Squealing on Victims of the Great Terror: Who Wants to Tear Down Petersburg’s Last Address Plaques?

досто 25-табличкиThree Last Address plaques on the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street, in downtown Petersburg

Squealing on the Executed: Who Wants to Remove the Last Address Plaques?
Tatyana Voltskaya
Radio Svoboda
December 6, 2018

Alexander Mokhnatkin, a former aide to Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, filed a complaint with the Petersburg authorities, claiming the plaques mounted on houses throughout the city by Last Address had been erected illegally.

досто 25-улица и домThe plaques are barely visible from only ten meters away.

Andrei Pivovarov, co-chair of the Petersburg branch of Open Russia, wrote about the complaint on his Facebook page.

The city’s urban planning and architecture committee has already reacted to the complaint. It said the plaques, which bear the names of victims of Stalin’s Great Terror and have been placed on the walls of the houses where they lived just before their arrests and executions, were illegal.

досто 27-подворотняThere are two more plaques right next door, in the gateway of the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street.

“The informer decided the plaques were illegal advertisements? I wonder what for. The Stalinist Terror? He thinks they should be taken down. The Smolny responds to the snitch by indicating there were no legal grounds for putting the plaques up, and special city services would deal with them. It is difficult to guess when the wheel of the bureaucratic machine will turn, but, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, the country should know its snitches. I introduce you to Alexander Mokhnatkin, a man who has denounced people long ago victimized by the state and executed, and who has denounced the memory of those people,” Pivovarov wrote.

нев 111:полтав 3-3Unaware of the Last Address plaque on the wall next to her, a woman walks down Poltava Street, just off Old Nevsky, on a sunny day in October.

MP Milonov argues his former aide’s opinion is his personal opinion. Milonov, on the contrary, welcomes memorial plaques, but he does not like the fact that, currently, ordinary citizens have taken the lead in putting them up. He believes it would be better to let officials take the lead.

“I don’t think it would be good if there were lot of plaques on every house, as in a cemetery. The right thing to do, probably, would be to adopt a government program. The plaques would be hung according to the rules of the program, and protected by the law and the state,” argues Milonov.

нев 111:полтав 3-5When you step back ten or fifteen meters, the same plaque is nearly invisible to the naked eye.

He argues what matters most is “remembering the grandfathers of the people who now call themselves liberals squealed on our grandfathers and shot our grandfathers. Our grandfathers did not squeal on anyone. They died on the Solovki Islands. They were shot in the Gulag and various other places.”

Milonov admits different people wrote denunciations, but he believes the International Memorial Society has deliberately politicized the topic, using the memory of those shot during the Terror for their own ends. The MP argues that erecting memorial plaques should not be a “political mom-and-pop store.” Milonov fears chaos: that today one group of people will put up plaques, while tomorrow it will be another group of people. To avoid this, he proposes adopting official standards.

разъезжая 36-подъезд.jpgA Last Address plaque in the doorway of the house at 36 Razyezhaya Street, in Petersburg’s Central District.

​On the contrary, Evgeniya Kulakova, an employee of Memorial’s Research and Information Centre in Petersburg, stresses that Last Address is a grassroots undertaking. An important part of Last Address is the fact that the installation of each new plaque is done at the behest of private individuals, who order the plaques, pay for their manufacture, and take part in mounting them. Kulakova regards Milonov’s idea as completely unfeasible, since the municipal authorities have their own program in any case. The program has its own concept for commemorating victims of political terror, and the authorities have the means at their disposals to implement it. Last Address, however, is hugely popular among ordinary people who feel they can make their own contribution to the cause of preserving the memory of the people who perished during the Terror.

соц 6-улицаA Last Address plaque in the archway of the house at 6 Socialist Street, in central Petersburg.

Kulakov thinks it no coincidence Mokhnatkin has brought attention to the Last Address plaques, since previously he had taken an interest in the Solovetsky Stone in Trinity Square. Apparently, his actions are part of a campaign against remembering Soviet state terror and the campaign against Memorial.

