Beglov, Big Love

Rotunda
August 31, 2019

It is eight days before the Petersburg gubernatorial election.

On Palace Square, there is a free concert by local rock group Splean, with the city footing the bill.

The winners of the creative contest Bolshaya Lyubov are also to be announced at the event.

If you reflect a bit on the elusive play of words and meanings in the contest’s name, you should easily be able to translate it into English as “Big Love.”

The contest winners are congratulated in person onstage by (drum roll, please) Alexander Beglov.

Several times, he says that all of us really love our city.

The gubernatorial candidate ushers a war veteran and singer Alexander Rosenbaum on stage.

Rosenbaum and Beglov sing “The City on the Wild and Free Neva.”

Palace Square is packed to capacity.

“The City on the Wild and Free Neva,” as performed and recorded by Valery Belyanin

Video footage courtesy of Rotunda. Translated by the Russian Reader. This is the 1,500th entry on this website. To learn how you can support my work, read this.

Suing the Opposition into Oblivion

The Lash and the Pocketbook: Petersburg Tests New Scheme for Punishing Opposition
Sergei Yeremeyev
Zaks.ru
December 14, 2018

The prosecutor’s office has estimated that two Petersburg parks sustained 10.9 million rubles [approx. 144,000 euros] in damage during the He’s Not Our Tsar protest, which took place on May 5, 2018, in Petersburg [and other Russian cities]. Two people, Denis Mikhailov and Bogdan Livtin, will be held responsible for all the protesters, police officers, and ordinary Petersburgers who walked on the lawns that day in the vicinity of Palace Square. Law enforcement agencies have identified the two men as organizers of the protest rally.

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Saving the Grass from Provocateurs
Suing for damage to municipal property is the Russian state’s new know-how when it comes to intimidating the opposition. Like certain other innovations, for example, repeated arrests for involvement in the same protest rally, it is being tried out on Alexei Navalny’s supporters.

The authorities decided to start big. The prosecutor’s office has estimated the city suffered nearly 11 million rubles in damage from the He’s Not Our Tsar rally. According to members of the Navalny Team in Petersburg, the 300-page complaint claims opposition protesters damaged the greenery in the Alexander Garden and the garden next to the Winter Palace. Allegedly, they trampled the lawns, flower beds, and roses, and damaged the dogwood and lilac bushes.

The complaint states the cost of restoring the vegetation in the two green spaces, as provided by the city’s municipal amenities committee. According to the committee, it cost 3,651,000 rubles [approx. 48,000 euros] to repair the damage incurred by the May 5 rally.

The prosecutor’s office multiplied this amount by three, citing a municipal regulation on the amount of compensation to be paid when greenery has to be replaced. The regulation states the amount of damage caused to green spaces protected by the city’s Committee on the Use and Preservation of Landmarks (KGIOP) must be multiplied by a factor of three.

DSCN0254.jpg (303 KB)A giant rubber duck emblazoned with the logo of the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement floats in a fountain in the Alexander Garden on May 5, 2018.

Ivan Pavlov, lawyer and head of Team 29, a group of civil rights lawyers, fears the lawsuit against Litvin and Mikhailov is only the first of similar penalties.

“I am concerned by the direction the prosecutor’s office has taken. This would set a very dangerous precedent. Precedents are usually tried out in other regions of the country, but this time they are starting with Petersburg. Fines are one thing, but civil liability is a whole new level of impacting people’s desire to protest,” Pavlov told Zaks.ru.

Leonid Volkov, project manager at the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), argues that if you follow the Petersburg prosecutor’s thinking to its logical conclusion, you could also punish the organizers of authorized rallies.

“If they tell us that the rally organizer should be punished for trampling the law rather than the person who trampled the lawn, it makes no difference whether the rally was authorized or not, right? Let’s imagine we have organized an authorized rally. The prosecutor shows up and tells us organizers he is suing us for a billion rubles. It would sound completely insane,” Volkov said.

