Vasily Ryabinin, a former employee of the Norilsk office of Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s federal environmental watchdog), Greenpeace activists, and Novaya Gazeta reporters have discovered that Norilsk Nickel has continued to dump industrial waste into the Kharayelakh River and Lake Pyasino.
The place where waste from a Norilsk Nickel facility is being discharged into the tundra and thence, via streams, into the Kharayelakh River. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta
Water contaminated with heavy metals, sulfurous acid, and surfactants is currently being pumped from the tailings storage facility at the Talnakh processing plant, owned by Norilsk Nickel, and drained into the tundra. The waste flows via streams into the Kharayelakh River, which empties into Lake Pyasino.
Witnesses have called the police, the Emergencies Ministry, Rosprirodnadzor, and the prosecutor’s office to the drainage site.
“This is a complete breakdown of law and order, and a crime against nature and our children. The clean-up must start immediately,” says Vasily Ryabinin.
The Norilsk Nickel security service has arrived at the scene. The pumping station that has been discharging waste into the river has been shut down.
Employees of Norilsk Nickel’s security service. Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta
Almost immediately after that, the Norilsk rescue service arrived at the scene.
Vladimir Zhenikhov, senior duty officer of the rescue service: “Now the brass will decide what to do. It’s a good thing everything has been documented. I had heard before that something was being discharged into the tundra here.”
Vladislav Shatura: “It’s amazing that they let us in here at all. Norilsk Nickel can decide not to let anyone in. Norilsk Nickel can do anything it wants.”
And now the police have arrived.
The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!
Рабочие, вызванные на место, в спешном порядке демонтируют трубы! Напомним, «Новая» и Гринпис сегодня обнаружили и засняли, как «Норникель» сливает ядовитые отходы в реку, а оттуда в озеро Пясино.
“Workers called to the scene are hurriedly dismantling the pipes! Novaya Gazeta and Greenpeace today discovered and documented how Norilsk Nickel has been dsicharging toxic waste into the river, and thence into Lake Pyasino. Less than a month has passed since the diesel spill at Power Plant No. 3.”
People from the prosecutor’s office have arrived at the scene. The police car in which the prosecutors got here has been crushed by the Norilsk Nickel tractor removing the pipes.
Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta
Prosecutor Vladimir Bolshunov: “We have called the Investigative Committee, and Rosprirodnadzor is now waiting for a car and is also on the way. They will be taking samples. We have ordered a copter and will be trying to lift [what?] up, despite the wind. It’s all we needed, of course, but we’re going to go to work and do a comprehensive job with the whole thing.”
The Emergencies Ministry officers thank the journalists and activists: “Well done.” Officer Denis Makarov says of Norilsk Nickel: “They aren’t afraid of anything.”
On the anniversary of the tragedy, Takie Dela remembers the principal witnesses to the events in School No. 1.
On September 1, 2004, terrorists seized School No. 1 in Beslan. The gunmen herded over a thousand hostages, including small children, into the school’s gym. For three days, the hostages were forcibly held in the building without food and water. The security services assaulted the school to free the hostages.
A total of 334 people were killed in the terrorist attack, including 186 children. 126 of the former hostages were crippled. During the assault, the FSB killed 28 terrorists. The only terrorist taken alive, Nurpashi Kalayev, was arrested. A court later sentenced him to life in prison.
Many articles, investigative reports, and special projects have been written about the Beslan tragedy, and several documentary films and books have been released. Takie Dela recalls the primary witnesses to the events in School No. 1.
“According to the police officers and special forces soldiers with whom we have spoken, the preparations for the assault were vigorous. That the authorities were learning toward this option is borne out by one other fact. They did not, in fact, negotiate with the gunmen. No one intended to meet even their formal demands. They explained to us, ‘It’s not clear what they want.'”
In 2014, on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Milashina recalled how events had unfolded before and after the terrorist attack .
“The Beslan terrorist attack will go down in Russian history as an instance when the populace was disinformed on an unprecendented level. Up until the assault of the school, officials concealed the scale of the tragedy (the number of hostages). They also concealed negotiations with Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was ready to ask the gunmen to put down their weapons. Akhmed Zakayev, Maskhadov’s emissary, was ready to fly straight to Beslan and take part in negotiations with the terrorists.”
