“De voorbije jaren gingen we er te vaak vanuit dat het alsmaar beter werd voor de LHBTI-gemeenschap. Daardoor werden we als LHBTI-beweging wat laks. Van die laksheid hebben rechts-religieuze bewegingen gebruik gemaakt om zich beter te organiseren tegen ons. Ze maakten erg nauwe contacten met verschillende regeringsleiders. Die autocratische en/of populistische politici zagen de strijd tegen LHBTI-rechten als een interessante insteek in hun strijd tegen de liberale democratie. Ofdat de LHBTI-gemeenschap dat nu wilt of niet, onze strijd zit middenin de strijd tussen democraten en autocraten. We moeten onze waakzaamheid en strijdlustigheid terug opschalen, want de tegenbeweging heeft zich erg sterk georganiseerd. Daarom is het belangrijk dat louche praktijken, zoals hieronder beschreven, aan het licht gebracht worden. Help je mij dit te delen met de wijde wereld?” – Rémy Bonny
Russia’s international fight against LGBTI-rights is an inherent part of their strategy to undermine the European Union’s liberal democracy. Through international homophobic networks, Russian intelligence made contacts with Hungarian government representatives. Since then, LGBTI-rights in Hungary are going backwards and the country has been vetoing the evolvement of LGBTI-rights on an EU-level. The contacts of Hungary with Russia endanger its (and the EU’s) national security.
Political scientist Rémy Bonny spent several months in the Hungarian capital Budapest carrying out on- and off-the-record field research with diplomats, academics, activists, politicians and government employees on the country’s involvement in the international anti-LGBTI movement. This article is part of the findings of that research.
Russia used its involvement in several international anti-LGBTI networks to make strategical contacts between Hungarian high-level politicians and Russian intelligence operatives. Already since the beginning of this decade, the Head of the Demographic Unit of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies(RISS) Igor Beloborodov showed a disproportionate interest in the Hungarian government.
In 2014, the Russian hackers collective Shaltai Boltai obtained e-mails from some Russian conservative oligarchs and their employees. In those e-mails a participant list could be found for the International Forum For The Large Family And Future Of Humanity in September 2014. The vice-president of Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz, Katalin Novak (who’s also State Secretary for Family Affairs), travelled to Moscow to participate in this conference. According to the list, she was invited by ‘I. Beloborodov’.
Novak even wrote a letter of gratitude to Beloborodov after his participation in the Budapest Demographic Summit in November 2015. “I hope the Forum provided a good opportunity for you to share experiences and to learn about Hungary’s and the other participating Member State’s, international experts’ position on demographic questions.”, she wrote.
But the interest from RISS in Hungary already goes back to the time before Novak became State Secretary for Family Affairs. In 2011, Beloborodov met with Hungarian Ambassador to Latvia Gabor Dobokay during a conference in Riga. In the same year the former Hungarian State Secretary for Family Affairs Miklos Soltesz participated in the Moscow Demographic Summit. In 2012, Beloborodov was invited to Budapest by the Hungarian Women’s Alliance to give a keynote during a conference in the Hungarian Parliament.
The 2014 e-mail leak also showed that Novak her travel to Moscow got paid by The Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called. This organisation is chaired by Natalya Yakunina – the wife of Vladimir Yakunin. Yakunin is the former CEO of Russian Railways. He has been banned from entering to the USA and Australia – after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Nevertheless, Yakunin was able to base himself in Berlin and setting up a think-tank.
Who is Igor Beloborodov?
As mentioned aboved, Beloborodov is the Head of the Demographic Unit of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies(RISS). He is living in Tiraspol – the capital of the Moldova’s ‘frozen conflict with Russia’- region Transnistria.
RISS is a think-tank supported by President Vladimir Putin. The organisation is accused of drawing the plan to interfere in the presidential elections in the USA and many other international intelligence operations aimed to undermine liberal democracy.
