Across Europe, criticism from both left and right toward brutal anti-gay response
A courageous attempt by Moscow gays to hold a Gay Pride demonstration despite its ban by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was broken up on Saturday, May 27 by police as well as by violent attacks from extreme-right religious and fascist thugs.
The lead organizer of Moscow Pride was arrested along with dozens of gays and lesbians. The 80-odd gay demonstrators were vastly outnumbered both by 1,000 police assigned to break up the Pride observances, and by roving gangs of anti-gay goons, who totaled at least 300. Many gay demonstrators were injured by the violent counter-protests—among them a number of foreign delegates, including an openly gay member of Germany’s Parliament.
Also among those injured by the thugs was Oscar Wilde’s heterosexual grandson, Merlin Holland, who was repeatedly kicked. Last Thursday, as Holland was giving the opening address at an international conference co-organized by Moscow Pride and the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), his speech was disrupted when a gang of some two dozen fascist skinheads invaded the meeting room at the Moscow Swissotel, where the conference was being held, throwing eggs and spraying tear gas.
The Russians at that conference voted to proceed with a public demonstration despite the mayor’s ban on all Pride activities. On Saturday, Nicolas Alexeyev, the 28-year-old principal organizer of Moscow Pride, led the gay demonstrators in laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the monument to the World War II Russian dead in the war against Nazi fascism, which is located in the large Alexander Garden, a park that runs along the entire west wall of the Kremlin. The Tomb was chosen for the gay demonstration, Alexeyev said, to underscore the struggle against rising homophobic fascism in Russia today.
As the flower-bearing gay demonstrators approached the Tomb in small groups, “A dozen of us were set upon by 100 anti-gay protesters,” said Peter Tatchell, the head of the militant British gay rights group OutRage. “They began shoving, punching, kicking, and pelting us with eggs. Our flowers and rainbow flags were snatched from our hands. They abused us with chants of ‘No sodomy in Moscow,’ ‘Death to fags,’ ‘Russia is not Sodom,’ and ‘Put the pederasts on the iron’ [a reference to an ancient Russian method of executing gay men by forcing an iron rod up their anus]. Initially, the police did nothing to protect us. We were pushed and carried like corks on a sea of fascist pushing and shoving.”
Alexeyev and 10 other gay demonstrators were immediately arrested. Reuters reported that Alexeyev was “dragged, bent almost double, away from the gates [of the Tomb] by two policemen.”
Then, Tatchell said, “The rest of us were forced further up Manezhnaya Square by advancing lines of militia and police. While the police were attempting to disperse us, we were repeatedly surrounded and abused by gangs of neo-Nazis and skinheads.”
Police and a phalanx of the dreaded OMON—Russia’s anti-riot police—then encircled both the gay demonstrators and the fascists attacking them. Scott Long, Human Rights Watch’s director of LGBT affairs, who was in the middle of the gay group, recounted that, “The police let the extremists in to beat and terrorize the lesbians and gays, then coursed in to drive the skinheads out. The skinheads kept tangling with the lesbians and gays as the cops compressed them. Then the cops released the pressure and they all broke loose, a melee surging from the [Alexander] Garden into Manezhnaya Square.”
Small groups of gay demonstrators then made their way up Tverskaya Street—a broad shopping thoroughfare—toward Manezhnaya Square in front of Moscow’s City Hall, where dozens of gays and lesbians gathered around a statue of Yuri Dolgoruky, a 12th-century Russian ruler. As Yevgenia Debryanskaya, one of the pioneer lesbian organizers in Russia, was speaking with journalists, she was seized by police and arrested, along with a dozen other Pride demonstrators, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
Meanwhile, Tatchell said, “some of the right-wing thugs, many of them masked, stormed up Tverskaya Street looking for gay and lesbian people to attack, and lashing out indiscriminately at shoppers, especially non-white passers-by. None of the assailants were detained by the police.”
Not far from City Hall, Volker Beck, an openly gay member of the German Bundestag, or Parliament, and the father of Germany’s domestic partnership law, was speaking to journalists and TV news cameras. He was viciously assaulted by fascist thugs, who beat him and hit him with a brick, breaking his nose and leaving his face streaming blood. The Associated Press reported that “as Beck was giving an interview before TV cameras, about 20 nationalist youths surrounded him and pummeled him Volker Eichler, a gay activist from Berlin who witnessed the beating, said police did not intervene.”
But police did arrest both Beck and his partner. Beck was released several hours later, only after police recognized his German parliamentary credentials. After his release, Beck said that the anti-gay attacks and arrests “show we are not safe in this country. The security forces did not protect us but instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any protection.”
