Xenophobia. Interrogation. Deportation

[This is a message from the American Civil Liberties Union I found in my mailbox this morning. Why have I reproduced it here? Because the best way to take the wind out of the sails of Putin and his Herrenvolk back in the Motherland is to demonstratively reject and dismantle all the quasi-fascist and nationalist practices that the so-called western democracies have been indulging in more and more often in recent years. By rejecting them, we also encourage the brave folk in Russia who are fighting the same evils. TRR.]

ACLU

Last week President Trump tweeted plans to unleash a wave of ICE raids across the country to conduct mass arrests and deportations. Whether or not the raids occur, he’s playing games with millions of people’s lives and stoking fear and uncertainty in our communities.

ICE has already been out of control under his administration, and one reason why is because of controversial 287(g) agreements that give local law enforcement the authority to racially profile, detain, and deport members of their communities. Your state or local police could be doing ICE’s dirty work as we speak.

287(g) agreements expire on June 30 and have to be affirmatively renewed. That means we have a chance to squash them before the month’s end. Tell Congress to eliminate 287(g) agreements in one fell swoop by passing the PROTECT Immigration Act right now.

Under 287(g) agreements, police get federal ICE authority that can lead them to racially profile people who look or sound “like immigrants” and interrogate them about their immigration status. They also use ICE’s database to deport people who come into contact with local police for minor non-immigration offenses. And they can hold people for up to 48 hours on ICE detainers, even if all charges have been dropped.

To date, local police have helped deport over 12,000 immigrants in the Trump years alone – but we can fight back. If passed, the PROTECT Immigration Act would eliminate 287(g) agreements altogether.

Sign the petition demanding that Congress pass the PROTECT Immigration Act and restore trust and inclusivity in our communities.

It’s not easy going up against Trump’s deportation machine. But if enough of us speak out, then we can put an end to this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, one abusive policy at a time.

gutenheimflugThis is just one of several dozen racist European parliamentary election posters I found less than a month ago near the commuter train station in Buch, Berlin’s northernmost district. All of them were in support of the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP). A local friend of mine said the fact the posters were still up a week after the elections could have been interpreted as a violation of election law on the part of local authorities. In any case, the sheer profusion of Islamophobic and racist hate speech near its train station is at odds with Buch’s status as a place chockablock with cutting-edge medical research clinics and life sciences labs. If you were, say, a scientist from India who had come to Berlin at the invitation of Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and you saw what I saw in Buch, the center’s home, would you accept a job offer to work there, knowing your new neighbors and the local officials were cool with neo-Nazi propaganda gracing their town’s streets? As it was, despite their efforts to make Buch look like Neo-Naziland (they scared me away for good, that’s for sure), the NDP won no seats in the elections and were relegated to the “Others” category in the final tallies. But their “more respectable” friends in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), who would also no doubt wish that all immigrants of a certain type would have a “good flight home,” received over four million votes on May 26, 2019, meaning they would have six seats in the new parliament, up one from the previous sitting. Photograph by the Russian Reader

 

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Outlandish

lakhtaEven with my camera’s lens maxed out, it was not to hard for me to guess who was cleaning the glass (or whatever they were doing) high up in the air on the sides of Gazprom’s almost-finished Lakhta Center skyscraper in Petersburg. They were certainly not ethnic Russians or “people of Slavic appearance,” as they say back in the Motherland. They were almost certainly underpaid, disenfranchised and nearly universally despised migrant workers from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Lakhta, Petersburg, November 11, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s a brilliant plan. The Kremlin now wants to raid neighboring countries and steal their “Russian-speaking” populace (i.e., the non-ethnic Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, etc., who live in Central Asia) to address Russia’s “population decline.”

That is, it is done with importing swarthy Muslims by the trainload and planeload so it can make them to do all the country’s menial labor while underpaying and shaking them down at the same time. Now it just wants to destabilize and impoverish their countries even further by robbing them of five to ten million people.

