Anti-Gay Protesters Attack Immigrants
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 23, 2012
An authorized International Day Against Homophobia rally held in Petrovsky Park on the Petrograd Side of the city was broken up by ultranationalists and Orthodox radicals and ended with attacks and mass beatings Thursday [May 17].
A man shot at two demonstrators with a gun firing irritant fluid, and then a militant crowd smashed windows in two buses carrying Central Asian migrant workers — whom they initially mistook for departing LGBT activists — with stones and attacked those inside one of the buses when it came to a standstill.
Called the Rainbow Flash Mob, the rally — which had been officially authorized by the Petrogradsky district administration — was stopped about half an hour after its start time when the police, who were present in large numbers at the scene, told the organizers that they would not be able to hold back the anti-gay protesters for long, according to the LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out).
Despite their massive presence, the police did not attempt to disperse an aggressive crowd that gathered near the rally site shouting homophobic slogans, firing rubber bullet and irritant guns and throwing objects.
Video footage from Piter.tv shows menacing-looking young men — many with their faces hidden by medical masks or black cloth — clapping rhythmically and chanting, “We will hang and bury you!”
Yevgeny Zubarev, a reporter with Piter.tv, said rubber bullets were also fired at journalists, as he was nearly hit by one.
OMON riot police officers stood in a line, preventing the radicals from entering the rally, but did nothing to stop the threats being made.
The anti-gay protesters, of whom there were more than 200, included Orthodox activists, nationalists and young men who resembled neo-Nazis or football hooligans. One young man, who held an offensive anti-gay sign, was wearing a scarf with the logo and name of the Young Guard, United Russia’s youth organization.
The first attack occurred soon after the rally began, when a man wearing a suit and tie and glasses discharged a pistol firing irritant fluid at a woman who was holding colored balloons, and then shot at a man who rushed to help her. A video on the Piter.tv web site shows him shooting at people and shouting “Sodomy is a deadly sin” as he was being led away by a police officer.
The police told the organizers to end the rally, which was scheduled to last from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., after about 30 minutes, arguing that officers would not be able to hold the crowd for long. Only two of the scheduled speakers had time to make speeches.
Releasing more than 500 colored balloons into the air, the 100-plus participants left the park by bus for safety reasons. Provided by the organizers and the police, three buses left unnoticed in the opposite direction to where the counter-demonstrators were. They took passengers to the offices of Coming Out, as well as to several faraway metro stations.
However, at about the same time, two other buses — which happened to be carrying Central Asian migrant workers — were driving past the site, and a group of about 60 young men and women ran after them shouting anti-gay insults, throwing stones and at least one smoke bomb at them until most of the windows were broken.
Apparently they did not realize who was inside until they caught up with them as the buses slowed down on the bridge over the Zhdanovka River. Discovering that the passengers were not LGBT activists, however, did not cause them to end their attack.
As the second bus stopped, having apparently mounted the curb, the attackers started to climb through the broken windows in the rear of the bus and punch those inside while at least one delivered several blows through a side window.
As the attack continued, the bus passengers started to jump out from one of the front side windows and run away. The bus then managed to drive off as the attackers dispersed in the neighborhood.
The police watched from a distance and did not intervene.
According to LGBT activist Maria Yefremenkova, a young man and woman who were late for the rally were attacked by the same people afterwards as they were walking toward Petrovsky Park wearing rainbow paraphernalia.
On Friday, the police spokesman said that the police had failed to find any of the victims of the attacks on the buses.
“The bus is owned by one of the city’s enterprises, it was carrying the enterprise’s workers,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
“The owner declined to file a report due to the insignificance of the damages.”
The attacks went unreported on the police’s web site, where the May 17 bulletin included incidents such as a pickpocket being caught on a tram and two attempts to sell alcohol without a license.
A probe has however been ordered by the St. Petersburg police chief to investigate the actions of the police during the event, the police spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
The man who discharged the pistol firing irritant fluid has reportedly been charged with hooliganism and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
There has been no reaction from the city authorities, although the city’s new ombudsman, Alexander Shishlov, released a statement Friday urging the police to find the organizers and participants of the attacks and instigate criminal proceedings against them.
The demo was supposed to be the first authorized LGBT rights event since the St. Petersburg law banning “the promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism to minors” came into force in March.
Photos courtesy of Sergey Chernov and Ridus.ru.