Many Memorial branches in Russia have been having lots of trouble lately. In particular, Memorial’s large annual Returning the Names ceremony in Moscow was nearly canceled this autumn, while the Petersburg branch has been informed that the lease on its premises has been terminated. It has been threatened with eviction as of January 6, 2019.

черняховского 69-домThree Last Address plaques, barely visible from the middle of the street, on the house at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street, near the Moscow Station in Petersburg.

Historian Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center, supports the concept of memorial plaques. He stressed they are installed only with the consent of building residents and apartment owners, and ordinary people welcome the undertaking. Moreover, people often put up the plaques not only to commemorate their own relatives but also to honor complete strangers whose lives have touched them. Razumov says people often find someone’s name in the Leningrad Martyrology. They then get written confirmation the person lived in a particular house. Only after collecting information about the person and obtaining the consent of the building’s residents do they erect a plaque.

“In Europe, such things are always under the protection of municipal authorities. I think we should also be going in the other direction: local district councils should do more to protect the plaques instead of saying they don’t meet the standards and they’re going to tear them down,” the historian argues.

Razumov argues that inquiries like the inquiry about the legality of the memorial plaques are served up under various attractive pretexts, but they are always based on the same thing: the fight against remembering the Terror. Some people want to preserve this memory forever, while others do everything they can to eradicate it by concocting hybrid or counter memories.

черняховского-все таблички.jpgThe plaques at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street commemorate Vasily Lagun, an electrician; Solomon Mayzel, a historian of the Arab world; and Irma Barsh. They were executed in 1937–1938 and exonerated of all charges in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, argues that Last Address and Immortal Regiment are the most important popular undertakings of recent years. He is outraged by attempts of officials to encroach on them. He says he has written an appeal to the city’s urban planning and architecture committee.

Translation and photos by the Russian Reader

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Leagues of the Militant Godless

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression, lying everywhere on the masses of the people, who are oppressed by eternal work for others, need and isolation. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle with the exploiters just as inevitably generates faith in a better life beyond the grave as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature produces faith in gods, devils, miracles, etc. To him who works and is poor all his life religion teaches passivity and patience in earthly life, consoling him with the hope of a heavenly reward. To those who live on the labor of others religion teaches benevolence in earthly life, offering them a very cheap justification for all their exploiting existence and selling tickets to heavenly happiness at a reduced price. Religion is opium for the people.

—Vladimir Lenin, in Emilian Jaroslavsky, Thoughts of Lenin about Religion (Moscow: State Publishing Company, 1925), p. 10, as quoted in William Henry Chamberlin, Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1930)

Milonov No Hindrance to Atheists
Svyatoslav Afonkin
ZakS.Ru
February 5, 2017

The ninety-ninth anniversary of the 1918 Bolshevik decree separating church and state was marked by a small group of ardent leftists protesting the current clericalization of the Russian state and Russian society. On February 5, over a hundred people attended a picket on Chernyshevsky Square in southern Petersburg. For two hours, they fiercely criticized both the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the relationship that has been built between the ROC and the Putin regime.

Members of various low-profile leftist movements gathered at the monument to Russian philosopher and revolutionary Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The protesters held the flags of the Rot Front, the United Communist Party, the Workers Revolutionary Communist Party, and Communists of Russia. Even truckers from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) came to condemn the ROC’s increasing appetite for property. Members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which holds seats in the municipal, regional and national parliaments, ignored the event, for which they were roundly condemned by their non-systemic counterparts on the podium.

Unlike liberal opponents of plans to transfer ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral Museum to the ROC, the protesters made no attempt to be diplomatic and did not mince their words. Some speakers declared the ROC “satanic” and compared it to Islamic State, an organization that has been banned in Russia.

For ten minutes, Ivan Lokh, leader of the Witnesses of Foucault’s Pendulum, an atheist community, fiercely and emotionally denounced the ROC’s desire to exterminate science and culture. He then quoted Chernyshevsky, whose monument was the focal point of the entire rally.

