Queerfest of Russia: A Battleground

The Russian LGBT festival QueerFest, traditionally a space for celebration, this year resembles a battleground, with each day a fight for survival. 

September 18, the QueerFest opening ceremony. Two hours before the event, the main venue calls to cancel. The reason: “compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance, which may result in its collapse.” At the same time, all other events continue.

The new venue is attacked by 20 “[Russian O]rthodox activists” accompanied by [Petersburg legislative assembly] Vitaly Milonov, who insult guests and spray them with a green liquid and an unknown gaseous substance. (video)

24 complaints were filed with the police, including one from a St. Petersburg human rights ombudsman’s office staff member.

September 19. The venue Etagi, well known for its social projects in St. Petersburg, cancels QueerFest’s events, including an event by the Manifesta 10 biennale, which is taking place in St. Petersburg this year. Organizers learn that Etagi received a phone call from the police. Another venue, planned for the next day’s event, cancels the same evening.

September 20. The planned “Night of Independent Music,” already having moved to a different venue, starts as planned, but midway through receives a fake bomb threat.

September 24. The police attempt to shut down a press conference entitled “Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?” There is now concrete proof that it is not the extremists that are scaring the venues but the police. The Regional Press Institute, which is hosting the press conference, is pressured by a police lieutenant colonel and a major to cancel the event under the pretext that “violations of public order may ensue.” RPI becomes the first and only venue that stands up to the pressure, exposing it to the media and the public.

At this point, the organizers no longer openly publish festival venues, instead inviting the wider public to view the event through the online feed. Hundreds of people view the events each day.

In the six years of organizing the festival, there has never been such a consistent and organized attack on our freedom of assembly and expression. Instead of ensuring public order by providing protections, the police use it as a pretext to shut down events. Instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice, the authorities look the other way,” says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers. “Every means is used to push us into the ‘ghetto.’ Yet, the festival is about dialogue and being open in society, and our best defense right now is to stay visible.”

QueerFest’s organizers ask partners to publicize what is happening and take a firm stand against the unlawful actions used to foil the festival with the acquiescence of the authorities.

QueerFest’s organizers urge the St. Petersburg authorities to:

1. Ensure that the attacks at the festival’s opening are properly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice;
2. Ensure that the festival’s events can proceed with sufficient police protection.

The festival’s program can be found here. Follow the festival’s events online, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Editor’s Note. The above press release was slightly edited for republication on this blog.

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Queerfest Opening Quashed by Attackers
Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
September 24, 2014

Queerfest — an annual LGBT rights socio-cultural festival that opened in St. Petersburg on Sept. 18 — was forced to cancel most of its events following attacks, pressure from authorities, bomb threats and last-minute cancellations. A group led by anti-gay lawmaker Vitaly Milonov tried to get into the venue where the invitation-only opening event was held. After not being let in, the anti-gay protesters blocked the entrances and attacked the audience with an unknown gas and green dye, with the police not immediately intervening.

The festival’s opening event was moved to Ziferburg cafe on Nevsky Prospekt after the Kazanskaya 7 business center — where Queerfest’s scheduled main venue, the art space Freedom, is located — canceled the opening 90 minutes before its announced time. A representative of the owner annulled the rent agreement due to a “suspicion of damage to the integrity of the arch above the main staircase of the building,” which did not prevent other events from being held in there, Queerfest organizers said in a statement on Sept. 19.

The event started with a nearly one-hour delay at Ziferburg cafe after the Queerfest exhibition of photographs was hastily moved and assembled there. About 200 people, including foreign diplomats, were gathered when Milonov and between 15 to 20 anti-gay attackers tried to stop the opening.

Milonov, a United Russia deputy in the city’s Legislative Assembly and chairman of the committee on legislation responsible for the city’s 2012 law forbidding the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bi-sexuality and transgenderness amongst minors,” led an anti-gay group to the cafe, located on the third floor of the Passage shopping center.

Showing his deputy identification, Milonov tried to get in but was stopped by security guards. He ended up instead standing near the door, swearing and throwing insults while telling the guards that ethnic Russians should not protect LGBT people. He described the audience as “pedophiles who rape children,” among other things. Attacks started minutes after Milonov left the building.

