Category Archives: feminism, gay rights

The Argument Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Wasn’t Allowed to Make at Her Parole Hearing

[Originally published by The Russian Reader]

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Yesterday, April 26, 2013, a district court in Zubova Polyana, Mordovia, denied imprisoned Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s request for parole. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Judge Lidiya Yakovleva agreed with arguments made by prison authorities that it would be “premature” to release Tolokonnikova given that she “had been cited for prison rules violations and expressed no remorse,” and had not participated in such prison activities as the “Miss Charm Prison Camp 14 beauty contest.” Judge Yakovleva made her ruling without allowing the defense to make a closing argument, thus allegedly violating the Criminal Procedure Code. Tolokonnikova had written her statement out in advance. The translation below is of the Russian original as published in full on the web site of RFE/RL’s Russian Service (Radio Svoboda). Photos courtesy of the Free Pussy Riot Facebook page.

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“Has the convict started down the road to rehabilitation?” This is the question asked when a request for parole is reviewed. I would also like us to ask the following question today: What is  this “road to rehabilitation”?

I am absolutely convinced that the only correct road is one on which a person is honest with others and with herself. I have stayed on this road and will not stray from it wherever life takes me. I insisted on this road while I was still on the outside, and I didn’t retreat from it in the Moscow pretrial detention facility. Nothing, not even the camps of Mordovia, where the Soviet-era authorities liked to send political prisoners, can teach me to betray the principle of honesty.

So I have not admitted and will not admit the guilt imputed to me by the Khamovniki district court’s verdict, which was illegal and rendered with an indecent number of procedural violations. At the moment, I am in the process of appealing this verdict in the higher courts. By coercing me into admitting guilt for the sake of parole, the correctional system is pushing me to incriminate myself, and, therefore, to lie. Is the ability to lie a sign that a person has started down the road to rehabilitation?

It states in my sentence that I am a feminist and, therefore, must feel hatred towards religion. Yes, after a year and two months in prison, I am still a feminist, and I am still opposed to the people in charge of the state, but then as now there is no hatred in me. The dozens of women prisoners with whom I attend the Orthodox church at Penal Colony No. 14 cannot see this hatred, either.

What else do I do in the colony? I work: soon after I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14, they put me behind a sewing machine, and now I am a sewing machine operator. Some believe that making political-art actions is easy, that it requires no deliberation or preparation. Based on my years of experience in actionism, I can say that carrying out an action and thinking through the artistic end-product is laborious and often exhausting work. So I know how to work and I love to work. I’m no stranger to the Protestant work ethic. Physically, I don’t find it hard to be a seamstress. And that is what I am. I do everything required of me. But, of course, I cannot help thinking about things while I’m at the sewing machine (including the road to rehabilitation) and, therefore, asking myself questions. For example: why can convicts not be given a choice as to the socially useful work they perform while serving their sentences? [Why can they not chose work] in keeping with their education and interests? Since I have experience teaching in the philosophy department at Moscow State University, I would gladly and enthusiastically put together educational programs and lectures using the books in the library and books sent to me. And by the way, I would unquestioningly do such work for more than the eight hours [a day] stipulated by the Russian Federation Labor Code; I would do this work during all the time left over from scheduled prison activities. Instead, I sew police pants, which of course is also useful, but in this work I’m obviously not as productive as I could be were I conducting educational programs.

In Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn describes how a prison camp detective stops one convict from teaching another convict Latin. Unfortunately, the overall attitude to education hasn’t changed much since then.

I often fantasize: what if the correctional system made its priority not the production of police pants or production quotas, but the education, training, and rehabilitation of convicts, as required by the Correctional Code? Then, in order to get parole, you would not have to sew 16 hours a day in the industrial section of the colony, trying to achieve 150% output, but successfully pass several exams after broadening your horizons and knowledge of the world, and getting a general humanities education, which nurtures the ability to adequately assess contemporary reality. I would very much like to see this state of affairs in the colony.

Why not establish courses on contemporary art in the colony?

Would that work were not a debt, but activity that was spiritual and useful in a poetic sense. Would that the organizational constraints and inertia of the old system were overcome, and values like individuality could be instilled in the workplace. The prison camp is the face of the country, and if we managed to get beyond the old conservative and totally unifying categories even in the prison camp, then throughout Russia we would see the growth of intellectual, high-tech manufacturing, something we would all like to see in order to break out of the natural resources trap. Then something like Silicon Valley could be born in Russia, a haven for risky and talented people. All this would be possible if the panic experienced in Russia at the state level towards human experimentation and creativity would give way to an attentive and respectful attitude towards the individual’s creative and critical potential. Tolerance towards others and respect for diversity provide an environment conducive to the development and productive use of the talent inherent in citizens (even if these citizens are convicts). Repressive conservation and rigidity in the legal, correctional, and other state systems of the Russian Federation, laws on registration [of one’s residence] and promotion of homosexuality lead to stagnation and a “brain drain.”

However, I am convinced that this senseless reaction in which we now forced to live is temporary. It is mortal, and this mortality is immediate. I am also certain that all of us—including the prisoners of Bolotnaya Square, my brave comrade in arms Maria Alyokhina, and Alexei Navalny—have the strength, commitment, and tenacity to survive this reaction and emerge victorious.

I am truly grateful to the people I have encountered in my life behind barbed wire. Thanks to some of them, I will never call my time in prison time lost. During the year and two months of my imprisonment, I have not had a single conflict, either in the pretrial detention facility or in prison. Not a single one. In my opinion, this shows that I am perfectly safe for any society. And also the fact that people do not buy into state media propaganda and are not willing to hate me just because a federal channel said that I’m a bad person. Lying does not always lead to victory.

Recently, I got a letter containing a parable that has become important to me. What happens to things different in nature when they are placed in boiling water? Brittle things, like eggs, become hard. Hard things, like carrots, become soft. Coffee dissolves and permeates everything. The point of the parable was this: be like coffee. In prison, I am like that coffee.

I want the people who have put me and dozens of other political activists behind bars to understand one simple thing: there are no insurmountable obstacles for a person whose values  consist, first, of her principles and, second, of work and creativity based on these principles. If you strongly believe in something, this faith will help you survive and remain a human being anywhere.

I will surely use my experience in Mordovia in my future work and, although this will not happen until completion of my sentence, I will implement it in projects that will be stronger and politically larger in scale than everything that has happened to me before.

Despite the fact that imprisonment is a quite daunting experience, as a result of having it we political prisoners only become stronger, braver, and more tenacious. And so I ask the last question for today: what, then, is the point of keeping us here?

tolokonnikova-udo2

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Dolly Bellefleur, “Stop, Stop, Stop, Putin!”

