Last night, the online platforms of several media channels in Bulgaria were hacked and, instead of broadcasting their own content, they ended up showing an LGBTQ+ caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The caricature appeared on the streams of media outlets Nova TV, the Bulgarian National Television (BNT), Bloomberg, and Bulgaria On Air. While some of them decided to stop the option of online streaming, others, like Bloomberg and Bulgaria On Air, continued to simply broadcast the meme.
The image portrays Russian President Vladimir Putin with heavy makeup on and the rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBTQ+ movement, as the background with the words “Make Love, Not War”. The meme is best known by the name “Gay Clown Putin” and it was first created in 2013 in response to the President’s homophobic policies such as the “anti-gay propaganda” law.
— L. P. (@llychezar) March 6, 2022
According to Amnesty International, the distribution of the image was banned in Russia in 2016 because, as the Russian justice put it, it represented “an alleged non-traditional sexual orientation of the President of the Russian Federation”. The Justice Ministry in Moscow then proceeded to include the image in a registry of “extremist materials”. The punishment for whoever distributed or even just retweeted or shared the meme was 15 days in prison and an up to 3000 rubles fine.
Freedom of expression in Russia is, to put it mildly, not among the most upheld rights as has been confirmed by the recent law punishing “fake news” which was signed into law by President Putin on March 4. The legislation was allegedly put in place to prevent the spreading of false information about the “military operation” in Ukraine.
Essentially, media outlets referring to the current war as an “invasion” could be punished under this law. Many are scared that such legislation will be used to completely suppress independent journalism and that freedom of the press in Russia is now severely compromised.
The hack in Bulgaria with the LGBTQ+ Putin meme is clearly an act of protest against the Russian invasion in Ukraine, as it is signified by the addition of the words “Make Love, Not War”, which were not present in the original version of the meme.
The LGBTQ+ community has been very vocal about the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, particularly due to the concerns raised over the safety of queer people amid Russia’s aggression. The Ukrainian Trans community is facing particularly tough challenges due to their inability to leave the country because their official documents do not align with their gender.
If you wish to support the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine, donate money to the OutRight Fund.
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