In 2006, Novaya Gazeta published a special issue on the outcome of its investigation, featuring forensic evidence, annotated maps, official reports, and eyewitness testimony. The newspaper came to several conclusions. Reliable information about the upcoming terrorist attack was known to the authorities at least three hours before the school was seized, and Alexander Dzasokhov, president of North Ossetia, offered to replace the children with 800 officials and local MPs, but Moscow forbade him under pain of arrest from entering into negotiations. The biggest public outcry was caused by the newspaper’s claims that the school was fired upon by grenade launchers, flamethrowers, tanks, and helicopters on several occasions when the hostages were still in the building. According to the newspaper, the official inquiry, while it was in full possession of these facts, found no wrongdgoing in the actions of those in charge of the operation to free the hostages.
“Vladimir’s dream: “I want to pick a plum. “Now,” I say, “I want a ladder to the plum and to pick the plum.” A young girl below me says, “I’m not your little girl.” I say, “And where is my little girl?” She says, “She is not here. I am another girl here.” After all, she was lying with my wife in the grave. “I’m not your daughter,” she says, “Don’t pick me plums.” I say, “Where is my little girl?” She says, “I don’t know. Look for her.”‘”
Kommersant reporter Olga Allenova was returning from Grozny, when her editors called her and told her about the terrorist attack in Beslan. She went to North Ossetia to write a story.
“‘Don’t let the hostages’ relatives on the air. Don’t cite any number of hostages except the official figure. Don’t use the word “storm.” The terrorists should not be called gunmen, only criminals, because terrorists are people you negotiate with.’ This was what several national TV channel reporters, located in Beslan, heard immediately from the top brass. We were all side by side, and I saw how hard it was for those guys to carry out the orders of the top brass. And I saw one of them crying in the evening after the school had been stormed.”
On October 17, 2004, the newspaper published an article entitled “How Did We Help Them?” The story dealt with the fortieth day after the terrorist attack. [In Orthodox culture, the fortieth day after a person’s death is usually remembered and marked by a ritual.]
“In Moscow, we say that forty days have passed since the school in Beslan was seized. Here those days did not exist. In their place is a black hole, like the hole made by a grenade in the floor of the assembly hall. And every day is a day of mourning.
“The entire city of Beslan is dressed in black. There are houses here in which not a single child is left, and entryways through which three caskets a day are carried out.”
In 2011, an infographic was posted on the newspaper’s website: it features a map of the school on which the main locations where the events took place are illustrated by short excerpts from archival video footage.
In 2006, the Russian edition of Esquire published an article [in Russian] by New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers, in which he retraced the events in Beslan School No. 1 hour by hour: from the beginning of the ceremonial, first-day-of-school lineup at nine in the morning of September 1 to the medical care administered to the victims in the Vladikavkaz Hospital on September 4. Chivers had written the article[in English] o understand who the hostages had felt the whole time.
“Like many people who have been to Beslan, I subsequently thought a lot about what had happened. Like the people of Beslan, I was infuriated by the endless contradictory statements, the lack of information about many important episodes in the hostage crisis and the actions of the Russian authorities.”
Ten years after the tragedy, Tom Balmforth and Diana Markosian published a story on the Radio Svoboda website about the lives of the surviving schoolchildren. The former hostages talked about their memories, features, and thoughts of the future.
“The children behaved heroically. We all grew up immediately. We really supported each other. In fact, we came together like a family there. Even many of the adults did not behave with as much dignity as the children. Apparently, the adults understand everything in terms of their being grown-up and wise, while we children saw it all through rose-tinted glasses, maybe. I know for a fact that, after those three days, we became completely different people,” recalls Zarina Tsirikhova. She was fourteen when the terrorist attack occurred.
Takie Dela published Diana Khachatrian’s story about how, in September 2016, the memorial events in Beslan ended in arrests. During the ceremonial school lineup at School No. 1, five women staged a protest. They removed their jackets, under which they were wearing t-shirts that bore accusations against the regime.
“The female activists of Voice of Beslan stand apart in the gym. The five women are wearing handmade t-shirts on which the inscription “Putin is the executioner of Beslan” has been written in marker pen. This is not a hysterical slogan. Based on their own impressions and evidence from the investigations, the women argue that on September 3, 2004, Vladimir Putin or a member of his entourage gave the orders to storm the school in order to expedite events and prevent negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov. They argue the hostages could have been saved.”
Photographer Oksana Yushko has for many years produced unique photograph projects on the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy. Yushko takes pictures of the children who were taken hostage in September 2004 at different stages in their school careers, both in everyday life and during graduation from school.
