Madonna’s first tour in Russia drew the ire of orthodox Christian activists. Now she vows to defy a new law against promoting homosexuality when she performs in President-elect Vladimir Putin’s hometown in August.
“I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed,” the pop star said by e-mail late yesterday. “I’m a freedom fighter.”
The law, signed on March 7 by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, a Putin ally and former KGB officer, bans lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered “propaganda” that could give minors “the false perception that traditional and nontraditional relationships are socially equal.”
Homosexuality was outlawed in the Soviet era and wasn’t decriminalized in Russia until 1993. Seventy-six of the 193 members of the United Nations deem homosexuality illegal, according to Human Rights Watch. At least five countries, including Iran, impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, the New York-based advocacy group says.
Madonna, ranked the 8th highest-earning celebrity in Forbes magazine’s 2010 list with estimated earnings of $58 million, plans to return to Russia for the third time with a concert in Moscow on Aug. 7, followed two days later by St. Petersburg. Tickets for both performances range from 1,500 rubles ($51) to 50,000 rubles apiece, according to PMI Corp. and Euro Entertainment, the organizers of the events.
“I don’t run away from adversity,” Madonna, who has used her fame to support gay rights, said in the e-mail. “I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity.”
Madonna’s first show in Russia six years ago was marred by protests of Russian Orthodox activists who objected to her performance of the song “Live to Tell,” which she sang while wearing a crown of thorns and dangling from a cross.
During the singer’s second visit in 2009 on the Sticky and Sweet tour, a Communist group urged her to sing a revolutionary anthem like the Marseillaise as she performed near the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, which was stormed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The palace now houses the Hermitage Museum.
The American pop star’s financial interests in Russia extend beyond show business. She opened a Hard Candy upscale fitness center in Moscow last year, a 35,000 square-foot (3,250 square-meter) facility less than 650 yards (600 meters) from the Kremlin. This was the second Madonna-themed gym in the world, after Mexico City. She plans to open a third in St. Petersburg, Europe’s fourth-largest city.
‘Lots of Criticism’
The Russian Orthodox Church, the dominant religious body in a country of 143 million people, considers homosexuality a sin. About 69 percent of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, according to a poll last August by the Moscow-based Levada Center.
“There’s lots of criticism from the media community about this law, but somehow most of the media forget about this crucial word -- minors,” said Vladimir Vigilyansky, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, by phone. “It’s about propaganda among minors, not about banning homosexuality itself.”
Russia, which is preparing to host the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the soccer World Cup in 2018, was chastised for the legislation by Canada, which issued a warning to its citizens who plan to travel to St. Petersburg to avoid “displaying affection in public, as homosexuals can be targets of violence.”
The former imperial capital, founded by Peter the Great in 1703, is the country’s top tourist destination and a host city for the World Cup. About 2.3 million foreigners visited the city in 2010, the last year for which government data is available.
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