Masha Lipman attempts to answer the question:
The country may appear to be fairly conservative, if one looks at its widespread homophobia or public condemnation of irreverence toward Russian Orthodox Church. Yet when it comes to other social habits, such as divorce, abortion, or birth rate, the picture is very different. Russia has one of the world’s highest rates of both divorce and abortion, and some of the most liberal laws on the latter. Russia’s birth rate is not dissimilar from that of secular cultures of western Europe. Premarital sex and single motherhood are fairly common; in one survey, a mere fourteen per cent of respondents said they believed a single parent can’t raise a child properly. And while a large majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, the proportion of those attending services or observing religious rituals in Russia is not dissimilar from many European countries.
A partial explanation of this discrepancy can be found in Soviet history. The early Soviet period involved a radical rejection of the ancien regime, a forced modernization by the Bolsheviks that included universal literacy and suffrage (along with the elimination of political choice, of course), as well as brutally imposed secularization, among other things. But the Soviet Union mostly missed the later, post-war stages of the Western social modernization, and especially the gay-rights movement. In the U.S.S.R., it was a crime to be a gay man. The atmosphere grew much freer for gays in the post-Communist period, yet gay rights have not become a nationwide issue until now, as the government has abruptly moved toward social conservatism.
As always with Masha, it’s a nuanced piece – revealing Russia, like America, as two separate and colliding cultures, in this age of accelerating global change. Unlike America, however, there is no First Amendment and the new anti-gay law specifically criminalizes the right to speech and assembly. I’m not generally in favor of boycotts, but I am in favor of civil disobedience. What we have is an invitation to legitimate protest in Sochi. Unpack your rainbow flags! Get ready to be arrested! Expose the neo-fascist regime’s classic tactics to maintain popular support by demonizing an already despised and marginalized minority.
Putin wants the attention of the world in Sochi. Let’s make sure he gets it.