Popular Gay Blogger Attacked and Beaten in Moscow

gay blogger
Andrei Petrov. Photo courtesy of @andrewpetrov1 and Lenta.ru

Popular Gay Blogger Assaulted in Moscow
Lenta.ru
March 1, 2020

Andrei Petrov, an openly gay popular blogger, has been attacked and beaten in Moscow, according to Telegram channel 112.

At the time of the attack, the blogger was with another influencer, Dmitry Gorodetsky.

According to 112, Petrov has been diagnosed with a head injury. Petrov and Gorodetsky are both currently in hospital, where they are being examined by medics.

In February, a 21-year-old local resident, a stylist who goes by the pseudonym Gliese Nana, was beaten and stabbed three times in the neck in the Moscow suburb of Zheleznodorozhny because of his appearance. The young man wears earrings and has blue and purple hair.

In January, Petrov interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov, also known by the nickname Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on the fact that, in a recent video, Goryainov had expressed a desire to shoot homosexuals.

Thanks to Misha Tumasov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Petrov interviews blogger Volodya XXL on his YouTube program Pushka (Cannon). Posted on January 12, 2020, the program has been viewed over six and a half million times

Blogger Who Wanted to Shoot Gays Visits Gay and Explains What He Meant
Lenta.ru
January 13, 2020

The openly gay blogger Andrei Petrov has interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov aka Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on a recent video in which Goryainov said he wanted to shoot homosexuals. The interview is available on YouTube.

Goryainov made the remark when asked by a subscriber about his attitude to gays.

“If I had the opportunity […] I would shoot all those stinking people. I don’t understand why they’re alive at all,” he said.

In his interview with Petrov, the blogger said that it was not the first time he had voiced such an opinion to his subscribers.

Volodya XXL explained that his negative attitude to homosexuals was due to his upbringing.

“I’m not a guy from the capital who is taught that gays are good. I’m a regular guy from Kursk,” he said, adding that he was raised by friends and the streets.

He also noted that if Petrov came to Kursk, he would not be able to go outside at all.

Goryainov stressed that he had not called for gays to be shot, but had only voiced his opinion. He admitted that it was unpleasant for him to sit next to Petrov, and expressed regret that Petrov had been born. Goryainov explained that, in his opinion, guys should be masculine.

The blogger linked the campaign of harassment [sic] against him to the desire of other influencers to attract attention.

“I think all of it was planned. They planned to hype themselves at my expense,” he said.

Goryainov has 300,000 subscribers on Instagram and 700,000 subscribers on TikTok. He also releases his own songs.

Translated by the Russian Reader

♦♦♦♦♦

Putin submits plans for constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
Draft amendment submitted among raft of conservative constitutional proposals
Andrew Roth
The Guardian
March 2, 2020

Vladimir Putin has submitted a draft amendment to Russia’s constitution that would enshrine marriage as between a man and a woman in a conservative update to the country’s founding document.

The measure was reportedly part of a 24-page document submitted by the president that would also name Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union; explicitly mention Russians’ “faith in God”; and ensure the “defence of historical truth” regarding the Soviet role in the second world war.

The amendments would also proscribe the cession of Russian territory to foreign powers, deepening the conflict over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

The draft submissions have not yet been made public but were described to journalists in a series of briefings by high-ranking members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

“For me, the most important proposal would fix the status of marriage as a union between a man and a woman,” Pyotr Tolstoy, a vice-speaker in the Duma, told reporters on Monday in remarks carried by Russian state news agencies. “And I am happy that this amendment has appeared under the signature of the head of state.”

Russia is planning to amend its constitution for the first time since 1993. The move, announced by Putin in January, was initially seen as a way for him to hold on to power after 2024, when as things stand he will no longer be able to serve as president because of term limits. After a parliamentary vote, Russia will hold a nationwide referendum in mid-April, when the conservative amendments may help boost turnout.

Putin’s direct support for the amendments makes it likely they will go through. He has taken an increasingly conservative turn in his fourth term as president, and has enjoyed support from both patriotic groups and the Russian Orthodox church.

But plans for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage have come together quickly, appearing to crystallise during a speech to politicians last month. “As far as ‘Parent No 1’ and ‘Parent No 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: as long as I’m president this will not happen. There will be Dad and Mum,” Putin said, according to Reuters.

