This past Friday, while Russia’s extravagantly produced Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was broadcast worldwide, four activists in St. Petersburg were arrested and taken in to custody, as was their banner, which read, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement.” That same evening while ballet dancers draped in glow in the dark costumes danced to Tchaikovsky in Sochi’s Olympic Stadium, ten more protestors in Moscow were arrested in Red Square for singing the national anthem and unfurling rainbow flags. The activists may well be charged with a low-level administrative offense (protesting without a permit,) but their late-night stand was clearly meant as a challenge to the country’s notorious new ban on “gay propaganda.”

For an authoritarian state, a law that is rarely, or only very selectively enforced, yet gives agents of the state broad leeway to police their citizens, and leads to wide-ranging changes in public and private behavior, is the best kind of law there is. Since it’s passage last June, only half a dozen people have actually been charged or tried for violating the vaguely worded ban—and perhaps that’s the point.

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