On April 8, 2013, thousands of people protested in Amsterdam against President Putin’s homopobic laws and the general lack of human rights and free speech in Russia. “Beauty with Brains” Dolly Bellefleur made a protest song especially for this occasion

Thanks to the Free Pussy Riot! Facebook page for the heads-up.

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Hello, Amsterdam!

Amsterdam welcomes the Russian president:

Thanks to Comrades Alexander and Elena for the heads-up. This posting was edited on April 14, 2013, after the Vimeo video originally featured here was removed.

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Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer (New York)

www.utsnyc.edu

The Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York presents:

Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer
A performative symposium convened and moderated by artist Carlos Motta and minister Jared Gilbert

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Participants: Lovett/Codagnone, Darnell L. Moore, Ernesto Pujol, Robert Sember, Union Queer Caucus and FIERCE, Samita Sinha and Linn Tonstad

Friday, April 12, 2013, 7:00–11:00pm

James Chapel
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, NY, 10027, USA

Admission is free but reservation is required, please visit this link to reserve.

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The Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary presents Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer, a performative symposium convened by artist Carlos Motta and minister Jared Gilbert featuring performative lectures and performances by a group of academics, activists, artists and theologians to explore the intersections of queer politics, spirituality and social justice.

The regulation of sexual activity is the primary system for controlling bodies within religions and the societies they influence. Such regulations often authorize violence against bodies as well as the depravation and social stratification of gender and sexual identities. As lesbians and gays have gained unprecedented visibility and in some cases legislative recognition, American faiths have by and large opened their doors to those homosexuals who manage to comply with institutionalized systems of social respectability. These faiths are now unwittingly complicit in new forms of heteronormative oppression.

Queer sexuality, bodies and activism form the ground from which queer art, spirituality and political narratives nurture new visions of a just society. At the same time queer communities remain in constant tension with these visions, always exploring the evolving and deviant backside of spiritual, political and social spaces.

Godfull: Shape Shifting God as Queer explores queerness as a constant force of disruption in theology and sexual politics. The participants speak of a “queerness” in theology that is particular and explicit of the queer body, a “queerness” that represents a constant pursuit of new social and spiritual revelations through deviant, subversive and indecent affirmations that will continue to challenge repressive notions of morality and respectability.

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The Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice was founded in the spring of 2009 under the leadership of AA Bronson and Kathryn Reklis. The Institute’s mission is to explore the relationship between art and religion through the lens of social justice. In particular, the Institute is concerned with creating dialogue between the worlds of contemporary art and religion, and between artists and theologians. The Institute commissions and supports contemporary art projects and practices that focus attention on the interdependent themes of art, religion and social justice.

 

Image: Lovett/Codagnone, For You, 2003, performance, courtesy of the artists

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International Women’s Day Special: The Professors in the Ikea Balaclavas

March 8 marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the fourth in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

On February 21, 2013, the first anniversary, of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest, TV Rain’s Maria Makeyeva interviewed Irina Karatsuba, an ecclesiastical historian and Ph.D. in cultural studies, and Elena Volkova, an expert on religion and artistic culture. Earlier in the day, Karatsuba and Volkova had been detained at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in balaclavas while attempting to lay flowers on the altar as way of showing their solidarity with the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. They were later released from Khamovniki police precinct after questioning.

Мaria Makeyeva: What made you, two female academics, go to Christ the Savior Cathedral? I understand that police were expecting someone to show up there on the anniversary of Pussy Riot’s protest action, but it was you, two scholars, whom they found. Was this a scholarly action or a form of research? What was it?

Elena Volkova: It was, first of all, a human action. We wanted to express our solidarity with Maria [Alyokhina] and Nadezhda [Tolokonnikova] on this day, to show them that people remember and appreciated what they did a year ago, that there are people who sympathize with them, share their views, and support the [protest] action they performed in Christ the Savior Cathedral. We went there in solidarity, support, and sympathy. As scholars, we’ve spent the past year on educating people. I ran a “Pussy Riot school” on the Web, where I tried to explain [what they did], because it seemed to me that people perceived the punk prayer so aggressively simply because they didn’t know church history, the history of resistance within the church, the history of the holy fools, Biblical prophecy, and ecclesiastical counterculture. I wanted to educate people, and so as scholars we have been actively involved in outreach the whole [past] year, and we carried balaclavas in our bags.

Makeyeva: As a historian of the church, what do you think of what Pussy Riot did a year ago?

Irina Karatsuba: I think there are several important dates in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. For example, the Church Council of 1917–1918, at which the Patriarchate was restored and a reform program was drafted, but none of these reforms was carried out. This continues to haunt us today. Or Metropolitan Sergei’s 1927 declaration, in which the church bowed down before an atheist state and thanked it: this is a very important milestone in the history of our church’s apostasy from Christ. Or 1943, when Comrade Stalin allowed the Church Council to convene and elect a new patriarch. He thus bound the church firmly to the atheist state, and the church firmly attached itself to it.

Makeyeva: But what about the “punk prayer”?

Karatsuba: The “punk prayer” completes this sequence. It tries to put everything in its place: render unto God what is God’s, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And it calls on members of the church not to support Caesar, thus closing the books on a very important feature of church-state relations in the twentieth century. Moreover, the girls told the truth, and told it in such a way that everyone heard it. We experts had been writing about this for the past five years, six years, but very few people hear what experts have to say. But [Pussy Riot] were able to say it in a way that everyone heard it, and that is to their great credit.

Makeyeva: You both were expert witnesses in the Pussy Riot case.

Karatsuba: We were expert witnesses for the defense whose testimony no one wanted to hear. We sat in the stairways at the Khamovniki district court for two days along with [famous Russian novelist] Ludmila Ulitskaya, who is seventy today, God bless her, and Irina Levinskaya, who had written an expert opinion on the expert opinion [commissioned by the prosecution]. She showed how meaningless what the court-appointed experts had dashed off was.

Makeyeva: Could you say more about the balaclavas you carried in your bags for a whole year?

Volkova: We made them for an opposition rally, before the ban on covering one’s face [was introduced]. We made them from Ikea pillowcases five minutes before going to the rally.

Karatsuba: Elena came over to my house and quickly made two balaclavas from an Ikea pillowcase I had.

Volkova: Later, we put them on outside the courthouse when we went there to support the girls. And then I carried it in my bag as a talisman, as a way of maintaining my connection with the persecuted women.

Makeyeva: And where are they now?