Downtown Petersburg is often used as a venue for large-scale events, including official celebrations. For example, this past summer, the Smolny reported that, during the annual Crimson Sails celebration for school leavers, when young Petersburgers and out-of-towners party all night long, approximately 600 cubic meters of rubbish were removed from the downtown area. It is unknown whether the city inspected the condition of its bushes after the school leavers’ party.

The New Governor
Litvin, federal coordinator and press secretary for the Vesna Movement,  actually applied to the Smolny for permission to hold the May 5 rally. He proposed a march down Zagorodny Prospect, following by a rally on Pioneer Square. The city’s law and order committee found a reason to turn down his application, just like the other applications submitted by Navalny supporters. The city told the opposition to hold its rally in Udelny Park, a large green space in the north of the city that looks more like a forest. Insulted by this suggestion, Navalny supporters announced the rally would take place on Palace Square.

Three months later, on August 2, the October District Court fined Litvin 20,000 rubles for organizing the unauthorized He’s Not Our Tsar protest rally per Article 20.2 Part 1 of the Administrative Offense Code. Petersburg City Court subsequently overturned the lower court’s ruling. The case will be reheard in the near future.

Mikhailov, the Navalny Team’s Petersburg coordinator, has already been punished twice for the May protest. First, the Smolny District Court sentenced him to 25 days in jail, and then the October District Court fined him 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,000 euros], a record fine for opposition political activism in Petersburg. The fact that Mikhailov was on the air on the internet channel Navalny Live during the event, answering the questions of his comrades in Moscow, was considered proof he organized the protest.

“I was covering the event, because the major national media were not there. At such a huge event! In Petersburg, 10,000 people marched on the Nevsky,” replied Mikhailov.

He now recalls an interesting conversation he had on the sidelines of one of his court hearings.

“There was a certain law enforcement officer at one of my court hearings. He told me the prosecutor’s office was planning to file suit, because the damages incurred by the city were too large. Nothing came of it. Judging by the complaint, this past summer, they really did carry out inspections and corresponded on the matter, but then it fizzled out. But in November, when Alexander Beglov was appointed acting governor [of Petersburg], the officials involved resumed their correspondence and the lawsuit was drawn up. Putting it simply, Beglov came to power and gave them the green light,” Mikhailov told Zaks.ru.

Maxim Reznik, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, has also noticed the new governor’s shadow looming over the lawsuit. Reznik argues the Smolny is using such cases to intimidate the opposition in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

“They strike us with the lash, and they hit us in our pocketbooks. It’s directly connected with the new governor. Because he is either involved in what is happening or he has no control of the situation. Why he would want that? The regime is showing us its teeth. It doesn’t want there to be any protests whatsoever. [Beglov] needs things to be quiet so he can bring happiness to the city, while anyone who intends to agitate the people should know their place,” said Reznik.

Supernatural Stupidity
Maybe ten thousand people did not attend the May 5 protest, but there were clearly more than two thousand people on the streets, as was claimed by the Interior Ministry’s local office. Originally, no one had planned to march on Nevsky Prospect. Since a celebration for bikers and rehearsals for the May 9 Victory Day military parade were taking place on Palace Square, the protest rally was hastily moved across the street to the Alexander Garden. When the Alexander Garden was teeming with people who wanted to express their displeasure at the policies of the old-new president, Vladimir Putin, voices in the crowd called for the rally to move to the Nevsky, and people spontaneously rushed into the city’s main street.

The Navalny Team did not immediately join the march. Initially, the rally’s Telegram channel broadcast requests not to heed people urging protesters to leave the Alexander Garden. Volunteers sporting “20!8” pins made the same request in person, until they realized there was no holding people back. The crowd stayed on the sidewalk for awhile, but when it encountered a segment of the Nevsky closed to traffic for repairs, it went onto the roadway. At approximately the same time, Mikhailov, who was in the midst of the crowd, went on the air on Navalny Live.