“Religion’s purpose is to inure the unfortunate and hungry to the notion they must perpetually be hungry and rejoice in their plight. That’s what religion is!” proclaimed the activist.

ROC leaders are themselves not inclined to the asceticism they popularize among the oppressed classes, and this can only indicate that the highest ranks of ROC clergymen do not believe in God, said Lokh.

“We see the indecent luxury in which ROC hierarchs live. They do not fear their own God. They don’t fear Him, because they know for certain He doesn’t exist. This is the most obvious proof He really doesn’t exist!” the activist shouted to the applause of the crowd.

During breaks between speakers, the rally’s organizers asked protesters to carefully observe those in attendance in order to weed out provocateurs. The event’s moderator explained to ZakS.Ru that anti-clerical rallies have frequently been visited by people wanting to disrupt them. In addition, MP Vitaly Milonov’s public promise to interfere with the picket had forced protesters to be vigilant.

Semyon Borzenko, a member of the city committee of the unregistered United Communist Party’s regional branch, thrilled the crowd when he called for abolishing the federal law on transferring property to the ROC, which has led to the destruction of numerous museums. Borzenko also said atheists should campaign for the adoption of two law bills, drafted by local municipal deputy Irina Komolova during the previous sitting of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The first would protect the feelings of atheists, while the second would strip the ROC of its “totally unjustified tax breaks.” According to Borzenko, the “indecent luxury” mentioned by Ivan Lokh was a consequence of the fact the ROC did not pay taxes, unlike every other organization.

Nikolai Perov, leader of the regional branch of the Communists of Russia, focused his criticism on the “Zyuganovites,” who had welcomed the possible transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC.

“It’s a crying shame that certain members of the communist movement, who sit in parliament, have retreated from the [Bolshevik] decree and Leninist principles. Shame on Zyuganov! Shame on [CPRF Petersburg Legislative Assembly member] Alexander Rassudov! Shame on [State Duma member and filmmaker] Vladimir Bortko! There’s not a single scientifically minded person left in the CPRF!” stated Perov.

Despite the concerns of organizers, the rally came off without any provocations or crackdowns on the part of law enforcement. Towards the end of the rally, human rights activist Dinar Idrisov (recently denounced by “soldier of Christ” and city parliament speaker Vyacheslav Makarov for insulting the feelings of believers) handed out pamphlets entitled “The Museum Belongs to the City.” Like a week ago, opponents of transferring St. Isaac’s to the ROC had their pictures taken, placards in hand, this time standing next to the monument to Nikolai Chernyshevsky.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of ZakS.Ru

P.S. Thank God for the truly militant godless, Russian society’s only real bulwark against the militant godless masquerading as god-fearing soldiers of Christ for the tax breaks, luxurious lifestyle, and other perks that come from collaborating with the regime to befuddle and disempower ordinary people. The other bulwark against the maskers is the fact, of course, that the vast majority of Russians are de facto godless, whatever they might say about themselves when surveyed by FOM or some other all-seeing blind eye of the de facto atheist pollocracy. TRR

A Thorn in Their Side

Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg
Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg, home of the European University

European University Faces Eviction for Plastic Windows
Maria Karpenko
Kommersant
January 24, 2017

The European University in St. Petersburg, one of the leading non-public educational institutions in Russia, may lose its building. Petersburg city hall has unilaterally terminated the lease agreement for the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace, which has housed the university since 1995. The Smolny claims university management violated the conditions for using the historic building by making alterations and installing windows and air conditioners. Meanwhile, the university had been preparing to reconstruct the palace, investing 2.2 billion rubles in the project, 670 million rubles of which were to be spent on restoring the historic section of the building.

On December 27 of last year, the St. Petersburg City Committee for Property Relations (KIO) sent the European University notice it was unilaterally terminating the rental agreement. As a source at the committee told Kommersant, the European University hd not fulfilled its obligations to preserve the mansion of Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, built in the nineteenth century.