One of the three representatives of openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe at the Moscow Pride events was also badly beaten. Pierre Serne, an openly gay elected city councilman from the Paris suburb of Vincennes and Delanoe’s staff LGBT liaison, was set upon and beaten black and blue all over, suffering broken teeth, he recounted in an e-mail. The French daily Le Monde added that another member of Delanoe’s personal staff, Philippe Lasnier, was briefly arrested by police. The French daily quoted a Paris deputy mayor also representing Delanoe in Moscow, Clémentine Autain, as saying she was shocked at how little the Moscow police did to protect the gay demonstrators from physical attacks by the hundreds of counter-protesters.
Le Monde described the right-wing attackers as “ranging from groups of skinheads and Cossacks, to Russian Orthodox extremist priests and old ladies who threw eggs at the gay demonstrators.” The newspaper quoted Jean-Luc Romero—an openly gay elected member of the Regional Council in the Ile-de-France region (which includes Paris), who is from President Jacques Chirac’s conservative UMP Party and witnessed the beatings—as saying, “The situation of the homosexuals in Russia is even worse than I imagined.”
Tatchell said that, after these attacks and arrests, “Having contained the right-wing bullies, the riot police turned on the gay pride marchers, driving us away from the monument, straight into an oncoming posse of about 20 fascists and skinheads. We managed to escape down a side street, only narrowly avoiding another of the many gangs of homophobic thugs who seemed to be marauding around the city all afternoon with apparent impunity.”
Prominent Swedish gay activist Bill Schiller, a journalist for Swedish public radio, offered Gay City News another take on the events in an e-mail: “While most policemen stood by while neo-Nazis and religious fanatics kicked and punched gay demonstrators, a few individual police did in fact intervene. One policeman came to our aid when homophobes started jostling and shoving—and one man just about to lift his whip to lash a foreign gay was dragged away. This policeman actually came back to us to apologize for the behavior of the homophobes!”
The number of those arrested, both gays and their attackers, was reported by several news agencies to be more than 100. Their penalties will not be known until they appear in court later this week. Coverage of the day’s events on Russian TV—which is under rigorous state control—was sneering and full of ridicule for the gay demonstrators, said a report from the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
The attacks on Moscow Pride have generated strong critical reaction in Europe. In Paris, Mayor Delanoe condemned “in the strongest terms the unacceptable incidents which disturbed the Gay Pride March in Moscow.” Delanoe called them “grave attacks on respect for human rights and for individual identity, contrary to the basic principles of a democratic nation.”
In London, Mayor Ken Livingstone said, “The Russian people suffered greater casualties than any other country from Nazism—whose targets were not only Jews and Soviet citizens but also homosexuals. To see open fascists and Nazis parading in Moscow, and assaulting gay and lesbian people is to trample on the memory of all those who fought against Nazism and particularly the 27 million Soviet citizens who died in the fight against fascism.”
In Germany—where the photos of German Green Party leader Beck’s bloody face and TV coverage of the attack on him were widely carried—Deutsche Welle, the public TV-radio network, reported on Tuesday that the violent breaking up of Moscow Pride “has sparked debate in Germany about how to deal with Russia.” When Andreas Schockenhoff, a Russia expert in the ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said that Beck, by taking part in a banned demonstration, had “irresponsibly and willingly put himself in danger,” the comment “sparked anger among Germany’s Greens as well as members of the CDU,” colleagues of Schockenhoff, the German network reported.
The network quoted Jürgen Rüttgers, the conservative premier of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, saying, “What happened in Moscow isn’t worthy of a democracy.” Defending Beck, Ruttgers added, “If one is attacked by another person, then he’s not to blame.”
“It can’t be that a state assumes that such matters are decided by the rule of force,” Arnold Vaatz, another CDU Bundestag member, said, adding that the German government “must lodge a strongly-worded protest in Moscow.”
After his release from overnight police custody, Moscow Pride leader Alexeyev pledged that Russian gays will hold another public demonstration next year on the same day.
“The 27th of May has been for us up until now the anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993 in Russia,” he told Interfax. “But the gay parade in 2006 in Moscow and the situation in which it was held have given much more weight to this date.”
Alexeyev added that gays plan “to raise rainbow flags over Moscow again on May 27, 2007, as symbols of gay community,” as he pledged that the coming year will be used to take an appeal against Moscow Mayor Luzhkov’s ban—which Luzhkov has said “will continue as long as I am mayor”—all the way to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. International human rights lawyers have already been enlisted to do so, he said.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.