For the second year in a row, an attempt to hold a Gay Pride demonstration in Moscow despite a ban by the city’s mayor — who had called such demonstrations “satanic” — was broken up today by police and special OMON riot militia. The gay contingent was violently attacked by anti-gay ultra-nationalists and fascists, who threw punches and bottles. Among those reported arrested so far (there were 31 arrested, according to the Novosti news agency) were German MP Volker Beck, chief Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev, British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and Italian MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Marco Cappato.
Cappato, the Italian MEP, was kicked by a gay rights opponent as he spoke to journalists, and Tatchell, the founder of the British gay rights group OutRage, was punched in the face. Cappato then began shouting, “Where are the police?” and officers hauled him away as he struggled with them. Austrian TV has a two-minute video of today’s attacks on Moscow Pride ’07, including Tatchell being punched in the face, Cappato’s appeal and arrest, and other anti-gay violence, which you can see by clicking here.
Richard Fairbrass the openly gay lead singer of the British pop group Right Said Fred (famous for their hit song “I’m Too Sexy…”), was punched in the face and kicked by anti-gay activists while speaking to Reuters in an interview. “We understand this is a gay event and so we came down here today,” Fairbrass told Reuters before being hit. Blood dripped from his face after the attack.
Italian MP Vladimir Luxuria, who is transgendered, was one of a group of European politicians who joined the Russian gay contingent in attempting to deliver to Moscow City Hall a letter, signed by a roster of some 40 European MPs and MEPs, demanding that Mayor Yuri Luzhkov permit the holding of Gay Pride demonstrations. She telephoned her first impressions to the website gayrussia.ru, which has been in the forefront of organizing Moscow Pride:
“When we went out of the hotel. The police was already here to check our documents and to make pressure,” Luxuria said. “Then, we met Alexei Mitrofanov [a heterosexual Russian MP who supported the Gay Pride effort) and went to his car and as soon as we got out of the car the police approached us and stopped in a violent way Nikolai and pushed him inside the van . They arrested him and other organizers.
"I tried to take Nikolai with me and police pushed me very violently. They throw eggs on me and one went inside my bag on my passport. I am worried I can have problems to leave. Then we tried to approach the city hall but we've been violently prevented. I saw some old women with bags of stones and eggs. We are now in a safe place with tATu [a very popular Russian duo of girl singers, who had joined the gay demonstrators] and Sophie [Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld]. Marco Cappato has been detained as well,” the Italian MP concluded.
Veld, the Dutch MEP, also telephoned her first impressions to gayrussia.ru:
“The real violence started after we left,” Veld said. “We got there and then we went up to the city hall. Police immediately arrested Nikolai (Alekseev), and also Nikolai Khramov, so there were a lot of cameras everywhere. Many journalist. We felt eggs and other things being thrown. Police did nothing to arrest the hooligans. We walked 40 meters and there were interview and journalists. I was walking not far from Mitrofanov and saw a guy with a knife. And then when I saw that I thought: That’s it I am out of here. From what I heard there was a real fight after we left but I don’t know. Last year was massive. This time the square was emptied in advance. They had put fences around and a lot of journalists were waiting there. The police arrested our people but not any of the hooligans.”
Moscow Pride ’07 organizer Alekseev has been informed by the police that he will NOT be released. That is also the case for Nikolai Khramov, leader of the Russian Radicals, another heterosexual who supported Moscow Pride. Both will appear in court tomorrow and could be sentenced to up to 15 days in jail. French embassy officials concerned about human rights violations appeared at the Tverskoie police station — where a group of egg-throwing anti-gay demonstrators pelted members of the gay contingent as they were released from custody — and German MP Beck , author of Germany’s domestic partnership law, was eventually set free by authorities. (At last year’s attempt to hold a Moscow Pride demonstration, also broken up by police, Beck was bloodied when he was hit in the face with a rock by an anti-gay demonstrator.) The fascists continued to roam the area near city hall looking for gays to bash well after the attempted Pride event had been broken up.
Moscow Pride ’07 organizer Alekseev issued the following statement from jail: “We ask the western democracies to put a maximum pressure on the Russian authorities to release us immediately. The protocol [charging us] written by the police is completely falsified and all the Western MEPs and MPS who were with us could confirm it. We are accused of having blocked the streets and insulted the police which is a complete lie. We were on the pavement and we never insulted the police. This has never been our method. All this is nothing else than the good old method of KGB. We can see that agents of FSB (ex-KGB) are at the police station –[these are] the same people who were this morning at the hotel trying to prevent us to leave.. We plead with the German Chancellor Merkel who is currently heading the European Union Presidency to raise the question to President Putin. We also plead with the other leaders of the G8 and the EU to speak publicly on this issue. We are very thankful to Volker Beck, Sophie In’t Veld, Vladimir Luxuria and Marco Cappato who came for us to Moscow and of course all the others. They can show to the world that gay and lesbian rights do not exist in Russia. They can show to the world that freedom of expression is not only about politics. Please remember the words of Sophie In’t Veld at yesterday’s press conference. There is no such thing as ‘human rights light’ in which you can just avoid LGBT issues. There is no place in Europe for people who do not respect the rights of their citizens. European democracies should ban Mayor Luzhkov and his people to enter their countries as they did to officials in Belarus. We ask for your help and support. Probably now, more than ever.”
“It is very conspicuous when people are arrested in front of the mayor’s office when they were doing nothing other than trying to present a peaceful petition,” Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT division, and who witnessed the events, told Reuters in Moscow. “There was no real attempt to separate the two sides and that led to people being beaten up,” he said. “I would call on the Russian authorities to protect freedom of assembly, protect freedom of expression and protect demonstrators.”
For a BBC report on today’s arrest of Peter Tatchell, which includes a video of his assault and arrest and of anti-gay demonstrators giving the fascist salute, click here. For more information and updates on the Moscow Pride events, the arrests, and the fate of those detained and injured, visit Alekseev’s website, gayrussia.ru, and check out the Moscow Pride Blog on U.K. Gay News written by my excellent confrere Andy, its editor. For background on today’s events, see my May 17 article in Gay City News, “Moscow Pride Banned Again.”
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared May 27, 2007.