Protesters Left in Peace at Annual LGBT Rally
Published: July 30, 2014 (Issue # 1822)
One activist and one photographer were arrested at the fifth annual St. Petersburg LGBT Pride rally on Saturday, July 26. Nevertheless, the one-hour rally against the discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Russia went ahead more peacefully than ever before in the rally’s history, neither being attacked by anti-gay crowds nor shut down by the police. It has also been described as the lengthiest protest in the history of the city’s LGBT movement.
About 100 people attended the rally, which was held in a small fenced site on the Field of Mars in central St. Petersburg. Under a recent law, the site was designated by City Hall for holding small public assemblies. Dozens of police vehicles and hundreds of the OMON riot police were stationed at and near the fenced site, with officers searching bags and confiscating water and sharp objects as participants entered the site.
In fact, last year, despite an agreement with City Hall, the police shut down the rally and arrested more than 60 activists, who had been earlier pelted with stones, eggs and smoke bombs by some 200 anti-gay protesters. A number of LGBT activists were assaulted and beaten during or after the rally. This year, however, only a handful of anti-gay protesters showed up.
Despite this year’s event being seen by many as an achievement, there were still some at the rally protesting against the authorities for only allowing the event to be held in a fenced site. Speaking at the rally, activist Kirill Kalugin — who held a rainbow flag that had been torn by anti-gay attackers at last year’s protest — said he had the right to express his opinion elsewhere as he was “a free man in not a very free country.”
“Personally, it’s not necessary to have some date and the Field of Mars to take to the street with a rainbow flag,” Kalugin told The St. Petersburg Times this week. “I am not going to be guided by the wishes of City Hall or anyone else when I plan a protest,” he said.
“They’ve created this cell for us, and they don’t let us go anywhere else. I understand the organizers, who want to hold a peaceful rally, but they should also understand me when I say that I am getting tired of walking like a flock into this paddock. There has been criticism that I demand respect, while not respecting the police, City Hall, the state, but I don’t find it necessary to show respect for those people that don’t have any respect for me and pass laws against me in my own country.
“If City Hall permits some rally, it means it sees it as safe and not scary, because it controls it. I don’t want the state to get into my business and decide for me where I am allowed to stand and where I am not.”
Protester Yevgeny Prokopenko was arrested this year after an exchange with police officers, who claimed that his placard reading “Sodomy is sweeter than honey” violated the national law prohibiting the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations with minors.” Prokopenko explained that his placard was a protest against the law and he was then taken to a police vehicle after refusing to put it away.
“It was an anti-homophobic message,” said Prokopenko. “It implied that ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ were not bad but quite the opposite. I hoped a little that I would be charged with this crime, so that I had an opportunity to confront the law in court because I don’t agree with it.” Prokopenko was told he would be called when a hearing is appointed.
Photographer Alexei Belozyorov was also detained. Speaking this week to the St. Petersburg Times, he said that a man protested against him taking photographs of the minors without their parents’ consent. According to Belozyorov, the police held him on the pretext that he had no identification and let him go three hours later without pressing charges.