In 2005, some of the relatives of those who were killed during the terrorist attack established the grassroots organization Mothers of Beslan. That same year, due to friction within the group, a number of committee members left the group and founded another organization, Voice of Beslan.
Rodion Chepel’s The Committee, released on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, focuses on Beslan’s female activists.
“We have never met such people. They are such uncompromisingly honest people, it was if they would be shot for lying. From a distance it seems that Beslan is god knows what, part of Moscow’s war with terrorism. But when you go there, you understand it is just human grief that has made them so tough and very honest. It’s not a matter of politics. They’re in touch with their humanity. You talk to them and you realize you simply have not met such people. This was what we wanted to show in the film: what these ten years have done with these people is incredible. They just want someone to explain to them what happened, for someone to say, “Forgive me. It was my fault.” Instead, they have been threatened and slandered. People have tried to sick them on each other, drive a wedge through them, and present them as insane.”
Filmmaker Vadim Tsalikov has shot four documentary films about the terrorist attack in Beslan. One of them is Beslan: Memory.
Foreign filmmakers have also shot films about the tragedy in North Ossetia. For example, Joe Halderman shot the film Beslan: Three Days in September for Showtime. The picture was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006.
In 2012, one of the hostages, 14-year-old Agunda Vatayeva, decided to publish her memoir of the terrorist attack. The young woman launched a diary on LiveJournal and wrote three posts in which told from beginning to end the story of the three days she spent in captivity.
“If you deliberately searched for my diary, you probably want to read my memoir of the terrorist attack in Beslan: Day One, Day Two, and Day Three. It is unlikely that you will find my LiveJournal exciting or at least positive reading. It was started once upon a time for quite different purposes. It was a kind of psychotherapy for me.”
The Kremlin reacted to the ECtHR’s ruling by saying that “an emotional assessment is hardly appropriate.”
“Of course, we cannot agree with this formulation. In a country that has been repeatedly attacked by terrorists, and the list of such countries has been growing, unfortunately, these formulations and purely hypothetic arguments are hardly acceptable. An emotional assessment is hardly appropriate.
“All the necessary legal actions related to this decision will be taken,” said Dmitry Peskov, the president’s spokesman.
I have received lots of comments assessing my worth as a woman and a daughter, and a lot of the usual fare, such as “I wish you were dead” and “You’re not human beings.” But there is one more thing I would like to discuss.
When you write that “terrorists only need an excuse,” “the sexual orientation of the victims doesn’t matter,” and “I am mourning too, so how am I different from you?” you are closing your eyes to the cause of the murders.
Homophobia is the cause.
I don’t like the word. It is abstract, but it does a fair job of explaining how, in the last two years, nineteen of my acquaintances have been assaulted, two have been raped, and two have been murdered, and how over twenty people I know have been forced to leave the country. These have been people from my circle of friends, which is not so huge. Laws have been passed against us. We are unequal and officially deemed unequal according to Article 6.21 of the Russian Administrative Offenses Code. We do not have the right to marry and have joint custody of children. We do not have the right to visit each other in prison or hospitals. For the past three years, in the Russian hinterlands, there have been neo-Nazi groups operating who prey exclusively on LGBT. Television has vigorously inflamed the atmosphere of hatred and fear. There was a break, which lasted a year, for the Ukrainian war, but now we are the number one public enemies. Just watch the news.
I am glad you can live without noticing this, that it doesn’t concern you. I would also be glad not to know all the particulars, for example, how a bullet from a trauma pistol penetrates the eye, and the sound it makes, or what it is like to file a complaint against a guy your father brought over to “fix” you, or how to dial 911, because someone is trying to open your door, but the cops refuse to show up. And you sit there till morning with a little knife in your hand listening to someone trying to pick your lock. And then, in the morning, when the fuss has died down, you close the door, leave the house, and never go back there again. These are the things people close to me have gone through. Maybe your colleagues and friends have gone through some of these things. I am even certain they have.