The first arrests occurred at the corner of Marat Street and Nevsky, where a police barrier awaited the demonstrators. Seeing what happened, the bulk of the crowd turned around and headed in the opposite direction, walking down the Nevsky and parallel streets. In none of the court hearings in the cases of Litvin and Mikhailov was any evidence presented that suggested either of the men had encouraged the demonstrators to return to Palace Square.

Most of the arrests took place outside the Hermitage. Police dressed in riot gear gave chase over the lawns to anyone chanting slogans. They caught some of these people, dragging or escorting them to paddy wagons parked on Palace Passage. The proceedings were videotaped and photographed by bloggers and reporters. No one had the time to look where they were walking.

Two men, however, will be held liable for damaging the lawns and other vegetation. One of them, Litvin, never even made it back to the Winter Garden: he was detained near Gostiny Dvor when the demonstrators headed in the opposite direction.

Attorney Arkady Chaplygin call this method of singling out guilty parties a supernatural stupidity.

“The lawsuit makes no sense whatsoever. The Russian Civil Code prohibits seeking monetary compensation for damage from persons who did not cause the damage. The law requires the individual who caused the damage to be identified. This lawsuit is a PR stunt on the part of Governor Beglov meant to intimidate the opposition. It is a stupidity supernatural in its scope,” argued Chaplygin.

The Frunze District Court will try and make sense of the botany of the city’s parks and the prosecutor’s arithmetic after the New Year’s holidays. A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for January 10.

Photos courtesy of Zaks.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Does It Make a Sound?

RUS-2016-Aerial-SPB-Field_of_Mars
The Field of Mars is in the center of Petersburg, but it is conveniently isolated from well-populated residential neighborhoods and high streets. Unless they are extremely well attended, most political rallies held on the famous former parade grounds and revolutioanry mass burial site go unnoticed by the vast majority of Petersburgers. Photo courtesy of Andrew Shiva and Wikipedia

Up the River: The Smolny Will Expand List of Venues for Political Rallies
Mikhail Shevchuk
Delovoi Peterburg
December 4, 2018

As soon as he took up his duties as acting governor of St. Petersburg, Alexander Beglov announced plans to amend the law on political rallies.

“We need to make changes and introduce order, so there were will be no violations on either side,” he said at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in October.

The Smolny has now drafted amendments to the law. The principle of “Hyde Parks,” that is, of specially designated places where Petersburgers can vent their indignation without prior notification of the authorites, remains in force. However, the Smolny has proposed establishing a minimum number of such places, eight in all.

The current law on political rallies does not specify the number of venues. City hall publishes the list of political rally sites in an ordinance. Originally, in 2012, the Field of Mars (or, rather, a small part of it) was designated the city’s “Hyde Park.” Two years later, four more venues were added: Udelny Park, Polyustrovsky Park, Yuzhno-Primorsky Park, and 30th Anniversary of October Gardens. The Field of Mars was struck from the list last year.

uppYuzhno-Primorsky Park is located in the far southwest of Petersburg. It is four kilometers from the nearest subway station, and three kilometers from the nearest suburban railroad station. Map courtesy of Yandex

Theoretically, it is possible to organize demonstrations in other places, but city hall usually refuses to sanction the rallies under various pretexts, suggesting to organizers they use one of the designated “Hyde Parks.” As a matter of principle, however, the opposition avoids the “Hyde Parks,” which are all situated in the city’s outskirts. Instead, they prefer to assemble at such traditional sites for political rallies as Lenin Square, Pioneer Square and, sometimes, even Palace Square, although they risk fines and forcible dispersal by police.

The maximum number of people who can attend a political rally held without prior notification of the authorities would range from 200 to 500 people under the amended law. As under the old law, State Duma MPs, members of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, and members of the city’s municipal district councils would be able to hold meetings with constituents on the streets.

Officials would now calculate how many people can attend a political rally at a particular venue according to the norm of one person per square meter. Lenin Square and Pioneer Square would thus be able to accommodate rallies attended by as many as 10,000 people. Organizers would also be obliged to inform officials of canceled rallies under the threat of a fine of 5,000 rubles for individuals and 100,000 rubles for legal entities.

