By Dmitri Lytchev
The kick-off was quite sweet. Who knows, probably we will be looking
back at the period of Yeltsin ruling as the most liberal times. The 90s
started actively. Simultaneously with the decade's birth the dawn of the
Russian gay movement began.
The first legal gay paper appeared. Later, on
the heels of the failure of the communist riot (the famous putsch) gay
organizations and other gay publications came into being. Up to 1992 I had
been in a staff of the All-Union Center of AIDS prevention. It was my job
that prompted me to launch a magazine for gay people named 1/10. Daily I
had to watch the hard situation of the HIV-infected, both gay and
Our basic challenge was the struggle against discrimination of gay
people and the HIV-infected. May 1993 saw a major event--President
Yeltsin, considering amendments into the Criminal Code of the Russian
Federation, repealed the article 121.1 which guaranteed some years of
imprisonment for gay men.
Rejecting unneeded modesty I can note that this
was partly our victory too. The editorial staff of 1/10 alone sent eight
petitions to the President demanding repeal of the article. I wrote then
(in particular, in the French "Liberation") and in over 10 periodicals of
Russia: "So what will the changes be after the notorious article gets
repealed? None! Almost. The only upside is the possibility to make the HIV
prevention more effective.
At the same time one does not have to be a
hardened realist to understand that the repeal of the article has not in
the least changed the society's attitude toward the sexual minorities.
Alas, no decree of the President is able of raising the low cultural level
of the majority of our fellow citizens.
1. On Sunday night, February 28 of 1999, two students of the Military
university visited a doctor, specialist in alternative medicine. They
striked 11 blows with a knife into the victim's breast and back, and then
stole 1,500 dollars and clothing.
2. On April 22, 1999, a colonel instructor of the Military Air
Engineering academy was detained for killing his gay pal.
3. In the morning of June 30, 1999, a correspondent of the TV program
covering law issues, Vadim Rudenko was brutally killed with knife blows on
the Ovchinnikivskaya Embankment. Later his flat was set on fire.
4. It took as little as two days to disclose the brutal murder of the
director of the First Model Publishing House which took place on August
14, 1999. A guest mangled the host of the flat with an ornamental knife.
Soon the police detained a 19-year old serviceman, who was a resident of
Perm. Right off the detainee confessed to another, as much barbarous
murder of a gay man
5. On July 21, 1999, he smashed the head of a gay
acquaintance with a stone and robbed his flat.
6. On September 26, 1999, the murder of Christopher Ris, general
producer of the CTC television company, citizen of the Great Britain was
committed in a house on the Tverskaya street. The Englishman was lying
almost naked in the corridor, dreadful wounds gaping on his body.
Everything around was splashed with blood, a kitchen knife lying nearby.
Everyone has a chance to be entered into this list. And it's hardly
likely anyone - besides ourselves - will help prevent this. In any case,
it is absolutely clear that this won't be the police.
Incidents of repression from the side of the legal bodies take place
more frequently of late. Here are lines from the letter of the gay
activist from Nizny Tagil of Sverdlovsk region Valery Klimov: "Over one
hundred (!) gay men who had never before had any problems with the law
were taken to the police stations.
Their only "guilt" was that they were
known as gays. By means of blackmail and threats the policemen took their
fingerprints and pictures, and tried to force many of them to cooperate
with the police, to be informants.
In his speech on the local TV arepresentative of the Tagil police Mr. Nikelberg stated
that in the near future about 400 homosexuals would be called to account with the aim of
discovering potential maniacs and killers amongst them". It is no secret
to anyone in Moscow that quite a few of Judas work for KGB and the police
as informants. Does not this remind of 1937?
And here is a letter revealing the situation of gay men in prisons:
"That's all, I was raped, debased. Almost the entire barrack took a hand
in this. As you know women are not to come by in prison and so prisoners
satisfy their sexual instincts as they can. If there is no permanent
"rooster" (common wife) in a cell (barrack), they try to fuck a new
arrival. Every night they will shag him by turns and will make him slave
for them by day".
This is prison. Yet out of it the attitude toward gays is far from
better. The police wearing masks and machine guns burst into the Moscow
gay club "Chance" and, brutally beating everyone and flooding the premises
with blood, drove many people in the unknown direction. The impression was
they were drugged or drunk for their behavior was clearly not normal. Here
is evidence of some victims:
"On that day 11 persons (including myself) were brought to the 70th
police station and locked in the insulation room. They did not allow us to
go to the toilet and gave us neither food nor water. "I was about to leave
when I heard someone crying. I had no time to react as I was hit hard on
the back and fell down. Someone took hold of my head and hit against the
wall. People in uniform asked me whether I wanted to get some more of
this. I kept silent. Nearby a man was lying with a gun held above his
"They were beating and threatening us continually, then brought us
into a room, put to the wall with hands behind the head. In this position
we stood for about four hours. All this time masked people were walking
around us and beating us on the back, neck and kidneys. They also insulted
us and pressed us psychologically".
"When one of the boys, unable of standing at the wall any longer,
fell down, a few people run up and hit him five or six times. I cannot
"I saw a man with the disfigured face, and one of the policemen
ordered not to take him to the police station".
"I heard one policeman say answering the question concerning our
destination: "We are clearing the town of you crud, gays and lesbians, we
are taking you to fields to shoot". You can imagine the condition of the
people in the bus".
"Someone was crying that "power has changed hands and you, stinkers,
must be put into a furnace and burnt". I heard this myself".
