Photos taken at a performance by the Young Zilovets Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23, 2009
Thanks to Comrade Fyodor for the heads-up.
Photos taken at a performance by the Young Zilovets Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23, 2009
Thanks to Comrade Fyodor for the heads-up.
Rumata feels alarmed, as the kingdom is rapidly morphing into a fascist police state.
On March 5, Varya Strizhak’s video “The Imperial Spirit, or, God Save the Tsar!” had its premiere.
Anthem of the Russian Empire (1833–1917)
Words: Vasily Zhukovsky
Music: Alexei Lvov
Words: Vladimir Shemchushenko
Music: Mikhail Chertyshev
The empire cannot die!
I know that the soul does not die.
From one end to another, the empire
Lives, truncated by a third.
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!
A rebellious people’s will and peace
And happiness are mourned.
But my sorrow is of a different kind.
It is consonant with Pushkin’s line.
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!
Reign to foes’ fear,
God, protect the Tsar!
Let the chain clank! Let once again the whip whistle
Over those who are against nature!
The imperial spirit is ineradicable in the people.
The empire cannot die!
The Secular State Is Canceled
April 10, 2013
The State Duma has passed in the first reading a bill introducing criminal liability for “insulting religious feelings and beliefs.”
It passed the bill despite the harsh criticism it faced from experts, lawyers, and human rights activists when it was introduced six months ago, despite the president’s instructions to improve the bill after an expanded meeting of the Human Rights Council, and despite an alternative bill, drafted by the Council’s legal staff.
The bill voted on by the Duma was exactly the same version that Novaya Gazeta analyzed in its November 6, 2012, issue. It can rightly be seen as contradicting four articles of the Russian Federation Constitution, namely, Article 14 (on the secular state), Article 19 (equality of rights regardless of one’s beliefs and attitudes to religion), Article 28 (freedom of conscience, freedom of choice, and the promotion of religious and other beliefs) and Article 29 (freedom of thought and speech).
There is no doubt that even if the law is upheld in the Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights will reduce it to smithereens, because the relevant PACE resolutions clearly state that freedom of expression cannot and should not be restricted “to meet increasing sensitivities of certain religious groups” or “out of deference to certain dogmas or the beliefs of a particular religious community.”
In fact, restriction of such freedom is the bill’s main goal. One of its authors, United Russia MP Alexander Remezkov, declared this outright in the Duma, saying we “need effective legal instruments against blasphemers, scorners, and sacrilegers.” What kind of “secular state” can there be after such laws are passed?
In a secular state, laws may not contain such terms such as “blasphemy” and “sacrilege.” Blasphemy, if we accurately unpack the term, means insulting a god. Dear legislators, do you acknowledge that gods actually exist? And that the clergy are their legal representatives, authorized to decide what exactly offends their clients and to what degree? What century is this?
If the bill is passed into law, for “publicly insulting the religious feelings and beliefs of citizens, [and] debasing worship services and other religious rituals” you can be imprisoned for up to three years. How many times has the world been told one cannot “insult” someone’s feelings or beliefs! Feelings are an emotional response to one’s environment, while beliefs are conscious positions. They cannot be “insulted”: such “insults” are not objectively verifiable, and therefore they cannot be prohibited, and no one can be punished for violating such a prohibition.
Who will establish in court that someone’s feelings have been “insulted,” and how will they do this? It is impossible to rely solely on the opinion of the “insulted” party, whom nothing will prevent from being “insulted” by anything whatsoever, including the existence in the world of religions other than the one he professes. Finally, it is completely impossible to “insult” or “debase” worship services or religious practices, since they are altogether inanimate things.
What the bill, if passed, will mean in practice is clear: sanctioned persecution of any criticism of any religion and the relevant clerical authorities, who love teaching others “spirituality” and “morality.” I wonder whether people will be punished for reading Russian folk tales, which feature greedy priests and stupid sextons? Or for repeating sayings like “like priest, like parish” or “force a fool to pray to God” [i.e., “give someone enough rope”]?
This, of course, might seem ridiculous, but will soon be no laughing matter: essentially, a ban is being introduced banning the promotion of atheist views and the expression of such opinions as unacceptable to the newest group of permanently “insulted believers.” On the other hand, for burning books they do not like, something a group of Orthodox zealots did a month ago outside the offices of the Yabloko party, believers are not threatened by this law. Just like the scoundrel with the title of professor who publicly called atheists “sick animals that should be cured”: the feelings of non-believers are not subject to protection. After all, despite the fact that Article 19 of the Constitution stipulates the equality of rights and freedoms of man and citizen, regardless of one’s belief and attitudes toward religion, the bill puts believers in a privileged position vis-à-vis non-believers, introducing special protection for their feelings and beliefs.
All these things cannot exist in a secular state on principle, and the shameful law on its way to passage by the State Duma should be understood as overturning this constitutional principle.