I know how long a broken nose takes to heal (I can even compare, because noses get broken often), what it is like to get hit by a stone, a bottle, and a chunk of pavement, what it is like when your girlfriend is found strangled in a car, what it is like when the doctors say you can expect to go deaf, because the auditory nerves die off after a blow to the temple (I can tell you about that in detail: I went through it myself), what it is like when you are doused with urine and videotaped, what it is like when you are called into the director’s office and fired, forced to switch schools, universities, the place you work. I even know what it is like when your classmates rape you behind a garage. I know what it is like when a cop spits in your face while his buddies are suffocating your friend, and you cannot do a thing, because your arms are pinned behind your back, and all this is accompanied by jubilant cries of “faggots!” I know what it is like to dream of buying a plot of land, surrounding it with a fence three meters high, and raising your children in this cage, because it is the only way you can guarantee their safety.
Any conversation on the topic ends with the advice to “not stick your neck out.” When mass murders occur, the same attitude leads to comments that “it doesn’t matter what your orientation is.”
No, you really don’t know how my mom felt when she heard about the shooting at the gay club, or what I feel when I realize I have no way of reassuring her. “Everything will be okay.” Are you kidding?
The orientation of the people who were killed matters.
If it doesn’t matter to you, then you could give a fuck about the cause of the murders and why these murders happen again and again and again.
Elena Kostyuchenko is a journalist with Novaya Gazeta newspaper and a Russian LGBT rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AS for the heads-up
Artist Pyotr Pavlensky holding a petrol can in front of FSB headquarters in Moscow. Photograph: Reuters
Pyotr Pavlensky: “The FSB Has Hammered an Iron Curtain Around Itself”
Elena Kostyuchenko and Ekaterina Fomina
December 10, 2015 Novaya Gazeta
An exclusive interview with the arrested artist
He stands accused of vandalism for setting fire to the door of the FSB building. Pavlensky himself has requested he be tried as a terrorist as a gesture of solidarity with convicted terrorists Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko. Observing a vow of silence, Pyotr Pavlensky refused to answer the court’s questions. He did, however, answer Novaya Gazeta’s questions.
Pyotr Pavlensky’s Works
Seam, July 2012. Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut with a coarse thread and stood for an hour and a half in front of Saint Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral holding a placard that read, “Pussy Riot’s performance was a reenactment of Jesus Christ’s famous performance.”
Carcass, May 2013. Absolutely naked and not responding to anything, Pavlensky lay wrapped in barbed wired outside the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The artist attempted to show the new position Russian citizens had found themselves in after the adoption of repressive legislation.
Fixation, November 2013. Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to a cobblestone on Red Square and sat motionless looking at it. “It is a metaphor for the apathy and political indifference of Russian society,” the artist explained. Pavlensky timed his action to coinicide with Police Day.
Freedom, February 2014. Pavlensky and a group of activists burned around fifty tires on Malo-Konyushenny Bridge in Saint Bridge, thus reconstructing the Maidan in Kyiv.
Threat, November 9, 2015. Pavlensky set fire to the main entrance of the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square. The artist stood before the burning door holding a fuel canister.
What is fear?
I think fear is an animal instinct. You find an example of how fear itself turns into an immediate threat to life in Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The question she returns to time and again there is, who was more to blame for the death to which a hundred concentration camp prisoners were led, the two guards who escorted them there or the prisoners themselves? Because they went willingly to their deaths, making no attempt to kill the guards or escape. Fear is dangerous because it suppresses free will. Without free will man becomes something like a domesticated beast of burden, which is not finished off and turned into food while there is the need to keep working it.
How and when did you conceive Threat?
[The answer has not been published in keeping with the requirements of Russian federal law.]
What did the preparation involve?
The choice of the site, the date, and time were the main things. When they have been determined, all that remains is the technical preparation, in which I try to do with the most minimal means.
Was Threat successful? What constitutes success? Were the other actions successful?
I find it difficult to talk about, because my access to information is limited. But the fact alone that I managed to do it could be considered a big success.
Is there a common theme running through your works? Have your stance and objectives changed?
Yes, in all my works I talk about the prison of everyday life and the possibility of release from this prison. Seam, Carcass, Fixation, and Segregation are the prison of everyday life. Freedom is the possibility of release. But Threat is the power of coercion in this prison, meaning that it is the main threat to free will.
In most of your actions you haven chosen your own body as the object. Why did you decide to choose an external object this time?
This is not true. I have used my body when talking about the prison of everyday life. The statement about emancipation was constructed completely differently. Freedom was implemented by a collective subject. Now I have discussed the threat hanging over every member of society. This is a direct threat to the manifestation of everyone’s free will. I never said I was doing performance art or body art. I work with the tools of power, and what I do is political art.