Officials discovered the violations last summer during an unscheduled inspection. (The Smolny could not explain yesterday why the inspection had been necessary.) As a source at the City Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP) informed Kommersant, university officials had made alterations to the premises and installed reinforced plastic windows and air conditioners without providing authorized documentation and obtaining permission for the repairs. The Dzerzhinsky District Court fined the European University 200,000 rubles in its capacity as user of a culture heritage site.

The Property Relations Committee then deemed it possible to terminate the lease agreement. The European University challenged the agreement’s termination in commercial court, arguing it was groundless. The court adopted interim measures, halting the university’s eviction from the premises until a decision has been made on the claim. The first hearing has been scheduled for March 15.

Meanwhile, the European University had planned in the near future to begin implementing an investment project for adapting the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace to modern educational needs. The university estimates its cost at 2.2 to 2.4 billion rubles, 670 million rubles of which should go to restoring the historic section of the palace. The project has been in the works since 2013. Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, designer of the Russian Cultural Center in Paris, won the competition to carry out the project. As European University Vice-Rector Vadim Volkov told Kommersant, the KGIOP had already partly authorized the reconstruction. (Our sources in the KGIOP confirmed that the methods for restoring the interiors of the palace that had artistic value had been approved.) Next week, the university had anticipated the KGIOP’s decision on the entire project.

“Given our intention to implement such an ambitious project, the KIO’s decision to evict us from the building on account of three windows, a plastic partition, and and extension that was erected under Brezhnev looks odd, at very least,” Mr. Volkov said.

The official statement on the university’s website stresses that none of  the violations uncovered during the inspection “put the cultural heritage of the palace at risk. They would be automatically corrected during the adjustment project as mentioned above.”

The statement goes on to say “[t]here is a degree of incommensurability between the claims of the Committee and the consequences entailed by the latter’s tough stance.”

Vice-Rector Volkov likewise noted that the clause giving the city the right to terminate the lease agreement if the university violated its landmark protection obligations had been added to the agreement only in April 2015 at the behest of the KIO.

“First, the KIO inserted these conditions in the agreement, and then showed up to check just this, certain they would be able to turn up violations of some kind,” Mr. Volkov suggested.

Maxim Reznik, chair of the education, culture and science committee in the city’s legislative assembly, believes the claims are politically motivated.

“Apparently, the presence of such a university, when all the rest have long ago been marching in step, keeps someone awake at night. In my view, the situation can be resolved in the university’s favor only if if the head of state [i.e., Vladimir Putin] or people close to him intervene,” the city MP told Kommersant.

In December of last year, Rosobrnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) suspended the university’s license. The European University appealed to President Putin, who asked Vice-Premier Olga Golodets to get to the bottom of the matter. As Kommersant wrote, officials who attended a closed meeting concluded the claims were unsubstantial and spoke out in the university’s favor. Three days later, its educational license had been restored.

The university first encountered problems with oversight authorities in 2008, when it was closed for a month and a half [allegedly] for fire safety violations. Last summer, the Prosecutor General’s Office inspected the European University at the behest of Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov. Prosecutors then gave the university two months to eliminate violations.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of saint-petersburg.com

Orthodoxy or Death

Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF
Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF

Chuvashia Resident Fined for Reposting Photo of Milonov
Maria Leiva
RBC
November 16, 2016

A member of the board of Open Russia from Chuvashia has been fined 1,000 rubles for reposting a photograph of Russian MP Vitaly Milonov in which he is posed in a t-shirt brandishing a slogan deemed extremist in Russia

A court in Chuvashia has fined Dmitry Semyonov, a member of Open Russia‘s board in the region, 1,000 rubles for reposting a photo of MP Vitaly Milonov in a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” on the social media network VKontakte. The slogan has been ruled an incitement to sectarian strife and placed on the federal list of extremist matter. Semyonov’s lawyer, Alexei Glukhov, reported the news on his Facebook page.

In another post, he added that the court had reject the defense’s motion to order a forensic examination and summon specialists to confirm the date when the Internet had been monitored.