Volkova: The guards at Christ the Savior Cathedral tore them off and didn’t give them back to us, unfortunately. The tulips they threw at our feet: we had bought brightly colored tulips by way of stylizing Pussy Riot’s bright outfits.

Makeyeva: And then what happened?

Volkova: And then for some reason one of the cleaning ladies began frantically removing flowers from the icons, apparently fearing we were going to take them from their vases and throw them on the altar. Then the police took us to the paddy wagon, where two strange men appeared. One of them asked why we did it. We talked about the historical role of the “punk prayer,” that Russia had changed after this, that it has had a huge impact on Russian history. To which he replied. . . It was Ira who engaged him in a dialogue from that point on.

Karatsuba: He said that it wasn’t history that had changed, but something in our brains. “That’s okay,” he said, “we treat such alterations at the Serbsky Institute [for Forensic Psychiatry].”

Makeyeva: You mean they introduced themselves as specialists from the Serbsky Institute?

Karatsuba: They didn’t introduce themselves at all. It was just a remark he made.

Makeyeva: Were they in plain clothes?

Karatsuba: Yes, we decided we were going to be taken to the Serbsky Institute for treatment, but for now we haven’t been taken there.

Makeyeva: And then what happened?

Volkova: Then we were taken to the Khamovniki police precinct, where we spoke with a young name from Center “E,” the Center for Combating Extremism, who introduced himself as Ilya. He asked me different questions. As a teacher, it takes me approximately an hour to answer a question. I gave him a lecture on the history of the church, on the history of the holy fool tradition.

Karatsuba: I stood behind the door and listened with delight. Lena expressed herself one hundred percent: it was an amazing lecture.

Volkova: He asked questions and took notes. He asked me what the symphony between church and state was, and wrote down various dates and concepts. I think he liked it. He said he was in charge of religion at Center “E.” I told him he needed to get a religious studies education and advised him to enroll at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He said, “Can you give me the names of people to talk to [there]?” And with that he gave himself away, because this was clearly the question an investigator would ask: Whom did you meet with? What is your connection? What is this faction you mentioned?

Makeyeva: Irina, did you talk with this same young man?

Karatsuba: Yes. I didn’t really want to talk to him, and so our conversation didn’t really gel. He kept pestering me with questions. If I was so devout, he asked, why didn’t I go with those girls to prison? To which I replied that it reminded me of Ivan the Terrible’s logic from the correspondence with Prince Kurbsky: if you’re so righteous, why didn’t accept a martyr’s death at the hands of me, the wicked king, and ascend to heaven?” To which he replied, “And whose side are you? Ivan the Terrible’s or Kurbsky’s?” “I’m on Gagarin’s side,” I said. He sighed and said, “Our conversation hasn’t panned out.”

Makeyeva: And with that they just let you go?

Karatsuba: [Former Pussy Riot lawyer] Violetta Volkova, God bless her, arrived and quickly set the entire Khamovniki precinct straight. The police really wanted our fingerprints, but she said we didn’t have to let them fingerprint us.

Volkova: And that we shouldn’t have talked to the man from Center “E”—we didn’t know that. But it’s okay: we educated and enlightened him a little.

Makeyeva: So Violetta Volkova helped you?

Volkova: Yes, and Mark Feygin. They heard about it on the news and came and found us themselves. Violetta Volkova was the first to arrive. She had two warrants allowing her to act as our attorney, and we followed her advice.

Karatsuba: We wrote statements saying we refused to be fingerprinted, and we were released. Things could develop in different ways: they might summon us again; they might not. We’ll see.

Makeyeva: Irina, you mentioned that both you and Elena are Orthodox. Is this an active part of your lives? Do you go to church and confess?

Volkova: Yes, it’s an active part of our lives. We’ve been in the church for many years, and besides that we are teachers. Irina taught history for many years, including church history. My specialty is the Bible, Christianity, and literature. We taught for thirty years at Moscow State University, which we recently left.

Makeyeva: Why did you leave?

Volkova: There were many reasons, including the fact that they had begun telling us whom to invite and whom not to invite, what to say and what not to say.

Makeyeva: Whom to invite where?

Volkova: To speak at the university.

Makeyeva: This had nothing to do with Pussy Riot?

Volkova: No, it was before that, in 2011. We are not just Orthodox believers, people who practice Orthodoxy. For many years, I organized the Sunday school at one church, and I taught seminarians, who came to Moscow and attended my lectures on Christianity and English poetry. I have had many priests as students, and we were very active in the church for many years. It’s another matter that in the past year we realized that the church has completely turned away from Christian principles and values. Our hopes were very slight, so we stepped up our criticism of the church. When the “punk prayer” happened, we realized that the girls had sung about what we as experts had been saying for many years. People didn’t listen to us, but they heard what [Pussy Riot] said. We were really glad that someone had finally been able to make themselves heard. So we support them by all means, and as a believer, I am certain that it was Christ who sent them to Christ the Savior Cathedral, that they are God’s children, who came from God and said what needed to be said.

Police escort university professors Yelena Volkova and Irina Karatsuba after detaining them inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow

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International Women’s Day Special: Victoria Lomasko on Women’s Lives in Small-Town Russia

March 8 marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the third in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

Below, artist Victoria Lomasko reflects in words and pictures on the lives of women in small Russian towns and cities like the one where she grew up, a hundred kilometers south of Moscow.

Lomasko’s series Feminine is featured in a special Eighth of March/feminist issue of Volya (Liberty), the newspaper edited by our friend and comrade Vlad Tupikin. Yesterday, during an authorized opposition rally to mark International Women’s Day, Tupikin was detained by Moscow police for the “criminal” act of attempting to distribute this newspaper.

A special thanks to Victoria Lomasko for permission to reproduce her work here.

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Victoria Lomasko

Feminine

svidanya

“When I was young, I had a date lined up on every corner.”

 

In the series Feminine, all the characters are drawn from life, and their remarks are recorded verbatim. However, I tried to move away from reportage and towards symbolism—to generalize specific situations in images expressing my feelings.

The portraits here are less images of specific people and more archetypes: the faded, lonely woman, the “sluttish” boozer, the rigid old Soviet woman, and so on.

 nety

“There are no factories in this town and no blokes.”

 tetay Luda

“He just couldn’t put on slippers and become a domesticated bloke.”

 

Each drawing adds its own tint (of sadness, irony, and anger) to the overall picture—the life of women in the Russian provinces.

blyadstvo

“I’ve been feeling slutty since December.”

