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

Putin’s War on Ukrainian Fascism

Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukrainian fascism is off to a flying start in the great man’s hometown of Saint Petersburg, Russia.

During [an anti-war demo on St. Isaac’s Square in Petersburg today, March 2, 2014] the following incident occurred. Elderly Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova, who regularly takes part in opposition protests and has even earned the nickname “Opposition Grandma,” was splashed with urine from a jar. The contents of the jar hit the woman in the face. Eyewitnesses say the person who did this immediately fled the scene. According to witnesses, the ruffianism was the handiwork of a supporter of Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov, who had come to the Mariinsky Palace [the seat of the Petersburg Legislative Assembly, on St. Isaac’s Square] from the October Concert Hall [the site of an official pro-war rally]. However, this information is as yet unconfirmed.

Source: Fontanka.ru

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Yelena Osipova, St. Isaac’s Square, March 2, 2014. Osipova’s placard reads, “Ukraine: The occupation of sovereign Ukraine will separate Russia from its native Ukraine for a long time. V[alentina] Matiyenko [former governor of Petersburg, now speaker of the Federation Council, which yesterday voted to authorize Putin to send Russian troops to Ukraine] is Lady Macbeth. Saint Petersburg, 2 March 2014.” Photo courtesy of AC. 

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Around thirty people have already been detained during an anti-war protest action on St. Isaac’s Square today. Among the detainees was Stefania Kulaeva, director of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center. First, [Vitaly] Milonov’s “titushki” attacked [her] placard, then Milonov told police officers that Stefania should be arrested.

Source: Facebook

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Stefania Kulaeva, St. Isaac’s Square, March 2, 2014. Her placard reads, “The Anschluss of the Crimea is Russia’s disgrace.”

Closed, Destroyed, Deleted Forever: Russian Authorities Crack Down on Lena Klimova and Children 404 on Eve of Olympics

colta.ru
February 3, 2014
Closed, Destroyed, Deleted Forever
Moral crusader Vitaly Milonov is trying to shut down Children 404, a group which supports LGBT teens. Dmitry Pashinsky talked to the group’s founder, Lena Klimova

Detailed_pictureLena Klimova

In Nizhny Tagil, Lena Klimova, a 25-year-old journalist and founder of the project Children 404, which is dedicated to helping LGBT teenagers, has been charged with promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors.

On January 31, formal misdemeanor charges were filed against Klimova following a complaint by Vitaly Milonov, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

According to the charge sheet, law enforcement officers have deemed that the project’s group page on the VKontakte social network, where participants communicate with each other, publish open letters, and get help from psychologists and lawyers, promotes non-traditional sexual relations. Klimova now faces a fine of fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles [approx. 1,000 to 2,000 euros]. She also does not preclude the group’s being shut down. In her opinion, this would cause “irreparable harm” to thousands of LGBT teenagers, who would lose a means of sharing their problems and adapting to society.

Commenting on the situation in the media, Vitaly Milonov himself said, “This group is most likely funded by foreign grants. It should at least be declared a foreign agent. It should banned from involvement in politics, and of course this group should be closed, destroyed, and deleted forever.”

Lena Klimova talked about how absurd it was to be accused of promoting homosexuality among minors for letters written by minors themselves.

It’s not clear from what Milonov said who should be declared a foreign agent, me or the group. I hear this nonsense about foreign funding all the time. I don’t know what the basis of these claims is. I would say it’s a bad thing to lie.

Has a court date been set?

Not yet.

How do you plan to make your case? What does your lawyer say?

The lawyer says we will muddle through. I haven’t asked her yet how we’re going to make our case, but I think we have almost no chance of winning. I suspect a political put-up job is underway. When I went to the police investigator in mid-January, he told me he saw no evidence of a violation and would refuse to open a case. But then I was suddenly summoned again, and the same investigator admitted he wasn’t calling the shots and would now draw up a charge sheet. From which I concluded that the order had come from higher up. I imagine he was told, Are you a fool, or what? Don’t you know who Milonov is? File charges right now! The interrogation lasted for less than an hour. I was asked what the group was and why it had been created, for what purpose. I was also asked who LGBTs and transgenders were.

Personally, what is happening reminds me of the lead-up to a show trial. The only thing that is not clear is why the authorities want another LGBT-related scandal right before the Olympics.

