Scott Long, directeur holebizaken van Human Rights Watch, was aanwezig tijdens de Moskou Pride en doet verslag in de Washington Blade.
We broke into small groups. First mistake: the decision to go over to the unknown soldier’s tomb separately, so as not to attract attention. It was a mile or so away. With Louis-Georges Tin (=initiafiefnemer IDAHO) and a couple of Russian friends, let’s call them Boris and Serge, I bought token flowers, set out for the site.
Nikolai Alekseyev had spent the morning negotiating in the hotel with police representatives. He’d described the afternoon’s plans; they’d assured him he would have adequate protection. One of them, I’m told, a Colonel Vyacheslav (he wouldn’t give his last name) specifically warned there would be right-wing demonstrators, but said they’d be kept separated.
Under the Kremlin there’s an enormous… what? Morgue? Crypt? Bomb shelter? No, shopping mall. When we got to the memorial, in the Alexandrovsky Garden just north of Red Square, rain was drizzling down and so we descended to the bowels of the mall. We wandered around for forty-five minutes or so, looking for a place to have a coffee. Crowds of New Russians in trendy sneakers and subtle colognes. Shops crammed with fashionwear price twice their western tags. We were wet, lightheaded, and it was a consumer phantasmagoria where we circled, passing other knots of people we knew were headed for the demonstration–furtive ‘hellos’, after all we didn’t know each other – and somehow the most vivid images of this day get merged with rows of jockey shorts hanging off muscular mannequins behind plate glass, or expensive ice cream heaped in obscene multi-coloured coils. When we emerged the rain was pouring and I had to go back and buy two umbrellas and that was why we were slightly late to the first onslaught.
We were meant to assemble at 2.30, coalesce out of nowhere, and lay our roses on the tomb of the unknown warrior against fascism, Russia’s anonymous hero of the Second World War. At 2.25 the first contingent came, Nikolai Alekseyev and Merlin Holland (Oscar Wilde’s grandson) and a couple of other people, approaching the gate of the tomb with their votive roses. A little early. Dangerously alone.
We got there at 2.30.
As they neared the entrance, draggled in the downpour, the skinheads came out of nowhere. I say ‘skinheads’ as a useful generalization. In fact very few of them fit the stereotype. There were three waves.
First there were the Boys, the most numerous, mostly young (though some ranged into their late thirties), black-clad, short-haired though usually not shaven, thuggish and enraged. They were the shock troops. They were followed by the Priests. These, fatter, older, carried crosses or icons.They had beards, often, leather jackets trimmed to look like orthodox cassocks, sometimes black T-shirts with crosses bent fascist-style as if ready to administer a black mass. They chanted. Chanted. Finally, in the rear, there were the grandmothers. Old babushkas, kerchiefed, also carrying icons. They turned their backs on the mayhem the leaders were causing, faced the curious or outraged crowd, vented their tearful misery at the spectacle of their grandsons being arrested behind them, sang hymns, presented a pathetic face of suffering. Excellent PR.
The little band of people trying to present their roses were suddenly surrounded. The Boys began shoving them, grabbing them, thrusting and punching and shouting. Then abruptly the police moved in—Moscow cops and OMON, special riot police. There were hundreds planted around the square. The skinheads had circled the demonstrators, now the police circled both. They forced them back against the gates to the tomb. Nikolai Alekseyev was arrested almost immediately, grabbed by police and shoved into a waiting bus.
So essentially: the police let the extremists in to beat and terrorize the lesbians and gays, then coursed in to drive the skinheads out.
The skinheads kept tangling with the lesbians and gays as the cops compressed them. Then the cops released the pressure and they all broke loose, a melee surging from the Garden into Manezhnaya Square.
That was what it looked like when we arrived, a tangle of flailing arms and shrill screams. ‘Moscow is not Sodom’, ‘For a clean Moscow’, ‘Faggots Out’. Merlin Holland was kicked. Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament attending the march, was jostled severely. I ran down to the center of things and tried to make out what was going on. The Boys had retreated northward across the square. The Priests and Grandmothers were left behind. The Priests gathered and sang orthodox chants. The Grandmothers prayed. The babushkas were not beyond violence, however. One, seeing Pierre Serne — the diminutive LGBT counselor to Paris’ mayor, also a guest of honor — didn’t bother throwing an egg at him; she smashed it over his head.
A few of us tried to regroup in the rain. But the skinheads kept trying to reinvade the square from the north, and the police would charge them to keep them out. Finally the police massed, several hundred, and rolled forward against the skinheads—who had served their purpose there, and were wanted elsewhere. They drove them across Ohkotny Ryad, a wide street at the north end of the Red Square ensemble, stopping squalling traffic. The routed extremists threw flares, which exploded fiercely in the street and left mushroom clouds of steam in the rain.
