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May 27 Pride march attacked

What’s behind anti-gay pogrom in Russia?

Published Jun 2, 2006 11:08 PM

The capitalist city administration of Moscow deployed massive police forces and worked hand-in-glove with the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, ultra-nationalists similar to the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads and other neo-fascists to violently crush the first Russian Pride march on May 27.

Multinational demonstration April 8 against racist
violence in St. Petersburg, Russia. Friends hold picture
of slain 28-year-old Lamzar Samba from Senegal.

Some of the same ultra-rightist forces have also been responsible for a qualitative leap in racism and xenophobia in Russia that has resulted in at least 48 murders and scores of assaults over the last 18 months alone. These fascistic forces have targeted people of color, especially Africans and workers from the former Soviet Central Asian and Caucasus repub lics. Attacks on Roma, Latin American and Jewish people as well as communists are also rising.

U.S. white supremacist David Duke has made two recent trips to Russia and neo-Nazi organizing is on the rise there. Boris Mironoz, a former press secretary to Boris Yeltsin, wrote the preface to Duke’s newest book. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

A decade and a half after counter-revolution overturned the Soviet Union, against the stated will of some 75 percent of Soviet citizens who voted not to dismantle the USSR, this is the vicious reality of the dictatorship of the capitalist class.

The Russian capitalists had hoped that, after counter-revolution toppled the Soviet Union, Russia’s entry into the Council of Europe and the G7 summit would elevate them to the status of an imperialist superpower and peer of the U.S. and Europe.

Instead, the imperialists are siphoning oil and other natural resources from former Soviet republics, covertly supporting “regime change” to facilitate this theft of wealth, and establishing military bases in the region to encircle Russia.

As a result, Russian workers today are experiencing the kind of social dislocation that German workers and much of the middle class suffered after World War I when the Allied imperialists economically strangled Germany with the Versailles Treaty of 1918. The economic crisis paved the way for German fascism.

A segment of the Russian capitalist class is now whipping up ultra-nationalism and using the ancient weapon of scapegoating—divide-and-rule tactics—in order to divert the anger of the workers away from what capitalism has brought them: the loss of jobs, of low-cost rent, free health care and free education. The capitalist counter-revolution of a decade and a half ago has set a neo-fascist movement in motion in Russia.

Caught between hammer
and anvil

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov had threatened that a May 27 Pride march “in any form” would be “resolutely quashed.” Luzhkov has for a decade been the darling of oligarchs and billionaires who have made their fortune gentrifying the capital, while millions of former Soviet citizens struggle for economic existence.

On May 20, the Tverskoy district court of Moscow denied the Pride activists’ appeal to march.

Leading Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeyev vowed that some kind of event would still happen on that date. Pride organizers did not announce the type of action, or where or when it would take place, until a noon media conference on May 27 at the conclusion of an international gay conference held in Moscow, which began on May 25.

At that time, organizers announced to the assembled international and national media—including the London Times and the San Francisco Chronicle—that activists would attempt to lay a wreath of flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Gardens, because it did not require any formal authorization by officials; public entry to the gardens is free. The goal, organizers stated, was to pay their respects “to the soldiers who fought against Nazism, the most homophobic ideology.” (Pravda.ru, May 29)

Activists then planned to march to the city square facing the mayor’s office.

But two hours before the media conference, a sea of thousands of riot police and military forces had already militarily occupied downtown Moscow. The city deployed 1,000 municipal police alone—one quarter of the Moscow force.

“[A]ccording to a representative of the Union of Orthodox Citizens,” Pravda.ru reported May 27, “voluntary helpers for the police were also patrolling the streets, ready to phone 02 at any signs of ‘gay’ activity.” Gangs of fascists ran through the streets towards the site of the action, hurling flares and detonating smoke bombs.

When Russian Pride activists and their international supporters arrived at the gardens around 2:30 p.m., they found the gates closed and rows of hundreds of riot police arrayed to bar their entry. Police quickly arrested Nikolai Alexeyev at the gates.

Pride demonstrators were confronted by a mob of some 100 reactionaries: skinheads, religious zealots waving Christian icons and crucifixes, right-wingers who sported St. George’s cross—the flag of the Crusades—and ultra-nationalists. This modern-day pogrom even included men dressed in the parade uniforms of Cossacks—once the cavalry of the czar. These neo-fascist forces surrounded and chased Pride activists and supporters, punching and kicking them and throwing teargas canisters.

Wherever Pride demonstrators tried to reassemble downtown, they were trapped between the hammer of fascists and the anvil of police cordons.

Several dozen men screaming “Down with lesbians!” poured water over Pride activist Evgeniya Debryanskaya when she tried to argue with a homophobe. The Special Police grabbed her and dragged her off to the arrest van.