The trial will probably be after the Olympics. They hope the Games will take place and the international community will stop worrying about the problems of gays in Russia. Although I’m sure it won’t be that way. Three or four people have already been convicted under this law, the latest as recently as January 30. The newspaper Molodoi Dalnevostochnik was fined for publishing an interview with the fired gay school teacher Alexander Yermoshkin. He said, “My existence is itself the most effective proof that gays are normal.”  The editors were fined fifty thousand rubles for this phrase.

Аs for us, this is totally Kafkaesque. We’re charged with promoting homosexuality among minors, and it is the letters of minors themselves that constitute this promotion. This is nonsense! But we’re told that no, minors will read the letters and be swayed.

How likely is it now that the group will be closed? And what will the consequences be?

I think it’s quite likely. But we are fully prepared for this. Around a week ago we started working on a website. In addition, we have a mirror group on Facebook, and Facebook is much more difficult to block. The site itself will have foreign hosting. It can also be blocked by putting it on the list of banned sites, but such bans are easy to get around. But closing the group on VKontakte will cause irreparable harm. It’s our greatest resource. On Facebook we have 2,500 subscribers, but on VKontakte, where young people mainly hang out, we have over 16,000 subscribers. All the psychological and moral support we provide work only on VKontakte: people write and offer advice, and we moderate the discussions. But the people subscribed to our Facebook page are usually foreigners and people from the older generation. We’ll be sorry to lose the audience on VKontakte.

Have you contacted VKontakte management in connection with this case?

With regard to this case, no. But our opponents have written complaints to VKontakte’s tech support and posted screenshots of their correspondence, from which I’ve gathered that the site’s management is wholly on our side. They say they see no evidence we are promoting homosexuality. If you think otherwise, they write, take it to court. But going to court is not the same thing as writing to VKontakte: you have get your butt off the couch. Only Milonov has been able to do that so far.

Is this the first time the authorities have put pressure on you?

Yes, it’s the first time. Before this, no pressure groups were formed to oppose us, no complaints were filed, and there were no parliamentary inquiries.

How many people are involved in the project team?

There are around ten psychologists and eight coordinators. Everyone has their duties. For example, I’m in charge of corresponding with the teenagers, while other people handle posting the letters on social networks, banning homophobes, and translating from foreign languages. There is also someone who runs our closed group on VKontakte. We have that for teenagers to communicate freely.

Students at the University of Massachusetts Send a Message of Support to Children 404 

Why is a group meant for free communication closed?

Only teenagers and vetted adults who come to help them are members of the closed group. It is closed because the problems discussed there are fairly personal, the sort of problems that could be put up for general discussion only anonymously, the way it happens in the open group.

You have a fairly large team. What motivates these people? What prompted them to work on this project?

Aside from wanting to help, people have very different motivations. Our first admin is a heterosexual with two children. He became an LGBT activist long ago, I don’t know why. Our next admin is a LGBT teen, whose letter launched the project. There is another straight admin, but his daughter is a lesbian. For everybody, it is a fifty-fifty mix of personal motivations and the desire to lend a helping hand.

I find it hard to talk about what motivates other people, I can only talk about what motivates me. Well, sexual orientation also motivates me, as I’m bisexual. And I’ve had to deal with discrimination. When I was suspected of being lesbian, I was fired from my job with a lot of fuss. This was at a state university where I had worked for quite a while. At one point I was called on the carpet and told to write a resignation letter. My boss later added I shouldn’t pretend I didn’t get it. I was in a desperate situation and couldn’t strike an attitude by invoking the Labor Code. It left a huge wound in my soul. I have an acquaintance who says that the basis of all human rights work is deep psychological trauma. Some people, of course, get their skulls cracked, but still that incident forced me to feel the injustice of the world, so I help others. I don’t want them to feel the same thing I did.

Are there many groups like yours on the Russian segment of the Internet?

There are quite a lot. And, in my experience, they sprang up like mushrooms after we appeared. More than once I have had to ask them to change their name, because they were all called Children 404, but there was porn posted on their walls. At least patent the name! Someone will show up and write they saw kiddie porn on Children 404, and then go and try to prove we’re innocent.

But it’s obviously provocateurs who set them up?

No, they are not provocateurs. They’re silly boys from the rainbow community. But I haven’t found any psychological support groups either for teenagers or LGBT people generally. In Russia, only one helpline for LGBT people has remained. Incidentally, it recently stopped taking calls from teenagers for fear of being charged with violating the law on promoting homosexuality.