"The police planted some pill to me and one of them demanded that I
come clean. If I do, he said, I'd be sentenced "just" to three years of
imprisonment. I denied everything and insisted that the pill was a
frame-up. I was put into a cell with no lights where it was hard to
breathe. I spent twelve hours there".
No one handed in a complaint to the procurator: "They stand for each
other there! You cannot guarantee you won't be imprisoned on the basis of
your own complaint".
Examples are incalculable. I can add from myself that one of the
reasons of my moving to the Czech Republic from Russia in late 1995 was
the fear of the complete defenselessness before the power of legal bodies.
Utter latitude for homophobes in the land of homophobes!
One more letter to the editor of 1/10:
From the book on Russian gay literature Out of the Blue
"I am over 40 and probably I cannot agree with
those who say that there were neither sex nor gays in the Soviet Union.”
So, writer Victor Astafiev who lives in the same town as I, writes in the
paper "Krasnoyarsky rabochy": "All kinds of gays has appeared. And we
cannot get rid of them until we are fed up enough to throw up."
“Well, what can be said? If the bald were imprisoned in the Soviet Union, one
could say that there were no bald men in the Soviet Union. Brains of our
citizens are so heavily conditioned that I, for example, know of a boy
whose parents complained to the police that their son loves men. Many gays
were killed in camps, became inveterate drunkards, committed suicide.
Those who survived, usually live in solitude, without love and human
happiness. Nikolai. Krasnoyarsk".
No one is willing to seek legal or psychological advice for fear of
publicity and blackmail. I am not aware of any specialized services for
representatives of sexual minorities that work in Russia. Five years ago
the attempts were made to create such an assistance center under the
auspices of the "Triangle" association in Moscow. Sadly, the "Triangle"
ceased to exist way too soon. And then, by the end of the century, all gay
publications and active organizations vanished into thin air.
Gays in Russia not only get killed but also get fired from work when
their orientation becomes known. It is hard to lay any claims in these
cases for the service record carries another reason of leaving a job: as
is the custom in Russian--"dismissed by his own wish". I witnessed
homophobic attitudes myself while living in Moscow. As a result I had to
look for another home because of the hostile homophobic sentiments of the
neighbors. Those found out about the gays living next door just due to the
fact that "they had only male visitors, not a single girl".
Then phone calls with threats followed, and a few attempts to
penetrate into my flat were made. Despite the official status of our
publications, we could not get the protection from the authorities. I am
sure that it were the authorities that initiated the threats and attempts
And here is a truly prophetic letter that I received back in 1998:
"A chief of any police station can easily summon his colleagues and pay a
far from friendly visit to the "Chance" club or, say, 1/10. Before the
article 121.1 was repealed we all had been pressed by the fact that we are
criminals and hence are very vulnerable, now the pressure is of another
kind. We seem to be clean before the law, but as it turns out, we became
still more defenseless as the lawlessness is reigning in the country.
There are still a lot cases of blackmail, but while formerly it was the
business of tough guys, now it is the police who are into it. While
formerly gays did not seek protection from the police only due to the fact
that they were the illegal elements themselves, now there is no any
protection left whatsoever.
The situation from the times of the putsch has paradoxically changed
and the change has been negative and powerful. And, speaking in medical
terms, the prognosis is far from favorable. Andrei. Moscow".
Unwittingly the author of this letter proved to be a clairvoyant:
On May 7, 2000 (which was symbolical--on the day of Mr. Putin inauguration)
the police came to my home (I had just come to Moscow from Prague for a week) and
confiscated all publications, the archive and other things. I spent half a
day at the glorious Petrovka, 38 (Moscow Criminal Investigation
Department) where I was interrogated. Then I was told in plain terms
(surely not to be recorded): 'While we are looking through your
publications, you'll wait in the cell with criminals. It's highly unlikely
you'll get back alive or at least in good condition' ".
|| Russian President Vladimir Putin
I was released, but they took away my Russian passport and assured me I would be back at their
place some day. Luckily, I managed to retain my passport for travelling
abroad, and the next day I was beyond the borders of Russia. I was
followed by those who helped me in my work starting from 1991.
During his election campaign Mr. Putin promised to impose the
"dictatorship of law".
It seems to me that with time only the former word
of the combination will remain valid. It's often that I hear that we,
gays, lesbians and bisexuals, are to be isolated on an island. Yes, I
always say in reply, give us this island! Don't give the Kuril Islands to
the Japanese, give them to us, gays! And we will at last be able to sigh
with relief, being free from your "democracy"! And to top this off, here
is a letter which shattered me to tears, to dumbness. It is from our
reader, but I am ready to put my signature under it as well:
"I hate this land!.. I hate this country, for during my entire life
I've been living with the fear that someone might cry to me: "Faggot" and
hit me in the face. And I am physically unable of hitting back, I am
unable and afraid, and I hate my fear. I hate this country as I am afraid
of leaving it. I am not sure I'll be able to live in another country --I
was made like this by the life here. My best moments took place here, in
this country which I hate.
“I try not to think about bad things, I enjoy
small joys, try to distract myself, but this country humiliates me over
and over again, forcing me to hate it. In this land I am defenseless
before everyone: the hoodlum scum, the police, authorities, neighbors,
narrow-minded public and scornfully condescending intelligentsia85 Oh
Lord, give me enough strength not to hate the country I so much love!
Dmitri LYTCHEV, writer, publisher, journalist, a member of International
board of International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC,
May 28, 2000. Prague
Translated into English by Tatiana Danilevich (firstname.lastname@example.org) of
Our World Center
Our World Gay and Lesbian Centre
Postal address: PO Box 62, Lugansk 91051, UKRAINE