“You Cannot Oppress Those Who Do Not Exist”: Gay Persecution in Chechnya and the Politics of In/visibility

  • Citation: Brock, Maria and Emil Edenborg. “‘You Cannot Oppress Those Who Do Not Exist’: Gay Persecution in Chechnya and the Politics of In/Visibility.” A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 26, no. 4 (2020).
    • Topics:
    • Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • Russia
    • Chechnya
    • visibility
    • nationhood
    • political homophobia
    • spectacle
    • violence

Reports in April 2017 regarding a state-initiated wave of homophobic persecution in Chechnya attracted worldwide outrage. Numerous witnesses spoke of arrests, abuse, and murders of gay men in the republic. In response, a spokesman of Chechnya’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, claimed that “you cannot … oppress those who simply do not exist.” In this article, with the antigay purge in Chechnya and in particular the denial of queer existence as their starting point, Brock and Edenborg examine more deeply processes of erasure and disclosure of queer populations in relation to state violence and projects of national belonging. They discuss (1) what the events in Chechnya tell us about visibility and invisibility as sites of queer liberation, in light of recent discussions in LGBT visibility politics; (2) what the episodes tell us about the epistemological value of queer visibility, given widespread media cynicism and disbelief in the authenticity of images as evidence; and (3) what role the (discursive and physical) elimination of queers plays in relation to spectacular performances of nationhood. Taken together, the authors’ findings contribute to a more multifaceted understanding of the workings of visibility and invisibility and their various, sometimes contradictory, functions in both political homophobia and queer liberation.

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