Does your project receive financial assistance from anyone?

No. We didn’t go looking for investors, either. The reasons for this are many, but the main one is that we are not an organization, a legal entity. We’re nobody. We don’t exist. We’re just a group of concerned people in a social network.

And you don’t envision the possibility of registering Children 404 as a human rights organization?

I’m afraid that no one would register us. But even as a project we get on well. What are the advantages of registration? We’re interested not in financial resources but in human resources. We always welcome new lawyers and psychologists. We find them among those who’ve already worked with LGBT people. We don’t do interviews: we are guided by the assessments of friends. I’ve had to turn down a few students without diplomas who “just wanted to help.” We also need translators from English, because people often write to us from abroad, and because we are planning to translate current research on homosexuality for the website, and most of this in English. All the work is voluntary. It is only Milonov who tells tales about foreign grants.

I suspect he is not too sincere, but he manages the role nicely.

Yes, a journalist who knew Milonov back when he still worked for [the slain Yeltsin-era democratic politician] Galina Starovoitova wrote to me. He was then the most liberal of liberals. The journalist told me not to believe all this homophobia: when the wind blows the other way, Milonov will be the first to be gone with the wind. But nowadays homophobia is trendy. Even the media noticed us only when that red-headed parasite took a swipe at us.  News about his complaint to the police spread far and wide, including outside of Russia. He filed the complaint back in October, and it took two and a half months to get to Nizhny Tagil. I didn’t advertise the fact I live here. He thought I was from Petersburg, so he sent the complaint to the local authorities there. The final countdown to the Olympics had started by the time the complaint found me.

Rally in London in Support of Children 404

How many letters have you received over the course of the project?

We have been around since March 2013, and to date we have received 1,067 letters.

What places do the teenagers write from?

Aside from Russia, they write from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Canada and Israel. Quite a lot of letters come from the US.

What about the North Caucasus?

There have been only one or two letters. A young woman who called herself Gina sent a letter, but she was already eighteen or twenty. Everything had worked out more or less fine for her, surprisingly. The other day we got a letter from a guy from a Muslim family. He is twenty-two, but he has the same problems as teenagers. He has thoughts of suicide, and his family is quite poor, they have no money. He can’t come out either to his father or his mother.

Recently, literally everyone has been turning to us for help, including teenagers suffering from ordinary romantic tragedies. I remember one amazing letter from a young woman who was dating an older woman with a ten-year-old child. She asked for help in coming out to her girlfriend’s daughter. Usually, kids want to come out to their parents, but here an adult wanted to come out to a child.

Do adolescents suffer more from an intolerant society or from self-loathing?

A psychologist recently said our main problem was that the teenagers who wrote to us had already recognized who they were. But those who are still trying to accept who they are almost never write, because they are sitting around thinking there is something strange happening to them. They type “how to stop being gay” into a search engine, but they definitely won’t find us that way.

But mostly it is people who have accepted themselves who write. Everyone has different problems.  Some are in unhappy relationships, others have problems with their parents, still others are bullied at school. There is a letter for every problem. Just recently, someone wrote to me, “I feel gay, but I don’t like it at all. I want a normal family and children, but I can’t stop looking at boys.” We also publish letters like this. Someone will always write in the comments, “Don’t worry, being gay is alright.” And someone is going to call that promotion of homosexuality? What is the guy supposed to do? Seek treatment? Where? Go pray? It’s all very complicated.

You publish the letters, and the kids get support in the comments. But you’ve said almost nothing about the work of your psychologists, about how teenagers have been helped. Why?

To be honest, I have never thought of doing that. And our psychologists are unlikely to go that route. When I had to find out the details of a situation, they told me they could not say anything specific, because professional ethics and doctor-patient confidentiality forbid it. They described the problem and how it was solved only in the most general terms. And there is not much point in my knowing. As it is, hundreds of young people know we have psychologists and that they can consult with them.

What are the most frequent questions?

The question asked most often is whether to come out to one’s parents. It gets asked so often I’ve worked out a universal answer to it: unless you are one hundred percent sure your parents are not homophobes, it is better not to do it.  It is worth coming out when a few important conditions are in place: one, you have your own place to live, and, two, you have your own source of income. Only when these are the case is it absolutely safe to come out. But if neither the first or second condition has been met, it is risky.