Police stood by, according to witnesses, as some 20 ultra-rightists beat and bloodied Volker Beck—a representative of the German Green party and a deputy in the German parliament—as he tried to speak to the media. The police arrested Beck. Pierre Serne, a man of color, and several other people were also reportedly beaten by the mob. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter trying to interview a participant was also kicked and punched.

Within hours, the police had arrested scores of Pride activists.

Forces of reaction

Right-wing nationalists who scapegoat those identifying as lesbian and gay charge that these are distinctly Western-imposed political identities. They had dramatically stepped up attacks in the month before the May 25-27 Pride conference and scheduled May 27 march.

At 10 p.m. on April 30, a mob of some 100 reactionaries, young and old, from different Russian towns—including a skinhead photographed wearing a Nazi helmet—attacked a “gay” party at the Renaissance Event Club in the south of Moscow. The party was organized to build political support for the May 27 march before city administrators voted to bar it. Organizers had hoped about 1,000 people might attend.

But the neo-fascists arrived early, at 10 p.m. They threw bottles, rocks, eggs and threats at party-goers.

“Russian orthodox priests blessed skinhead protesters outside the venue,” as they prepared to attack the club, reported GayNZ.com on May 29. The ultra-chauvinist organization Russian National Union also reportedly took part in the siege. At least one man who arrived at the party was reported beaten and others were reportedly hit with stones.

The next night—the evening of the international May Day workers’ holiday—at least 100 skinheads and other neo-fascists blockaded the entrance of Moscow’s most well-known gay club, the Three Monkeys, trapping all those inside. Police reportedly arrested about 39 of the neo-fascists. The club’s owner, Ilya Abaturov, blamed city officials for the attack.

At least two club customers reported their car windows had been smashed and a young woman was injured by a group of older women, who beat her with religious icons and crucifixes. (Telegraph.co.uk, May 29)

Cynical use of ‘human rights’

The date of the May 27 Pride march was set to coincide with the 13th anniversary of the day that then-president Boris Yeltsin agreed to remove the anti-sodomy law. This was two years after the coup that overturned the former socialist Soviet Union. Yeltsin’s move was hailed in the imperialist media as a sign that Russia was becoming a democracy.

However, Yeltin’s move to repeal the anti-gay law was reluctant. The European imperialists were saying they couldn’t bring Russia into the Council of Europe without protests from domestic progressive movements in their own countries.

Nevertheless, some gay Russian activists were so thrilled with Yeltsin’s rescinding of the law that they reportedly were on the barricades at the siege of parliament when the pro-U.S. president ordered tanks to open fire on the Russian White House, killing an unknown number of legislators. “Yeltsin’s decrees were printed on the Xerox machines of the new gay organizations,” says “The Ency clo pedia of Homo sexuality, Russian Gay History.”

Even with the anti-gay legislation having been taken off the books, police continued to raid and shut down gay and lesbian offices, clubs and cafés. And homosexuality was still categorized as a mental illness until 1999.

Today the imperialist powers of Europe, for their own reasons, demanded that the Russian government allow the international conference and march to take place.

Moscow Pride was scheduled to happen one week after Russia assumed the presidency of the Council of Europe—an organization of European capitalist powers that predates the European Union. The timing of the Pride march was also on the eve of the G8 summit, which is being held this year in St. Petersburg.

Russian President Vladimir Putin remained silent on the banning of Moscow Pride. However, the fact that the May 25 opening Pride event—a lecture on Oscar Wilde—was held at the State Library of Foreign Literature was seen by many as a stamp of approval by the Russian government itself. (UKGayNews, May 26)

Were the neo-fascist attacks organized at the behest of a sector of the Russian ultra-nationalist bourgeoisie that wanted to embarrass Putin?

The imperialist giants are angry with Putin for their own reasons. After a string of mainly U.S.-engineered “regime changes” in former Soviet republics, Putin signed a law into effect in January that forces NGOs to reveal their sources of funding.

European organizations and individuals exerted a great deal of pressure on Russia to stop the violence and allow the May 25-27 conference and march to take place, including Secretary General Terry Davis of the Council of Europe; Jacques Lang, a member of France’s National Assembly and a presidential hopeful; and the European Parliament’s “Intergroup” on gay and lesbian rights.

European social-democratic politicians and activists, many of whom self-identify as gay and lesbian, traveled to Moscow for the Pride events.

But at the same time, the imperialists—with U.S. finance capital in the lead—are economically exploiting and militarily encircling Russia and the former Soviet republics, and that helps create the conditions that exacerbate ultra-nationalism and czarist-type pogroms.

‘Relatively few Russians’

The chauvinism exhibited by some of the European activists who took part in the Moscow Pride events runs counter to the kind of solidarity and sensitivity that the Russian movement needs and deserves.

