fact, Orthodox activists have clashed violently with LGBT activists at recent public protests, resulting in mostly LGBT activists being imprisoned.
Gessen is openly lesbian, an opposition journalist active in anti-Putin protests, and has a widely read book exposing Putin as a scumbag. She lives in Moscow with her partner and children. One can't help but fear for her safety. (On Aug. 22 Gessen appeared on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show and told Hayes she will be leaving Russia and moving to NYC, so she can protect her children, since Russia is talking about potentially removing children from same-sex couples.)
When asked last year by the New York Times if she still felt safe in Russia she said, "I have thought of leaving, and I have even made plans to leave. The truth is, I don't want to. I love my home, my friends, my job, my life. And if Putin doesn't like me, he can leave."
If Gessen's book is any indication, this is not a man who will exit quietly. Or peacefully. He's not one to mess with. Then again, neither is Masha Gessen.