Freedom.Photo: Pyotr Kovalyov / Interpress / TASS
Whom are you addressing?
Society. I do not address people in power. I use them as material for undermining the scenery of power. My objective is to call into question the entire façade concealing the ruthless mechanics of control and administration.
Do you identify with the the society you previously depicted (Fixation and Carcass)? If not, where are you?
Well, now I am actually in jail. But if we talk about how much I feel myself to be part of society, then to the extent that we all are part of the same regime. I travel on the same public transportation, I watch the same news, and I hear the same advertisements. The informational field is the same, and I have worked with elements of it. I take something from one context and transfer it to another context. The contexts collide and new meanings are produced. In this way I identify the discrepancy between the scenery and mechanics of power.
Do you know how people have responded to Threat? Can you follow events from jail? How do you get the idea across when discussion of the action itself (the scrotum, the door) becomes primary?
No, I know very little about the reactions. But I did find out about the most interesting reaction: the entrance to Lubyanka was covered in aluminum. I have been told that “Lubyanka behind the iron curtain” is what the authorities called their action. The regime is erecting this curtain around itself with its own hands. No, it is still not easy for me to keep track of what is happening. I am partly cut off from communications. I get letters, and my lawyers can tell me some things. Other prisoners also tell me things, but generally the information is very sketchy.
Segregation. Photo: Oksana Shalygina / Facebook
Some say that the action could have caused harm to employees who were inside the building. Did you think about this?
No, I had no such fears. We could discuss such a threat if I had employed heavy artillery instead of a fuel canister.
You have called the FSB a “terrorist organization.” You see no difference between a suicide bomber at Domodedovo Airport and an FSB employee?
The FSB [excised in keeping with the requirements of Russian federal law] is a militarized, well-equipped, armed organization. And it combats its competitors, people who would like to take its place but who simply lack the resources. I think any state is a political institution that has formed as an outcome of long-term political terror.
Whic actionist artists (past or present) do you like?
There are quite a few artists, and not necessarily actionists. They include the Dadaists, Malevich and Suprematism, the works of Caravaggio, and many others. Chris Burden was one of the few good performance artists. If we talk about actionists, I would include Alexander Brener and the Moscow actionists of the nineties. Voina made a huge breakthrough, followed by Pussy Riot, including their last performance at the Sochi Olympics.
Can art exist separately from politics nowadays?
No, it cannot. Art was forced to served ruling regimes for many centuries. It was an effective apparatus for inculcating ideological paradigms. Art was able to free itself from functional obligations in the twentieth century. But regimes continue to exist, and every year they require thousands of new personnel: they make a lot of effort to produce these units. The very existence of these institutions for producing service personnel is already sufficient demonstration of the link between art and politics.
Carcass. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin / Interpress / TASS
Investigators have on several occasions asked psychiatrists to examine you. Have you ever doubted your own mental competence?
No, I have not yet had any reason to doubt it.
How do you understand the holy fool? Some have called you a holy fool. Can you agree with them?
No, I cannot. I am an artist who does political art. Political art involves methodical research of social responses and sets of codes. Aside from the actions, the work involves dealing with the many tools of the regime: law enforcement, psychiatry, mass media, etc. I do not think you can just call this a way of life. In this sense, early punk culture, the residents of psychiatric hospitals, and hippies like Charles Mansion bore a much greater resemblance to holy fools.
What happened after your arrest?
Everything was fairly by the book: physical detention, handcuffs, searches, the first attempts at interrogation. Usually, during the first twenty-four hours, investigators try to get as much testimony as possible. That is exactly why you have to pay attention during the first twenty-four hours and say nothing at all. The same thing happens with psychiatrists, only they have more power. But much more important is what it means to me. For me, it is a process of defining the boundaries and forms of political art. And what the regimes calls arrest and paperwork procedures is nothing other than a bureaucratic ritual for producing criminals.
What are your conditions like now? Has pressure been brought to bear on you?
There was only one attempt to get me to sign a confession that I had not wanted to harm and threaten the lives of FSB employees. After an hour of back and forth conversation, they were unable to get what they wanted. I went to lockup to relax, and they left.
Why did you ask to be charged with terrorism?