Having thrown vials containing unknown gas that smelled of rotting fish under the door, anti-gay attackers prevented visitors from entering and leaving, spraying green dye from syringes on them. At one point, both entrances to the cafe were blocked. One was locked from outside by attackers and the other was held by security and volunteers to prevent them from entering and attacking people inside.

“Milonov left just a couple of minutes ahead of the attacks,” organizer Anna Anisimova told The St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 21. “They met in the stairwell, or he passed the baton to them, but I can’t say for sure because the fact was that thugs came just after Milonov had left. They were not together at one time.”

A number of people felt sick because of the gas and one or two were eventually taken away by ambulance. According Anisimova, some 20 to 30 members of the public had their clothes spoiled by green dye, including two representatives of the St. Petersburg ombudsman Alexander Shishlov. She said that foreign diplomats did not suffer. About 20 formal complaints regarding criminal assaults were filed with the police.

The police that were stationed in large numbers outside the building did not intervene until Shishlov arrived and urged the officers to protect the festival’s audience, while Alexei Smyatsky, the chief of the city’s public safety police, was seen speaking with Milonov in front of the building at the time when the attacks apparently began.

As attacks went on outside the café, the opening event was briefly held with foreign diplomats expressing their support for the festival and the LGBT community in St. Petersburg.

Attendees included Norway’s Consul General Heidi Olufsen, Sweden’s Deputy Consul General Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson, the Netherlands’ Deputy Consul General Hugo Brouwer, Acting U.S. Consul General Courtney Nemroff and U.K. Deputy Consul General Robert Kempsell.

On Sept. 19, Ombudsman Shishlov appealed to city council chairman Vyacheslav Makarov asking him to take measures against Milonov, Zaks.ru reported. “The human rights of citizens were severely violated as the result of violent actions,” Shishlov wrote.

“I suppose that the active participation of a Legislative Assembly deputy in such actions discredits the city council and harms the reputation of St Petersburg. I request that you assess the actions of the deputy related to human rights abuses, as well as take measures for the code of ethics to be observed by Legislative Assembly deputies.”

Shishlov also urged St. Petersburg police chief Sergei Umnov to personally supervise the investigation into people’s complaints and take legal action against the offenders. He also asked Umnov to prevent possible attacks against the festival’s future events.

Despite Shishlov’s appeals, the pressure on Queerfest continued. An art workshop organized in cooperation with the Manifesta biennale and the conference “Queer or What Is the Art of Being Yourself,” Queerfest’s first public events scheduled for Sept. 19, were both canceled after the art space Loft Project Etagi refused to host the events one hour before the scheduled start.

On Sept. 20, the underground music club Zoccolo 2.0 canceled Queerfest’s Independent Music Night event, which was moved — in a shortened version — to the LGBT club 3L. At about 1 a.m. the police evacuated the venue due to a bomb threat. The LGBT club Malevich, located opposite 3L on Zastavskaya Ulitsa, was also evacuated.

“As far as we know, the police, among others, contact the owners of the venues and warn them about riots and put pressure on them, so that owners pressure the venues that rent their rooms from them,” Anisimova said.

“Zona Deistviya [a co-working space at Loft Project Etagi] was shut down altogether, so they create such conditions that nobody should work with us at all. On Sept. 20 we held a closed, peaceful musical event without any advertising at 3L and it still received a bomb threat, so even LGBT clubs fear working with us under the circumstances.”

Parents’ Day, a meeting with parents of LGBT people scheduled to be held on Monday, was also canceled “due to the inability to ensure the safety of participants. We fear for our parents; if we can cope with the situation, they don’t have such strong nerves,” Anisimova said.

Although Loft Project Etagi admitted reacting to a warning from the police, in most cases it was difficult to find out from whom exactly the pressure came, because the owners of the premises did not speak to the organizers directly but instructed the management of the venues.

Anisimova said that the festival would hold some lectures and a conference for a small number of people at places undisclosed for safety reasons, broadcasting them on the Internet. The events on Friday and Saturday will be public with announcements made on the festival’s website, assuming the situation does not deteriorate further, she said.

The festival’s closing event, a concert called Stop Homophobia in St. Petersburg featuring Swedish rock singer Jenny Wilson on Saturday, will be held but the organizers may move it into another venue that is less likely to be pressured by authorities and anti-gay activists — and would work on safety measures with security and in cooperation with ombudsman Shishlov.

According to Anisimova, attacks and pressure on the venues came as a surprise both to the organizers and the LGBT community.

