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Russian Anti-Gay Lawmaker Caught Shopping For Embargoed Fish In Finland

  • Tom Balmforth

Vitaly Milonov is no liberal "hamster."

Vitaly Milonov is no liberal "hamster."

A prominent Russian lawmaker who has praised the Kremlin's trade embargo on European Union goods has been photographed outside a fish shop in Finland and accused of unpatriotically buying sanctioned foodstuffs.

State Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov, a prominent crusader against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights from St. Petersburg who styles himself as a staunch patriot, admitted he bought embargoed trout but brushed aside suggestions that the purchase in Finland was inappropriate.

"For a Petersburger it is entirely normal to be in Finland, which is closer than Moscow," Milonov was quoted by the Politika Segodnya news portal as saying on February 14. "It's no secret for anyone that we travel to Finland to buy fish. Any Petersburg resident knows that fresh trout is really good in Finland. What's so bad about that?"

Milonov also said that he had traveled to Finland not for shopping, but to work on a bilateral Finnish-Russian cultural project called Day of the Russian Romance.

On February 13, Pavel Pryanikov, a journalist and blogger, posted a photograph of Milonov outside the Disas fish shop in the town of Imatra in eastern Finland, writing: "State patriotism in its entirety in one photograph."

In response, Milonov cast his accuser as a "hamster," a derogatory term for opposition-minded liberals, and suggested those of his political persuasion make unmanly purchases like smoothies.

"Unlike liberal hamsters, we don't go to Finland to buy smoothies, but as equal partners to speak with people who wanted to spit at sanctions," Milonov said.

"I would like to remind liberals that Finland for Petersburgers is a vacation place, and Imatra is practically a suburb of Petersburg," he added.

The Kremlin imposed an import ban on many fresh foods from Western countries in 2014 to retaliate after the EU and United States punished Russia with sanctions in response to its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and interference in eastern Ukraine.

The government has said that these countersanctions will be a boon to domestic agriculture and help the country become self-reliant, while critics say the move has driven up inflation and delivered a blow to the quality of food.

In August 2014, Milonov came out in support of the embargo, dismissing critics and saying, "In a year, tens, hundreds of thousands of people who are toiling foolishly will understand that they [sanctions] will work."

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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