 

I was born in Serpukhov, a town in the Moscow Region. The women and girls around me talked about men: acquaintances and strangers, exes, current husbands and boyfriends, and future husbands and boyfriends. We believed that love would change the monotonous course of our lives.

 svyatay

“I’m not a boozer. I’m a saint.”

 

I had one other belief—in my calling as an artist. Only my dad, a self-taught artist, supported my plan to study in Moscow and then work as an artist. Some of my girlfriends’ moms tried to force their daughters to spend less time with me, believing such nonsense as I was spouting communicable and a hindrance to finding a husband. They were right: I’m still not married and have no children.

 v bory

“We’re used to having blokes pay for everything.”

 

I have lived in Moscow for over ten years. When I travel to the provinces, the pictures I see and the conversations I hear are familiar to me. Even divorced girlfriends sympathize with my “plight.”

I became an artist, but I do not feel like a winner. In this country, their life strategies and mine turn into a loss. I look at the “heroines” in Feminine and find a part of myself in all of them.

 avtomat

“Where can I get hold of a machine gun to kill Putin?”

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International Women’s Day in Moscow: Police Attack and Arrest Our Comrades

The Moscow police celebrated International Women’s Day in style yesterday. First, they arrested our comrade, journalist and activist Vlad Tupikin, for the criminal act of distributing a special Eighth of March/feminist issue of the newspaper Volya (Liberty) at a permitted IWD rally. Then, when other activists and rally attendees tried to demand Vlad’s release, the police went after them as well. All in all, a couple dozen people were arrested for the apparently insane attempt, in Putin’s ultra-reactionary Russia, to bring some of its original meaning back into what has just become a commercialized, chauvinist “celebration of the weaker sex.”


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International Women’s Day Special: Taisiya Osipova, Political Prisoner

March 8 marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the second in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

In August 2012, Taisiya Osipova, an activist in The Other Russia opposition party, was sentenced to eight years in prison on drugs charges. She and her supporters have always maintained her innocence, claiming that police planted the drugs found in her apartment in Smolensk during a search in order to pressure her into cooperating with them and testifying against her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, a senior party activist.

In sentencing her to eight years in prison, the court not only failed to take into account the evidence of her innocence, but also ignored the fact that Osipova is the mother of a young child and suffers from several chronic illnesses, including diabetes.

Sergei Fomchenkov recently posted the following text on Facebook. In it, he describes the extreme difficulties Osipova and her fellow inmates at the women’s penal colony in Vishny Volochok have getting decent, humane medical care, and the recent family visit that he and their daughter Katrina made there. 

tasya600

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“Scalding hot! Torzhok!”
By Sergei Fomchenkov
March 1, 2013

The title of this article is a partial quotation of a bit of prison humor at the women’s penal colony in Vyshny Volochok, where Taisiya Osipova is an inmate. This dark humor is associated with the medical unit, to be more precise, with its head doctor, Valery Moskvin, a colorful character and one known well in town, beyond the premises of the penal colony. The full version of the phrase goes like this: “Scalding hot! Torzhok! The way our medicine works, I can’t promise you Torzhok!” It is uttered by the women prisoners, every one of whom before work in the morning walks down the aisle between rows of beds carrying a liter mug full of boiling water. There is not so much time to get ready for work, and the women have to manage to drink a cup of tea or coffee before going, so they do everything quickly. Rushing down the narrow aisle between rows of bed to her section, the female inmate risks pouring boiling water on other women straying into her path. To keep this from happening, the person carrying boiling water is supposed to loudly repeat the phrase, “Scalding hot! Torzhok. . .” Its meaning is clear only to the local inhabitants, who have encountered the specific form of prison medical care at Correctional Colony No. 5. The fact is that the town of Torzhok is home to the Federal Penitentiary Service’s Tver Regional Hospital. Since the means available to the medical unit at the penal colony are quite limited—they do not have the necessary equipment, specialists, and so forth—comprehensive medical care is impossible. This is a problem common to such medical facilities. But the regional prison hospital in Torzhok has more means at its disposal (although things there are not ideal, either) in terms of equipment and specialists, and they say the staff there has a better attitude about doing their jobs.

“We’re all going there. Some sooner, some later”

Mr. Moskvin really hates referring sick inmates to the regional prison hospital. This isn’t simply a matter of the prejudice, often held in his profession, that inmates feign their illnesses. It also has to do with Mr. Moskvin’s personal character.

The following story characterizes this scion of Hippocrates. Upon her arrival at the camp, an inmate named Elena told him she had a history of cancer, and had undergone multiple surgeries for the removal of tumors. Moskvin responded, “Where did you get that idea? You make something up, and then you end up believing it.” She didn’t know what to say to that. Some time later, a growth appeared on Elena’s back, and she went to Dr. Moskvin to ask to have it looked at the prison hospital in Torzhok. Instead, without doing any tests, this man of medicine prescribed the following course of treatment: for a month, iodine was rubbed on the tumor. But since that didn’t help, he ordered the ointment Levomekol rubbed on it, again for a month. The tumor continued to grow, and the pain got worse. Three months after her initial request, Elena once again visited the head doctor, requesting that something be done. Moskvin once again suggested iodine. Elena asked him, “Will it help?” “It won’t get any worse,” was his reply. In the end, Elena was finally sent to the hospital in Torzhok, where they surgically removed the tumor.

This is just one story of many. I am quoting Elena verbatim, because I spoke with her personally. I am not a doctor. But the stories I heard during my prolonged visit with Taisiya confirm Elena’s account. For instance, when another inmate with cancer asked Moskvin to send her to the Torzhok hospital, he told her, “Why bother? Nothing will save you now.” The most proverbial of his sayings, which he likes to repeat to the female inmates who come to him for help, is, “We’re all going THERE. Some sooner, some later.” This is his way of saying that there isn’t much point in doing tests or getting treatment.

High-Ranking Commission

Several days after Taisiya was deprived, in January, of the pills she needs, and this was reported on the Web, a commission of high-ranking officials from the Federal Penitentiary Service came to visit the penal colony. On the day of their arrival, January 29, 2013, Taisiya was taken to the regular municipal clinic for an appointment with an endocrinologist.  There is no endocrinologist on staff in the penal colony’s medical unit, and even the glucose tolerance test done before she was sent to the municipal clinic was done incorrectly. The endocrinologist confirmed this to Taisiya. She also explained that Taisiya needed a full slate of tests at a regular in-patient hospital. Upon Taisiya’s return to the penal colony, she found out that high-ranking authorities were visiting, which explained why she had suddenly been sent to an endocrinologist. Only one member of this “commission” met with her. This official admitted that the colony lacked the necessary resources for treating her illness, but promised her that by mid-February she would be taken to a real hospital, regardless of what head of the medical unit Dr. Moskvin wanted. At the same time, the official also expressed doubt that this would in any way benefit Taisiya, saying that with illnesses like hers it was “quite possible to live without receiving treatment.” Unfortunately, Taisiya did not remember his name.