It happens that a letter arrives where a guy writes that his parents are horrible homophobes, but he couldn’t stand it and came out, and his parents abruptly changed their minds about gays. Or vice versa: the parents seemed gay-friendly, and the person came out to them, but then he or she was kicked out of the house practically in their underwear. It is impossible to predict what parents will do, but you also cannot forbid kids from coming out to them.

How did you personally come out to your family and friends?

It was fairly hard. My friends accepted me without question. As for my mom, alas, she still hasn’t accepted me. We had a difficult conversation. I cannot even describe it. I have a difficult relationship with my mom, although she sometimes asks me about both my activism and the project. But she does not want to hear anything about my personal life. She says, When you are around me, pretend you’re ordinary. So I have every right to sympathize wholeheartedly with children in similar situations.

What else do the teenagers who write to you have in common besides their orientation?

It is quite hard to figure that out, because the letters are not written to a template. I once did a survey. A total of 115 people were polled. What percentage had thought of suicide? How many had come out to parents and friends? I wanted to find patterns. If you judge on the basis of the letters, what do they have in common? Geography for sure: most of them come from Moscow and Petersburg. The age range is wide: the youngest was twelve, the oldest, fifty. She was a mom whose daughter was an LGBT person. All her life she had regarded LGBT people tolerantly, but then she had to deal with one personally and had had second thoughts.

Do they often write about suicide?

Not really. Since the majority had recognized who they were, they simply took it for granted. At any rate, this was true for half the people I polled, while the other half had tried to find a way out in relationships with the opposite sex, going in big for religion, reading the “right” books, and consulting with psychologists. Suicide was seen less as a way out and more as an inevitability, because they had been harassed at school and at home. They felt terribly lonely.

I know absolutely hellacious stories. There was one girl, a lesbian. Her mother did not accept her, and the girl swallowed a bunch of pills. The ambulance took her to hospital, were her stomach was pumped. She wrote, “You know what the first thing my mom said when she saw me? ‘Did you think everyone would be happy you’re still alive?'” Can you imagine such a thing?

Homosexuals and Homophobes: Victoria Lomasko on the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival

Originally published (in Russian) at soglyadatay.livejournal.com

Victoria Lomasko
Side by Side: Homosexuals and Homophobes

When the organizers of the Petersburg LGBT film festival Side by Side invited me to serve on the festival jury, I agreed right away. I’m no expert on cinema, and I’m not a member of the LGBT community, but given what has been happening in Russia, the festival has become a political event, and being involved with it is a way of clearly expressing your civic stance.

As one of the organizers, Gulya Sultanova, told me, “This time, almost all the movie theaters [the festival approached] decided to support the film festival, despite the potential risks. And that’s worth a lot.”

I found it difficult to share Gulya’s optimism. I was certain that attempts would be made to disrupt the festival, and that trouble lay in store for organizers and festival goers.

A Dangerous Opening

Several minutes before the festival’s opening ceremony at the Warsaw Express shopping and entertainment complex, police got word of a bomb threat to the movie theater. While police combed the building for a bomb, festival goers hung outside in the chilly wind.

“There are homophobes on the corner. They’re really creepy.”

A gang of beefy skinheads appeared a few meters away from us. As Gulya later explained, the guys were nationalists from an organization called Soprotivlenie (Resistance). One female viewer standing next to me was visibly nervous.

“Now they’ll start throwing rocks at us, like during the rally at the Field of Mars. Now they’ll start firing at us with pneumatic guns!”

Right there among the gay activists was Dmitry Chizhevsky, a black bandage on his face. It had only been just recently that persons unknown had attacked an LGBT community center and shot Chizhevsky in the eye with a pneumatic pistol.

Side by Side organizers asked festival goers not to wander off by themselves.

We were finally ushered into the movie theater. The Dutch film Matterhorn, about a father who has kicked his gay son out of the house, opened the festival.

Police escorted Side by Side viewers from the movie theater to the subway.

Predictions by Foreign Guests

Post-screening discussion of Out in East Berlin: “I think the tough times are still ahead of you.”
3_strahi“We were afraid of pogroms, that they would try and kill homosexuals in the street.”

At the last minute, many foreign guests had been frightened to come to Russia.

Side by Side Received Five Bomb Threats during Its Ten-Day Run

Five times the police received false threats of bombs planted at Side by Side festival venues. Loft Project ETAGI art center and Jam Hall Cinema were each threatened once, the Skorokhod cultural center, twice.