Last week, Semyonov was summoned by the police over the repost of Milonov’s photograph. As the activist told RBC himself, he was charged in writing with violating Article 20.29 of the Administrative Offense Codes (producing and disseminating extremist matter).

“The charge sheets say that, on November 3, FSB officers suddenly felt like monitoring social media networks and chanced upon my post,” said Semyonov.

He linked the incident to his work as a social and political activist with Open Russia. Semyonov is the organization’s regional coordinator in eight Russian regioins.

In turn, Glukhov told RBC that police in Chuvashia constantly haul in activists for reposts on social media.

In conversation with RBC, Milonov said that last Wednesday he had sent a letter to the Justice Ministry asking them to remove the slogan from the register of extremist matter, but had not yet received a reply.

“As one brother to another, I’ll tell the justice minister, ‘Do you really imagine living outside the faith? So it’s a normal Orthodox slogan, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bastard,” said the MP.

He was confident the slogan would soon be removed from the list of extremist matter, but promised to study Semyonov’s case more closely, “although membership in Khodorkovsky’s organization deserves attention itself.”

Earlier, Milonov told RBC that he did not consider displaying a photograph in which he posed with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” a crime. However, the MP doubted that Semyonov was being prosecuted solely over the photograph.


Translated by
A Loaf of Bread

The Devil Rides Out

milonov devil

And the devil today, unfortunately, increasingly appears to us in the guise of the civic activist.

This is Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly Member Vitaly Milonov, as quoted on page 5 of the July 13, 2015, edition of local weekly newspaper Smena, on apparently thwarted plans to build a Russian Orthodox church in Malinovka park, in the eastern part of the city. The project has been opposed by a vigorous grassroots campaign on the part of local residents.

The newspaper also continues, for the second issue running, its wild denunciation of local supporters of improved conditions for bicycling in Petersburg. As things stand now, only the extremely bold or the recklessly suicidal would ride a bike on Petersburg’s mean streets, which are nearly totally bereft of bike lanes or other safety amenities for cyclists.

Darya Tabachnikova, recently appointed by city hall as its advisor on cycling issues, is denounced by the former local Communist Youth League newspaper as follows (on page 3):

Firstly, the modest cycling advisor Tabachnikova has worked in the past at the World Bank (an international organization headquartered in Washington, DC) and a branch of the major American company PriceWaterhouseCoopers. In general, when it comes to “Europeanization,” is probably an old hand.

You cannot make this stuff up, which is why I would suggest Smena should be adopted as classroom material by all progressive centers of Russian language pedagogy abroad such as Middlebury College and so on.

Because this is more and more the guise in which the Russian language is appearing to us today (to paraphrase the estimable Milonov): as an instrument for deliberately and cynically attempting to turn white to black, disrupting the critical faculties altogether, and turning the populace into a quivering, paranoid bowl of jelly. TRR

Cannibal Corpse Fans Confront the Russian Orthodox Police State

Fans Confronted by Riot Police at Canceled Concert
Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014_10_15_00_04_1833_02_corpseOMON police standing outside the Kosmonavt club, the venue of the canceled concert by Cannibal Corpse, on Sunday night. Photo by Sergey Chernov for The St. Petersburg Times

Eighteen music fans were detained Sunday as hundreds protested against the last-minute cancellation of a Cannibal Corpse show outside the Kosmonavt music club in St. Petersburg. The organizer, the Moscow-based agency Motley Concerts, claimed the cancellation was caused by unspecified “technical reasons,” but the fans believed it was done under pressure from the authorities.

The American death metal band’s St. Petersburg concert was set to be the last in their eight-date Russian tour in support of their 13th studio album, “A Skeletal Domain.”

Although the band’s five previous Russian tours went ahead without any problems, this year’s tour was marred by controversy caused by a massive campaign of formal complaints from Orthodox activists about alleged “Satanism” and “extremism” in Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics. Out of the eight planned concerts, the band managed to play only four.