Maximum Security Family Living

Almost everything recounted above I found out during my prolonged visit with Taisiya, from February 4 to February 7. Our daughter Katrina and I had come to the penal colony for a visit. The building where the visit was held was on the premises of the colony. It had four rooms, a common kitchen, and a bathroom. We had registered for the visit in advance. A prolonged visit, which entails living together for three days, is allowed once every three months. A short visit is allowed once every two months, through glass, and lasts four hours.

During a prolonged visit, each inmate and her relatives (only close relatives are allowed the privilege of such visits) are given a single room to share. In it, there are two beds, a refrigerator, and a television. Food is prepared in the common kitchen. Visitors and their groceries are thoroughly searched before entering the visitation building. A search is also conducted upon departure. During the visit, a check is made twice daily to ascertain that the inmates are in the building. At night, the building is locked from the outside.

Katrina and I arrived for the visit early in the morning. Leading us to the visitation building, the prison staff searched us (this was probably the first time Katrina had ever been frisked, although she had been present for two searches involving police in balaclavas), and they checked the groceries we’d brought. Everything was done politely and carefully. After that, Taisiya was led in.

Katrina glued herself to her mother for three days straight. She was jealous of every moment I had Taisiya’s attention. Katrina followed her mother from room to room, even to the kitchen and back. Taisiya promised her daughter she would be released soon. We only talked about what our life would be like after her release.

In moments when Katrina was either distracted or sleeping, we had the chance to talk. Taisiya told me all about her life in the colony, about being transported to the penal colony and her hunger strike in solitary confinement at the Tver pre-trial detention center. It had been impossible to drink the tap water in the cell at the detention center because of its high level of chlorine. Thus, her hunger strike was practically “dry.” As a result, upon being released from solitary confinement, her kidneys started to shut down.

Taisiya recounted the story of her arrest, and how Center “E” (“anti-extremism”) police, led by Savchenkov, visited her in jail, demanding she testify against herself and me as well as squealing on the [Other Russia] party. They threatened to deprive her of parental rights and put Katrina in an orphanage.

We were able to discuss the plans for appealing the verdict. Taisiya has high hopes for the supervisory appeal and the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

The most difficult time for Taisiya came when two days had passed, and only one remained before she had to return to the penal colony. That was when Katrina, just like an adult, in turn tried to calm Taisiya down, explaining to her mother that she would soon be released and telling her about how good everything would be when that happened. It wasn’t a scene for the faint of heart.

The next morning, the guards took Taisiya away. Katrina and I were searched and escorted to the penal colony gates.

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P.S. Taisiya really was sent to the hospital in Torzhok on the night of February 16. She managed to write a letter where she said that, “As it turns out, there is no endocrinologist in Torzhok. And they’re not going to affirm my request, anyway. It’s all the doing of the Federal Penitentiary Service.”

On February 26, journalists were able to get in touch with [Taisiya’s] lawyers, who told them that the Smolensk Regional Court had refused to reexamine Taisiya’s verdict, but had not even informed her lawyers of this decision.

Translated by Bela Shayevich and Chtodelat News

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Filed under feminism, gay rights, political repression, Russian society

International Women’s Day Special: Elena Kostyuchenko on Fighting Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law

March 8 marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

Journalist and LGBT activist Elena Kostyuchenko was interviewed by Filipp and Tikhon Dzyadko on January 24, 2013, for the TV Rain program The Dzyadko Three. The following day, January 25, the Russian State Duma passed in its first reading a law bill banning the “promotion of homosexuality” among minors. The bill will have to undergo two more readings, and then by ratified by the Federation Council and signed by the Russian president before it becomes law.

 

 

Dzyadko Three: Our guest is the LGBT activist and outstanding Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko. Today, we would like to discuss the latest incredible decision our legislators are about to make or are, at least, discussing. That is, the Duma intends to pass a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors.

There are many details to this, which we’re going to talk about now. This week, a protest against it called the Day of Kisses took place, and our guest, Elena Kostyuchenko, was one of the organizers. Please tell us about what happened. Basically, everyone more or less knows what happened. Everyone they managed to get hold of got beat up, and that was it, right?

Elena Kostyuchenko: This was actually the second time we staged the Day of Kisses. This time, more people came out; there were about thirty people. TV Rain reported that these were members of the LGBT community, but actually, it was about fifty-fifty LGBT and heterosexuals who came out to support us. There were also people who call themselves Russian Orthodox activists, and some roughnecks itching for a fight. Two of my friends got their noses broken, and they beat up my girlfriend. They attacked people during the protest, as protesters were approaching the protest site, and when they were going back to the metro. They were waiting for most of the people to leave and then attacked those who were left.

DT: But you knew this would happen?

EK: Well, I had anticipated the possibility because they had been discussing on VKontakte [a Russian social network modeled on Facebook—trans.] about whether to take baseball bats and knuckledusters with them.

DT: What do you think of today’s demonstration? Did it come off? Was it worth it?

EK: Of course it was.

DT: Why?

EK: Because doing something is always better than sitting at home and waiting around for Duma deputies to declare you a second-class citizen.

DT: Could you describe background of this law? Discussion of most of these [legislative] initiatives has been going on for almost a year, yes?

EK: These kinds of laws were first passed in several regions, and the other regions are now rushing to pass these laws in order to kowtow to the federal center in anticipation of the law being passed nationally. For instance, they’re rushing to pass a law in Kaliningrad, but there [they’re planning to ban] the promotion of homosexuality in general. If you want to watch the film Total Eclipse and you’re from Kaliningrad, the government will take care of you. Naturally, it is the United Russia party [the ruling party in Russia—trans.] that is primarily pushing all of this through.

DT: And yet the party’s leader [former president] Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with the big five TV channels that he doesn’t see the point of the law.

EK: We all know that his leadership is a formality. He doesn’t actually decide anything.

DT: Have you considered appealing to him?

EK: No, I haven’t considered it.

DT: Whom does it make sense to appeal to?

EK: To the public and to the people who call themselves Duma deputies. Aside from our protest action, we’ve launched a website, loveislegal.ru, where anyone can submit photographs of themselves and voice their stance against this law. Last time round, we submitted more than six hundred photographs. Tomorrow, we’ll deliver a hundred and fifty more.