Police rounded up twenty or thirty skinheads, lined them face against a wall, beat many, then hauled them to a bus with brutal force. Later a police spokesman would claim that the “homosexual marchers‿ had thrown the flares. This was transparently false to anyone present, but it was part of a strategy, to blame all the violence on the lesbians and gays and pretend the neo-fascists weren’t even there. This revealed, however, the incoherence of the official version, since its other side was that the march provoked the neo-fascists and brought violence to Moscow.
The 30 or 40 ‘pride marchers’ were hopelessly split by now. Nobody had drawn up a phone list or decided on a meeting point in the case of disaster; nobody knew how to find anybody else; all we knew was the other goal was to reach city hall, up Tverskaya Ulica (a wide shopping street) from the Kremlin. In small, frightened, and disconnected bands, people started heading there.
Two activists, Dima Morozov and Alexei Kozlov, from the non-gay leftist Youth Movement for Human Rights and the Green Alternative respectively, had applied to hold a picket opposite City Hall, in support of freedoms of assembly and expression. The city cannot arbitrarily deny permission for a picket (as opposed to a march); moreover, as of Friday evening, they still hadn’t received a response. The idea was for the lesbian and gay participants to assemble there as peaceful picketers.
I had run ahead trying to photograph the police clashing with the skinheads. Now, as I walked slowly up Tverskaya in the rain, I passed and joined with a few people I knew: Volker Beck, the openly gay German member of parliament, the author of his country’s same-sex partnerships bill, making his way up the street with his partner; Bill Schiller and Boris and Serge. At last we reached city hall, formidable and gated. Across the street from it was a statue of Igor Dolgorukii, one of the founders of Moscow. The plan had been for us to assemble there, unfurl rainbow flags, and hold a silent vigil of protest against Mayor Luzhkov.
Maybe fifteen of us formed a knot on the statue’s steps. Volker Beck and his partner and I pulled out our flags and began waving them.
Suddenly the Boys were there.
They came, again, from nowhere, like a black-jacketed flood climbing up Tverskaya. At one moment they were twenty feet away from us, fifty or so of them, in a knot around, Nikolai Kuryanovich– a deputy from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-right Liberal Democratic Party, who had also abruptly materialized and grabbed a microphone and started speaking, shouting again about a Russia free of sodomites.
Meanwhile (so I learned later) Dima Makarov and Alexei Kozlov, the young activists who had applied for permission for the gathering, had arrived on scene and saw the mounting chaos. They demanded to see the commanding police officer. They were taken to him—it was Colonel Vyacheslav, from the morning. They said they were the organizers of the picket, and showed him their application for permission. ‘Take them to the bus’, said Vyacheslav. They were arrested.
There couldn’t be clearer evidence that the police lured the lesbian and gay activists there to be beaten, then selectively jailed.
Volker Beck was trying to talk to an assemblage of media. The Boys, though, had moved in and were all around us. One of them, a tall thug with a scarred lip and a bent nose, tore away the flags from myself and Volker’s partner. He shoved both us of hard, and I fell. Others of the Boys charged in to the middle of our little group. Beck tried to speak above the screaming; faces distorted with hate, the skinheads were cursing.
All of a sudden the OMON police were there too. Instead of trying to separate skinheads and gays, though, they surrounded all of us in a double line, constricting the circle and shoving the crowd tightly together so that we were jammed up against each other—for maximum damage. The crush was paralyzing – I could barely breathe. The extremists were delivering body blows to people around me right and left. Beck was hit in the right eye with a rock. A punch in the same eye from the bent-nosed thug followed. He fell to the ground.
Finally the circle opened enough for most of us inside to escape. Various other people were arrested outside the circle. Yevgeniya Debryanskaya, one of the founders of the lesbian movement in Russia, was giving a media interview nearby. Police seized her and a friend and bundled her into the police van. I saw a reporter from Russia’s version of Newsweek being beaten by an older man (who was, it seemed, the editor of an Orthodox publication) while a woman held him to keep him from running. All three were arrested. Beck and his partner too were seized, though I didn’t see it. Police held them in the van for two hours, giving Beck no assistance for his bleeding eye, until they realized who the MP was. Then they released them—saying they had only been detained ‘for their security’.
Finally, police took control of the area around the statue. Outside their loose cordon, the Boys roamed menacingly, while the Grandmothers gathered in knots and sang and prayed.