“It was unexpected for me,” Anisimova said. “After the May 17 [the International Day Against Homophobia] rally and some other events went peacefully, it appeared that negative attention and homophobic aggression toward us had subsided. Turns out it hasn’t.”

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Victoria Lomasko: A Village School in Russia

A Village School
Victoria Lomasko
May 19, 2013
soglyadatay.livejournal.com

school-1
This is the school in the tiny village of Nikolskoye. You can get to the village by bus from Tula: the trip takes an hour and a half. There is no public transportation between Nikolskoye and the nearest large village, Krapivna, and the district center of Shchyokino. The locals rarely leave the village.

school-2 Zoya Nikolayevna: “In four years, we’ve turned it into a normal school.” Sergei Alexandrovich: “The parents now see their children as human beings.”

This is the school’s director Zoya Nikolayevna and her husband Sergei Alexandrovich, a teacher and the school caretaker. They live in Krapivna, and until 2008 they worked at the Krapivna boarding school for orphans and sick children. When the boarding school closed, Zoya Nikolayevna, Sergei Alexandrovich, and a team of Krapivna teachers transferred to the Nikolskoye School.

Around eight in the morning, the couple leaves for work by car. The trip takes them through hills, a forest, and fields.

school-3 “It’s been flooded for a month.”

The road from Krapivna to Nikolskoye crosses the river Upa. In the spring, the Upa floods, completely covering the bridge. During the floods, the Emergency Situations Ministry organizes passage across the river. Previously people were ferried on a military amphibious vehicle, which resembles a tank without a gun. Now they are ferried in a small motorboat. The motor constantly stalls, and an ESM guy has to row all day from shore to shore, battling the strong current.

“There is no spare motor, mooring or field kitchen,” the ESM guy complained as he plied the oars, “but the brass flies in an expensive helicopter and shoots everything on an expensive screen.”

 The teachers from Krapivna make the crossing twice a day.

 school-4

Teacher: “Children calculate on their telephones. They have no use for mathematics.”

There are twenty-three pupils and ten teachers at the Nikolskoye School. There are four pupils in the biggest class, and one in the smallest.

Several pupils commute from the neighboring villages, where there are no schools. In summer, they come on bicycles; in winter, they go on foot. When the roads are drifted over with snow, and the local authorities have not had time to clear them, they stay at home.

The school in the neighboring village of Kuzmino remained open for a long time with five pupils. There were more teachers than pupils.

If there is no school, a village is doomed, the teachers say.

school-5

By comparison, there are no fewer than twenty pupils in each grade at the Krapivna village school, and a total of 226 pupils in all.

There are classes in which half the pupils are children of migrants. Families from Dagestan are moving to Krapivna in large numbers and buying homes. Migrants from Central Asia settle in hostels on the outskirts of Krapivna. They work in gardens and storage facilities.

In the class depicted in the drawing, above, there were two pupils who were Uzbeks, a Tajik, a Lezghin, and an Azerbaijani.

school-6

The children get along with each other.

“They’re all local kids to me. We have a friendship of peoples here,” said the teacher smiling.

But there are problems, too. Not all the children of migrants speak Russian passably. Not all the children are sent to school on time. For example, the Tajik boy was three heads taller than the other pupils. It turned out he had been enrolled in the first grade at the age of ten.

school-7

Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”

For now, there are only ethnic Russian children at the Nikolskoye School—no migrants.

The village has a single employer, Nikolai Kurkov, former chairman of the Lenin Komsomol State Farm and now the owner of two farms, a grove, and a dairy.

The parents of the pupils at the Nikolskoye School either work for Kurkov or have moved to Shchyokino or Tula, leaving their kids with their grandmothers.

The kindergarten closed back in the 1990s and, unless their grandmothers raise them, the children turn into rural Mowglis.

There are two pupils in the first grade, but the teacher has a hard time coping with them.

“At the beginning of the school year, they ran around the classroom during lessons and screamed,” she recounts.

It would be unprofitable to open a private kindergarten in the village: Nikolskoye residents would not be able to pay more than a thousand rubles a month (approx. twenty euros) per head to send their kids there.

school-8

The village school lacks a gym and a cafeteria. A kitchen has been set up behind the bookshelf in the most spacious classroom. The tables there are laid when the children have lunch.