In recent years, self-declared progressive Russian scholars have nearly made a cottage industry of applying postcolonial theory to post-Soviet Russia. These scholars have focused almost entirely on how the Satanic West has “colonized” their country in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

How the Russian metropole colonized and occupied other countries during the tsarist and Soviet period is of no interest to them whatsoever, nor are post-Soviet Russia’s attempts at recolonization and neo-imperialism through migrant labor, military aggression, and the creation of post-Soviet counterparts to the EU and NATO.

No, it’s all about how the big bad West has woefully mistreated the world’s largest, richest country. {TRR}

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Kremlin Seeks Russian-Speaking Migrants to Offset Population Decline
Moscow Times
March 14, 2019

The Kremlin plans to attract up to 10 million Russian-speaking migrants in the next six years to reverse the country’s population decline, the business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

Russia’s population declined to 146.8 million in 2018, official data released on Thursday estimates, its first decrease in 10 years. Migration has been unable to offset natural population losses for the first time since 2008.

President Vladimir Putin has prioritized migration policy by signing a plan of action for 2019–2025 and adding migration to the remit of his constitutional rights office.

The plan involves granting citizenship to anywhere from 5 to 10 million migrants, Kommersant reported, citing unnamed sources involved in carrying out Putin’s migration policy plan.

The Kremlin lists Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and other post-Soviet states with Russian-speaking populations as so-called “donor countries” where new Russian citizens could be recruited, the paper writes.

Russia needs up to 300,000 additional people per year in order to reach net-zero population growth, Kommersant’s sources are quoted as saying.

Several bills designed to ease citizenship and immigration rules are also in the pipeline, some of which could be considered this May, Kommersant reported.

How Russia Treats “Compatriots”: The Case of Tatyana Kotlyar

A residence permit on Lermontov Street: why a human rights activist from Obninsk violates the laws of the Russian Federation
Julia Vishnevetskaya
October 3, 2015
Deutsche Welle

Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, who has registered over a thousand immigrants at her home, is on trial in Obninsk. DW got to the bottom of the case.

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Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar

The latest hearing in the case of human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, on Friday, October 2, at the Obninsk Magistrate Court, began with a surprise. It transpired that the judge hearing the case had resigned a mere two days earlier.

“I wonder if there is an article in Criminal Code for causing a judge to resign?” joked defense counsel Illarion Vasilyev.

He does not rule out that the resignation was connected to the Kotlyar case. Earlier, 43-year-old Judge Svetlana Baykova sent the case back to the prosecutor’s office because new circumstances had come to light: the list of immigrants the defendant had been accused of having registered in her “rubber” flat had changed. Along with the new circumstances has come a new judge, Dmitry Trifonov. Now everything has to begin again, complains Vasilyev, although, during the previous phase, examination of the witnesses alone lasted two months. Since none of the witnesses was present at the October 2 session, a substantive consideration of the case was postponed until October 12.

The substance of the case
Former Obninsk City Assembly deputy Tatyana Kotlyar does not deny that she has registered over a thousand people in her three-room flat on Lermontov Street. She registered them deliberately and made no secret of the fact, even mentioning it in an open letter to President Putin. Former residents of such different countries as Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Germany, Israel, and even Brazil are registered in Kotlyar’s flat.

“There were Old Believers from Brazil, who had decided to return to Russia seventy years later,” recounts Kotlyar. “They sold everything  and left. When they showed up on my  doorstep in their old-fashioned caftans, I thought a folk music ensemble had arrived. Now they have received land in rural areas, they have received Russian passports, and they are fine.”

Most of Kotlyar’s wards arrived in Russia under the state program for the resettlement of compatriots. In operation since 2006, the program involves a simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for people “brought up in the traditions of Russian culture, [and who] speak Russian and do not wish to lose touch with Russia.” Kaluga Region is one of the regions participating in the program. In these regions, new residents of the Russian Federation are supposed to get full support from the state, including assistance finding employment and even relocation expenses.