“We’ve received another bomb threat, friends!”

The police and ambulance came each time, and everyone was evacuated from the buildings where the “bombs” had been “planted.” At ETAGI, for example, its staff, patrons from its cafes, bars and shops, and its hostel guests were kicked out onto the street along with LGBT activists.

The people behind the false bomb threats have not been found.

Side by Side co-organizer Manny de Guerre: “No venue will ever work with us again.”

Manny’s worries were justified. After the bomb threats, both the Zona Deistviya co-working space at ETAGI and Jam Hall Cinema terminated their agreements with Side by Side for the remaining screenings.

One day, the festival program was disrupted entirely. Not only were the screenings not held. A discussion entitled “Young People’s Freedom to Access Information on LGBT” was also canceled.

Lena Klimova: “In our city, many people don’t even know the word LGBT.”

Lena Klimova, a journalist and creator of the Internet project Children 404, was supposed to take part in the discussion. She had specially come all the way from Nizhny Tagil for the festival.

Through the Back Entrance

The screening, at Jam Hall Cinema, of Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle), which was then playing without incident at many other theaters in Petersburg, was interrupted by a bomb threat. The police led viewers out of the theater through the back entrance. At the main entrance, Petersburg legislative assembly deputy and United Russia member Vitaly Milonov demanded that police free children whom the “sodomites” were, allegedly, “forcibly holding” at the screening. Around twenty lowlifes came out to support Milonov.


“We caught several minors in the movie theater and photographed them with their IDs.”

While waiting for the theater to be checked for bombs, Side by Side viewers took refuge in a nearby cafe, but several people, including me, lingered on the street. A policeman came up to me.

“Tell your people not to stand in the street but to hide in the cafe. They could be attacked.”

“They don’t want to go into the cafe.”

“It’s dangerous. Although they look like ordinary people. Maybe they won’t be noticed, and no one will bother them.”

While what the policeman said jarred me, it didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the absence of support for Side by Side on the part of Petersburg’s civic and leftist activists.

In the Bomb Shelter

After Jam Hall pulled out of its agreement with Side by Side, the festival moved to the Green Lantern Press Club, a small basement space. No bomb threats were made to this venue.

As festival jury member Bård Ydén remarked, “What bombs? We’re already in a bomb shelter.”

The feature films Tom at the Farm and In the Name Of and the documentary film We Were Here were shown in the “bomb shelter.”

LGBT Christians

In the Name Of is about a priest’s struggle with his homosexual desires. Andrei, a pastor at a Protestant church, took part in the post-screening discussion.

LGBT Christian: “A persecuted minority is being oppressed in the name of the church.”

“I’m offended by the idea that a person can’t be both Christian and LGBT.”

The pastor recounted how he had once invited LGBT Christians to celebrate Easter at his church, but the other parishioners had refused to eat at the same table with them.

Pastor: “The Bible unequivocally treats homosexuality as a sin.”

We Were Here

We Were Here, about the AIDs epidemic among gays in San Francisco in the 1980s, made a huge impression on me. The epidemic claimed over fifteen thousand lives during this period. The US government considered introducing a compulsory quarantine, clothes with identifying marks or special tattoos for people infected with HIV. Mass protests by the LGBT community put a stop to such plans. Gays demanded information about the new disease, development and free distribution of drugs, and government support for HIV-positive people. At the same time, the LGBT community established charitable organizations: hundreds of gay activists became volunteers, while many lesbians donated blood and worked as nurses.

One of the people featured in the film, AIDS activist Ed Wolf, came to the festival.

Ed Wolf: “I’ve ridden around Petersburg. You have many gays here. I saw them myself.”
Moderator: “So the American government wasn’t willing to solve the problem?” Ed Wolf: “An army of activists forced the government to act.”

Thanks to the civic engagement of the LGBT community and, later, the society at large, the epidemic in San Francisco was stopped relatively quickly.

Ed Wolf continues to work on HIV/AIDS issues. According to him, women are now at risk.

“It’s hard for women to force their husbands to wear a condom every time.”

Wolf also said that gays are also men and that it’s time for them to reconsider their patriarchal views of women.

Lesbiana

At Side by Side, I noticed that the LGBT community was also not free of sexism. Spotting my jury member badge, one young gay man asked which movies I would be voting for. Hearing I had chosen Blue Is the Warmest Color and Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution, he said, “Those films are so boring. And lesbian sex is disgusting to watch.”

