A Little Pepper Spray Never Hurt Anyone

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The sign outside the 33rd Police Precinct in Petersburg’s Moscow District. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info

Petersburg Police Confirm Pepper Spray Used in Precinct
Radio Svoboda
June 19, 2017

The Interior Ministry Directorate for St. Petersburg has confirmed that pepper spray was employed in the 33rd Police Precinct, where detainees from the June 12 anti-corruption protest rally were being held, reports Rosbalt.

As the police’s press service reported, a man was brought to the precinct for minor misconduct. After the man attempted to harm himself, police officers doused his cell with pepper spray. The Interior Ministry claims that after the spray was deployed, the people who had been detained at the protest on the Field of Mars were taken to a meeting room.

Earlier, OVD Info reported that the protest rally detainees complained the pepper spray had spread into neighboring cells. They asked that a doctor be summoned to the precinct, since one of them suffered from bronchial asthma, but police officers did not react. One of the detainees, who had his mobile phone with him in the cell, managed to summon doctors. Subsequently, seventeen people, who had been left to spend the night at the precinct, were transferred to a basement room, where they were held until the evening of the following day. They were not given food, only one bottle of water each.

Alexander Shishlov, Petersburg’s ombudsman for human rights, said he would formally investigate the incident.

More than six hundred people were detained during an unauthorized [sic] protest rally against corruption in Petersburg. The city courts registered 546 cases against the detainees. They were charged with involvement in an unauthorized rally and disobeying the police.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade NS for the heads-up

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Two Minutes Hate

Reaction, with Valery Tatarov
Saint Petersburg TV
September 29, 2014

The West’s Love

Since I was surprised myself, I intend to surprise you as well. Good evening, friends. Did you know that there are areas to which Europe’s sanctions against Russia do not apply? On the contrary, our western partners—who no longer conceal their dislike of Russia and [ethnic] Russians, who call the leader of our country a “führer,” who are pounding whole sectors of the economy and finance with sanctions, actually causing a rise in prices here—on certain issues these same people are ready at the drop of a hat to come here to Russia, to Petersburg, in particular, and send convoy after convoy with humanitarian missions.

And whom, do you think, the West continues to passionately love in Russia amid total sanctions? You’ll never guess. I myself was amazed by this fact, because the West, so I imagined, was now more than ever principled in its hatred of all things Russian. From Barak Obama to, dare I say this surname, [President of Lithuania Dalia] Grybauskaite, we hear insults directed towards Russia and [ethnic] Russians, and people have felt this on their skin. I mean the sanctions. A photo of men [with the slogan] “Sanctions against Russia are sanctions against me” [painted on their backs] has been making the rounds of the Internet.

So, just think, at the same time as hundreds of artists have been banned from traveling to Europe—in England, for example, the local “bodybuilders” have called for a boycott of Gergiev’s concerts—signs reading “No Russians allowed” are hung at cafes in Eastern Europe, Norway has left the “evil empire,” as it deems Russia, without the famous Norwegian salmon, Holland [has left Russia], without the famous Dutch cheese, and Sweden [has left Russia], without the ensemble ABBA, humanitarian assistance and close contacts continue in the area of . . . sexual partnership. And not traditional [sexual partnership] of some kind, but namely extremely perverted, gayropean [sexual partnership].

Miss Heidi Olufsen, the Norwegian consul general in Petersburg, personally greeted a recent Petersburg festival of sexual minorities or, more simply, perverts, with a heartfelt speech.

[Olufsen, in Russian:] “People should learn to respect and accept a person for who they are.”

Аs did Deputy Consul General of Sweden Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson.

[Kavalkov-Halvarsson, in Russian:] “To eliminate prejudices what is needed are bold politicians who stand up for human rights and make laws that do not lead to the emergence of second-class citizens.”

A whole group of English-speaking western comrades decided to personally show solidarity and love for those they consider humiliated and subject to repression in Russia. Meaning—and this is important—officials who approve of repressions against Russia single out perverts as a special group of people who need special love and pity.

You remember the obscene anecdote about the sparrow that warmed itself in winter—I really apologize for this—in cow dung and was dragged out of the dung by a cat. [The moral of the story was that] the one who pulls you out of the shit is not your friend, and the one who covers you in it is not your foe. If there have to be three or four percent of the population with this abnormality of loving the same sex, then we will tolerate them and even feel sorry for them, but we will not let them into schools and kindergartens.

There used to be Doctors without Borders and Peace in Exchange for Food [sic], and now there is Sex instead of Food and Homosexualism [sic] without Borders. And most importantly, it is all so out of place, so ill timed. In the Ukraine, people are perishing. Everyone knows that at the forefront of the misanthropes are an outted faggot,* Supreme Rada deputy Oleg Lyashko, and a closet faggot, interior minister Arsen Avakov. Their sexual orientation really wouldn’t bother anyone if they hadn’t declared their fierce hatred of Russia and the friendship between Ukrainians and [ethnic] Russians. But it is just these “comrades” who are behaving heinously in Donbass.