It took me a long time to find anyone. Across the street, I saw Kurt Krickler — the longtime Austrian gay campaigner — talking to a German reporter. I joined them. Then, out of the underground underpass, came the bent-nosed thug who had beaten Volker Beck. He stood about five feet away, with a friend, smoking cigarettes. I wondered if we should run (trying to get the police was obviously pointless). But, while they eyed us with bemusement, it was clear their moment of violence was over. They’d done their bit for the cameras across the street. Now, with no one watching, we were simply objects of mild interest to them.
John Fisher, another conference guest who heads the Canadian-based ARC International, a group that spearheads LGBT presence at the UN, rang my mobile. I joined him and Andrey Kuvshinov, a Russian human rights activist, on a nearby street. Stunned and appalled, we still knew the first priority was to try to find out who had been jailed, and get legal assistance.
We walked to Kuvshinov’s nearby apartment. On the way, a contingent of the extremists’ leaders passed us—including the bent-nosed thug, a black-suited and professional-looking man, and several young women. They seemed happy, satisfied with a day’s work. Our eyes met. I soon understood what they were doing on that side street: the local police station was there. A few more skinheads were gathered outside, talking to the officers about their colleagues held inside. They all seemed altogether cordial.
At Andrey’s apartment, we began calling numbers to see who was free, who knew anything, collecting information. I contacted Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office to start finding lawyers to visit the police stations where arrestees were held. By calling Britain, then ringing colleagues of his here in Russia, we learned that Peter Tatchell had not been arrested. I kept phoning Nikolai Alexeyev’s mobile, hoping he might still have it in police custody. Press reports were beginning to pour in. The Moscow police were claiming 20, 50, even 120 ‘illegal gay demonstrators’ arrested. Characteristically, they made no distinction between the LGBT marchers and the skinheads.
The skinheads were still dominating the street, now with little further police interference. A Russian, newly arrived from Paris, who came by Andrey’s told us that as he emerged from the Pushkinskaya metro he saw a crowd of the Boys talking: saying they’d wait in a nearby McDonald’s and ‘monitor’ the fags coming and going. Kurt Krickler, as he left the city hall area, was attacked by four of the Boys, kicking and punching him. He had to visit a clinic for X-rays; when we saw him later in the evening, he had an enormous bruise under his right eye. At about the same time, the LGBT counselor to Paris’ mayor was beaten so severely near a gay café that he had to be hospitalized.
At around 6:30, Nikolai Alekseyev finally answered his mobile phone. He was being held in a police station near the Kremlin; his papers were being processed for release.
He asked us to come meet him: he was being released along with a group of skinheads, and feared for his safety on the street. We took a taxi and met him as he was freed from jail, pale and shaken. He had a long cut on the palm of his hand, from being manhandled when arrested.
We all went to the Swissotel, site of the morning’s conference, where Volker Beck was staying. Volker spoke to a small press contingent about the attack. German embassy doctors had bandaged his face, but the flesh was still raw beneath.
In the early evening, Yevgeniya Debryanskaya was also released, along with Dima Makarov and Alexei Kozlov. Most of the detainees were almost certainly free by now, skinheads and gays alike—though it will be sometime Sunday before either the numbers or the charges can be determined with certainty. Most of the LGBT people were apparently charged with participating in (or organizing) an illegal gathering, an administrative offense which carries a substantial fine.
I interviewed Dima Makarov that night after his release. He’s brilliant and intense, 23 years old, versed in the niceties of the law and committed to a democratic, open Russia. He’s been arrested many times, in demonstrations for the environment and for civil rights.
This time, while in custody, police had punched him in the stomach, and smashed his hand against a wall. He and Yevgeniya Debryanskaya had been held in a van together with many skinheads, an awkward situation—but he said some skinheads had been treated even more humiliatingly by the police, insulted and forced to crouch on the floor. After all, the cops knew that the gays would offer no resistance and, in custody or out, were no real threat; the skinheads, though, carried the real possibility of further violence. Yevgeniya and he, in the van, were urging the police not to treat the arrested Boys violently. The odd cameraderie of rights.
It’s 1 a.m. I am exhausted, confused. All the day’s memories meld into a jumble. Somehow, as an ironic undertone to all of them, images from the shopping mall blaze by: the consumer spring of the New Russia. Bright flashes of polyester fashion, electrically colored coils of melting ice cream. They’re joined by quick pictures of open wounds. A bloodied eye. Flecks of blood on sidewalk cement cracked by decades of spring thaws.
, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights program for Human Rights Watch | May. 27 at 2:51 PM
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