Most of the films shown at Side by Side were shot by male directors and dealt with gay love. Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution was the only feature film at the festival made by women about women. The screening room was half empty: men did not come.

The audience at Lesbiana

Lesbiana combines interview with aged lesbian activists who were involved in the LGBT and feminist movements during the 1970s with documentary footage from the period. In those years there were a lot of separatist lesbian communes, where women lived and engaged in painting, sculpture, literature, music and performance.

Sharing our impressions of Lesbiana at a cafe: “I wonder whether there are ‘feminine lands’ in Russia where only lesbians live?”

Jury Deliberations

The jury at Side by Side consisted of Alexander Markov, a filmmaker; Marina Staudenmann, director of the Tour de Film international film festival agency; Bård Ydén, director of the Oslo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; and two people far removed from the professional cinema world, Elena Kostyuchenko, a journalist and LGBT activist, and me.

 Alexander Markov (on left). Elena Kostyuchenko: “As the only LGBT activist on the jury, I’m responsible for authenticity.”

Our discussion quickly shifted from the films to Russia’s homophobic policies.

Elena Kostyuchenko: “If they start removing children from LGBT [families], our lives will change forever.” Marina Staudenmann (on right)

We were nearly unanimous in our choice of the winning feature film.

 Marina Staudenmann: “La vie d’Adèle.” Bård Ydén: “La vie d’Adèle.”
Alexander Markov: “La vie d’Adèle.”

Valentine Road, about the murder of a transgender schoolboy by his classmate, won the prize for best feature-length documentary film.

The Festival’s Closing Ceremony

Aside from the by now routine bomb threat, viewers who came to the closing ceremony had a surprise in store from the Rodina (Motherland) party. Party activists handed out “gift bags” to them.

Side by Side organizers describing what was in the “gift bags”: “The bags contained rope and bars of soap, along with a note reading, ‘From Russians with love.'”

Gus Van Sant, the festival’s most anticipated guest of honor: “The people who wanted to shut the festival down caused the LGBT community to close ranks.”

Gus Van Sant showed up at the Side by Side closing ceremonies with Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev, whom he introduced to the audience as his “good Russian friend.”

A woman in the audience asked the famed director, “What is a Putin endorser doing at an LGBT film festival?”

Van Sant chose not to answer the question.

Afterparty at the Malevich LGBT club

Sitting among gays and lesbians at the closed LBGT club, I mulled over my impressions of the events of the festival. I had felt frightened several times during the clashes with homophobes, and I was glad I was heterosexual. I would not be forced to live my entire life in a constant state of anxiety.

Towards the end of the festival, Gulya Sultanova said, “We’re just a festival, but there’s the sense we’re running a military operation.”

LGBT activists are just people. Why must they live as if they were invisible or criminals?

Dmitry Chizhevsky: “I Feel Really Sorry for the Stupid Guys Who Did This to Me”

On November 3, 2013, the LaSky LGBT community center in downtown Petersburg was attacked by two masked men. Two people were injured during the attack, including 27-year-old Dmitry Chizhevsky, who sustained serious damage in one eye after being shot with a pneumatic pistol.

On November 5, Mr. Chizhevsky posted the following statement (in Russian) on his Vkontakte page. It was published later the same day as a blog on the web site of radio station Echo of Moscow.Dmitry_Chizhevsky_Russian_Gay_Activist_Blinded_Attack

So I guess I should write something. Many of the doctors are saying the chances of restoring my eye are minimal. But all the same I do not believe them: I still imagine that when the bandage is removed I will be able to see with it again. I guess I have not come to terms with the diagnosis, but I never will! We are now working on a plan involving a trip to a foreign clinic, but I have no passport nor, as it turns out, am I registered anywhere. I had myself taken off the registry at one address and just could not get around to going to my local residence registration office. It is not clear how long it will take to do the passport, but the foreign clinic is willing to write a letter to the Federal Migration Service asking them to speed up the processing. If anyone can help out with this problem, I would be quite grateful. That is the main problem now.

