Despite the banning of their protest for the third year in row and attempted pre-emptive arrests by the authorities, Moscow Lesbians and Gays today successfully held Pride with widespread coverage by alternative, prominent international and some mainstream Russian media. A few hours before the protest, authorities attempted to arrest Moscow Pride's most prominent organizer, Nikolai Alekseyev, who successfully evaded them in a car.The Pride participants have since been released, per a blog of events by activists in Russia.
A little later, the authorities, neo-fascists and religious zealots took the bait that Pride was going to take place as a picket in front of notoriously anti-gay Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's City Hall. While riot police were busy blockading City Hall and arresting some of the fascists and religious fanatics who showed up to physically stop Pride, Alekseyev had secretly spirited the media to a nearby monument to the great 19th Century Russian Gay composer Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, where Pride was successfully held with widespread coverage.
To add icing to the cake, Moscow Pride organizers then pulled off a dramatic banner drop right across the street from City Hall while the fascists and riot cops fumed below. The banner read "Rights to gays and lesbians - homophobia of Mayor Luzhkov to be prosecuted."
Russian authorities later arrested some of the activists who pulled off the banner drop, and for several hours put an activist's apartment under siege for more than 7 hours before apparently getting a court order to kick in the door and arrest the four activists inside – but not before they conducted a series of media interviews through the locked door, including with Interfax and RTR (the main TV channel in Russia).
Despite the arrests, the day was a resounding success for Russian gays and lesbians, who through clever organizing and hard work hoodwinked the authorities at just about every turn. As Alexeyev commented in an email posted after the actions:
"No human rights group or opposition [has] ever humiliated the Moscow authorities so much. We wanted to defy the Mayor in front of his office. Not only [has the] homophobia of Mayor Luzhkov been advertised today, but also the full collapse of his administration to prevent gays and lesbians [from] realiz[ing] their constitutional rights to march. Today, we showed that our group is powerful not only in gay and lesbian aspects, but in general. Our fight is only at its beginning."
Even during the siege of their apartment, the activists inside managed to keep good humor about the situation. When a journalist asked one of the besieged, Kirill Nepomnjaschij, if the four had enough food and other supplies to last very long, Nepomnjaschij replied, "Well, we are not going to beat the record of the blockade of Leningrad, but we will stay. We have food here and everything." In the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, during World War Two, Nazi armies besieged the City of Leningrad for more than 900 days, before the blockade was defeated.
Shortly after the arrests of the activists in the apartment, all major Russian gay websites went down, in an apparent attempt to squelch news about the successful Pride events. In spite of the censorship, as of this writing, Russian gays were still able to keep news flowing through their blog, ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/08/May/3107.htm, which is by far the best and most complete account of the day's events.
This is the third year in a row that Moscow Lesbians and Gays have attempted to commemorate the 1993 decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia. Before the previous two years' events, Russian gays filed for permits to hold Pride events, only to be rejected by Moscow authorities. This year the authorities banned the event even before GayRussia.ru applied for the permit.
Previous years' Pride events have seen physical attacks by Russian fascists on Pride participants, infamously bloodying German MP Volker Beck, British gay activist Peter Tatchell, and Austrian gay activist Kurt Krickler last year. They, along with many other international LGBT supporters, had attended Moscow Pride in solidarity.
Despite the "pre-emptive" ban on this year's Pride, there were contradictory signals from the authorities that indicated that this year's event might not face the same degree of repression that previous year's events had endured. A few weeks ago, in response to active campaigning by GayRussia.ru, Russian authorities finally dropped the ban on gays donating blood – a gain that many western countries, including the United States, have yet to achieve.
A few days ago Russian federal authorities reported that they had "suggested" that the city authorities allow Pride to proceed unmolested this year. Given the near-total control of Russian political affairs by the increasingly autocratic government of President Dmitry Medvedev (and power behind the throne, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin), such a "suggestion," if it were genuine, should have meant clear sailing for this year's Pride.
Fortunately, Russian Lesbians and Gays were not so gullible as to believe this subterfuge by the Medvedev/Putin government, and carefully prepared some subterfuges of their own so as to successfully carry out today's Pride activities.
Activists around the world are strongly encouraged to contact the Russian embassies in their countries and to demand that the Russian authorities immediately release all Pride participants who have been arrested, and drop all of the charges that they are facing.
In the United States, please phone the Russian Embassy at the following telephone numbers:
202-298-5700, 202.298-5701, and 202.298-5704
A good example, maybe, of the kind of tactical acumen Roobin recently advocated at Lenin's Tomb.