And if one of those people who are sympathetic to the sexual “Mensheviks” would give them some good advice [and tell them that] at such a difficult time for the country not to show off in the company of Russia’s official enemies from Western Europe, but, on the contrary, protest against the actions of Lyashko and Avakov, which discredit the honest name of, so to speak, internationalist faggots. But no, instead they are also trying to convert them into fighters against the traditions of their own motherland.

In this context, the pass made to the faggots and lesbians by Petersburg [human rights] ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, who essentially greeted them in a special communiqué, appears completely dubious and politically mistaken. You know, back in the old days, the Soviet Communist Party general secretary would greet gatherings of student work teams in Siberia. So anyway, Mr. Shishlov—I quote BaltInfo—“sent greetings to the organizers of [Queerfest], a festival of gay culture taking place […] in Saint Petersburg.”

So, “among the stated objectives [of Queerfest] is the creation of an effective public space devoid of homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination, and the promotion of dialogue”—this is very important—“between members of different groups, organizations, minorities, and communities. These objectives are dear to all [‘of us,’ Tatarov adds] who consider human rights supreme values.”

Do you really want dialogue? Well, what kind of dialogue can there be here? Some get sanctions and hatred from the West, others—the ones in Donbass—get mass graves of civilians, and still others get touchy-feely. Will this actually make things better for the perverts? I am not worried about them: it’s a question. I don’t think it will make things better for them. So, friends, I will finish the anecdote about the sparrow eaten by the cat, which is obscene, like this whole topic of sexual perverts. The one who shits on you is not your foe, and the one who pulled you out of the manure is not your friend. But if you wind up in [shit], just sit there and don’t tweet!

Take care!

*Translator’s Note. Here and throughout, the word in the original Russian is pederast (педераст), which despite its obvious origins and appearance is simply an offensive term for “homosexual,” although perhaps it has, as friends have noted, a slightly “pseudo-scientific” or “old-fashioned” ring to it that its popular and commonly used derivatives pidoras and pedik do not. (They are wholly offensive and thus, apparently, “not fit for TV,” especially after passage of the new law on swearing.) But as one of my friends writes, “He [Tatarov] says pederast so that everyone will hear will pidoras. His intention is to insult, and everyone understands it that way. Otherwise, he would have said sodomit [sodomite] or muzhelozhets [ditto]. […] But when the linguistic expertise is conducted [in connection with a possible criminal investigation, see below], it will turn out that he did not offend anyone.” This is a long way of saying there is no one perfectly good way of translating the word, especially in this context.

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Queerfest Demands Apology from TV Channel
October 29, 2014
comingoutspb.com

Organizers of the human rights LGBT festival Queerfest have demanded that Saint Petersburg TV publicly condemn statements containing hate speech and hostility towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT). These statements were made in the program “Reaction,” presented by Valery Tatarov, which the channel broadcast on September 29, 2014. The program, which dealt with Queerfest 2014, is still available on the channel’s official web site: http://topspb.tv/programs/v10655.

According to the activists, the program contained utterances (“perverts,” “faggots,” “if you wind up in manure, sit there and don’t tweet”) that were not only humiliating but could also be deemed incitements of hatred and enmity against a social group (LGBT).

The organizers and participants of Queerfest sent Saint Petersburg TV’s editor-in-chief a written request to make an official comment containing the editorial staff’s position on the program aired on September 29.

If it transpires that the humiliation of LGBT people and instigation of hatred and enmity against them was done intentionally and with the knowledge of the channel’s editorial staff, the organizers and participants of Queerfest intend to request that the Investigative Committee open a criminal case under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, as well as contact the Press Complaints Board, which is the journalistic community’s body for reviewing complaints of ethical violations by journalists.

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Editor’s Note. Wholly owned and financed by the city administration of Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg TV, which began broadcasting in October 2010, is available on cable, satellite, and the Internet. In 2011, it was reported to have a potential audience of 1.7 million people, a figure that has probably risen considerably as the wholesale digitalization of TV broadcasting and reception in the city has continued.

In an August 2012 interview, Sergei Boyarsky, the channel’s then-new general manager, described Saint Petersburg TV’s editorial philosophy as follows:

I don’t agree that the only way to get ratings is by criticizing. I think all this talk about free media only benefits the poor [sic]. Our country is rife with freedom of speech. If you turn on Echo of Moscow [radio station], you can sometimes feel sick, so tactlessly and harshly do the guests and some of the presenters sound off about the political system, about the government, and personally about the country’s leader. If you think that is healthy, I don’t think so. We will present information objectively, but I won’t allow flagrant rudeness and showing favor to a particular side.

Boyarsky is the son of popular Soviet singer and movie actor Mikhail Boyarsky, who is well known for his demonstrative support of the current regime.

Curiously, in September 2013, the channel launched a section on its web site featuring selected news stories overdubbed in English, with accompanying English-language transcripts. The channel abruptly ceased posting these reports in August 2014.

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.”