Peter Tatchell's final
report from Moscow
Russian gays have won an important
moral and political victory. Yuri Luzhkov said a gay pride parade would
never happen while he was Mayor of Moscow. But Moscow Pride did happen, on
27 May, despite the Mayor’s ban, police arrests, and violence from
neo-fascists, right-wing nationalists and Orthodox Christian
The vicious homophobic abuse and
violence I witnessed on the streets of the Russian capital last Saturday
shows why Moscow Pride is necessary.
The Mayor’s ban on Moscow Pride
contradicts Russia’s obligations under the European Convention on Human
Rights. It comes just a week after Russia assumed the Presidency of the
Council of Europe, the human rights watchdog that guarantees freedom of
expression and assembly. Is Russia fit to hold the Presidency, or even be a
member of the Council of Europe, if it wantonly violates fundamental
freedoms, like the right to peaceful protest? President Putin’s silence is
Moscow Pride has been a milestone
in Russian lesbian and gay history. A handful of courageous gay Russians
defied the authoritarian regime of Mayor Luzhkov. By insisting on the right
to protest, they were defending more than gay rights. They were defending
the democratic freedoms of all Russians, gay and straight.
Some gay people say Moscow Pride
has stirred up trouble and provoked a backlash. But 20 years of quiet
lobbying has achieved very little for Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender community. The holding of Moscow Pride has been a catalyst for
cultural change; generating more media coverage and debate about gay issues
than the whole of the last decade combined. In terms of its impact on most
ordinary Russians, it has been hugely successful in raising awareness,
dispelling ignorance, challenging prejudice and promoting understanding and
acceptance of lesbian and gay people.
Mayor Luzhkov’s overt and
unapologetic homophobia has given a tacit green light to the homo hatred of
the political and religious far right. The bigoted atmosphere he helped
create fuelled the homophobic violence on the streets of Moscow last
On Russian Radio, on May 26,
Luzhkov sought to justify his ban on Moscow Pride, citing moral objections:
“I believe that such a parade is inadmissible in our country above all for
moral considerations. People should not make public their deviations.”
He told an interviewer that gay
pride parades are “absolutely unacceptable for Moscow, for Russia….As long
as I am mayor, we will not permit these parades to be conducted.”
The Mayor went to extraordinary
lengths to suppress the gay pride parade. To prevent it from taking place,
he mobilised a quarter of the central Moscow police - over 1,000 officers.
Nevertheless, small groups of
lesbian and gay Russians — and their international friends and supporters —
did parade, as planned, in Manezhnaya Square by the Kremlin, on Moscow’s
main shopping thoroughfare, Tverskaya Street, and at the Yuri Dolgoruky
monument opposite the Mayor’s office, City Hall.
Moscow Pride was due to start by
the Kremlin Wall in Alexander Gardens on the edge of Manezhnaya Square, at
the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates Russians who died in the
war against Nazi fascism from 1941-45. The Moscow Pride organisers wanted to
lay flowers to highlight their opposition to the revival of fascism in
Russia, including the violent homophobia of neo-Nazis and right-wing
When we arrived, the square was
ringed by police and militia, and dotted with nearly 300 homophobic
counter-protesters, including neo-fascist thugs, extreme nationalists and
Russian Orthodox fanatics waving religious icons.
I was with the Moscow Pride
coordinator, Nikolai Alekseev, and a few of his colleagues. We crossed the
square to the Tomb. Each of us was carrying a bunch of flowers. Much to our
surprise, the way was barred by locked gates. Apparently, the Moscow
authorities thought it would be an insult to Russia’s war dead to allow gays
to lay flowers. So they closed the gates to the Tomb.
As we approached the locked gates,
a dozen of us were set upon by 100 anti-gay protesters. 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
Nationalists outside the Kremlin were allowed by police to demonstrate
outside the Kremlin. Gays were not.
(photo UK Gay News)
A phalanx of police and militia
eventually broke up the melee; arresting Nikolai Alekseev. He was taken to a
nearby police van. 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. At least two people were physically attacked by the
About 20 of us re-assembled on the
edge of Manezhnaya Square and attempted to follow the planned Moscow Pride
route up Tverskaya Street to the Yuri Dolgoruky monument.
Some gay marchers did get through.
We did not. Our path was blocked by groups of neo-fascists and
ultra-nationalists; screaming homophobic threats and hurling smoke bombs and
tear gas canisters.
We made a hasty retreat and left
Manezhnaya Square via a different exit.
Meanwhile, some of the right-wing
thugs, many of them masked, stormed up Tverskaya Street looking for gay and
lesbian people to attack; lashing out indiscriminately at shoppers,
including non-white passers-by. None of the assailants were detained by the
Our group made its way through the
backstreets to the Yuri Dolgoruky monument on Tverskaya Street, opposite
City Hall, to join the picket against the Mayor's ban on Moscow Pride.
At the monument there were another
20 gay pride marchers. They had been attacked earlier by neo-fascists
chanting ‘Gays and lesbians to Kolmya’, a reference to the gruesome gulag
camp where dissidents were incarcerated and abused during the Soviet area.
The German gay Green MP, Volker
Beck, was one of those who was bloodied, having been hit in the eye and on
the nose. He was arrested but his attacker was not.
■ German Green MP Volker Beck:
was attacked. It was a stone and a fist. It shows we’re
not safe in this country. The security forces did not protect us but
instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any
(photo courtesy GROZA - Green
Alternative - Moscow)
When the veteran Russian lesbian
activist, Yevgenia Debryanskaya, tried to speak from the steps of the
monument she was snatched by the police and bundled into a van.
By the time we arrived, helmeted
OMON riot police, with flak jackets and heavy truncheons, had pushed the
neo-Nazis and nationalist extremists away from the monument and back into
■ The OMON riot police (founded for the
Moscow Olympics in the Soviet era) outside
(photo UK Gay News)
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
Fortunately, we were strung out in
ones and twos — and they didn't seem to recognise us. 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. Eventually, we found refuge at the nearby Bar Gogol.
■ Tatchell and other activists from
Russia, France, Latvia and Estonia find a friendly welcome in Bar Gogol,
100 meters from Moscow City Hall
(photo UK Gay News)
Nikolai Alekseev and others who
were arrested have to attend court to determine their fine. They will appeal
the ban on Moscow Pride and their arrest, all the way to the European Court
of Human Rights.