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Russia: The Dictatorship
of the Homophobes?

By Dmitri Lytchev

redsquare.jpg - 9.55 K 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 heterosexual.

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May 1993 saw a major event--President Yeltsin, considering amendments into the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, repealed the article 121.1 which guaranteed some years of imprisonment for gay men.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"Liberation") and in over 10 periodicals of Russia: "So what will the changes be after the notorious article gets repealed?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.

Hence in the eyes of the society homosexuality was and still is deviant and delinquent. And so homophobia is blooming powerfully, the homophobia which is aggressive and raging especially in province."

These lines were written in the summer of 1993, yet they fully apply to the present day life. If back in 1993 I told that in Moscow homophobia was notable to a lesser degree, now the situation is different. Here are some examples of murders only of gays, only in 1999 and only in Moscow.

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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 head".

"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 forget this".

"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 of prosecution.

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' ". vputin.jpg - 7.86 K 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!

V.A., Moscow".
Dmitri LYTCHEV, writer, publisher, journalist, a member of International board of International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC, San Francisco)

May 28, 2000. Prague

Translated into English by Tatiana Danilevich ( of Our World Center

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