I thought about the action I had carried out and came to the rather interesting conclusion that the action of setting fire to a door was quite similar to what ultimately led to terrorism charges against the s0-called Crimean terrorists and the ABTO group. Only in those cases, the FSB added to these groups people who had made deals with investigators, and as a result of this cooperation, ringerleaders of terrorist organizations and their accomplices emerged. So I decided to demand coherent logic from the court and justice from the judiciary and law enforcement.
Are you going to remain silent in the court?
Yes, I am going to maintain my silence until the lawlessness of the judiciary and law enforcement comes to an end.
Does an action begin when it is actually implemented or afterwards? Is the action still under way now? Do you recognize the state as a co-author?
An act begins during its implementation and ends when the law enforcement system or psychiatrists detain me. But cessation of the action per se marks the beginning of the process by which the boundaries and forms of political art are defined. So we could say that it is not the action that continues but the process of political art.
What do expect from the future? Are you willing to continue living in a stagnated Russia? Have you thought about applying your energies somewhere else? Are you struggling for a better life for yourself or for the country? (And is it a struggle?)
Each of us is responsible for the situation of stagnation. And for this reason alone I do not want to live somewhere else. As for me and my life, it is not a struggle, but the only possible form of existence under state terror. Everything else is personal responsibility for the life of society within the bounds of border and passport control.
P.S. On December 10, Pavlensky was transferred to St. Petersburg, where the case of setting fire to the tires is being examined.
Photo courtesy of the Guardian. Translated by the Russian Reader
Common sense is based on a sense of measure, a sense of proportion. Common sense is simply impossible in Russia, because the very fact the Olympics are being held here does not jibe with any justice of “number and measure,” as Plato called it. Meaning, literally, there are the Olympics, and “there is nothing else to talk about.” The hospitals have no drugs, the countryside has no schools, roads and stores, the universities cannot pay salaries of more than 10,000 rubles [approx. 200 euros] a month, and the most widespread dwellings, after all these years, are shabby nine-storey prefabs, built forty years ago by authorities who still possessed a shred of conscience. If you work in a kindergarten you’re dirt poor. If you’re a pensioner, boil yourself buckwheat and ask at the shop for an eighth of a loaf of bread. And in the midst of all this there is the Olympics. No “discussion” whatsoever is possible here. It was hard to imagine that the renewed tradition of ancient sporting competitions would come to symbolize the total, final and irrevocable humiliation of absolutely all people in Russia.
Source: Facebook (with kind permission from the author)
Every day Nina Toromonyan comes to feed her pets amid the ruins of her house in the center of Sochi.
The house and 25-acre plot with a view of the sea were confiscated by force and the house demolished, ostensibly because they impeded construction of Kurortny Avenue.
Thirteen people lived in the house, three families. They received total compensation of five million rubles [approx 105,000 euros]. Masked riot police toting machine guns evicted them on October 23, 2013, although Kurortny Avenue had already been built two kilometers from Nina’s house.
Her grandfather was officially granted the plot in 1947 in recognition of his heroism in World War Two.
None of the three related families who lived there has been able to buy themselves a house or even an apartment in Sochi. Like vagabonds, they find shelter where they can.
No one touched the homes to the right and the left of the plot. Experts says someone had set their sights on Nina’s property and used Putin’s Olympics to grab it on the sly. In fact, the prices in Sochi are such that the compensation payment should have been no less than forty million rubles [approx. 845,000 euros] .
When the riot police were dragging the bawling women from the house, Nina’s nine-year-old grandson Grisha shouted, “Don’t shoot, don’t kill us!” Trying to calm him down, his mother took his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid, son. They’re just making a movie—about fascists.”
The short version is that during the four hours at Kitai-Gorod police station [in Moscow] Lynne Reid and Knicks Nemeni were handcuffed and kicked, Gleb Latnik was punched and pulled by the hair, and Ginger was put in a choke hold. I got off relatively easy: first, they suggested I “suck their cocks,” then they spat in my face.
Oh yeah, “You all should be burned” was among the remarks they made.
None of the policemen were wearing badges.
They enjoyed themselves. They confiscated our telephones. They sat there looking through our photos and leafing through our text messages.
A defense lawyer (an aide to MP Ilya Ponomaryov) was not let in to see us.
Then I was simply kicked out of the police station, with no arrest report, no nothing. “[He or she] sang a song to the tune of the Russian national anthem with distorted lyrics” was written in the arrest reports of the people who got them.
It’s excellent singing the national anthem on Red Square. It’s nice on Red Square in general. We need to go there more often.