DT: To where? To the Duma?

DT: Speaking of your website, here is an excerpt of a text you can read there, addressed to the Duma. “We hope that before you discuss and vote on this bill, you will familiarize yourselves with the academic literature on the subject and learn that homosexuality is not a disease and that promoting it, like promoting left-handedness, is impossible.” I read this text, and it’s right, there is just one thing I don’t understand.

EK: This text doesn’t come from the website. It’s an excerpt from one of the letters we submitted with the photographs.

DT: That you submitted to the Duma. If there are people you need to tell that homosexuality isn’t a disease and, like left-handedness, it is impossible to promote it, then besides that, you need to explain to these people they shouldn’t snort laundry detergent but use it to wash clothes, or that toothpaste isn’t dangerous if it is used correctly. These are obvious things. Can there be any hope if you have to explain these basics to people?

EK: You have to explain the basics to people because the lawmaking and rhetoric that has been going on lately in the Duma gives one the impression that the people saying these things don’t have a higher education and may not have even finished high school. When I travel and speak to vocational school students, many of them make better arguments and are more articulate in expressing their views than certain Duma deputies. Yes, there are people who don’t know that homosexuality has long since been removed from the list of diseases. They really don’t know that if a child hears the word “lesbian,” it won’t make him or her a lesbian, and so on and so forth.

DT: Let’s talk about methods a bit. Your Day of Kisses is clearly a provocative action to some extent. It’s what they call “trolling” nowadays. You’re going out to people you know for sure don’t accept you, and you know some lowlifes will show up and pour ketchup on someone, in the best-case scenario, and this will be an excuse for the press to cover it. TV Rain will broadcast a report, there will be photos on various websites, and it will generate buzz around the issue. Are you just protesting to be sensational?

EK: Absolutely not. I don’t consider our protest action provocative. We aren’t doing anything terrible. We are just going to the Duma with a mixed group of people, homosexuals, heterosexuals, couples, singles, and, for those who have them, significant others. If a person doesn’t have anyone to kiss, they just hug whoever is standing next to them. There is nothing provocative in expressing natural human feelings. We aren’t taking our feelings to the hideouts of the nationalists or the apartments of Russian Orthodox activists. We are walking through our own city and going up to a government building.

DT: But this action is aimed at causing conflict from the outset. You know that these people are against you, and that the Duma is going to pass this anti-gay law. You know that the Duma deputies are against you, and you read VKontake and see that the Orthodox activists are planning to go there and try and beat you up.

EK: Listen. If you’re afraid of bullies, you shouldn’t go anywhere. The scumbags go after us when we stand outside with placards; they follow us when we go to make a television appearance. Yesterday, after the taping on Kontr TV there was a whole group of them waiting outside for me.

DT: But when you protest like this, you’re the one provoking them.

EK: No. I am completely convinced I am not provoking them. For example, at protest action that took place on Tuesday, the Day of Kisses, the [Orthodox] activists showed up twenty minutes before it was supposed to start to take their places. Then the journalists showed up early as well to check out the scene, figure out where they should stand. But the activists were so eager to fight that even before the gay people came, they started attacking the journalists. Were the journalists provoking them by standing outside the State Duma with their cameras? No. These people just wanted to beat someone up. And by the way, I want to warn all the journalists who will be attending tomorrow’s protest. [The Orthodox activists] have been writing on their forums that they will be attacking journalists first and foremost in order to prevent them from filming the beatings and fights. They want to make the journalists know that they can’t come there and film the protests.

DT: […] What kinds of protest tactics are available today and how effective are they? What do you think will work? […] How else can you demonstrate that homosexuality is normal?

EK: Well, everyone does what he or she can. I am not the center of LGBT activism in Russia. I actually don’t do that much activism: I have a lot of other work. It’s just that I’ve been focusing on it this past week because I know that my life specifically will be severely affected for a long time, as will the lives of millions of gays and lesbians in Russia. We created this website because we have a guy who knows how to make websites. Some people in Petersburg, a group of specialists, doctors and psychologists, put together a thorough analysis of this legislative bill, an analytic report for Duma deputies, where they write about how homosexuality is not a disease and cannot be promoted. Some people go into the street with placards and do one-man pickets. Some people campaign for international support. Some try to get other governments involved in this issue. Everyone does what he or she can. That is why when people tell me that I’m doing this wrong, I say, “Do it yourself, you have the means.” It’s just that right now there is a week left. I think the majority of your audience has more than reasonable ideas on this issue. Homosexuals don’t feel like they need to hide from you, and the majority of you have gay and lesbian friends. If you don’t want these people to be officially declared second-class citizens within a week, if you don’t want them to be subject to fines for no reason or have to pay fifty thousand rubles [approximately 1,250 euros—trans.] every time they go out on the street, you should do something about it. There is not much time left. We are doing what we can. If you are concerned, you should also do what you can.

DT: If and when this law is passed, what threat does it actually pose to homosexuals?

EK: The problem is that “promotion” is not at all defined in the legislation. We know why this is: it is difficult to describe a phenomenon that doesn’t exist. Apparently, the deputies lack the literary skills to define it.

DT: Or they lack the imagination.

EK: Yes. In an explanatory note to the law, it says any reference to homosexuality as normal or same-sex relationships as being equal to heterosexual relationships is deemed “promotion.” Thus, this program we’re taping today will a month from now be deemed “flagrant promotion of homosexuality,” as they put it, and your channel will be fined half a million rubles [approximately 12,500 euros—trans.]. In a month, a show like this will be impossible. In addition, because it is the [Russian federal] administrative offenses code that is being amended, it will be up to the police to enforce the law. Thus, the police department of, say, the city of Bryansk, which knows full well who is gay in their precincts, may see a couple holding hands, approach them, and make some money off them [through fines]. Especially since the gay community, like the Russian population at large, is rather illiterate when it comes to legal matters.

DT: When we were putting together the issue of Bolshoi Gorod about homosexuality, back when they were passing this law in Petersburg, a number of experts told us that the main problem is that many young people who are homosexuals will [after passage of the law] have all the more reason to be closeted, which leads to a large number of suicides. In the end, we will be left without any means for dealing with this huge problem.

