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Russian Gays' Courage Contrasts With the Shame of Western Embassies

By Andy Thayer
GLN permalink 5-28-2010

MOSCOW, Russia, May 28th, eve of Gay Pride - This afternoon in their final court date before Moscow Pride, gays and lesbians here predictably were rejected once again by the authorities. The Tverskoi District Court of Moscow upheld the ban on tomorrow's Pride march. On Thursday night, the Taganskiy District Court of Moscow upheld the ban on the assemblies before the march.

Click for full sized image.

Almost the entire back page of today's "Moscow News" devoted to tomorrow's Pride protest. Picture is of the Minsk protest a few weeks ago.

Nikolai Alekseev, principal organizer of Moscow Pride, described the court proceedings as "a funny circus. Even the judge was laughing." A lawyer for city insisted that the march permit wasn't being rejecting for "the gay issue," but because there were too many other activities going on in the city that same day.

Moscow Pride organizers applied for their permits on May 17th, the first day possible under the Russian federal permit law. Yet the reason given for the rejection of one of the proposed rally sites, the City said, was because there was another event scheduled for that same location - a 9 AM to 9 PM rally celebrating the policies of Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin! This is what prompted the outburst of laughter from Judge Marina Chernova, who upheld the ban anyway.

"Often I am not pleased with how I speak in court," said Alekseev, who was acting as his own attorney, "but today I was very satisfied with how I did, but it didn't matter because it was a political decision."

Defeated in court, Alekseev was still defiant. "We're not going to surrender to the illegal decisions of the Russian authorities, and threats of violence against our peaceful public manifestation."

Russian gays' courage - who besides arrests and violence, risk losing jobs, housing and family connections for being out - stands in sharp contrast to the cowardice on display by Western embassies in Moscow.

When Pride events elsewhere in Eastern Europe have faced government bans and/or neo-Nazi violence, Western ambassadors have stepped in to support lesbians and gays. When the government of Lithuania initially rescinded a Pride permit for the capital Vilnius, "they made joint statements of the embassies that they're supporting Pride, and they took part."

In Belgrade, Serbia when the authorities banned Pride, the Swedish embassy defied the local authorities by hosting a Pride event for local and international gays and lesbians on the embassy grounds.

But it's one thing to support despised minorities in poor countries whose governments don't exercise much power on the international stage. It's another to protest the policies of governments which exercise enormous economic and political power.

"In Bucharest and in Bratislava you have ambassadors participating in pride marches, but not here," said Alekseev. "For here they just sold our human rights in Russia for economic interests." During each of the past few winters Russian authorities have shut off natural gas exports to West due to ostensible trade disputes with countries between the West and Russia. And in an attempt to assert American dominance over the government of Iran with new international sanctions, the Obama administration has been on a charm offensive with the offensively anti-civil rights governments of Russia and China, cutting a nuclear weapons deal with Russia just a few weeks ago.

The contrast between Western official attitudes towards Pride in most of Eastern Europe versus that in Russia and Belarus, a country tightly allied with Russia, could not be starker. When the dictatorship which governs Belarus banned the May 15th gay pride in its capital, Minsk, Western diplomats were nowhere to be found, despite direct appeals by gays for their support.

"In Minsk they disappeared. The Europeans, the British, the Germans, the French [diplomats] they just disappeared for the Pride. We invited all of them, but no one came."

Belorussian and Russian gay activists ended up conducting the city's Pride protest as a running game of cat and mouse with the Belorussian riot police, literally running down city streets with a huge Pride banner as police chased them, arresting some of them as they attempted to fade into cafes and other businesses after the police broke up the event.

After nearly five years' experience organizing Pride events despite government bans and unofficial threats of violence, Moscow Pride activists run a very tight ship. They made direct appeals to the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the European Union. "All responded negatively," said Alekseev.

Of course none of them said the rejections came because of the economic power that Russia wields. "We already organized everything with the Danish," said Alekseev. "It was just a question of who was going to cook during the party, and then they sent us an email" revoking the invitation.

The French said "'Our embassy is the house of human rights. You can find yourselves welcome here,' but as soon as I asked them about hosting a pride reception in the grounds of the embassy, they said, 'No, no, we cannot do it for a particular organization.' Almost the same reply came from the ambassador of the European Union."

So here we are less than 24 hours before Moscow Pride, the Western embassies' cowardice on full display in contrast to the courage of Russian and Belorussian gay activists. When Moscow Pride occurs tomorrow, it will be no thanks to the "freedom loving" Western governments.


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