Anti-Gay Violence in Moscow

I haven’t had time to write anything about OMON’s and ultranationalists’ bipartite attack on Moscow’s gay pride parade on May 27. Moscow Mayor Iurii Luzhkov banned the parade, a decision that was upheld by a Moscow district court on May 26. Luzhkov’s justification, like many politicians throughout the world, was an appeal to democracy as a mean to discriminate: the “majority” doesn’t support such parades. Here is what he said in an interview on Russkoe radio: “If any one has any deviations from normal principles in organizing one’s sexual life, those deviations should not be exhibited for all to see and those who may turn out unsteady should not be invited to do so. …. I thank the citizens of Moscow as 99.9% of them in recent days also believe it is unacceptable to hold such parades.”

However, the parade, which activists organized to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality, went on anyway. Marchers around Red Square were met by anti-gay protesters numbering about 200-300 people and comprised of Russian Orthodox worshipers and nationalist youth. According to eyewitnesses many in the crowd chanted “down with the pederasts” and “death to sodomites.” Religious leaders in Russia have made homosexuality an issue to rally their flock. According to a RFE/RL article, The Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow called homosexuality a “glorification of sin”, the chief rabbi, Berel Lazar warned of “homosexual propaganda” and the head Muslim cleric, Talgat Tadzhuddin, called on worshipers to “bash” gay marchers. It is nice to see three of the world’s largest religions are able to unite around something. Not to mention their condemnations coming in congruence with violent ultranationalist youths. It didn’t take much for violence to erupt with this mix of “tolerance” present. A Human Rights Watch briefing paper gave this account of events:

At 2:30 on May 27, in heavy rain, the first cluster of participants—including festival leaders Nikolai Alexeyev and Nikolai Baev, Eduard Murzin (a member of the regional Duma of Bashkortostan in central Russia and a supporter of LGBT rights), and several other Russians, along with Merlin Holland and the British activist Peter Tatchell, all holding flowers—approached the gate to the tomb in Alexander Gardens. They were met by a crowd of 200-300 protesters—including both younger and older Orthodox and nationalist counter-protestors, and contingents of elderly women carrying crosses and icons. Police made no attempt to intervene until the two groups met.

Alexeyev told Human Rights Watch:

“I saw a huge group of people gathered there, shouting “death to sodomites,” “out of Russia,” “we will not allow you to put things here, our grandfathers died fighting against people like you.” I said, “My grandfather died fighting against your kind.” I said to myself, I will not stop—I will go on. But the gate was closed. Then the police suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They began pushing all of us back from the gate. Then someone, several officers, seized me from behind and started to shove me from the square and through the crowd. They pushed me very violently through the square and put me in the [police] bus.”

While Alexeyev was detained, Holland was kicked by the protesters, and others were punched. Many protesters threw rocks, bottles, and eggs.

The few lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender participants and their supporters withdrew from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in confusion. The anti-gay demonstrators moved back to the northern end of nearby Manezh Square, beside the gardens. From there, however, some of the men from the anti-gay protest kept charging back in groups toward the tomb, pelting bystanders with bottles and eggs. Regular police and riot police, or OMON (Otriad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniy), countered, driving the anti-gay protesters across the broad boulevard, Mokhovaia Street, to its intersection with Tverskaia Street. From there, the violent anti-gay demonstrators began throwing flares at the police. Police responded by arresting between 25-50 of them, lining them against a wall, and then hauling them aggressively to police buses parked nearby.

However, the vast majority of the anti-gay demonstrators who had been engaged in violence remained at large. They continued to throw eggs and stones at passers-by whom they suspected of being gay or supporters of the cancelled parade. With little or no interference from police, they moved in groups up Tverskaya Street toward City Hall, the site of the second part of the planned activities.

When the LGBT activists and their supporters arrived at the City Hall, they were greeted by another crowd of anti-gay protesters. Standing on top of the steps of the Iurii Dolgurukii statute, located across the street from City Hall, Liberal Democratic Party member and Duma representative Nikolai Kurianovich spoke to the crowd. According to the HRW report, “He warned that Russia would become like “putrid America and dying Europe” if it permitted the “gay mafia” to triumph, and led the crowd in chanting “Gays and lesbians to Kolyma”—the Stalin-era prison camp.”

The violence then continued with OMON arresting gay activists and anti-gay protesters and small roaming bands of skinheads harassing and beating suspected gays as the crowd dispersed. Russia has since received international condemnation for its ambivalence to the homophobic attacks and well as outcry from gay groups from around the world.

The events in Moscow are hardly anything particular to Russia but part of a global trend against homosexuals. Russia belongs to a list of states that include the United States, Iran, Kazakhstan, Eastern Europe etc, etc in anti-gay violence, policies and law. There is no irony in the fact that at a time when there is violence in Moscow and suspicion of an anti-gay campaign in Iran, that President Bush is urging the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the United States. Yes, freedom is indeed on the march.

Those who want consistent coverage of gay politics on a global perspective, I highly recommend Doug Ireland’s blog, Direland.