Moscow’s police –1000 of whom were deployed to enforce Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s ban on a Gay Pride March scheduled for today — have arrested Nicolas Alexeyev, principal organizer of the banned, first-ever Pride March in Russia’s capitol, the Russian news agency Interfax has reported. Alexeyev was arrested while attempting to lay flowers at Russia’s World War II-era Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander’s Garden, one of the city’s largest parks, which runs the entire length of the Kremlin’s west wall. The choice of the Tomb for the wreath-laying was designed to emphasize the links between the struggle against Nazi Germany and the fight for the rights of gay people. Ten other Gay Pride participants were also arrested at that time. Reuters later reported that Alexeyev was “dragged, bent almost double, away from the gates [of the Tomb] by two policemen.”
Yevgenia Debryanskaya, a prominent lesbian movement activist, was also later arrested by police today near Moscow’s city hall, at the monument to Yuri Dolgoruky (a 12th century ruler also known as George I of Russia), along with some dozen other Gay Pride marchers, after the demonstrators moved to the monument, police told Interfax.
“OMON anti-riot task force servicemen have now cordoned-off the square in front of the monument to Yuri Dolgoruky and are shoving those protesting the gay parade from the square,” Interfax reported at 3:40 PM Moscow time. The OMON, frequently accused of abuses of power and repressive violence, was created as an anti-terrorist cum riot militia for the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980, and continues to exist since the fall of the Communist regime.
A crowd of anti-gay protesters — many from fascist groups like the Russian All-National Union and the Union of Orthodox Gonfalon-Carriers, and the ultra-right and xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration, and including many skinheads — which police estimated at 150, had been shouting “Sodom Won’t Pass Here” at the gay marchers as they approached the Dolgoruky monument, Interfax said.
In a separate dispatch, Interfax reported that police put at 50 the number of those arrested so far in connection with today’s Gay Pride events. Not only the Pride march, but gay meetings in connection with it, were banned by Mayor Luzhkov, while major Russian religious leaders called for violence against the gay demonstrators. There is as yet no word on whether any of the foreign delegates to the Pride events — including a number of European political figures — had been arrested.
However, the news agency Deutsche Press-Agentur reports that an openly gay member of the German Bundestag (Parliament), Volker Beck, was injured by the fascist anti-gay protesters in a scuffle. “There was no aggression from our side, we were simply there,” Herr Beck told the DPA press agency. “It is unacceptable that the police offer no protection to gays on the streets.” Later, CNN reported on its website via an Associated Press dispatch that, “as Beck was giving an interview before TV cameras, about 20 nationalist youths surrounded him and pummeled him, bloodying his nose. Volker Eichler, a gay activist from Berlin who witnessed the beating, said police did not intervene.” CNN International aired a report by its Matthew Chance showing the arrest of Alexeyev and footage of the attacks by the anti-gay goons–a link to that footage can be found on the CNN website, in the middle of the text of their version of the AP report, by clicking here. (The BBC later carried video footage of the attack on Beck — and showed him afterward, dazed and shaken with blood streaming down his face. A link to the BBC’s video segment can be found on their website by clicking here.) Beck is considered the father of Germany’s domestic partnership law. The German news agency puts the number of arrests at 100. The BBC, in its first report on the events filed at 4 PM U.K. time, put the number of arrests at 70, adding that “Eyewitnesses said several foreign gay rights activists were beaten by [anti-gay] protesters.” That seems to have been an understatement — late this afternoon, noted British gay and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell filed a first-hand account from Moscow for U.K. Gay News of the violent attacks on the gay activists by the counter-protestors.
“We were immediately set-upon by about 100 fascist thugs,” Tatchell said, “and religious fanatics who began pushing, punching and kicking us. They snatched flowers out of our hands and abused us with chants of ‘No sodomy in Moscow’ and ‘Put the pederasts on the iron’ and ‘Russia is not Sodom’. We were pushed and carried like corks on a sea of fascist pushing and shoving.” Read the rest of Tatchell’s gripping account by clicking here.
And an e-mail I received from veteran Austrian gay activist Kurt Krickler, co-founder and Secretary-general of Homosexuelle Initiative (HOSI) in Vienna, and editor of its magazine, LAMBDA-Nachrichten, reports from Moscow: “Pierre from France [Pierre Serne, a member of the City Council in the Paris suburb of Vincennes and a staffer for openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand DelanoÃ«, whom he represented in Moscow] suffered so severe injuries in an attack of skinheads that he had to be hospitalised.”
Krickler added that, “When leaving the site of the demonstration across the City Hall, I myself was attacked by four youth kicking me with their feet and beating me with their fists. I got a blow on my eye and could escape, and the aggressors ran away. I had a bad bruise at the eye, and a friend took me to a clinic where the doctor ordered an x-ray as he suspected the sinus could be damaged, too. Fortunately, no severe injury, besides a huge hematome on the eye.”
A Le Monde report from Moscow says that also injured was Oscar Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland — who gave the opening address at the international conference organized by Moscow Pride in conjunction with the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). Holland was repeatedly kicked by the fascist goons, the paper said. Le Monde quoted Jean-Luc Romero –an openly gay elected member of the Regional Council in the Ile-de-France region (which includes Paris) who is from Jacques Chirac’s conservative UMP Party, and who witnessed the beatings — as saying, “The situation of the homosexuals in Russia is even worse than I imagined.” Le Monde added that another member of Paris Mayor DelanoÃ«’s personal staff, Philippe Lasnier, was briefly arrested by police. The French daily quoted a DelanoÃ« deputy mayor also representing the mayor in Moscow, ClÃ©mentine Autain, as saying she was shocked at how little the Moscow police did to protect the gay demonstrators from physical attacks by the hundreds of counter-protesters (whom Le Monde described as “ranging from groups of skinheads and Cossacks, to Russian Orthodox extremist priests and old ladies who threw eggs at the gay demonstrators.”)
MosNews.com reports today that Mayor Luzhkov, in radio comments on Friday, cited “moral” reasons for banning the Gay Pride march and meetings. “I believe that such a parade is inadmissible in our country above all for moral considerations. People should not make public their deviations,” Mayor Luzhkov said.
For background on all this, read DIRELAND‘s earlier post on the Moscow events by clicking here.
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared May 27, 2006.