Religious leaders who last February predicted violence if activists in Moscow went ahead with a planned gay rights march saw their forecasts become reality over the weekend. Russian gay rights activists, attempting to hold the country’s first gay rights march on Saturday as the culmination of a two-day conference called Moscow Pride ’06, were met by Russian nationalists and ultra-orthodox Christians when they arrived at their gathering place, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, “As the activists laid their flowers at the gate, protesters stomped on them and threw eggs and tomatoes at the activists. And as the protesters’ chants — ‘Death to fags!’ and ‘Fags out of Russia!’ — grew louder, and as the tenor of the confrontation grew uglier, OMON riot police formed a chain to pry the crowd away from the gate.”
Some of the activists began to move toward the march’s planned second stop, a monument to Prince Yury Dolgoruky. There they were met by ultranationalists including Alexander Belov, head of the Movement Against Illegal Immigrants, Konstantin Krylov, head of the Russian Public Movement, and State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich, of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
Kuryanovich was leading the crowd in chants urging that gays and lesbians be sent to Kolyma, a Soviet-era labor camp. Many of the nationalists covered their faces with coats and masks so not to be identified.
Caught in the melee was Gay German MP, Volker Beck (above), who was giving a television interview when a group of nationalist youths attacked him, reportedly hitting him in the face with a brick while the cameras rolled. He later told German television the object was not a brick: “I was attacked. It was a stone and a fist. It shows we are not safe in this country. The security forces did not protect us but instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any protection.”
The attack on Beck, the leader of Germany’s Green party has provoked much debate in his home country. Some are blaming Beck for putting himself in danger, while others say it is absolutely wrong to blame the victim and Russia’s government must accept fault for what happened. Said Jürgen Rüttgers, the conservative premier of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia: “[What happened in Moscow] ‘isn’t worthy of a democracy.'”
Russian police reportedly dragged the march organizer Nikolai Alexeyev (above left) from the gates of the monument before detaining him, and also detained lesbian rights activist Evgeniya Debryanskaya (above right). Debryanskaya was attempting to give a speech before protestors soaked her with water. Philippe Lasnier, an aide to the mayor of Paris, was also held briefly. Alexeyev held a press conference just before the march began, where he told reporters, “We are conducting a peaceful action. We want to show that we have the same rights as other citizens.”
Russian Orthodox Christians held crosses and yelled into bullhorns: “Death to pederasts!”
Police lined up and detained Russian nationalists, who accused them of siding with activists.
An activist and a young Russian nationalist.
Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, who was giving a lecture at the conference, was moved to safety by police. Holland, a heterosexual, has been vocal about gay rights, and last February a sent a letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin after an anti-gay television program aired on Russian TV. Said Holland at the time: “Homosexuals are not terrorists; they are not murderers; they are not fanatics who take hostages to achieve their goals. They are simply human beings who are asking that their rights to normal lives be recognised. It is nothing of which to be ashamed; it is not decadent and depraved; it is a part of human nature and has been since the dawn of civilization…My grandfather was imprisoned in 1895 simply for being a homosexual and our family was almost destroyed as a result.”
For fear that many others might be hurt, the march was not announced on activist websites or via mail. And despite the violence, organizer Alexeyev called the event a success: “A hundred people were not afraid to go out and protest homophobia and fascism.” He says the rally will be an annual event.