An attempt to stage Moscow’s first-ever Pride march ended with violence, injuries and mass arrests May 27. Queers took to the streets in spite of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s decision to ban the march three weeks ago.
The first of two main confrontations occurred when gay activists approached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin, intending to lay wreaths.
They were halted by riot police, neo-fascists and hymn-singing Christian militants.
“We were immediately set upon by about 100 fascist thugs and religious fanatics who began pushing, punching and kicking us,” said British gay leader Peter Tatchell. “Some individual protesters were surrounded, abused and attacked by gangs of fascists.”
The counter-protesters, some wearing masks, also tossed flares. Riot police eventually separated the two groups and arrested some members of both groups.
“This is a great victory, an absolute victory–look at what’s happening,” said march co-organizer Nikolai Alekseev as he was dragged away by police.
A second large-scale confrontation then occurred across from city hall.
“Soon after reassembling, another line of riot police came and drove us out of the square, straight into an oncoming posse of fascists,” Tatchell said.
In all, at least 120 people were arrested, including Alekseev and his co-organizer Eugenia Debryanskaya. Most were later released, but police said they would “draw up administrative protocols” against the march’s organizers.
Police said the gay marchers and their supporters numbered around 200. About 1,000 police officers–a quarter of Moscow’s force–were assigned to prevent the march from happening.
German MP Volker Beck was injured while giving a TV interview.
“At first I was hit by a rock and then a young neo-Nazi hit me in the face,” he told the Deutsche Presse Agentur news agency.
“The security forces did not protect us but instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any protection,” he added in a second interview, with German television. Wire service photos showed Beck with blood streaming down his face.
Austrian Kurt Krickler, secretary-general of Vienna’s Homosexual Initiative, was also attacked during the city hall mêlée.
“I myself was attacked by four youth, kicking me with their feet and beating me with their fists,” Krickler said. “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 hematoma on the eye.”
Krickler said a fellow protester was more seriously hurt. “Pierre [Serne] from France suffered so severe injuries in an attack of skinheads that he had to be hospitalized.”
According to the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, Serne “has hematomas almost everywhere, his face is bruised and one of his legs badly hurt.”
Mayor Luzhkov’s “homophobia created the atmosphere which gave a green light to the fascists to attack the Moscow Pride participants,” charged Tatchell.
Luzhkov had repeatedly denounced the parade and insisted he would never allow it to proceed.
The day before the march, he told Russkoye Radio: “We will not even consider this matter. At least as long as I am mayor, we will not permit such parades. Our church, mosque and synagogue–that is to say, all the three major confessions in Moscow–have spoken strongly against such parades.
“The situation as such can be acceptable for some Western countries advanced in this respect,” Luzhkov continued, “but it is absolutely unacceptable for Moscow and for Russia. Morality works here. If anyone has any deviations from normal principles in organizing one’s sexual life, those deviations should not be exhibited for all to see, and those who may turn out unsteady should not be invited to do so. I thank the citizens of Moscow as 99.9 percent of them in recent days also believe it is unacceptable to hold such parades.”
Some of the blame must also fall on Talgat Tadzhuddin, chief mufti of the Russian Muslim Central Directorate, activists said.
In February, Tadzhuddin said: “Under no circumstances should something like this [parade] be permitted. And if they come out into the streets anyway, they should only be beaten up. Any normal person would do that–Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike.”
Some activists also denounced Moscow Deputy Mayor Lyudmila Shevtsova for saying: “In our country, homosexuality and lesbianism have always been considered sexual perversions, and were even prosecuted in the past. Currently, the stated actions are not prohibited by law, but their agitation, including gay festivals and a parade of sexual minorities, is in fact propaganda of immorality, which may be prohibited by law.”
May 27 was the 13th anniversary of Russia’s decriminalization of homosexuality.
In Paris, openly gay Mayor Bertrand Delanoë said, “the grave attacks on respect for human rights and individual identity [were] contrary to the basic principles of a democratic nation.”
In the days before the ill-fated march, activists gathered in Moscow for an anti-homophobia conference and other events.
On May 25, Russian nationalist protesters violently disrupted a lecture by Holland at the State Library of Foreign Literature. About 20 demonstrators shouted “Russia free of faggots,” threw eggs and shot off mace canisters. Police evacuated the hall and the lecture resumed in a different room.