For example, the response of Merlin Holland—grandchild of the late-19th-century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde—to a terrible disruption of his May 25 opening lecture was so arrogant that it would certainly enrage even the most progressive Russians.

Holland’s lecture about his grandfather—a feminine gay man jailed by the British—was interrupted by some 20 right-wingers, who threw eggs, released an irritant gas and demanded, in Russian, for the removal of gays from the country.

Holland responded, “It is such a pity that you cannot address us in English.”

The next day, May 26, the international gay conference drew several hundred participants from some 20 countries, mostly European. It began at the Swissôtel, where a cup of coffee costs $10 and a bottle of water at the bar runs $12.

Scott Long gave an account of the May 26 conference proceedings. Long is director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans gender Rights program of Human Rights Watch—an organization that exerts pressure on countries already in the cross-hairs of the major imperialist powers. Yet even he took note that most of the conference discussions took place in English or Ger man. (Washington Blade Online, May 26)

Long described those gathered as: “Lots of people from abroad; relatively few Russians. ... And few of the voices proposing decisions are Russian.”

Long quoted a pivotal speech by Peter Tatchell, head of the London-based Out Rage!, which directs its political fire primarily at former colonies that have broken away from colonial and imperialist bondage—like Iran and Zimbabwe. Tat chell exhorted those in attendance to march the next day, proclaiming: “Your blood will become our rallying cry, the Russian movement’s rallying cry.”

Long added, “The entire discussion is being carried out in English now. The Russians present ... have gathered around a single translator; it allows things to proceed faster, but isolates most of them from participating.”

The Russians finally met alone together for an hour. Many wanted to cancel the Pride march altogether. They took a vote. By a narrow margin, they decided to march.

Beyond the conference, the Russian gay movement also reportedly split over whether this was the right time to hold the march.

Blame the imperialists!

Believe it or not, anti-communists are still blaming the current reactionary attacks in Russia on socialism.

Referring to the fact that Joseph Stalin recriminalized male homosexuality in 1933, Peter Tatchell declared, “Who does Luzhkov think he is? Joseph Stalin? Someone should remind the Mayor that the anti-gay Soviet Union is dead. ... These attempts by the Russian state to suppress Moscow Gay Pride are a throwback to the bad old days of czarist and communist totalitarianism.” (pinknews.co.uk, May 29)

An anonymous gay Swiss politician from Geneva proclaimed after recent violence in Moscow: “It’s as though Russia is going back to Soviet times.”

(ukgaynews.org, May 27)

This red-baiting snips the arc of history out of its context so that anti-gay repression seems to begin with socialism and end with capitalism.

But national chauvinism, white supre macy, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and bigotry against same-sex love are ancient historical products of class-divided societies: slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Czar Peter the First penned the earliest anti-gay law in Russia. At that time, the economy was mostly feudal.

French, German and Swedish capital and industrial investment soon began exploiting the wealth of oil and coal resources, and labor, in and around Russia.

The left-wing Bolshevik Party, which in 1917 helped lead the first successful revolution to establish a long-term workers’ state, had to grapple with that feudal and capitalist legacy.

Yet in the weeks after the workers and peasants seized power, one of the first acts by Lenin and the Bolsheviks was to abolish the anti-gay laws. The revolution extended greater rights regarding women, same-sex love, gender expression and sex-reassignment than any other government had in recorded history. (See Lavender & Red series, www.workers.org)

At that time, homosexuality was against the law in every state in the U.S. Even much later, after World War II, Washington carried out a domestic terror witch-hunt against lesbians and gays.

The Russian Revolution won no praise from the imperialists for creating these political freedoms. On the contrary, the imperialist powers tried to invade the new Soviet workers’ state on 14 fronts, fueled an internal class war and tightened the economic noose around the impoverished country. That’s what eventually wore down the revolution, resulting in the rise of a bureaucracy.

When the German Homosexual Emanci pation Movement was being drowned in blood after Hitler’s rise to power, the U.S. and Britain did not intervene. It was only after the Soviet Red Army had survived the sieges of Moscow and Leningrad and begun pushing back the German invading armies, turning the tide in World War II at a cost of 20 million Soviet lives, that the imperialist “democracies” sent their armies into France and began to fight Hitler’s troops. The imperialists hated Stalin not for his repression but for his role in the defense of the Soviet Union.

The exploiting ruling classes, especially in the imperialist countries, are not going to bring freedom to any of the oppressed. When they want to wring concessions from a government, however, they are adept at exploiting its weaknesses. The tremendous propaganda machine controlled by finance capital promises women’s rights in Afghan i stan, gay rights in Russia, and human rights in Iraq—but all to justify intervention on behalf of the profit “rights” of the oil companies and banks.

Progressive activists, especially from the imperialist countries, need to understand this if they are going to extend real solidarity to those who need it.

Email: [email protected]