“But no one warned them that the first thing they would need to do would be to register themselves at their place of residence,” complains Kotlyar. “Without registration [propiska] it is impossible to draw up documents, send children to school, and register for care at a local health clinic.”

“She didn’t take a kopeck from us”
This was the problem faced by Diana Tigranyan, who moved with her family from Yerevan to Obninsk.

“At the Russian consulate in Armenia they promised us mountains of gold! No one said we would need a residence permit,” recounts Tigranyan. “But here it turned that the owners of the flat we rented were afraid to register strangers. There are firms that charge 15,000 rubles a person for this service. But I have a husband, parents, and two children. Where would I get this money?”

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Diana Tigranyan and family

It was not just anyone who advised Tigranyan to turn to Kotlyar, but the Federal Migration Service itself.

“The female employee who was processing my documents said, ‘I cannot help you in any way, but out in the hallway there is a woman. Try approaching her.'”

At first, Tigranyan thought Kotlyar also made money from residence permits.

“I offered her money, and she turned it down. When we told about this in court, no one believed it. But she really is a saint. She didn’t take a kopeck from us.”

Criminal case
Tatyana Kotlyar became an offender on January 1, 2014, when the so-called law on rubber flats came into force. It makes registering a person somewhere other than their place of residence a criminal offense. Criminal charges were filed in March 2014. Kotlyar was charged under Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code (“Fictitious residence registration of foreign citizens in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”) and Article 322.3 (“Fictitious local registration of a foreign citizen in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”). Interestingly, on the list of twelve names entered into evidence by the prosecution, there are two people whom Kotlyar has never seen herself.

“Apparently, some woman at the passport office or post office who handles registration knew about my flat and just registered some more people there, for money or as a favor.”

In recent months, Kotlyar has registered several hundred Ukrainian citizens.

“They come to see me every day. They include both refugees from hot spots and men from other regions who are threatened with being drafted into the army in Ukraine. The Russian government has promised to help, but ultimately these people face the same problem as all immigrants.”

Kotlyar is certain that the law on rubber flats violates human rights.

“This did not happen even under Stalin. Then they sentenced people to camps for residing without a passport or residence permit, but at least they didn’t punish the landlord.”

According to Kotlyar, the government is trying to fight the effect rather than the cause.

“Where there is demand, there will always be supply. The problem is not rubber flats, but the very institution of the residence permit. It should be a matter of simple notification, and its presence or absence should in no way affect the provision of civil rights.”

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Illarion Vasilyev, Tatyana Kotlyar’s defense attorney

She helped solved the crime
Illarion Vasilyev, Kotlyar’s attorney, understands that the human rights activist has deliberately put herself in the way of the new law to draw attention to the problem.

“Yes, it’s her civic stance. She knows she will be held liable, and she has issued a challenge,” says Vasilyev in an interview with DW. “Has she harmed anyone? Yes, she probably has. The service of legalizing compatriots costs a lot of money, and Kotlyar constitutes competition for the firms that make money on this. But the people who are questioned as prosecution witnesses at the trial bow at her feet and say thank you.”

Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 rubles or imprisonment for up to three years for fictitious registration. The article, however, contains an important proviso.

“A person who commits an offense under this article shall be exempt from criminal liability if he helped solve the crime and if his actions do not constitute another crime.”

According to Vasilyev, no one has helped solve the crime as much as Kotlyar herself has.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Solidarity, Community, Internationalism (and Good Public Broadcasting)

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, asked four recent immigrants to Finland, people who are still in the process of studying Finnish and integrating into the society, to interview representatives of the country’s main political parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which will take place there on April 19.

The catch was that Yle also asked the parties to send as interviewees party members who were immigrants and had themselves learned Finnish as adults or teenagers. Among other things, the interviewees were asked to explain how they had come to join the particular parties they now represented.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), notorious for its anti-immigrant views, was unable to provide an interviewee for the program.

The Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) sent as its representative Suldan Said Ahmed, a young entrepreneur and politician originally from Somaliland. (Somaliland is an autonomous region of Somalia that seeks recognition as an independent country from the rest of the world, but as yet hasn’t got it.)

According to Said Ahmed, solidarity, community, and internationalism are the three words that best sum up the Left Alliance for him.

If like me, you are someone studying Finnish, you should love listening to Said Ahmed, because his Finnish is much easier to understand and “correct” than that spoken by “real” Finns, what with their variety of local dialects and reliance on puhekieli (conversational language), which is often shockingly at variance from the “proper” textbook Finnish we foreigners and immigrants learn on courses.

I found a recent article profiling Said Ahmed in the leftist Finnish newspaper Kansan Uutiset.

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Suldaan Said Ahmed. Photo: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

It seems Said Ahmed has political ambitions in his native Somaliland as well. He would like to become the youngest MP there and is planning to stand, apparently, in this year’s upcoming parliamentary elections there.

Said Ahmed would also like sometime in the future to be president of Finland, but that job, alas, is constitutionally only open to native-born Finns. (So far, I would like to think for his sake.)

I find all of this so fascinating in part because, just last week, I had to go verbally postal on a few of my classmates in the advanced Finnish course I have been taking here in the former capital of All the Russias. For the second or third time this semester, they regaled the rest of us with dark tales of how Somalians like Said Ahmed are ruining the fair country of Finland by moving there in droves to become—yes—welfare scroungers. Meanwhile, the government has decided, allegedly, not to let more Russians to move to Finland, even though generally it wants to encourage more immigration to the country to help care for its aging population, etc.

You get the drift.

It might rock my classmates’ world to find out that one of the interviewers in the “Let’s Meet the Parties” program (along with a man from the Philippines, a woman from Lithuania, and a woman from South Korea) is Svetlana Siltanen, who emigrated to Finland from Russia last year.

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Svetlana Siltanen. Photo: Mikko Kuusisalo / Yle

My “dream a little dream” today would be to put Yle in charge of public broadcasting for a year in Russia. What a difference that could make to people’s outlooks here.

Victoria Lomasko: A Trip to Kyrgyzstan

A Trip to Kyrgyzstan
Victoria Lomasko
August 25, 2014
soglyadatay.livejournal.com

Kyrygzstan/Kirghizia

I had come to visit Bishkek Feminist Сollective SQ.

“Are there really feminists in Kirghizia?” my mom had wondered before I left.

On the way from the airport to Bishkek the collective’s leader, Selbi, corrected my speech several times.

“It’s not Kirghizia, but Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz, not Kirghiz.”

In fact, the local Russians speak the way they are used to, and no one pays any mind to their use of “Kirghiz.” But when a Kyrgyz says it, it is insulting and even offensive. It means someone who is Russified and has forgotten the traditions of their people. Besides, the word “kirghiz” means “forbidden to enter.”

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Gusya, a member of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ: “My parents told me that at school they were forbidden to speak Kyrgyz.”

“You don’t live in Kirghizia, but in the Soviet Union, one country for everyone,” Russian teachers would explain.

The majority of people in the capital of Kyrgyzstan still speak Russian. While I was in Bishkek, I heard from several Kyrgyz that Russians had symbolic capital, because they were seen as more cultured and educated. The local Russians I met said they were not the titular nation, and a glass ceiling inevitably awaited them in the civil service, for example. But they had not encountered serious harassment in daily life.

The Problem of Migration

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“How can you develop the country when half its population doesn’t live in it?”