Oh yes. When we left the cafe where we met before the protest, the police were already waiting for us. Dear LGBT activists, phones really are bugged, email really is scanned, and text messages are received not only by the people they’re sent to. Use alternative means of communication and take care of each other.
Love triumphs, both at the Olympics and just like that.
When the organizers of the Petersburg LGBT film festival Side by Side invited me to serve on the festival jury, I agreed right away. I’m no expert on cinema, and I’m not a member of the LGBT community, but given what has been happening in Russia, the festival has become a political event, and being involved with it is a way of clearly expressing your civic stance.
As one of the organizers, Gulya Sultanova, told me, “This time, almost all the movie theaters [the festival approached] decided to support the film festival, despite the potential risks. And that’s worth a lot.”
I found it difficult to share Gulya’s optimism. I was certain that attempts would be made to disrupt the festival, and that trouble lay in store for organizers and festival goers.
A Dangerous Opening
Several minutes before the festival’s opening ceremony at the Warsaw Express shopping and entertainment complex, police got word of a bomb threat to the movie theater. While police combed the building for a bomb, festival goers hung outside in the chilly wind.
“There are homophobes on the corner. They’re really creepy.”
A gang of beefy skinheads appeared a few meters away from us. As Gulya later explained, the guys were nationalists from an organization called Soprotivlenie (Resistance). One female viewer standing next to me was visibly nervous.
“Now they’ll start throwing rocks at us, like during the rally at the Field of Mars. Now they’ll start firing at us with pneumatic guns!”
Right there among the gay activists was Dmitry Chizhevsky, a black bandage on his face. It had only been just recently that persons unknown had attacked an LGBT community center and shot Chizhevsky in the eye with a pneumatic pistol.
Side by Side organizers asked festival goers not to wander off by themselves.
We were finally ushered into the movie theater. The Dutch film Matterhorn, about a father who has kicked his gay son out of the house, opened the festival.
Police escorted Side by Side viewers from the movie theater to the subway.
Predictions by Foreign Guests
Post-screening discussion of Out in East Berlin: “I think the tough times are still ahead of you.”
“We were afraid of pogroms, that they would try and kill homosexuals in the street.”
At the last minute, many foreign guests had been frightened to come to Russia.
Side by Side Received Five Bomb Threats during Its Ten-Day Run
The police and ambulance came each time, and everyone was evacuated from the buildings where the “bombs” had been “planted.” At ETAGI, for example, its staff, patrons from its cafes, bars and shops, and its hostel guests were kicked out onto the street along with LGBT activists.
The people behind the false bomb threats have not been found.
Side by Side co-organizer Manny de Guerre: “No venue will ever work with us again.”
Manny’s worries were justified. After the bomb threats, both the Zona Deistviya co-working space at ETAGI and Jam Hall Cinema terminated their agreements with Side by Side for the remaining screenings.
Lena Klimova: “In our city, many people don’t even know the word LGBT.”
Lena Klimova, a journalist and creator of the Internet project Children 404, was supposed to take part in the discussion. She had specially come all the way from Nizhny Tagil for the festival.
Through the Back Entrance
The screening, at Jam Hall Cinema, of Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle), which was then playing without incident at many other theaters in Petersburg, was interrupted by a bomb threat. The police led viewers out of the theater through the back entrance. At the main entrance, Petersburg legislative assembly deputy and United Russia member Vitaly Milonov demanded that police free children whom the “sodomites” were, allegedly, “forcibly holding” at the screening. Around twenty lowlifes came out to support Milonov.
“We caught several minors in the movie theater and photographed them with their IDs.”
While waiting for the theater to be checked for bombs, Side by Side viewers took refuge in a nearby cafe, but several people, including me, lingered on the street. A policeman came up to me.
“Tell your people not to stand in the street but to hide in the cafe. They could be attacked.”
“They don’t want to go into the cafe.”
“It’s dangerous. Although they look like ordinary people. Maybe they won’t be noticed, and no one will bother them.”
While what the policeman said jarred me, it didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the absence of support for Side by Side on the part of Petersburg’s civic and leftist activists.
In the Bomb Shelter
After Jam Hall pulled out of its agreement with Side by Side, the festival moved to the Green Lantern Press Club, a small basement space. No bomb threats were made to this venue.
As festival jury member Bård Ydén remarked, “What bombs? We’re already in a bomb shelter.”
