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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Back Into the Bedrooms of the Nation

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Those who remember the pompous celebration of Lenin's centennial in 1970 probably also recall the numerous anekdoty, or jokes, poking fun at the official event. One, about new Soviet consumer goods produced for the occasion, described a matrimonial triple bed to be marketed under the slogan "Forever with Lenin."

Communist ideology was prudish and imbued with petit-bourgeois family values. However, the Soviet state also maintained a strong prurient interest in its citizens' private lives. It not only wanted to peep in through the keyhole but demanded to be allowed in the room as an equal partner.

Typical of this attitude is a verse from a popular Soviet-era propaganda song, "Restless Youth": Like everyone else in life/You'll one day encounter love/Courageously like you/She'll brave the storms.

Bedroom work, like all other labor under communism, was subjugated to the needs of the state.

Today, after a brief post-Soviet interlude, there is once again a great yearning to regulate morality and control how Russians conduct their personal lives. Refreshingly, the babushkas loudly chastising young women in Moscow courtyards for wearing miniskirts are gone -- perhaps forever. Instead, there is public gay-bashing and attacks on gay nightclubs and rallies.

Needless to say, the unreconstructed Russian Communists are once again on the front lines of this nascent moral crusade. This time, they are part of a triple alliance with the Orthodox Church and the neo-Nazis. In the context of Russian history over the past 100 years, this sounds like another anekdot.

Because of the makeup of this alliance, it was inevitable that various debates surrounding the recent attempt to stage a gay parade would have a strong nationalist flavor -- and this is why it has transcended the relatively small question of the treatment of sexual minorities in Russia. Having built a vertical of power and introduced a sense of stability, President Vladimir Putin's Russia is now casting about for an ideology. Various forms of extreme patriotism -- the last resort of the scoundrel, to quote Samuel Johnson -- are rapidly filling the vacuum. There is clearly no place for homosexuality in any of the versions of a "pure" Russia. It is clearly either a direct Western import or an outgrowth of that plague of liberal democracy that Russia foolishly embraced after the fall of communism.

So far, except for the skinhead fringe, Russian patriots have generally been vague about what falls under the heading of Russian patriotism. There is an inclusive version, which embraces all races and ethnic groups within the country's population and which in the 1990s gave rise to the broad term Rossiyanin. This idea is rejected entirely by the extreme nationalist right in its call for a "Russia for the Russians." The inclusive version is also problematic for many other Russians, as it reminds them of that old official fraud, Soviet patriotism. Unfortunately, Russian nationalism is increasingly taking the form of Great Russian nationalism and is characterized by a dislike of all other ethnic groups within the country.

In this regard, Putin's proposals in his annual state-of-the nation address to stimulate Russia's slumping birthrate with monetary grants are curious. The question is whose birthrates are going to be stimulated? Clearly, it will not be those of people living in the Caucasus, or Bashkirs and Tatars, who seem to have little trouble maintaining their numbers. Nor will it be those emigrants from the former Soviet Union and China who have obtained Russian citizenship. Is it aimed at ethnic Russians, then?

This, I'm sure, was not Putin's intent. It was merely another state move to encourage people to do something socially useful in the bedroom, but this time to benefit Mother Russia, as opposed to the international working class. But this is how his increasingly nationalistic audiences see it. The intellectual leaders of the neo-Nazi movement, if they exist, should be pleased. To them, the idea of persecuting decadent homosexuals and raising birthrates among ethnic Russians should sound familiar.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.