An organization of conservative vigilantes is threatening to report gay people to police at the World Cup this year in Russia.
In Rostov, one of the cities hosting World Cup matches, members of the conservative Cossacks have volunteered to help with security for the games, and they’re saying they’ll be on the lookout for men kissing.
“If two men are kissing each other at the World Cup, we will tip off the police, drawing their attention to it and the rest is a police matter,” Oleg Barannikov, a Cossack leader, told Radio Free Europe. “To us, values mean the Orthodox faith and the family come first.”
Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, but “gay propaganda” – materials that say that same-sex relationships are of equal value to opposite-sex relationships – is banned.
The law also considers LGBTQ symbols to be adult content and inappropriate for children.
Despite all that, Newsweek reports that no one has been prosecuted for public displays of affection between members of the same sex.
But since even LGBTQ people in more accepting countries are often reluctant to show affection in public out of fear of violence, it is perhaps not surprising that Russia has not yet had to prosecute anyone for showing affection to someone of the same sex.
Russia has been dismissive of claims that its laws prevent people from waving rainbow flags in public.
“It’s clear you can come here and not be fined for expressing feelings,” said World Cup ambassador Alexei Smertin. “The law is about propaganda to minors. I can’t imagine that anyone is going to go into a school and propagate that way to children.”
But Russia’s official stance might have little effect on citizens’ actions. Last month, British LGBTQ soccer fans said that they were getting threatening messages from Russians.
“We’ve had people say that if they find us they’ll stab us, so it’s been a mixture but they’re being dealt with seriously and those investigations are still ongoing,” said Joe White of Pride in Football.
And the Cossacks’ threat of reporting men who kiss other men has some teeth, even if the Russian government does nothing with these reports. Earlier this year, two Cossacks charged into a crowd of anti-Putin protestors and thrashed people with whips.
“I’ve covered these fake ‘Cossacks’ before. They are violent thugs for hire, doing jobs too dirty even [for] crooked cops,” Coda Story editor Alexey Kovalev wrote.
“They’ll be providing ‘security’ at the World Cup in June. Now you can freak out.”