Few pieces of graffiti are more famous than Dmitri Vrubel’s My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love. The painting, sometimes called Fraternal Kiss, adorned the Berlin Wall between 1990 and 2009. It recreated a picture taken in 1979, on the anniversary of the founding of the Communist German Democratic Republic in East Germany. At that celebration, two men, Leonid Brezhnev (General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and Erich Honecker (General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany), embraced in a kiss to seal what was essentially an arms deal between East Germany and the Society Union.
In Russia, the topic of homosexuality is in the news nearly every day at the moment. “Gay propaganda” is now an offense punishable by arrest and imprisonment. Gay men have been murdered for their activism. Last month, Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch said that gay marriage in Russia could spark a localized apocalypse. And just today, The Interpreter published a translation of a news story about a journalist (and her friends, and husband) being beaten in a Moscow Bar for appearing homosexual, while authorities looked on or refused to investigate.
These issues could come to the forefront as the 2014 Olympics in Sochi draw closer. Some Russian officials have already suggested that foreign athletes could be arrested over their support of LGBT rights, or possibly their own sexual orientation. Four Dutch gay rights activists have already been arrested under this new law, sparking even more concerns in the international community that is set to send waves of athletes and tourists into Russia.
Ivan Savvine (Twitter), a blogger at Out There Magazine, has sent us his re-imagining of the painting in light of Russia recent crack-down on homosexuals and those who support LGBT rights. Savvine writes:
“Non-traditional sexual relations and their so-called ‘propaganda’ are so vaguely defined in that new Russian law, no one really knows just yet what that means and how that law will be applied. I am assuming that an image of two men kissing displayed in the public sphere would be subject of removal as per that law. But would it apply exclusively to two gay men kissing or, as is the case in point here, two Communist leaders sharing comradely affection? This is as much about contemporary visual culture as it is about contemporary right-wing homophobic extremism perpetrated by the Russian state. As a gay man from Russia, who happens to be an art historian and a bit of a cultural & political commentator, I find this case to be particularly problematic, yet quite a fertile ground for analysis.”
Could these be the meme that will appear plastered on Russia’s subways and lamp posts, the latest symbol of defiance in a culture where the visual arts are often the soul of protest?