They are fed buckwheat kasha, macaroni, and rice with gravy, sausages or hamburger patties, and a delicious compote. The grandmother of one of the students, a former employee of Kurkov’s dairy, works as the cook.

A chauffeur drives the village’s “gilded youth,” Kurkov’s numerous grandchildren, to a more comfortable school in the district center.

 school-9

Chorus on stage: “These are the victims who have come to life from the ashes and risen once again, and risen once again!”

On May 9 (Victory Day), the pupils at the Nikolskoye School put on a holiday concert under the direction of the music and physical education teacher. Guests arrived: two war veterans, who had got tipsy for the occasion; two female graduates of the school; three old women; and an elderly former teacher who cried throughout the concert.

The upperclassmen have been touched by the events of the Great Patriotic War (World War Two). Many of their grandparents had told them how the fascists marched through Nikolskoye when they were children. But other events of Russian history are dry, boring texts in textbooks to the kids.

The first-graders do not know the name of our country’s capital.

“Well, and what of it?” winces their teacher, who believes Moscow is a big dump.

Indeed, what of it? Moscow residents are also uninterested in the life and death of lost villages like Nikolskoye.

school-10

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Recent publications in English by and about Victoria Lomasko:

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Victoria Lomasko (right) teaching an art workshop at the girl’s juvenile correctional facility in Novooskolskaya, September 2014

Tom of Finlandization

An anonymous reader’s comment in the September 24, 2014, edition of the Finnish daily newspaper Etelä-Saimaa:

Valtavat Tom of Finland-taulut pitkin itärajaa tyrehdyttävät Venäjän erikoisjoukkojen hyökkäyksen Suomeen.

(“Huge Tom of Finland signs along the eastern border will suppress an invasion of Finland by Russian special forces.”)

IMAG5144

Stamps designed as a tribute to homoerotic artist and gay icon Touko Laaksonen—also known as Tom of Finland—went on sale Monday [September 8, 2014]. According to the postal service company Posti, the risqué stamps are [Finland’s] biggest seller ever, with pre-orders made in 178 different countries. The stamps, which hold pride of place in the newly-opened postal museum in Tampere, attracted a long queue of individuals eagerly anticipating the first day issues.

Tom+of+Finland+postimerkki+postipaketti

From a September 12, 2014, article published on the Russian-language news site of Yle (“Yleisradio”), the Finnish public broadcaster:

In Russia, there is a law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality. Journalists from the regional branch of Yleisradio in Tampere decided to test how Russian postal workers would react to parcels and letters adorned with ambiguous stamps featuring Laaksonen’s work. On Tuesday, two parcels and two letters pasted with the homoerotic stamps were sent to Russia.

According to Finnish postal workers, on average letters take six to nine days to get to Russia, while parcels take a little longer, fourteen to thirty days. The parcels were delivered to the international postal terminal in Vantaa on Wednesday and from there sent to Russia. 

The journalists from Tampere are tracking the movement of the parcels in real time. Readers can find about the further adventures of the “double agents” on Twitter by using the hashtag #TomofRussia.

“To be honest, I hate Putin and I hate everything he does”

Slate‘s Joshua Keating has done a good job of reporting this past Sunday’s anti-war march in Moscow. This comment by one of the marchers he spoke with rings especially true on many levels:

Andrei Hartley, pushing an infant in a stroller along the march route, told me he believes the support for Putin may be “30 percent less” than has been reported because people are “afraid to answer the question.” But, he conceded, Putin “still has quite a lot of support because many Russians want to be brave and be proud of the Russian empire. To be honest, I hate Putin and I hate everything he does.”

Hartley, who works in food distribution, told me that “we’ve felt the effects of consumer behavior” as the state of the economy has worsened and sanctions have started to bite. Nonetheless, he feels there’s no hope of the government changing its actions until the “economy is two or three times worse than it is now; then the people will react. People live pretty well right now, so that’s why they’re not willing to go against Russian policy.”

putin plan 2008
“Putin’s plan is Russia’s victory.” Petrograd, 2008, Photograph by the Russian Reader

This Is Your Brain on Russia

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“I had always thought better of you.” Graffiti on Vasilyevsky Island, Petersburg, July 24, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

More people need to listen to Peter Pomerantsev:

The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action. Take Novorossiya, the name Vladimir Putin has given to the huge wedge of southeastern Ukraine he might, or might not, consider annexing. The term is plucked from tsarist history, when it represented a different geographical space. Nobody who lives in that part of the world today ever thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya and bearing allegiance to it—at least until several months ago. Now, Novorossiya is being imagined into being: Russian media are showing maps of its ‘geography,’ while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its ‘history’ into school textbooks. There’s a flag and even a news agency (in English and Russian). There are several Twitterfeeds. It’s like something out of a Borges story—except for the very real casualties of the war conducted in its name.

