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Putin, Elton John Spar Over 'Liberalism,' Gay Rights


A combination file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and British singer Elton John
A combination file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and British singer Elton John

Russian President Vladimir Putin and British rock star Elton John have sparred over whether "liberalism" was dead and over Russian attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

The dispute erupted initially in the Financial Times, where Putin said in an interview published on June 28 that he believed liberalism had "outlived its purpose."

He said it had become obsolete, in part because it had gone too far at the expense what he called "traditional values.”

Putin also said that Russia has "no problems with LGBT persons" in response to widespread criticism of Russia’s approach to homosexuality since the introduction of a law banning gay "propaganda" in 2013.

The remarks struck a chord with many European leaders who pushed back against Putin in defense of liberal ideals.

It also hit a chord for Elton John, the popular, flamboyant international musician who is openly gay and regularly advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) causes.

"I strongly disagree with your view that pursuing policies that embrace multicultural and sexual diversity are obsolete in our societies," John said in a statement on June 28.

The 72-year-old singer called Putin's words hypocritical since a Russian distributor censored some scenes from the biographical film Rocketman, based on the pop star’s life. Among the scenes removed were those depicting gay sex.

"This feels like hypocrisy to me," John said.

John has performed in Russia in the past, most recently in 2016, and has spoken out publicly against the 2013 gay "propaganda" law.

Putin subsequently responded to John's statement at a news conference on June 29 in Japan, where he and other leaders were attending the Group of 20 summit of major industrialized nations.

"I have a lot of respect for him. He is a musical genius, we all love listening to him," Putin said, responding to a reporter’s question. "I think he is deluding himself."

"We really have very sensible attitudes towards the LGBT community. Very calm and open-minded," Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

The problem is that gays and lesbians have been "quite aggressive in imposing its point of view on an overwhelming majority," he asserted

"You have to be more tolerant towards one another, more open and transparent. There's nothing out of the ordinary here. Everyone must be respected, that is true. But you cannot impose your views forcibly," Putin said.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russia Service, AP, Reuters, and Variety

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