On Oct. 11, the band’s concert in Moscow was canceled when people were already in the venue. Before that, a concert in Ufa scheduled for Oct. 5 was canceled when the venue abruptly closed “for technical reasons.” On Oct. 10, Cannibal Corpse’s concert in Nizhny Novgorod was shut down by armed masked police officers 30 minutes after it had started. A number of fans were detained and taken for compulsory drug tests. In a petition to the head of administration of Nizhny Novgorod, fans wrote that the true reason for the anti-drug operation was to stop the concert, which they believe was an act of censorship, which is prohibited by the Russian constitution.

Neither the organizer nor the venues in the four cities admitted any pressure from authorities and the band did not make any statement about the cancellations.

On Sunday, fans were not let into the venue even though it was supposed to open at least an hour before the concert’s scheduled 8 p.m. start. When asked, the guard at the doors said both the public and guests would be allowed to enter “later.”

When several hundred stood around Kosmonavt 25 minutes before the scheduled start, a young man brought a notice from the organizers and read it aloud. It said the concert had been canceled for technical reasons but ticket holders were welcome to a signing session with the band and to spend an evening in the venue.

The notice then went from one person to another until a fan set it on fire to cheers from the crowd.

Despite the invitation, the doors were still closed, leading disappointed fans to crowd around near the entrance. Soon they were chanting the band’s name as well as profane insults toward Moscow Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov, also known as Enteo, and Legislative Assembly deputy Vitaly Milonov, whom they saw as responsible for the cancellation. The fans criticized the Kremlin’s current policies of isolation from the West and promotion of traditionalism.

One fan shouted an offensive anti-President Vladimir Putin slogan while another commented sarcastically about the official line of Russia “rising from its knees.”

“I would not love the Russian Orthodox Church more for this,” one fan said.

People discussed how they had been waiting for months for the concert and bought expensive tickets, while others had come from other cities and had to take days off from their jobs and find a place to stay in St. Petersburg.

Although there had only been one police vehicle parked near the venue initially, OMON riot police started to arrive at the site at 8:15 p.m. Bottles flew at the officers while people expressed their disappointment and outrage at the treatment. Cannibal Corpse’s music played loudly from one of the cars parked near the venue.

The OMON police retreated into their truck to put on helmets and take batons but did not immediately intervene, instead maneuvering in the street near the venue, blocking and unblocking it, as bottles kept coming and various fans protested in different ways. People flooded the street and passing cars had their tires pierced by broken glass.

The first arrests occurred at around 8:30 p.m., when a dozen officers rushed at two fans standing at a distance from Kosmonavt, beat them with batons and dragged them to the police vehicle. A video posted by a fan showed them apparently being beaten with a baton inside the vehicle as well. An hour later there were much fewer people in the street, with some heading home and others lining up for the signing session in the venue, which eventually started to let people enter, although very slowly after multiple checks.

According to the police, the 18 detained fans were charged either with “disorderly conduct” or with “being drunk in public,” offenses that are punishable by fines or up to 15 days in prison.

 

Queerfest of Russia: A Battleground

The Russian LGBT festival QueerFest, traditionally a space for celebration, this year resembles a battleground, with each day a fight for survival. 

September 18, the QueerFest opening ceremony. Two hours before the event, the main venue calls to cancel. The reason: “compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance, which may result in its collapse.” At the same time, all other events continue.

The new venue is attacked by 20 “[Russian O]rthodox activists” accompanied by [Petersburg legislative assembly] Vitaly Milonov, who insult guests and spray them with a green liquid and an unknown gaseous substance. (video)

24 complaints were filed with the police, including one from a St. Petersburg human rights ombudsman’s office staff member.

September 19. The venue Etagi, well known for its social projects in St. Petersburg, cancels QueerFest’s events, including an event by the Manifesta 10 biennale, which is taking place in St. Petersburg this year. Organizers learn that Etagi received a phone call from the police. Another venue, planned for the next day’s event, cancels the same evening.

