Paratroopers Day: LGBT Protest on Palace Square in Petersburg

LGBT Activists Protest on Palace Square on Paratroopers Day
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
August 5, 2015

Local LGBT activists bearing flags and posters took to Saint Petersburg’s Palace Square on Sunday, August 2, Russian Paratroopers Day, to defend their rights.

In August 2013 and 2014, young local LGBT activist Kirill Kalugin held solo protests on Palace Square on Paratroopers Day, but he left Russia in late November 2014, applying for political asylum in Germany.

This year, LGBT activists tried to get permission for an event but were turned down three times by city officials.

Yuri Gavrikov, leader of the local LGBT organization Ravnopravie (“Equal Rights”) thus decided to go to Palace Square alone with an LGBT flag. He was arrested in the morning, however, for “swearing in public” as he was riding his bicycle toward the city center.

Nevertheless, several of his comrades came to Palace Square sporting flags and posters, and demanding Gavrikov’s release.

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The first to take to the square was activist Olga Panova. She unfurled the LGBT rainbow flag before being arrested by the police a few minutes later.

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Panova managed to pass the flag to another activist, Valery Ugarov, who was immediately arrested as well.

Policemen claimed the arrests had been made at the “behest of citizens,” although at the time, around two o’clock in the afternoon, only a few paratroopers were still left on Palace Square celebrating their holiday. They paid no attention to the LGBT activists.

Journalists from state media outlets approached the paratroopers and asked them their opinion of the protest, making no secret of their own disgust and dubbing the activists “drunk.” The paratroopers, however, merely dubbed the protest a “provocation” and avoided engaging in any violence towards the activists.

The next activist to take to the square with the flag was Mikhail Gerasimov from the Alliance of Heterosexuals and LGBT for Equal Rights. Police also detained him.

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Police initially charged all the detained activists with “promoting homosexuality among minors,” but later dropped the charges for lack of evidence, claiming that a child who had been strolling through the square with his mother had taken no interest in the flag’s “meaning.”

Police released all the activists later in the day.

As Gerasimov was being arrested, activists Alexei Nazarov and Alexei Sergeyev emerged from the crowd holding posters that read, respectively, “Free Yuri Gavrikov,” “Three ‘rejections’ from the Smolny [Petersburg city hall]: lawlessness and discrimination of Russian citizens,” and “‘Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.’ Charlie Chaplin.” (The last is a quotation from the Jewish Barber’s speech in Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator.)

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A few men wearing the trademark baby-blue berets and navy blue-and-white striped sleeveless t-shirts of the Russian paratroopers and casual clothing suddenly rushed Nazarov and Sergeyev, grabbing their posters and ripping them up.

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The LGBT activists kept producing new posters, and the would-be paratroopers ultimately tore up five posters.

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Police ignored the assaults on the activists, even laughing as they tried to defend themselves.

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No one from either party to the scuffle was arrested.

All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel

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