This week, a number of American Religious Right activists are participating an in international forum on “large families and the future of mankind,” which is organized and funded by a number of close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and kicked off its session at the Kremlin yesterday with the reading of a personal message from Putin himself.
Among the Americans speaking at the forum, according to a preliminary schedule, are the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute’s Austin Ruse, Family Watch International’s Sharon Slater and representatives from Personhood USA, the Home School Legal Defense Association and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Janice Shaw Crouse is also scheduled to attend, although possibly no longer as a representative of Concerned Women for America, a group critical of the Moscow conference with which she seems to have parted ways.
The conference was originally organized under the name of the Illinois-based World Congress of Families, but after Russia invaded Ukraine, the group began to lose support from its American allies and announced that it had “suspended planning” on the event, noting that it “takes no position on foreign affairs, except as they affect the natural family.”
In reality, very little but the official name of the conference seems to have changed. World Congress of Families officials Don Feder and Larry Jacobs are attending in their personal capacities, and insist that their group is not “financially sponsoring” the event and would not have its name attached to it. But WCF’s sponsorship was always nominal — the group has a very small budget of its own and instead acts as an agent for bringing together better-funded activists and organizations. Even before WCF dropped its official involvement, it had given credit to a number of Russian allies for funding the conference.
Although the focus of the conference is the promotion of “large families” (and with it the resistance to LGBT equality and abortion rights), it may be impossible for attendees to ignore the foreign policy implications of the event.
As we have noted, Putin played up the supposed dangers of LGBT rights in his efforts to prevent Ukraine from joining the EU — a geopolitical ploy that had dangerous consequences for the LGBT communities in Russian and Ukraine.
Constantin Malofeev, the oligarch who helped to organize and fund the conference this week, brought this up in his speech to the event yesterday, presenting the “propagation of homosexuality and gay parades” as a defining factor in the battle over Ukraine:
In Ukraine, which is our fraternal country, association with European Union was not signed last year because, in this case, the Ukrainians learned that they had to allow propagation of homosexuality and gay parades. So, the new regime in Ukraine, the first thing they did was to allow a gay parade in Kiev. So we are defending our position. We are protecting fathers, mothers and children.
He also attacked the United States for including Yelena Mizulina, the force behind many of Russia’s harsh new anti-gay laws, on its economic sanctions list. (Putin ally Vladimir Yakunin, who along with his wife Natalia also spoke at and helped fund the conference, is another U.S. sanctions target).
And if we are part of the sanctions for Ukraine. But Madam Mizulina was included in the sanctions as one of the first, and this is just because she defends the family values.
And as Richard Bartholomew points out, today’s schedule includes a panel titled “Family Policy in Ukraine: Conclusions and Warnings for Russia.”
An ever-present theme at the first day of the conference was the idea of Russia as a bulwark protecting the world against the U.S. and Europe’s encroaching liberalism. The Moscow Times writes that the theme came up in both Yakunin and Mizulina’s remarks:
In choosing conservative values, Russia represents "the final hope" for the modern world, which has been corrupted by the Western debauchery of individualism, consumerism and globalization, participants of a Moscow forum agreed Wednesday.
Yakunin, whose wife Natalya moderated the proceedings, attended the forum, taking to the stage to talk about Russia's departure from the Western model of development that, according to him, does not lead to either material or spiritual well-being.
Mizulina, who chairs the Duma's committee on family, women and children's issues and has advocated a law requiring women to get their husband's permission in order to have an abortion, lashed out at the West.
"I am sure that in contemporary Europe it would not be possible to hold a forum like this," Mizulina told the audience after reading a welcome note from State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin.
"Even if they are held there, they are not hosted at the Kremlin, like in Russia, but somewhere on the outskirts," she said.