Features » November 30, 2007
Dark Side of Russias Rainbow (cont’d)
How many more people participated in the march this year than the first year?
The first year, there were about 50 people on our side. This year, there were about 150 people who were taking part on the streets. But the event was banned, and the people who went out on the street were risking quite a lot–not only by being attacked, but also by being seen on TV.
Can you describe what it was like being on the ground during this year’s march?
It was a very tense and very aggressive atmosphere. The first year it was scarier because there were crowds of protesters, maybe 600 or 700 people who went on the streets just to protest gays, and 50 representatives of the LGBT community. There were crowds of policemen who were trying to avoid clashes and to arrest people from both sides.
This year, there were fewer protesters, but at the same time, several people were seriously attacked.
You’ve talked about some of the advances that have been made in raising the profile of gay rights. But how about the day-to-day life for a gay person in Moscow and in other parts of Russia?
It’s very different if we compare, for example, Moscow and St. Petersburg with all the rest of the country. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is the infrastructure for gay entertainment. People have some places to go, like gay bars and clubs and other places where people can meet. The level of tolerance in the major cities is much higher than in the smaller cities or villages. They have problems with work and it’s much more difficult to live there.
But in Moscow there are problems, too, because there is a concentration of political powers and these nationalist groups that are fighting against gays. And there were lots of cases of gays being beaten up when they left the gay clubs. There were cases of people being fired from work.
In the majority of cases, people do not go to the police because they’re scared that their homosexuality will be known to their friends and family members and at work. Or because they think the police will not investigate it or that they will just say that it’s their own fault that something had happened to them.
Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about the situation in Russia?
I would like to stress that the fight for LGBT rights in Russia is the frontline of the fight for all human rights. What we see now in Russia is a diminishing of human dignity and human rights. It’s not only for gay people, but people in general.
There is no free press now. There are no free elections. Journalists are being attacked and even killed sometimes. We witnessed the building up of an authoritarian regime. All the activities that we do in the future will be helpful not only for gays but for other social groups.
For example, the case that we have in the European Court on the freedom of expression for gay people will have a big impact on public events and on the freedom of expression of all the other social groups because it will concern the freedom of assembly. That’s the most important thing to underline: We’re not only fighting for our own rights, but for human rights.
Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show “Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.