“It’s not the number of sites that matters,” said Andrei Pivovarov, leader of the local office of Open Russia. “And no one has ever been fined for going over the maximum number of attendees. One venue would be enough for us, but as long as it is in downtown Petersburg. If the venues are going to be in the outskirts, city hall could give us a dozen such places, but we would try to protest downtown anyway.”

However, Pivovarov said that if the new list included the Field of Mars, Lenin Square, and Pioneer Square, the opposition would be quite satisfied and make use of these venues.

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Maxim Reznik also named the two squares. He said the number of people attending a rally and the convenience of Petersburgers were more important than a particular place. The opposition was always ready for dialogue, he said. However, if the regime made a point of tightening the screws, dissenters, Reznik said, would choose the paddy wagon, that is, they would choose to attend an unauthorized rally rather than cancel it.

Translated by the Russian Reader

LGBT Pride in Petersburg: Thirty Activists Detained

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Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
August 4, 2018

A LGBT pride event was scheduled today, but the authorities refused to permit it, and it was decided we should limit ourselves to solo pickets on Palace Square. The protest was scheduled for 12:34 p.m. It looks pretty (1,2,3,4), but the time is horribly early for me.

But I remembered the words of Alexei Sergeyev and forced myself to get up.

“I hope solidarity is not an empty phrase for you. Maybe we have been together at architectural preservation marches and the Marches for Peace. Or we came out to support the striking truckers and women’s reproductive rights, protested against the destruction of confiscated produce, against corruption, against torture by the FSB, and mourned the murdered Boris Nemtsov. Maybe this is your first picket holding a flag or card. Or you are coming just to support us, to be with us. All of it matters. Every person counts.”

Alexei and I wound up on the same bus. We were running a bit late.

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On Palace Square, we saw crowds of patriotically minded Petersburgers. Many had dressed in camouflage and adorned themselves with St. George’s Ribbons. It transpirted that today was a party for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their owners.

Palace Square was completely cordoned off and chockablock with cops.

I got held up, and when I got to the square, Alexei Sergeyev had already been detained. Then Alek Naza (Alexei Nazarov) was detained: he had no placard, only a rainbow flag. Before that 28 more people had been detained. That is a total of 30 people detained for trying to hold solo pickets [which, according to Russian law, can be held without permission and without notifying authorities in advance]. There are minors among them. Some have been taken to the 74th Police Precinct (in particular, Alexander Khmelyov), while a third group is still being held in a paddy wagon, as far as I know.

Information from witnesses: “Six of the people detained on Palace Square were dropped off at the 69th Police Precinct at 30/3 Marshal Zhukov Avenue, including Yuri Gavrikov, Alexei Sergeyev, and Tanya (Era) Sichkaryova. One of the detainees is an underaged girl. We have refused to be fingerprinted and photographed.”

I was taking pictures with Yelena Grigorieva’s camera. I don’t have those photos yet. I’m using ones that have already been published on group pages and the social media pages of the protesters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Please do not credit the accounts of this incident published by Gay Star News, Gay Tourism, and True Media. I sent the following letter to them a few minutes ago.

Your websites published a very sketchy summary of a post I published on my blog The Russian Reader earlier this evening.

Namely, you characterized the source of my post, Yevgenia Litvinova, as a “LGBTI activist.” She is no such thing. She is a well-known opposition journalist and pro-democracy (anti-Putin) activist, whose organization, Democratic Russia, feels it important to show solidarity with the LGBTI movement in Petersburg. 

Please correct or delete this baseless speculation on your part or I’ll expose your bad journalistic practices on social media and my blog.

My blog is a copyleft website, but no one has the right to rip what I translate and write out of context—a context I know well because I’ve lived in Petersburg for 25 years—and fit it into a fake context that makes more sense to your readers, who, apparently, cannot imagine a non-LGBTI person would or could show solidarity with the LGBTI movement.