I feel really sorry for the stupid guys who did this to me. I am sure they did not expect such consequences themselves. I will not be demanding they be harshly punished if they turn themselves in and confess to police investigators. Anyway, we know that there were a number of cameras around the site where the attack occurred, that they were caught on them, and that police have video footage of them. Regardless of their behavior, I realize they are only tools. The blame for what happened to my eye lies not with them but with every politician who has supported and stirred the homophobic hysteria in recent months. My disability is on the conscience of Milonov, Mizulina, Yarovaya and other such politicians. If you had treated citizens like human beings, if you had not stuffed the heads of these guys with your hatred, none of this would have happened. You are responsible not only for my injury but also for these fellows, who are facing serious prison terms and ruined lives. Using every legal means, I will be avenged on each of you. The truth is on my side, and sooner or later you will answer for everything.

I want to say a big thanks to my mom, my sister, civil society activists, the Russian LGBT Network, Coming Out, and LaSky. And to each of the hundreds of strangers who has written me kind words of support. You are my heroes. Your commitment makes me believe in Russia, in our people, in our future and in justice. I beg you not to be afraid of anything. I don’t like it, but I realize now is a very important moment: if we cannot get an honest investigation and punishment for the guilty parties (even suspended sentences, if they repent; I won’t harbor malice towards them), then the homophobes will understand they can get away with anything in this country, that they can attack us not only at protests and in clubs but also simply find us where we live and attack us one by one. We must act together to stop the wave of violence beginning before our eyes. I would like to say we had another choice, that we could choose just to live our lives and not be involved in defending decency, honesty and justice, but let’s be honest: actually, I am no activist.

I did not go to LGBT rallies and was not involved in LGBT protest actions. I was around and lent my support, and sometimes I went to closed meetings. But I must admit I was afraid of being an activist, of course, and tried to spare myself. That did not work out in my case. It was an absolute coincidence: I could not have anticipated or prevented this. I realize that anyone, absolutely anyone could have ended up in my shoes. And now I just do not believe there is anywhere to hide from hatred towards us. :( Guys, I ask you to visit or call a Russian LGBT Network branch, find out how you can help, and help anyway you can. Don’t overdo it, but devote at least one hour a week to the fight for justice. Unfortunately, truth, justice and honesty have no other defenders than you.

I would like to make a separate appeal to all activists: a special responsibility now rests on you. I beg you—no, I demand that you now make safety the cornerstone of your work. Be sure to put cameras in your offices; don’t skimp on safety. If you organize protests (and feisty Kirill and Danka are eager to organize something), think over your escape routes and security plan. Assign team leaders to coordinate protests, people every protester can go to. Make sure to provide security checklists for each protest and hand them out to the folks who come to them.

Gay athletes, steroid-using bodybuilders, the dream of all girls and boys! I beg you to be real men and take responsibility at this difficult moment. Help protect the other guys, show them, at last, our fraternal courage and solidarity. Throughout history, the most courageous and fearless troops were our troops. Is that now a thing of the past? Give advice to the other guys about how and where to train, what weights to pump, what classes to take. If you are a coach and, like me, you realize things could not be worse, that terrible times have come to our country, help out by organizing classes and teaching the guys how to fight. Alas, it is very important right now: I beg you not to remain on the sidelines. Thank you in advance!

Thanks again to all of you. Please take care of yourselves. I love you.

 Translated by the Russian Reader

The Milonov Factor

An original view as to the cause of Petersburg’s economic problems was evinced by Alexander Karpov, director of the ECOM Expert Center. “In the near future, Petersburg’s economy is not threatened with development. This is facilitated by two factors, external and internal. The external factor is the State Duma and its laws; the internal factor is [Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Vitaly] Milonov. Currently, the only possible scenario for economic development is a sluggish one,” he argued. “The city has to make a clear choice: either innovation or Milonov.” Karpov explained to Kommersant that he had in mind the famous anti-gay activist both as a specific person and as an embodiment of nutty legislative initiatives.

Source: www.kommersant.ru

Church officials, city officials and MPs took part in the religious procession [in Petersburg on September 12]. Together with clergymen, they followed the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan as it was solemnly carried [down Nevsky Prospect]. Vadim Tyulpanov, Petersburg’s representative in the Federation Council, Legislative Assembly Speaker Vyacheslav Makarov, and deputy governors Vasily Kichedzhi, Vladimir Lavlentsev and Marat Oganesyan were spotted in the procession.

Famous deputy Vitaly Milonov was out in front of city leaders, however: he marched not behind the icon, like the officials, but ahead of it, in a group of clergymen carrying banners and crosses. Like the other priests, Milonov was wearing solemn gold vestments and bearing an enormous cross.

Source: piter.tv