[…]

“If previous authoritarian regimes were three parts violence and one part propaganda,” argues Igor Yakovenko, a professor of journalism at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, “this one is virtually all propaganda and relatively little violence. Putin only needs to make a few arrests—and then amplify the message through his total control of television.”

[…]

Ultimately, many people in Russia and around the world understand that Russian political parties are hollow and Russian news outlets are churning out fantasies. But insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible. We are left with the sense that we don’t know what Putin will do next—that he’s unpredictable and thus dangerous. We’re rendered stunned, spun, and flummoxed by the Kremlin’s weaponization of absurdity and unreality.

Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014

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Here is a tiny illustration of how reality really is up for grabs in the Kremlin’s increasingly hot “cold civil war” against Russian society and, now, the rest of the world:

As I stand in the courtyard of a Moscow arts and craft center, a dark-haired, 20-something woman turns to me and asks: “Is this the venue for the ‘Is Vladimir Putin God?’ lecture?”

She smiles nervously, seemingly worried that I’ll think she’s crazy.

She’s not. The title of the lecture is actually “Will Putin Become God by Divine Grace?” but I decide not to correct her. Instead, I nod and show her the way to one of the oddest events in the Russian capital this year.

The lecture took place on Sunday and was first advertised by well-known radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Enteo on VK, the Russian version of Facebook. In the post, Enteo promised to reveal the answers to the following questions:

“Is it possible to bow down to Vladimir Putin as God on earth?

“Will Vladimir Putin’s will fuse with the will of God?”

“Will Vladimir Putin receive endless pleasure through the completeness of the knowledge gifted to him by God?”

Not surprisingly, the lecture stirred up controversy online, as some Internet users accused Enteo of blasphemy, while others suggested he’d lost his mind.

“Let’s get this straight, Dmitry,” one VK user wrote. “Do you believe Putin will sit at the right-hand side of God’s throne when he dies?”

“Possibly,” replied Enteo.

The lecture kicks off with a hip-hop track by an African rap duo now based in Russia. The title: “I Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin.” When the song ends, Enteo fiddles with his laptop until Putin’s face appears on the screen behind him.

The Orthodox activist then addresses the audience of roughly 80 or so Muscovites, an apparent mixture of curious hipsters and true believers. (There’s also a middle-aged man in a suit that a fellow journalist immediately suspects of being an agent of the FSB, Russia’s principal security agency.)

“I’ll keep it brief, in the style of the subject of today’s lecture,” Enteo says.

At times his voice is barely audible, but when he quotes Putin, he makes sure to speak louder.

The hipsters behind me erupt in ironic applause. Enteo presses a button on his laptop, and the photo of Putin is replaced by swirling psychedelic images and low-volume break-beats. He proceeds to read a poem by Vladislav Surkov, the mysterious Kremlin ideologue. The overall effect is an atmosphere reminiscent of a secret cult meeting held at a nightclub.

Enteo then takes us through the history of Putin’s apparent transformation from hard-nosed KGB officer to Orthodox Christian believer. “Putin realized that his goal in life was God, and the Almighty entered into the body of Vladimir Putin,” Enteo says. “Then Vladimir Putin began to do good deeds, like break up opposition meetings.”

At one point, the activist curiously declares: “We disappoint Vladimir Putin. While he tearfully prays for us at night, we smoke hashish.”

The lecture lasts about an hour, before Enteo builds on a final riff in which he determines that, yes, Putin will transform into a godlike being, and like all good Orthodox believers, eventually grow a beard.

After a brief Q&A, the crowd files out. “That was creepy,” says one attendee.

Others seem puzzled by the whole affair.

“It’s a response, in many ways an ironic one, to Putin’s de facto domination of everything from the economy to the media,” says Anna Arutunyan, author of The Putin Mystique, who attended the lecture.

“Most of it, of course, is just Enteo publicizing himself, but some of it is also taking what we see around us to its grotesque logical conclusion.”

