Crimea and Gays Be Damned (For the Record)

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This morning, I came across a flat-out lie (or an honest mistake), penned by a professor at one of the most august universities in the United States. But you would only know it was a lie or a mistake if you had been here in Petersburg to see what actually happened at Manifesta 10, and had some basic street smarts when it comes to the art scene and real grassroots politics here.

This partly explains why, for example, there is virtually no anti-war movement in Russia: because too many people whose avowed politics should make them natural leaders and organizers of a Russian anti-war movement (i.e., a movement against Russian imperialist military aggression, not a choir of angels hovering above all frays everywhere and quietly chiding “all parties to the conflict” on social media) have been more concerned to make the right impression on the right people in the big white world.

This is not to mention that virtually no one in the so-called Russian leftist art/activist community, especially in Petersburg, made even so much as a peep when the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and, later, the State Duma passed the infamous homophobic laws , which are still safely and shamefully on the books in Russia.

I really don’t understand how, thirty or forty years from now, scholars and merely curious people will be able to get to the bottom of anything that happened in our time with so much abject propaganda camouflaged as journalism and “research” lying around everywhere.

“After the annexation of Crimea and the passing of a number of restrictive laws in Russia (not least the banning of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’), it seemed macabre to many that the avowedly progressive European Biennale should take place in the State Hermitage museum as planned. The collective Chto Delat?, who were slated to participate in the biennale, wrote an open letter to star curator Kasper König, demanding that Manifesta 10 issue a public statement against the recent action of the Russian government. When their calls went unmet (aside from prompting critique of direct politicization in contemporary art) Chto Delat? and a number of Russian and Polish artists withdrew from the show.”

No Russian artists withdrew from the show whatsoever. That is a fact. Some local artists loudly withdrew from one part of Manifesta only to pop up quite prominently in another part of Manifesta. These same people mocked any “Polish artists” (?) who might have actually withdrawn from the show. They definitely attacked anyone outside Russia who called for an international boycott of the show. For literally all the Petersburg artists and curators involved, the show absolutely had to go on, Crimea and gays be damned. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader

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Roskomnadzor Blocks Gay.Ru

gay.ruScreenshot of Gay.Ru courtesy of Russian LGBT Network

Roskomnadzor Blocks Major LGBT Website Gay.Ru
Russian LGBT Network
Facebook
March 30, 2018

The website Gay.Ru has been notified the information published on it has been included in the Unified Register of Prohibited Websites by decision of the Altai District Court in the village of Belyi Yar, Republic of Khakassia.

The website now contains the following warning.

“The basis for blocking [the website] was the posting of information promoting nontraditional sexual relations, which has been prohibited in the Russian Federation.”

The ruling was made by Judge Olga Kvasova. As is customary in cases concocted by the authorities, it is impossible to comprehend what exactly the court deemed promotion of homosexuality.

The plaintiffs in the case were the Altai District Prosecutor’s Office and the Yenisei branch office of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal media and communications watchdog. The court’s verdict came into force on December 22, 2017.

Yesterday, the website received the standard letter from Roskomnadzor about needing to immediately delete information whose dissemination is forbidden in the Russian Federation.

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A screenshot of the homepage of Gay.Ru, taken on March 31, 2018. There is a reason why everyone in their right mind uses VPNs to surf the web in Russia. And no, Veronica, it is not against Russian law for individuals to use them.

“In order to ensure the rights of citizens and in compliance with current legislation, the information indicated above must be banned from dissemination in the Russian Federation, since unhindered access to the specified internet resource and the information posted on the website has been classified as prohibited information, meant to be disseminated amongst underaged children, to be capable of provoking in them an interest in nontraditional sexual relations, to distort notions of the social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, and to induce them to engage in nontraditional sexual relations, which poses a real threat to their health. In addition, dissemination of this information has a negative impact on the moral, spiritual, mental and physical development, on the health and safety of minors, and diminishes the value of family relations,” the court’s ruling reads.*

For twenty years, Gay.Ru has not only covered LGBT community news in Russia and the world but has also published articles on the cultural and social life of LGBT people, articles on health and HIV prevention, and studies of gender and sexuality.