EK: Unfortunately, we have very little data on suicide in general, even though Russia has among the highest number of teen suicides in the world. In fact, there are no statistics about the LGBT community in Russia. None. But there are American statistics. In the US, LGBT teenagers kill themselves three times or three and half times more often than their heterosexual peers. These are the official numbers from the US Department of Health [and Human Services]. It’s because even in America, there’s such a thing as harassment. I don’t even want to think about what goes on in Russian cities. I grew up in the relatively cultured and affluent town of Yaroslavl, but I know homosexuals from many different parts of the country. When they tell me about their school days, it’s scary. I mean, my God, last time we had a protest outside the Duma, a sixteen-year-old boy came out and showed the journalists his passport. He said, “I’m sixteen. These people think that they are protecting me and my morality. Meanwhile, when I was walking here from the metro, these Orthodox fanatics punched me in the jaw—twice.” These children go to our schools, they’re part of our society, and yet they’re constantly hearing that gays are degenerates, gays are scumbags. If today they can go online and see that is not true, once this law passes, when it actually goes into effect, they won’t have access to this information. Right now, there’s a hotline for the LGBT community where people, no matter their age, can get legal and psychological support. This hotline will be shut down. The LGBT organizations currently working in the provinces will be shut down. Whether legally or illegally, these organizations have been holding support group meetings, monitoring legal cases, and providing people with lawyers.

DT: Are the consequences after the law goes into effect and what people will have to do being discussed?

EK: They will have to go deep underground or risk being fined every day. There are also a large number of people who are same-sex couples with children. There really are a lot of them, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. There aren’t statistics on this, but when these laws are enacted, imagine the effect they will have on the lives of the children of same-sex couples. Every day, their parents could be fined fifty thousand rubles.

DT: This question comes up every time people take to the streets. Can you explain why, if, as you say, your demonstration went off rather well, there were only thirty people there? The problem with children alone or the problem of teenage suicide affects everyone, especially members of the LGBT community. And yet, only thirty people came out to kiss outside the State Duma.

EK: I am proud of every one of those thirty people. Why so few? Well, are you yourselves going to come to the protest tomorrow? It doesn’t occur to some people that they need to go protest. Others don’t have the time. Some people are actually scared—not of the fists of Orthodox activists, although as someone who has gotten hit in the head I can tell you it’s an unpleasant feeling. What people are more afraid of is that they’ll be found out at work or that mutual acquaintances will find out. Very few LGBT people feel safe being out.

DT: But this is a contradiction. On the one hand, they are afraid of being out, and on the other hand, they want to be treated decently.

EK: The problem is that LGBT activists believe in a gay superman who will suddenly appear in our country and instantly solve all of these problems. That Harvey Milk will be reincarnated and everything will be great. Let’s be more realistic. Harvey Milk isn’t going to be resurrected. He’s dead, he was murdered, and on top of that, he wasn’t even a Russian citizen. I also didn’t go out into the streets for a long time. For a long time, I thought that this situation didn’t affect me since my life was basically good, theoretically. Then I acknowledged that there was no one who could [protest for me]. So I went out and a few people followed me. Yes, it’s not very many people, but no one is stopping you from joining us if you truly believe this is an issue that deserves attention.

DT: If homosexuals are, for the most part, afraid to be open, then the law isn’t really going to change anything for them. Another issue is that it is well known that there are a large number of members of the LGBT community in the Russian government. Well, not a large number, but the same number as in any other segment of society. And yet, some of them are the very people signing off on this legislation or at least not getting in the way of it. Why don’t you appeal to them directly?

EK: Well, you know, it’s not like we have some kind of secret gay telephone number where we can dial them up.

DT: Instead of holding a protest where, as you said, your girlfriend got beat up, why don’t you try and take a constructive route?

EK: Like what?

DT: Dialoguing with the authorities.

EK: Listen, tons of petitions have been sent. And tons of appeals. There were round tables in Petersburg.

DT: To whom were the appeals addressed?

EK: To Duma deputies, to bureaucrats, to the government. There are different LGBT organizations. Before the law was heard in the first reading, tons of letters, tons of petitions were sent. I’m not saying that it’s not important to do that. I’m just saying that protesting is also effective. There are four hundred fifty deputies in the Duma—

DT: Are any of them openly gay?

EK: No, but according to statistics, twenty to twenty-five of them should be. These people do not speak openly about their orientation.

DT: Who do you suspect is gay? Who could you get the most effective response from?

EK: Look, if a person, out of considerations of party discipline, service to the state, and all that nonsense is going to support homophobic rhetoric and put seven million people just like him deep underground, I don’t think if I say, “Come on, dude, save us,” he’s going to do it.

DT: No, I don’t mean that. Whom do you consider—

EK: Who do I think is gay? My Lord, no one.

DT: I mean sympathetic to your cause in the State Duma, someone you can discuss this with and get results.

EK: I don’t know. The only Duma deputies I know, because the last time we did a demonstration, they came out of the Duma to watch, are Ilya Ponomarev [a well-known leftist currently a member of A Just Russia party] and [former heavyweight boxer and United Russia party member] Nikolai Valuev. You know what they look like. Ponomarev is slightly taller than me, and Valuev is Valuev. Valuev stood off to one side and watched these guys battering young men and women five on one, while Ponomarev ran to try to break the fights up. I don’t think this has anything to do with sexual orientation. I just think it has to do with someone’s personal orientation.

DT: Thank you. This will probably be the last question. Can you explain why all of this is going on? These same deputies were fine without this law against the promotion of homosexuality.

EK: This is part of a general trend going on in our country. Right now the government, all of the government’s rhetoric, Putin’s rhetoric, is about the Russian Orthodox Church, sovereignty, and nationalism. A year ago, women’s rights to abortions were seriously limited. Then the Pussy Riot case happened. Now, they are also trying to pass a law against insulting the feelings of religious believers. There are a lot of initiatives along these lines, including ones in the field of education, about teaching Russian Orthodoxy in schools. This is just another link in that chain. Of course, LGBT activists played a role in the voter fraud demonstrations and in the overall protest movement that has been going on for over a year now. I also think this law is a first trial balloon for implementing censorship in the media. […] I also personally believe that this is a tentative attempt to see how the journalist community will respond and whether it will be possible to bankrupt publications with million-ruble fines.

DT: Do you think sports and culture celebrities should get involved, write angry letters, saying “I’m gay, there’s nothing wrong with me, this is not a disease,” and so on?

EK: Anyone can get involved. I am personally calling all of you to get involved while you still can.

Translated by Bela Shayevich, with assistance from Chtodelat News

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loveislegal-emy

A letter and photo posted on loveislegal.ru:

My love is a great happiness. It gives me strength and the desire to change for the better, to move ahead and realize my dreams. It just so happens that my beloved is a woman. It just so happens that my relatives consider this a disease and a great misfortune. Ignorance, aggression and unmotivated malice: that is what Article 6.13.1 [the proposed amendment to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code] will legalize. Be bigger than that. Amy, Kaliningrad.