Russians have a long history of venerating their leaders, from the reverence of the czars to the terrifying cult of personality that developed around Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. While Enteo didn’t directly say that Putin was God, he felt comfortable posing the question, which shows just how powerful the Russian president has become.

Not everyone, of course, sees the hand of God in Putin’s politics. In Ukraine, where a Kremlin-backed separatist movement is slowly tearing the ex-Soviet state apart, the country’s spiritual leader, Patriarch Filaret, recently suggested the Russian leader was possessed by the devil.

“Like Judas, Satan has entered into him,” Filaret declared, as he accused Putin of turning the two Slavic countries against each other. “Like the first brother-killer, Cain, he has fallen under a demonic influence.”

Regardless of which side you take in the “Putin: God or Satan?” debate, it’s a remarkable development in the life of this former, low-ranking KGB operative. From serving the officially atheist Soviet state in Cold War-era East Germany to being compared to God and the devil, it’s been a long, strange road for Vladimir Putin. And it’s not over yet.

—Marc Bennet, “Do Some Russians Think Vladimir Putin Is God?” Vocativ, September 8, 2014

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Dmitry Enteo, a Russian Orthodox activist known for his controversial and sometimes violent public stunts, will hold a lecture and roundtable Sunday in Moscow about President Vladimir Putin and his connection to God.

“You will understand the secret of secrets, after which your life will never be the same. You will receive direct answers to questions that face Russia today,” reads an advertisement for the event posted on the VKontakte social networking website.

One of the questions due to be addressed in the lecture is whether Putin will become God “by grace.”

As of Tuesday evening, 1,429 people had signed up for the event, according to the website.

Enteo is head of the God’s Will movement, which has earned notoriety for its public campaigns targeting what it sees as blasphemy against the Russian Orthodox Church.

In November, Enteo and a female accomplice disrupted a performance of a contemporary play based on Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” at the prestigious Chekhov Moscow Art Theater. In an outburst that many audience members believed was part of the performance, they shouted that the play “mocks our faith” and admonished the audience for not protesting.

Enteo’s group has also previously assaulted LGBT activists and Pussy Riot supporters. They have never been charged by law enforcement agencies.

—”Radical Russian Activist to Lecture on Whether Vladimir Putin Will Become God,” The Moscow Times, September 2, 2014

Queer Art Threat

Sodom Sabbath-3968

QueerFest, a Russian queer pride event, opened today [September 18, 2014] in St. Petersburg with a bang. Over 160 people made it, despite the last minute change of venues, attacks by provocateurs, and insults by the usual guest—Vitaly Milonov.

Yesterday, the organizers learned of planned actions to foil the event by infamous homophobic activists, some of them, such as Enteo and the crew, coming especially for the festival from Moscow.

The police and the Petersburg human rights ombudsman were alerted.

Today started with a call from the main venue, receiving threats. An hour and a half before the festival was scheduled to open, the owner of the building (the same building that hosts the Manifesta 10 biennale headquarters) informed us through his representative that our contract was annulled. The reason given was “compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance into the building, which may result in its collapse.” Needless to say, this public threat did not impede all other events in the building to proceed as planned.

Volunteers of the festival moved the exhibition and equipment to a new venue in under one hour.

The ceremony was a success. While QueerFest’s security barricaded the door from Vitaly Milonov and his friends, who proceeded to insult and push guests, representatives of human rights organizations and European and the US diplomatic missions in St. Petersburg spoke of the importance of respect for human rights and non-violence.

About twenty hooligans sprayed guests with a green substance and some sort of stinky gas. At one point, two foreign guests were being pulled into the venue by security while being pulled out by their feet by the perpetrators.

The police, who comported themselves professionally, took numerous statements from the victims, while the Petersburg ombudsman urged more people to document violations.

Unfortunately, the second venue also ceded to pressures, and most events are now homeless. But the organizers remain optimistic.

“We feel exhausted and exhilarated. Thanks to the work of 40 volunteers, partners, and random kindness by strangers and by passersby, our event was a success. People—their rights—but also their light and kindness, is what our festival is all about. And there are more of them around us every day. That is why we will prevail,” says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers.

The organizers thank all partners, friends, volunteers, colleagues, and participants for today’s support.

source: QueerFest

The press release above has been edited slightly for republication on this blog. Photo by Sergey Chernov. Reprinted here with his kind permission.