“He Fell on the Knife”: Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay

Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay Man
Takie Dela
February 7, 2020

A jury at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court acquitted a man accused of murdering homosexual Roman Yedalov, reports the LGBT group Stimul, whose lawyers represented the interests of the victim’s friend and mother in court. The website xgay.ru reports that the assailant’s name is Anton Berezhnoy.

The defendant admitted his guilt in part. He claimed, however, that he had not caused the death deliberately but accidentally: the victim had allegedly “[fallen] on the knife.” On February 6, when asked the question of whether Berezhnoy had caused Yedalov’s death or not, the jury said he had not, thus obviating the following question as to his guilt.

A final verdict will be handed down by the presiding judge in a few days but, according to law, the verdict cannot be a guilty one for the defendant. Stimul’s lawyers have already said they would appeal the court’s decision.

“The evidence and testimony presented in the trial convinced me that the altercation was provoked by the defendant,” said Anton Lapov, a lawyer for the injured party. “I’m convinced that it was this bloody outcome that the defendant envisaged. One person had their life taken, while another person was robbed of their health.”

The murder occurred in the early hours of June 29, 2019, at Kursk Railway Station in Moscow. Berezhnoy assaulted gay couple Roman Yedalov and Yevgeny Yefimov, who were returning to their home in the Moscow Region, and struck them with a knife.

The murder was captured on CCTV. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Yefimov’s wounds were not life-threatening and he survived, but Yedalov died on the spot. According to Yefimov, Berezhnoy shouted insults relating to their sexual orientation during the attack. Yefimov suspects that Berezhnoy followed them from a night club.

The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into the murder. Yefimov and the dead man’s mother were named as the injured party, while Berezhnoy was remanded in custody. During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the available evidence proved the defendant’s guilt. Yedalov’s mother told the court that she was proud of her son for defending his friend by stepping between him and the assailant.

In November 2019, Maxim Pankratov, the star of a video on the YouTube channel Real Talk in which children asked him questions about homosexuality, reported that he had been threatened. People on the street recognized him and shouted “Faggot! Pervert” as he walked past. Another group of strangers attempted to attack him at night, but he managed to escape. Pankratov underscored the fact that he had not talked with the children about sex and had not committed violent acts against them.

After the video starring Pankratov was posted, the Moscow police charged the channel’s creators with “promoting homosexualism [sic] among minors,” while the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into sexual violence against minors. Investigators claimed that the conversations with children were designed to arouse them sexually and induce them to have sexual relations. The video was deleted after the scandal erupted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Court in Bryansk Sends Transgender Woman to Prison for Three Years for “Distributing Pornography”

kollektiv_sudeyThe judges at the Soviet District Court in Bryansk, November 2011. Photo courtesy of the court’s website

Court in Bryansk Sends Transgender Woman to Prison for Three Years for “Distributing Pornography”
Viktoria Mikisha
Novaya Gazeta
November 30, 2019

The Soviet District Court in Bryansk has sentenced a transgender woman named Michelle. She was accused of distributing pornography depicting minors, punishable under Article 242.1.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, according to Maria Chashchilova, a lawyer with the Moscow Community Center for LGBT Initiatives.

The woman was sent to prison for three years for posting several manga drawings—depictions of nude Japanese cartoon characters—on her page on the VK social network. A forensic inquiry established the drawings depicted “male persons under fourteen years of age.”

“The pictures were on her page for a year before they were noticed,” said Chashchilova.

The lawyer noted that she had been corresponding with Michelle for the last ten days via VK.

Michelle had not completed her gender transition and had not changed her ID papers, so she was still identified by a male name in her internal passport. She worked as a physician at the city hospital. Chashchilova said Michelle might not survive in prison, as she was a third-class disabled person and had bladder cancer.

“Michelle did not have gender reassignment surgery, only hormone therapy. Most likely, she does not have a doctor’s report confirming her sex change, which means she won’t get hormone drugs in prison. This is quite dangerous. Michelle’s cancer is in remission. Due to the lack of hormones, her chronic ailments—cancer, primarily—will worsen, and terrible things will happen to her,” Chashchilova noted.

The transgender woman could be sent to a common cell in the men’s section of a prison, as she is listed as a man in her ID papers.

“If she can flip a switch, introducing herself by her male name and acting like a man, she could have a chance [of surviving in an all-male environment] at least for a while,” Chashchilova suggested.

It is not yet known where Michelle will serve her sentence: the Moscow Community Center only has a copy of the indictment. Chashchilova has written an appeal to the Public Monitoring Commission. According to her, this was the only way to learn about the current state of Michelle’s health.