September 20. The planned “Night of Independent Music,” already having moved to a different venue, starts as planned, but midway through receives a fake bomb threat.

September 24. The police attempt to shut down a press conference entitled “Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?” There is now concrete proof that it is not the extremists that are scaring the venues but the police. The Regional Press Institute, which is hosting the press conference, is pressured by a police lieutenant colonel and a major to cancel the event under the pretext that “violations of public order may ensue.” RPI becomes the first and only venue that stands up to the pressure, exposing it to the media and the public.

At this point, the organizers no longer openly publish festival venues, instead inviting the wider public to view the event through the online feed. Hundreds of people view the events each day.

In the six years of organizing the festival, there has never been such a consistent and organized attack on our freedom of assembly and expression. Instead of ensuring public order by providing protections, the police use it as a pretext to shut down events. Instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice, the authorities look the other way,” says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers. “Every means is used to push us into the ‘ghetto.’ Yet, the festival is about dialogue and being open in society, and our best defense right now is to stay visible.”

QueerFest’s organizers ask partners to publicize what is happening and take a firm stand against the unlawful actions used to foil the festival with the acquiescence of the authorities.

QueerFest’s organizers urge the St. Petersburg authorities to:

1. Ensure that the attacks at the festival’s opening are properly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice;
2. Ensure that the festival’s events can proceed with sufficient police protection.

The festival’s program can be found here. Follow the festival’s events online, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Editor’s Note. The above press release was slightly edited for republication on this blog.

__________

Queerfest Opening Quashed by Attackers
Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
September 24, 2014

Queerfest — an annual LGBT rights socio-cultural festival that opened in St. Petersburg on Sept. 18 — was forced to cancel most of its events following attacks, pressure from authorities, bomb threats and last-minute cancellations. A group led by anti-gay lawmaker Vitaly Milonov tried to get into the venue where the invitation-only opening event was held. After not being let in, the anti-gay protesters blocked the entrances and attacked the audience with an unknown gas and green dye, with the police not immediately intervening.

The festival’s opening event was moved to Ziferburg cafe on Nevsky Prospekt after the Kazanskaya 7 business center — where Queerfest’s scheduled main venue, the art space Freedom, is located — canceled the opening 90 minutes before its announced time. A representative of the owner annulled the rent agreement due to a “suspicion of damage to the integrity of the arch above the main staircase of the building,” which did not prevent other events from being held in there, Queerfest organizers said in a statement on Sept. 19.

The event started with a nearly one-hour delay at Ziferburg cafe after the Queerfest exhibition of photographs was hastily moved and assembled there. About 200 people, including foreign diplomats, were gathered when Milonov and between 15 to 20 anti-gay attackers tried to stop the opening.

Milonov, a United Russia deputy in the city’s Legislative Assembly and chairman of the committee on legislation responsible for the city’s 2012 law forbidding the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bi-sexuality and transgenderness amongst minors,” led an anti-gay group to the cafe, located on the third floor of the Passage shopping center.

Showing his deputy identification, Milonov tried to get in but was stopped by security guards. He ended up instead standing near the door, swearing and throwing insults while telling the guards that ethnic Russians should not protect LGBT people. He described the audience as “pedophiles who rape children,” among other things. Attacks started minutes after Milonov left the building.

Having thrown vials containing unknown gas that smelled of rotting fish under the door, anti-gay attackers prevented visitors from entering and leaving, spraying green dye from syringes on them. At one point, both entrances to the cafe were blocked. One was locked from outside by attackers and the other was held by security and volunteers to prevent them from entering and attacking people inside.

“Milonov left just a couple of minutes ahead of the attacks,” organizer Anna Anisimova told The St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 21. “They met in the stairwell, or he passed the baton to them, but I can’t say for sure because the fact was that thugs came just after Milonov had left. They were not together at one time.”

A number of people felt sick because of the gas and one or two were eventually taken away by ambulance. According Anisimova, some 20 to 30 members of the public had their clothes spoiled by green dye, including two representatives of the St. Petersburg ombudsman Alexander Shishlov. She said that foreign diplomats did not suffer. About 20 formal complaints regarding criminal assaults were filed with the police.