In the Name Of is about a priest’s struggle with his homosexual desires. Andrei, a pastor at a Protestant church, took part in the post-screening discussion.
LGBT Christian: “A persecuted minority is being oppressed in the name of the church.”
“I’m offended by the idea that a person can’t be both Christian and LGBT.”
The pastor recounted how he had once invited LGBT Christians to celebrate Easter at his church, but the other parishioners had refused to eat at the same table with them.
Pastor: “The Bible unequivocally treats homosexuality as a sin.”
We Were Here
We Were Here, about the AIDs epidemic among gays in San Francisco in the 1980s, made a huge impression on me. The epidemic claimed over fifteen thousand lives during this period. The US government considered introducing a compulsory quarantine, clothes with identifying marks or special tattoos for people infected with HIV. Mass protests by the LGBT community put a stop to such plans. Gays demanded information about the new disease, development and free distribution of drugs, and government support for HIV-positive people. At the same time, the LGBT community established charitable organizations: hundreds of gay activists became volunteers, while many lesbians donated blood and worked as nurses.
One of the people featured in the film, AIDS activist Ed Wolf, came to the festival.
Ed Wolf: “I’ve ridden around Petersburg. You have many gays here. I saw them myself.”
Moderator: “So the American government wasn’t willing to solve the problem?” Ed Wolf: “An army of activists forced the government to act.”
Thanks to the civic engagement of the LGBT community and, later, the society at large, the epidemic in San Francisco was stopped relatively quickly.
Ed Wolf continues to work on HIV/AIDS issues. According to him, women are now at risk.
“It’s hard for women to force their husbands to wear a condom every time.”
Wolf also said that gays are also men and that it’s time for them to reconsider their patriarchal views of women.
At Side by Side, I noticed that the LGBT community was also not free of sexism. Spotting my jury member badge, one young gay man asked which movies I would be voting for. Hearing I had chosen Blue Is the Warmest Color and Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution, he said, “Those films are so boring. And lesbian sex is disgusting to watch.”
Most of the films shown at Side by Side were shot by male directors and dealt with gay love. Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution was the only feature film at the festival made by women about women. The screening room was half empty: men did not come.
The audience at Lesbiana
Lesbiana combines interview with aged lesbian activists who were involved in the LGBT and feminist movements during the 1970s with documentary footage from the period. In those years there were a lot of separatist lesbian communes, where women lived and engaged in painting, sculpture, literature, music and performance.
Sharing our impressions of Lesbiana at a cafe: “I wonder whether there are ‘feminine lands’ in Russia where only lesbians live?”
Alexander Markov (on left). Elena Kostyuchenko: “As the only LGBT activist on the jury, I’m responsible for authenticity.”
Our discussion quickly shifted from the films to Russia’s homophobic policies.
Elena Kostyuchenko: “If they start removing children from LGBT [families], our lives will change forever.” Marina Staudenmann (on right)
We were nearly unanimous in our choice of the winning feature film.
Marina Staudenmann: “La vie d’Adèle.” Bård Ydén: “La vie d’Adèle.” Alexander Markov: “La vie d’Adèle.”
Valentine Road, about the murder of a transgender schoolboy by his classmate, won the prize for best feature-length documentary film.
The Festival’s Closing Ceremony
Aside from the by now routine bomb threat, viewers who came to the closing ceremony had a surprise in store from the Rodina (Motherland) party. Party activists handed out “gift bags” to them.
Side by Side organizers describing what was in the “gift bags”: “The bags contained rope and bars of soap, along with a note reading, ‘From Russians with love.'”
Gus Van Sant, the festival’s most anticipated guest of honor: “The people who wanted to shut the festival down caused the LGBT community to close ranks.”
Gus Van Sant showed up at the Side by Side closing ceremonies with Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev, whom he introduced to the audience as his “good Russian friend.”
A woman in the audience asked the famed director, “What is a Putin endorser doing at an LGBT film festival?”
Van Sant chose not to answer the question.
Afterparty at the Malevich LGBT club
Sitting among gays and lesbians at the closed LBGT club, I mulled over my impressions of the events of the festival. I had felt frightened several times during the clashes with homophobes, and I was glad I was heterosexual. I would not be forced to live my entire life in a constant state of anxiety.
Towards the end of the festival, Gulya Sultanova said, “We’re just a festival, but there’s the sense we’re running a military operation.”
LGBT activists are just people. Why must they live as if they were invisible or criminals?