UPDATE. Michelle’s close friend Lada Preobrazhenskaya has told Novaya Gazeta that the investigation began late this past summer. Michelle had been on her own recognizance for three months. She agreed to cooperate with the investigation and signed a confession. Preobrazhenskaya noted that, from the outset, Michelle had refused the help of her friends in finding and paying a lawyer, as she did not take the accusations seriously.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Side by Side 2019: International LGBT Solidarity vs. Bomb Threats

IMG_9987The crowd at the opening of the Twelfth Side by Side International LGBT Film Festival in Petersburg, 14 November 2019. Photo courtesy of Side by Side

Press Release, 15 November 2019

The Twelfth Side by Side International LGBT Film Festival opened in Petersburg on November 14 despite stubborn attempts by ill-wishers to disrupt it. At 7:00 p.m. on the dot, right at the moment when the festival’s opening ceremony was set to begin, the festival venue, the Sokos Hotel on Birzhevoy Pereulok, received an anonymous phone call about a bomb or other explosive device that had, allegedly, been planted in the building. The numerous people who had come to the festival were evacuated from the building along with the hotel’s guests. For nearly two hours, police and Emergency Ministry officers checked the hotel. Of course, the “warning” proved to be deliberately false.

Despite these criminal attempts to disrupt it, the Twelfth Side by Side Festival began with a necessarily brief but emotionally charged opening ceremony during which the audience was addressed by the festival’s partners and jury, as well as a guest of the festival, Belgian filmmaker Marianne Lambert, whose documentary film I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman will be shown on November 15.

“What I have seen has reaffirmed for me that this is the place where we need to fight for our rights,” Lambert said.

The opening film was the Brazilian drama Hard Paint, which won the Teddy Award as the best LGBTQ-themed feature film at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. Before the screening, film critic Ksenia Reutova said many interesting things about the film’s co-directors, Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon, as well as filling in this stunning picture’s context for the audience, telling them about the special, unenviable position of Porto Alegre, the setting of the film and the filmmakers’ hometown, and the recent conservative turn in Brazilian politics, which is very similar to what has been happening in our country.

The first day of the Twelfth Side by Side Festival was marked by a fighting spirit and an atmosphere of solidarity. The festival will run for another seven days, featuring a wide-ranging program of documentaries, features, and short films, as well as appearances by special guests from Russia and abroad, and discussions about transgender people, transgender parents, LGBT in big-time sports, non-binary people, and the victories and shortcomings of the LGBT movement in Russia and worldwide.

The opening day of the festival

Festival Schedule

Side by Side on Social Media:

VK Facebook Instagram Telegram YouTube

Translated by Thomas Campbell. Thanks to Gulya Sultanova and Side by Side for the press release, photograph, and their indomitable spirit.

Yevgeniy Fiks, “Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s”

Exhibit Opening. Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s
Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 6:00 pm
Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, 420 W 118th St., New York), Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute for the opening reception of the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s -1980s featuring a series of works photographed in 2008 by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

The exhibit runs September 3–October 18, 2019. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm, excluding university holidays.

The exhibit documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on revolutionary communist and Soviet state sites appropriated by queer Muscovites.

This opening reception will feature a performative reading by actor Chris Dunlop of the 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin by the British Communist and Moscow resident Harry Whyte, in which he attempts to defend homosexuality from a Marxist-Leninist perspective in the face of the campaign of mass arrests that swept Moscow and Leningrad gay circles from 1933 to 1934. After reading the letter, Stalin wrote “idiot and degenerate” in the margins. The letter, which remained unanswered, was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Campbell for publication in Fiks’s Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. He has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west. His work has been shown internationally and has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).

Text and images courtesy of the Harriman Institute

“Homosexualists” (Free Love in Amsterdam)

What do you do when you happen on the following signage to a “Monument to Homosexualists” in the middle of Amsterdam? Especially when the signage, in Russian, contains six separate references to “homosexualists”?

homosexualists-uncorrected.JPG

The first you do thing do is wonder why a non-homophobic Russian speaker was not consulted when the text of the signage was translated from Dutch or English to Russian.

Then you take out a ballpoint pen and correct all mentions of “homosexualists,” hoping someone will see your efforts, get the clue, and remove this flagrant insult to all progressive Russian speakers and all Russian LGBTQI.

homosexualists-corrected

Corrections by Comrade Koganzon. Photos by the Russian Reader. Music by Killdozer

Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

pic_dc844038f81c1c5c70e0d764a49c0a98

Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.