* The original Russian ruling is rendered in such illiterate, ungrammatical Russian I wonder whether the judge or court clerk who wrote it went to school. TRR

Thanks to Igor Kochetkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

#quietpicket

 "#quietpicket Am I promoting heterosexuality when I hug my guy in the subway? Russian Federal Misdemeanors Code Article 6.21 (Promoting Non-Traditional Sexual Relations among Minors). Why not?"
“#quietpicket Am I promoting heterosexuality when I hug my guy in the subway? Russian Federal Misdemeanors Code Article 6.21 [Promoting Non-Traditional Sexual Relations among Minors]. Why not?” Placard, Petersburg Subway, July 24, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

This past May, I published a translation of Marina Simakova’s fascinating interview with Darja Serenko, a Moscow artist who had launched a long-term silent protest action and research project in the subway that she had dubbed Quiet Picket.

While riding the subway earlier today in Russia’s Northern Capital, I was glad to see a young woman sit down opposite me with a shoulder bag pasted over with a tiny placard hash-tagged #quietpicket.

Since she seemed a bit tense, as did the passengers around her, I went up and asked her whether it would be alright to photograph her placard. She smiled and said it would be. After that, the mood in the car seemed to lighten up a bit.

Elena Kostyuchenko: Homophobia Is the Cause

"Islamo-, homo-, xenophobia kill. #Orlando." Spontaneous memorial outside the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, June 13, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
“Islamo-, homo-, xeno- phobia kill. #Orlando.” Spontaneous memorial to the victims of the Orlando shooting outside the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 13, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Elena Kostyuchenko
Facebook
June 13, 2016

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

How Dante Got Punched in the Kisser

Dante Teodori
October 26, 2015
Facebook

This is the story of how Dante got punched in the kisser and now bears all the hallmarks of an alleged real man.

Petersburg LGBT activist Dante Teodori
Petersburg LGBT activist Dante Teodori

I was going to the Rainbow Coffee Klatch on the subway today. I looked and saw this one guy eyeing me quite maliciously. The fellow was well built and dressed in sport clothes but dressed decently. After a while, he came up and leaned over me. (I was sitting down.) He told me either I could take off my scarf and scram from the car or he would kick my ass. (I have omitted the obscenities.) I refused. He smacked me in the face and split my lip. I took the second blow on the head and it split my eyebrow. Then some dude pushed him away.

I got out at a station and looked for the cops or some other official service, but there was no one. I got back on the train and pushed the hotline button to connect me to the driver, but it didn’t work. Well, okay, I thought, I will just go as I am. I asked people for napkins and telephoned the guys to come meet me in the subway, since I thought my nose was broken and I wouldn’t be able to see anything because of the blood. When I got there, the guys suggested calling an ambulance, since we didn’t know where the first-aid station was.

They took me to the hospital, since they didn’t like the look of the epic lump on my forehead. At the hospital, I was examined, stitched up, and sent home to heal.

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What is the moral of this story? I could have taken the scarf off. I could have have got out of the car. I had the chance. But I think this is the wrong position to take. “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” That is first and foremost.

Second, the scarf was not in the LGBT colors. It was knitted and given to me by a very nice woman with whom I was detained for waving the Ukrainian flag. What does this mean? That technically anyone wearing colorful clothes can get the crap beat of them.

And the most important thing. I think the only chance we have of getting closer to the future we want is to live as if it has already arrived.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the suggestion. Photos courtesy of Dante Teodori’s Facebook page. This story has been covered widely in the local media. See, for example, “LGBT activist beaten over colorful scarf,” Paperpaper.ru, October 26, 2015 (in Russian).

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