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Filed under feminism, gay rights, film and video, interviews, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

FAQ about Petersburg, Russia’s Cultural Capital

Why was St Petersburg selected as Host for Manifesta 10?

Manifesta is the only roving biennial in the world, changing locations every two years. Its origin is based on addressing the disbalance in between East and West Europe after the fall of the Wall at the end of the 1980’s. St.Petersburg is the crucial European city to question such a disbalance today. Alexander Pushkin called the former capital of Russia the ‘window to Europe’.

Source: manifesta.org

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Why are Petersburgers on the point of being essentially banned from protesting in the center of their own city, the ‘window to Europe,’ recently selected by Manifesta, the ultra-progressive European biennial of contemporary art, to host its 2014 event?

Because, unfortunately, some Petersburgers have in the recent past exercised their constitutional right to free speech and freedom of assembly in a provocative, irresponsible way by calling for things vehemently disapproved of by the vast majority of rank-and-file Petersburgers, things like free and fair elections, gay rights, preservation of historic buildings and green spaces, an end to racist assaults and murders, free public health care and education, freedom of assembly, etc. Also, as Russia’s cultural capital, Petersburg has a special duty to ensure that everyone can enjoy its cultural riches and sights: protesters prevent ordinary people and tourists from doing just that by blocking sidewalks and squares, and generally drawing attention to themselves.

New Local Bill Seeks to Ban Protests in City Center
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
February 27, 2013

Opposition political groups and concerned citizens continue to protest against a new local bill on demonstrations that effectively bans protests in the city center, passed by the Legislative Assembly last week in its third and final reading.

In hopes of preventing Governor Georgy Poltavchenko from signing it, the Yabloko Democratic Party has filed a complaint against the bill, describing it as “outrageous” and “illegal.”

“We are acting to prevent this becoming law, because, once in force, and used even once, the new law will have a devastating impact on the rights of citizens,” said Yabloko’s Nikolai Rybakov in a statement.

Called “On assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing in St. Petersburg,” the bill was passed Feb. 20 by 27 deputies, with 15 voting against.

The bill forbids the holding of rallies on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, as well as on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, which had previously been used for rallies, including the now-legendary mass protests against the 1991 anti-reformist coup.

Rallies will also be banned from within 50 meters of the entrances of buildings occupied by state authorities, while one-man demonstrations can only be held if there is no other protester within 50 meters.

According to the bill, the restrictions have been imposed “in order to protect the rights and freedoms of man and citizen, the rule of law, order and public safety.”

In his statement, Grigory Yavlinsky, chair of the Yabloko faction in the city’s Legislative Assembly, stressed that by passing the law, the city parliament ignored not only the negative opinion expressed by the public at the Dec. 3 public hearing and an address by the city’s ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, but also the Constitutional Court’s Feb. 14 ruling. Every amendment proposed by opposition deputies was rejected.

Apart from harsh restrictions on rallies, the bill also states that without authorization from the authorities, no more than 200 demonstrators are allowed to assemble at specially designated sites “for the collective discussion of socially important issues and expression of public opinion.” City Hall has designated a small site on the Field of Mars for such a purpose.

Andrei Dmitriyev, local chair of The Other Russia party, said that the law may obstruct the historic May Day demonstration, a massive event featuring a broad range of political parties and movements, from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party to liberals, communists and nationalists.

“It’s even not clear how they will hold a May Day demonstration this year, when everybody always used to walk down Nevsky Prospekt and then rallied on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square,” Dmitriyev said Tuesday.

“It’s essential not only for civic activists, but also for every citizen, because people, when they are unhappy about anything, want to come to protest where the authorities sit, be it the Governor, the Legislative Assembly, district administrations or courts.

“These are places where it’s forbidden to protest now, so they lose any meaning. Of course, it’s all illegal, it contradicts the Constitution, and we think that the main thing is not how the authorities act, but how the opposition and city residents will act.”

He said that the small site on the Field of Mars offered by City Hall as an allegedly liberal concession, allowing small groups to protest there without the necessary authorization, should be boycotted.

“No self-respecting opposition [campaigners] can rally there, but both Yabloko and the nationalists have taken the bait and obediently go there to rally. It makes no sense.”

The State Duma passed a national law harshly restricting the freedom of assembly in June 2012, following a wave of protests against the flawed State Duma and presidential elections that were held in late 2011 and early 2012. It imposed a number of restrictions on public assemblies and abruptly raised fines for holding unsanctioned protests. Local laws followed.

Rights groups have criticized the law as violating both the Russian Constitution and international agreements.

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What is the deal with Petersburg’s so-called anti-gay law? Why does it have people in Melbourne, Australia, of all places, upset?

People in Melbourne, Australia, should mind their own business. The Petersburg law you mention is not directed against gays, but against the promotion of homosexuality amongst minors. Maybe the people of Melbourne, Australia, are happy to leave their kids at the mercy of predatory faggots, pedophiles, and other sexual and political perverts, but in Petersburg we’re crazy about kids and deeply devoted to Russian Orthodox Christian family values.

Please explain: Doyle on anti-gay law
Jason Dowling
The Age
February 23, 2013

LORD mayor Robert Doyle [of Melbourne] has requested an urgent meeting with Russia’s ambassador and a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss new anti-gay laws in St Petersburg.

The move follows a petition by Carl Katter, half-brother of federal MP Bob Katter, to have Melbourne City Council dump its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg because he said the Russian city had enacted ”horrific” anti-gay laws.

More than 4800 people have signed the petition at Change.org.

The Russian city has introduced broad laws banning ”homosexual propaganda”.

”It is referred to as the gay propaganda law, but it is all-encompassing,” said Mr Katter, a campaigner for marriage equality.

”Melbourne is one of the most progressive cities of the world … and our mayor and council should be proud of that and stand up to such blatant homophobia,” Mr Katter said.

Cr Doyle said, ”I am very aware of the new laws in St Petersburg.

”I have sought a meeting with the Russian ambassador, I will take advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and once we have had those conversations we will be making further comment,” he said.

”Obviously my first position is, it is always best to continue to talk to try and effect outcomes in a positive way.”

The Italian fashion capital Milan is already believed to have frozen its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg over the gay rights issue.

”The community has been watching what has been happening in St Petersburg and the stories that have been coming out have been pretty devastating – and the fact that we are a sister city with them is not a good look,” Mr Katter said.

 

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