However, we are moving down this road step by step. Its milestones include bans on exhibitions or performances that don’t catch the fancy of religious fanatics. And the ceremonial consecration of tap water. And requirements to teach creationism in schools alongside evolutionary theory. And the creation of a Department of Orthodox Culture at the Strategic Missile Forces Academy. And the adoption of laws for the punishment of “promotion of homosexuality,” based on quotations from the Old Testament and curses against “sodomites” and “perverts.” And, contrary to law, the obligatory introduction in schools of the subject known as “Orthodox culture” (as was said at the school my youngest son attends, “as recommended by the Patriarch”). And “Orthodox banner bearers,” “people’s councils,” “Cossacks,” and other characters, more reminiscent of the gray storm troopers from the novel Hard to Be a God.
Do you remember how the book ends? “Wherever Graydom triumphs, the blackbirds will always seize power.”
Feminism is a “very dangerous” phenomenon that could lead to the destruction of Russia, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said.
“I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organisations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which, in the first place, must appear outside of marriage and outside of the family,” said Patriarch Kirill, according to the Interfax news agency.
“Man has his gaze turned outward – he must work, make money – and woman must be focused inwards, where her children are, where her home is,” Kirill said. “If this incredibly important function of women is destroyed then everything will be destroyed – the family and, if you wish, the motherland.”
“It’s not for nothing that we call Russia the motherland,” he said. . . .
ULAN-UDE, April 11 (RIA Novosti) – The Kremlin favors the idea of adopting a law protecting the religious feelings of Russian citizens, the Russian presidential spokesman said Thursday.
Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed the bill in the first reading on Tuesday.
“The Kremlin supports the idea of the law, and the wording of the law is up to the lawyers,” Dmitry Peskov said. “The law is very difficult to enforce but it is absolutely essential in this multi-national and multi-confessional country,” he said.
Peskov failed to answer a journalist’s question on how a person could be punished in Russia for desecrating a holy site, saying “this is a judicial practice issue.”
The first deputy of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Mikhail Markelov, said some 80 percent of Russians support the law, according to an opinion poll.
Under the draft document, those who offend religious feelings at church services and ceremonies face up to three years in jail, fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,700) or 200 hours of compulsory community service.
Those Russians who insult religious feelings at holy sites face up to five years in jail, fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) or 400 hours of compulsory community service, the document says.
The bill was submitted for consideration in the State Duma in September 2012. The idea of introducing punishment for offending religious feelings came after members of the female band Pussy Riot performed an anti-Kremlin “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last February.
Editor’s Note. This posting was updated on April 13, 2013.
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.
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.
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
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.
Protesters holding Orthodox Christian church banners and icons, singing prayers and throwing eggs helped to bring the city’s first authorized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) demo to an abrupt end in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
According to organizer Maria Yefremenkova, around 20 counter-demonstrators were already at the site of the planned demo when around 10 LGBT activists arrived.
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“They stood there and sang the Lord’s Prayer and some psalms, but the main problem was a bunch of highly aggressive middle-aged men, who were indignant that the police were not dispersing us, but protecting us,” she said.
“They shouted insults and threats throughout the event.”
Later on, a group of 40 men approached the demo, stopped 20 meters away from it and began throwing eggs at the participants, despite the police presence. According to Yefremenkova, the officers looked at a loss for a while, but then detained some of the attackers.
With the police distracted, the men standing near the demo rushed at protesters, seizing a rainbow flag and banners, tearing down a stand and starting to trample it, she said.
The police said 10 were detained and charged with “disorderly conduct.”
Yefremenkova said that activists recognized some of the attackers as belonging to nationalist organizations such as the Russian Imperial Union Order and People’s Council (Narodny Sobor).
According to Yefremenkova, the demo was stopped 40 minutes after it had begun, when a representative of the district administration approached the organizers and asked them to discontinue the event for security reasons.
“It was even said that if we didn’t stop it ourselves, they would stop the event because the security of participants was under threat,” she said.
“They offered to transport us in their bus, which was perfect for us, because we hadn’t thought about how we would leave the scene. The protesters were telling us, ‘You’ll have to go home eventually,’ and making other such threats.”
The demo was timed to mark the United Nations’ International Day for Tolerance, observed on Nov. 16.
Yefremenkova said that the activists had prepared a performance portraying the history of their relationship with bureaucrats, Orthodox believers and judges, but had no chance to perform it.
“They are three sources of homophobia, we believe,” she said.
According to Yefremenkova, the police failed to fully protect the activists. “Considering the nature of the event, they should have surrounded us and acted more decisively in regard to the provocateurs,” she said.
City Hall and local district administrations had repeatedly refused to sanction any LGBT rights rallies until this month. Each of the nine locations proposed for a gay pride event in June was rejected by the authorities on various grounds that the activists described as “derisive.” Five activists were detained when 19 protesters tried to hold a demo without a sanction.
According to Yefremenkova, the Moskovsky district administration refused to authorize a small rally as late as last month.
Last month, a St. Petersburg court ruled that City Hall’s ban of June’s gay pride event was illegal, while the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay damages to a gay rights activist for unlawful discrimination by the Moscow authorities, who repeatedly denied him and other activists the right to hold gay pride marches.
Yefremenkova said that in authorizing Saturday’s event, the authorities may have been influenced by the court rulings and the rally’s theme of tolerance. “We do have a tolerance program in St. Petersburg, even if the issue of homophobia is not featured in it in any way,” Yefremenkova said.