BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — "In the Russian Federation, so that it is clear to everybody, there is no infringement on the rights of sexual minorities," President Vladimir Putin said at an April 8 press conference in Amsterdam, Reuters reports.
"These people, like everyone else, enjoy all the same rights and freedoms as everyone else," he added.
About 1,000 gay rights activists, waving orange and pink balloons and blasting music, greeted the Russian president's arrival in Amsterdam. Several houses and bridges in that city's canal district were adorned with banners and rainbow flags to protest what human rights advocates say is the "institutional repression of gays in Russia," Yahoo News says.
"Putin go homo," one sign said, echoing the "Putin go home" message that appeared on the front page of one daily newspaper.
In Germany earlier in the day, Putin ran into another protest — a topless one, during which three women from the rights group Femen, which has spoken out against Russia's detention of members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, disrupted his visit to a trade fair in Hanover. According to Yahoo News, the protesters called Putin a dictator before security hurried them off.
"I liked it," Putin reportedly said at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I did not catch what they were shouting, I did not even see if they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired."
In anticipation of Putin's visit to Amsterdam, more than 3,000 people signed up to join the protest against an anti-gay law making its way through Russia's parliament. In January, State Duma deputies voted 388 to one in favour of the national anti-gay gag law that bans "propaganda of homosexuality" among minors in the first of three readings. A number of regions and cities in Russia have already enacted their own anti-gay gag laws.
While May 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Russian Duma's repeal of a law criminalizing gay sex that was invoked to detain thousands of people during the Soviet era, gay rights activists — like St Petersburg Pride organizer Yury Gavrikov — say that 20 years on, history has taken a turn for the worse with the rise of the gag laws.
Last July, activists in St Petersburg made good on their promise to ignore the city's decision to ban their third Pride march and were arrested for trying to stage two Pride rallies. They plan to try again in June this year.