I was invited to draw at the Mekendeshter Forum (“Compatriots” Forum), organized by the ex-President of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva. The forum dealt with the issue of emigration from the country. It was held in the spacious, beautifully designed Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University, which the Turks opened in Bishkek in 1997. On one side of the stage hung a large portrait of Ataturk; on the other side, an image of Manas, the Kyrgyz epic hero. The forum program included a separate discussion on cooperation between the “fraternal countries” of Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Many Kyrgyz have in recent years preferred to go to work in Turkey. Several speakers emphasized that in Turkey, compared to Russia, there was much more respect for the Kyrgyz diaspora. The Islamization of Kyrgyzstan has accompanied Turkey’s growing influence.

Almost half the speakers at the forum spoke in Russian. There wasn’t a separate panel on cooperation with Russia, but the subject constantly came up, first of all, in connection with Kyrgyzstan’s possible accession to the Eurasian Customs Union.

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Woman on left: “Our government is promoting the interests of a foreign country and is prepared to restrict the freedoms of its own citizens.” Kyrgyz Prime Minister (at lectern): “It’s only an economic union.”

Many speakers criticized the decision.

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(in Kyrgyz) “The borders of the Customs Union are the borders of the Iron Curtain. Will we be turning our back on other countries?”

Will accession to the Customs Union impact the country’s domestic policies? Members of the Kyrgyz parliament are already pushing through bad imitations of Russian laws, for example, a law on “foreign agents,” almost identical to the Russian law, or introduction of criminal liability for disseminating information about LGBT. Moreover, the law would cover not only “propaganda among minors,” as in the Russia “18 and over” law.

During my stay in Bishkek, there was a scandal at a contemporary art show. In his Spider-Man series, the artist Chingiz had depicted a spider in Kyrgyz national headdress. He was immediately summoned to the GKNB (the State Committee on National Security, the local version of the FSB) and bombarded with threats on the Internet.

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Chingiz: “I’m threatened with violence for insulting the national heritage.”

Joining the Customs Union will make it easier to travel to Russia to work and increase emigration many times over. However, speakers at the forum said that Kyrgyzstan already suffered from a lack of specialists and, in some areas, just plain laborers.

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Ex-President Roza Otunbayeva: “There has been and will continue to be a growing demand for Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia.” 

You can find what Russian citizens have to say about Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Customs Union by doing a Google search. Most often, they are predictably outraged by “parasite wogs” or happy about “reunification of the Russian lands.” There are also a few liberal comments to the effect of “but somebody has to do the dirty work for us.”

Toi

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“The money earned by migrant workers is not spent on their children’s educations.”

Most often, the money earned by migrant workers is not spent on their own education, healthcare, buying real estate or starting a small business. Money earned over several years can be spent in a single month on a toi.

A toi is a celebration with plenty of refreshments. Its main difference from an ordinary holiday feast is that there must be so much food that the guests will not be able to eat it all and will take food home with them. When a circumcision is celebrated, guests come for a month. To do a toi at a wedding, a loan is taken out which is then paid back for years on end.

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The closing of the forum was held at the Supara Ethno Complex in the outskirts of Bishkek. The refreshments and alcohol never once ran low. The party ended around midnight. Guests took the leftover food home in special toi bags.

Feminism Kyrgyz Style

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Baktygul, Daria, and Meerim

These are Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan. Members of the group are between thirteen and seventeen years old. They are preparing to apply for a grant to the FRIDA Young Feminist Fund. If they get the grant, they will hold a manaschi contest for girls.

Manaschis are male reciters of the Epic of Manas. However, female reciters have recently emerged.

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Baktygul (reciting the Manas) and Daria

Baktygul, a member of the Girl Activists, is a manaschi. According to her, boys are specially trained, and their teachers serve as judges on reciting contest juries. Girls study on their own, and they have virtually no chance of winning at general competitions.

I asked the girls about ala kachuu, bride kidnapping. Two of them said their mothers had been kidnapped.

“It was a schooltime romance. My mom wanted to study, but she had to get married,” one of them said.

