Vladimir Putin has weighed in on the sexuality of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, which is only in dispute because Russia has become increasingly homophobic, unwilling to admit that some of its greatest cultural icons were indisputably gay.
"They say that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Truth be told, we don't love him because of that, but he was a great musician, and we all love his music. So what?" Putin told the Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview that touched upon the likes of Syria, the fate of Edward Snowden, and the country's anti-gay laws. "I assure you that I work with these people. I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields. We have absolutely normal relations, and I don't see anything out of the ordinary here," he added.
Many others, however, see something far out of the ordinary as Russia becomes perhaps the most homophobic country in the Western world. The nation has become aggressively anti-gay thanks in good part to laws Putin signed into action.
And those laws, in turn, have homophobes rewriting history, erasing the supposed taint of homosexuality from Russia's cultural heritage. Thus the troubling push to straight-wash gay Russian artists like Tchaikovsky. In the composer's case, filmmaker Yuri Arabov wants to celebrate his artistic merit with a new film, but is planning to completely ignore Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. In a recent interview, Arabov said only "philistines" believe Tchaikovsky was gay.
In the end, Putin's answer does little to stem the tide of anti-gay sentiment, which he in large part engendered. Righting extremists' views of Tchaikovsky won't help much.