Paratroopers Day: LGBT Protest on Palace Square in Petersburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police released all the activists later in the day.

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

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

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

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

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No one from either party to the scuffle was arrested.

All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Kirill Kalugin: “My Freedom Defends Yours”

On August 2, 2013, Russian Paratroopers Day, Kirill Kalugin, a Petersburg university student, took to the city’s Palace Square alone to protest the country’s new anti-gay laws. He was immediately set upon by reveling paratroopers (or as he himself suggested, by national activists masquerading as paratroopers), an incident captured on video by Petersburg news web site Paper Paper.

Kalugin returned to Palace Square this year on August 2 to protest Russia’s increasing militarism and imperialist misadventures in Ukraine. He was roughly detained by police some fifteen seconds after attempting to unfurl a rainbow flag emblazoned with the slogan, “My freedom defends yours.” Despite the fact that Kalugin held his anniversary protest right next to Manifesta 10’s provocative metallic Xmas tree, his protest has so far gone unremarked by progressive humanity (i.e., the international contemporary arts community) and the foreign press.

The interview below was published in August 2013 on the local Petersburg news web site Rosbalt three weeks after Kalugin’s first protest on Palace Square. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lost any of its timeliness, especially given the total absence of an anti-war movement in Russia and the singularity of Kalugin’s bravery and insight.

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Saint Petersburg State University student Kirill Kalugin is half the age of his eminent opponent, Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Vitaly Milonov, although he is also a redhead. But hair color is not the only thing the outspoken homophobe and outspoken gay have in common. Both claim they love their motherland Russia and will never leave it. 

Rosbalt’s Yevgeny Zubarev met with Kalugin in the city center, on Arts Square. It’s a safe place because it is always chockablock with police. There were also lots of police on Palace Square on August 2, [2013], when Kalugin came there alone and unfurled a rainbow flag, but even a platoon of riot police was not immediately able to wrest him away from an agitated crowd dressed in striped shirts for Russian Paratroopers Day.

 — Why did you do it, Kirill? Weren’t you frightened?

— I was frightened. Actually, there were supposed to be four of us out there, but then I ended up going out alone. If there had been several people, the police could have charged us with holding an unauthorized rally, but this way it was a solo picket, which doesn’t require permission. As soon as I unfurled the rainbow flag, men in [traditional Russian paratrooper] striped shirts grabbed me. But I don’t think they were paratroopers: I had seen many of the assailants earlier at anti-LGBT protests. I think they were nationalist activists masquerading as paratroopers. The police pulled me from the crowd and put me in a car, but we couldn’t leave right away: the crowd blocked the car, demanding that the police give me up. The riot police intervened and cleared a path, and I was taken to the 78th police precinct.

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— What did police charge you with? How were you punished?

— I don’t understand it myself. At first they wouldn’t let me make a phone call. The sergeants behaved rudely, and I couldn’t figure out what my status was, whether I had been detained, arrested or was considered a suspect. Right there at the police station one of the detained paratroopers rushed me: he wanted to beat me up, but the police held him back. Then the brass arrived and everything immediately changed: the police started talking with me politely. It turned out I wasn’t being charged with anything. They even let me file an assault complaint. But how that case has turned out, I don’t know: it has been twenty days, but I have had no word from the police.

— After this incident, Russian Orthodox patriots wrote several petitions to Saint Petersburg State University demanding your expulsion.

— I’m a student in the physics department, specializing in medical physics and bioengineering. It’s a tough department, and there is a lot of studying to do. What matters to the deans is that students take all their exams and tests on time, but they are unconcerned about their private lives. Generally, it is not kosher in the scientific community to tell people how they should behave in the intimate realm. So I’m confident all these petitions are pointless.

— Your family must have seen how you were beaten on Palace Square on the Web or on TV. What was their reaction?