Beloborodov’s social media shows he has many close connections with the Kremlin. The family of Leonid Reshetnikov – one of Russia’s major former KGB and FSB spies – is well-represented in Beloborodov’s friend list. He’s also connected to many Russian and European MPs, businessmen, reporters, and – of course – Russian Orthodox leaders. Amongst them is Pavel Belobrádek – the former Deputy Prime Minster of Czechia. Another connection catching the eye: Timur Aliyev. Aliyev’s the personal assistant of Ramzan Kadyrov – the Chechen leader being accused of setting up the most structural persecution of homosexuals since WWII.
Beloborodov holds conservative stances on relationships and is a true-believer of the ‘demographic winter theory’ – accusing homosexuals of the demographic decline. In an interview on HIV/AIDS with the Russian news outlet Meduza, he said that “there’s no better form of protection against sexually transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS, than the monogamous family – a heterosexual family” .
World Congress of Families
One of the main international homophobic organisations where the Hungarians and Russians participate in is the World Congress of Families(WCF). This year WCF organised a conference in Verona where Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini was – together with Katalin Novak – keynote speaker.
While this is the first time cooperation between EU government officials and Russian intelligence gets proven through this networks, the link between WCF and Russia is already clear from the very origins of the organisation. In 1995 Allan Carlson – from the Howard Centre For Family, Religion & Society – was invited to Moscow by Prof. Dr. Anatoly Antonov and Prof. Dr. Viktor Medkov of the Lomonosov Moscow State University. They invited him for his theories on “the demolition of population sizes”. After this meeting, Carlson founded the World Congress of Families (HRC, 2012).
Notwithstanding the early links, the first WCF event in Russia only took place in 2011. After two years of organising the ‘Demographic Summit’, the WCF decided that it was time to organise its big annual gathering in Moscow in 2014 – which they had to cancel after the Ukraine-crisis.
Also RISS works together with another oligarch popping up in the World Congress of Families: Konstantin Malofeev. Malofeev’s behind the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas region in Ukraine. His former secretary Alexey Komov is the leader of the Russian department of the World Congress of Families.
Also, Natalya Yakunina participated several times openly in the World Congress of Families.
Undermining liberal democracy
How come Russia takes so much effort in supporting the movement against LGBTI-rights in the European Union? The answer lays in the geopolitical game of Russia’s illiberal ideology versus the EU’s liberal democracy.
Autocracy and soft power – for the past three decades they did not seem to go hand in hand. Nevertheless – the last decade has proven that populist and illiberal forces in the democratic West are prone to policies undertaken by illiberal autocratic states. In the eyes of Russian policy-makers – the demographic decline in Russia and the world possesses an existential threat to the current world order. An increase in civil rights for sexual and gender minorities would only reinforce this demographic trend – in their views. Despite that, the establishments of LGBTI-rights are widely seen as the major win of liberal democracy of the last 30 years.
This research reveals that the Russian Federation has set up a well-thought soft power strategy regarding LGBTI-rights towards the democratic West. Via outsourcing their soft power to the already existing international anti-LGBTI movement, the Kremlin was able to create a network of (financial and ideological) support for possible cooperation between Russian and European policy-makers. This network seems to fit within the Kremlin’s broader foreign policy of undermining Western liberal democracies.
By taking a closer look to the Hungarian and Russian involvement within international anti-LGBTI organisations – like the World Congress of Families – this research was able to prove close and structural ties between high-level Hungarian and Russian government officials and oligarchs. The Hungarian government increased the homo- and transphobic political discourse, enforced policies to foster traditional family values and vetoed every pro-LGBTI rights policy proposal in the Council of the European Union since its involvement in the international anti-LGBTI movement.
This article is part of the outcome of a 6-months research period. Rémy Bonny resided in Budapest and did a field trip to the WCF’s annual conference in Verona in 2019. To read the full report: click here.
This article was first published on RemyBonny.com