“My cousins in the twenty-first century kidnapped brides,” said Daria. “Four guys tried to kidnap my female cousin. She is very big, and she tried to fight them off. They could barely handle her.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being kidnapped?” I asked.

“No. There is a law. We’ll tell them, ‘Articles 154 and 155 of the Criminal Code. Do you want to get sent up for ten years?'”

The punishment was toughened in 2013. Previously, kidnappers of underage “brides” had faced three to five years in prison, but only a fine if the girl had turned seventeen. Two years of advocacy by the Women’s Support Center and Open Line, as well as the activism of women’s groups around the country, had led to the law’s amendment. Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ held one of the biggest protest actions in the campaign in downtown Bishkek. They planted 19,300 little flags. 9,800 flags stood for the number of women abducted in a single year. 2,000 white flags stood for the number of women raped during abduction, while 7,500 purple flags stood for the number of women who had reported domestic violence.

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Selbi (left) and Farida: “Girls stop being taken to Eid celebrations from the age of nine.”

This is Farida, a Dungan and a member of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ. I visited her home during the Muslim festival of Eid, which takes place after Ramadan. Families stop taking girls along for holiday visits, because they begin serving at the celebrations by cooking and cleaning up after the numerous guests.

Dungan families are very large: several generations live together, and there is rigid hierarchy among members. The lives of girls and women are subordinated to the household. As a child, Farida was used to getting up at six in the morning to work in the house. She was not allowed to play with other children.

“The house was my only space,” she said.

Farida had to fight for the right to go to school. When she met the feminists and took up activism herself, pressure from family members was so strong she had to run away from home. Farida had been one of the main organizers of the flags rally.

After a year of living in the feminist community, Farida returned home. Influenced by her daughter, Farida’s mother, Sofia, had become interested in women’s rights and was able to change how things were done in their home.

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Farida’s younger sister Maria has free time. She can play with other children, draw, and go to school. Maria: “If a cat looks at someone who is eating, it can take his life.”

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“A week after giving birth, Dungan women go back to work in the fields.”

Young Kyrgyz women made the following comments about the drawing above.

“They have too much time off!”

“My grandmother gave birth in the field and just went on working.”

“Kyrgyz women are hardier!”

Hard female and child labor still persists in Kyrgyz villages.

“When they are six, children must think about providing for themselves. When they are nine, they have to earn money for textbooks and school uniforms. Teenagers are hired to pick raspberries and other berries. They work every day for ten hours.”

LGBT

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Officially, there are no LGBT in Kyrgyzstan. Homosexuality is permissible for Russians, but certainly not for Kyrgyz.

I visited the only LGBT club in Bishkek and, probably, in Kyrgyzstan. Nearly all the patrons were Kyrgyz. There were only a few female couples: lesbians are even more closeted in Kyrgyzstan than gays.

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As in Russia, beatings, rapes, and murders of gays, lesbians, and transgenders are widespread in Kyrgyzstan. After passage of the homophobic law in Russia, attacks on LGBT activists have become more frequent.

I talked to several patrons at the club, but I won’t write anything about them. Bishkek is a small city, and mentioning any particulars could be dangerous.

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“We are constantly faced with humiliation and insults. We can’t imagine how to go on living. How do we find a partner? How do we tell our parents? Or how do we make sure our parents don’t find out? How do we leave the club safely?

During debates about the law bill proposing criminal liability for “promoting” homosexuality, Kyrgyz MPs claimed they were standing together with Russia to protect the Eastern world against the Western world. Many middlebrows probably appreciate this stance. They don’t follow events in Russia and don’t know that if we allow the state to infringe on the rights of one social group, we are no longer able to stop the flood of laws censoring all areas of our lives. It would be sad if the same future awaits Kyrgyzstan’s nascent civil society.

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Recent publications in English by and about Victoria Lomasko:

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Victoria Lomasko (center) at a drawing workshop in Bishkek earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ Facebook page.