— I was born to an ordinary Russian family in the town of Krasnoturyinsk in the Urals. My father is an officer in the Russian armed forces, my mother, a philologist. After the 2008 crisis, life in our town got really bad and we moved to Petersburg, where I finished high school, enrolled at the university, and began to live separately from my family. It was only then I told my parents I was gay. My parents were upset, especially my father, but they recognized my right to live as I see fit. My brother also said it was my choice. When I went out on Palace Square, they heard about it in the media. They called me and were worried, of course. But I assured them I was not in danger.

— How many times have you been beaten up in Petersburg for being gay?

— Never, except for the incident at Palace Square. My classmates at university and my employers at the restaurant where I work part time as a bartender do not care what I do in bed. Of course, after this incident I could have been recognized on the street and beaten up, but that hasn’t happened yet.

— There are thousands of commentators on the Web who are sure you went out on Palace Square to secure the right to emigrate to the west as a discriminated person.

— I don’t intend to leave Russia. I am sure all these homophobic laws will be repealed sooner or later, and all Russian citizens will be able to live normally regardless of sexual orientation. There were similar laws in Sweden thirty years ago, and gays were persecuted throughout the world the way they now are in Russia. But then the situation changed. I am sure that Russia also has to follow this path, and so I’m not going to leave. But change doesn’t happen by itself—people have to take to the streets and speak out about this problem.

— Why do you act alone? There are lots of public organizations in Russia that support gays. Many of them receive foreign grants. You could get this money to fight for equality and all that, no?

— I don’t want to. I’ve had offers to join various organizations like that, but I don’t want to. I’m not a politician. I just don’t want there to be discrimination against people like me. Besides, it is easier for the state to punish organizations than lone individuals. Organizations are more vulnerable. What are they going to do with an ordinary guy like me?

— When you finish university you’ll find that jobs in your scientific specialty are poorly paid and dead ends. This is another reason, aside from sexual orientation, for going abroad.

— I still won’t leave. I know how things are going with financing for science in Russia, but I don’t want to leave. In the end, there are grants given to scientists for in-demand research. And in fact, Russia is changing for the better; the situation is improving in science, too.

— You have the opportunity to address Rosbalt’s thousands of readers. What would say to all these people?

— I would appeal to people like me. Don’t sit quiet as mice. At least come out. Let your loved ones know that you exist.

 — Why can’t you sit quiet and keep a low profile? Why do you come up with these public protests during which you can be beaten or even killed? After all, there is no practical sense to them.

 — Can I quote Goethe? “He alone deserves liberty and life who daily must win them anew.”

— How old are you?

 — Twenty-one.

Originally published, in Russian, by Rosbalt on August 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of Rosbalt

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Explaining his protest [on August 2, 2014], Kalugin said it was directed against both the lack of civil freedoms and the growing militarism in Russia during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“The suppression of any civil freedoms and the growth of imperial chauvinism in Russia are interconnected, and the issue has one and the same root,” he said.

“As long as there remains at least one group that is seen as ‘second-rate people’ in the country, the rest cannot call themselves free. Even if they enjoy some preferences now, this system can hit them, too, sooner or later.

“All this has grown so much that it has already started spreading into the neighboring states. The same people, who cried ‘Death to gays’ and hailed the laws banning ‘gay propaganda’ and restricting public assemblies, ended up shouting ‘Crimea is ours’ and going to Donetsk and Luhansk.”

Airborne Troops Day in St. Petersburg is known for the large number of airborne veterans gathering in the city center, drinking, swimming in fountains and, at times, getting out of control, with the police usually ignoring any misconduct.

Kalugin said that he chose to stage his protest on that day because he sees the festivities as the “climax of militarism and chauvinism.” He said it was also his reaction to homophobic jokes, where LGBT people were mockingly invited to hold their protests on Airborne Troops Day—the underlying notion being that they would be immediately be beaten by homophobic airborne veterans.

“It’s an old joke from the times when LGBT pride events were held in Moscow, [Moscow’s anti-gay ex-mayor Yury] Luzhkov used to say that he would only agree if it was held on Aug. 2,” Kalugin said.

source: St. Petersburg Times