The police that were stationed in large numbers outside the building did not intervene until Shishlov arrived and urged the officers to protect the festival’s audience, while Alexei Smyatsky, the chief of the city’s public safety police, was seen speaking with Milonov in front of the building at the time when the attacks apparently began.

As attacks went on outside the café, the opening event was briefly held with foreign diplomats expressing their support for the festival and the LGBT community in St. Petersburg.

Attendees included Norway’s Consul General Heidi Olufsen, Sweden’s Deputy Consul General Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson, the Netherlands’ Deputy Consul General Hugo Brouwer, Acting U.S. Consul General Courtney Nemroff and U.K. Deputy Consul General Robert Kempsell.

On Sept. 19, Ombudsman Shishlov appealed to city council chairman Vyacheslav Makarov asking him to take measures against Milonov, Zaks.ru reported. “The human rights of citizens were severely violated as the result of violent actions,” Shishlov wrote.

“I suppose that the active participation of a Legislative Assembly deputy in such actions discredits the city council and harms the reputation of St Petersburg. I request that you assess the actions of the deputy related to human rights abuses, as well as take measures for the code of ethics to be observed by Legislative Assembly deputies.”

Shishlov also urged St. Petersburg police chief Sergei Umnov to personally supervise the investigation into people’s complaints and take legal action against the offenders. He also asked Umnov to prevent possible attacks against the festival’s future events.

Despite Shishlov’s appeals, the pressure on Queerfest continued. An art workshop organized in cooperation with the Manifesta biennale and the conference “Queer or What Is the Art of Being Yourself,” Queerfest’s first public events scheduled for Sept. 19, were both canceled after the art space Loft Project Etagi refused to host the events one hour before the scheduled start.

On Sept. 20, the underground music club Zoccolo 2.0 canceled Queerfest’s Independent Music Night event, which was moved — in a shortened version — to the LGBT club 3L. At about 1 a.m. the police evacuated the venue due to a bomb threat. The LGBT club Malevich, located opposite 3L on Zastavskaya Ulitsa, was also evacuated.

“As far as we know, the police, among others, contact the owners of the venues and warn them about riots and put pressure on them, so that owners pressure the venues that rent their rooms from them,” Anisimova said.

“Zona Deistviya [a co-working space at Loft Project Etagi] was shut down altogether, so they create such conditions that nobody should work with us at all. On Sept. 20 we held a closed, peaceful musical event without any advertising at 3L and it still received a bomb threat, so even LGBT clubs fear working with us under the circumstances.”

Parents’ Day, a meeting with parents of LGBT people scheduled to be held on Monday, was also canceled “due to the inability to ensure the safety of participants. We fear for our parents; if we can cope with the situation, they don’t have such strong nerves,” Anisimova said.

Although Loft Project Etagi admitted reacting to a warning from the police, in most cases it was difficult to find out from whom exactly the pressure came, because the owners of the premises did not speak to the organizers directly but instructed the management of the venues.

Anisimova said that the festival would hold some lectures and a conference for a small number of people at places undisclosed for safety reasons, broadcasting them on the Internet. The events on Friday and Saturday will be public with announcements made on the festival’s website, assuming the situation does not deteriorate further, she said.

The festival’s closing event, a concert called Stop Homophobia in St. Petersburg featuring Swedish rock singer Jenny Wilson on Saturday, will be held but the organizers may move it into another venue that is less likely to be pressured by authorities and anti-gay activists — and would work on safety measures with security and in cooperation with ombudsman Shishlov.

According to Anisimova, attacks and pressure on the venues came as a surprise both to the organizers and the LGBT community.

“It was unexpected for me,” Anisimova said. “After the May 17 [the International Day Against Homophobia] rally and some other events went peacefully, it appeared that negative attention and homophobic aggression toward us had subsided. Turns out it hasn’t.”