Freedom, resistance, solidarity and LGBT

Excited by the recent searches of the Gogol Center and, especially, the apartment of the famous theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov, as well as by the police attention to the company of another director, Alexey Uchitel, the Russian blogosphere fluctuated from the harsh criticism of actors and directors who stepped in to support their colleagues, but in a rather shy manner (and, as usual, no one condemned those who didn’t) to wicked joy over the case against “embezzlement of funds” launched by the investigators. Writer Lev Rubinshtein have probably formulated his position most clearly, declaring his understanding of the “behavioral code of the cultural community, or rather, the part of it that does not agree to put up with the state of affairs that is being increasingly imposed by the state institutions”. Rubinstein’s credo fitted into three words (which all start with letter S in Russian) – Freedom, Resistance and Solidarity. Rubinshtein admits that for him “it was a matter of particular urgency that solidarity should be actualized”, that support should be expressed and that we stand together with the persecuted.

Solidarity can be rather different. The real solidarity is inseparable from resistance and it is always comes hand in hand with the desire for freedom. That is why the messages of solidarity with “our own people” without objections against general injustice “in essence” are so troublesome.

Lev Rubinstein is consistent in putting forward his principles. He became the first (and so far only one of two prominent figures of modern Russian culture, together with the director Vladimir Mirzoyev), who had supported the campaign of solidarity with the LGBT people of Chechnya and Donbas. This campaign was announced on the Day of fighting against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia by three organizations – Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial”, FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.

Solidarity is especially important for those who are not only tortured, imprisoned, persecuted, but also forced to doubt their right to exist, their right to freedom, love and equal dignity with all other people. If the arrests and even extrajudicial executions of gays in Chechnya have become widely known recently due to the fearless work of the human rights’ Russian LGBT Network in cooperation with Novaya Gazeta, the suffering of sexual and gender minorities in the uncontrolled eastern regions of Ukraine is much less known. Many of the stories of LGBT people had been included in the last year’s report “Violation of LGBTI rights in Crimea and Donbas: the problem of homophobia in territories beyond Ukraine’s control”, which had been compiled by ADC “Memorial”. These stories are almost literally similar to the stories related by the victims of homophobia in Chechnya. The same fears, threats of exposure, blackmail by acquaintances and neighbors and – in the worst cases ­- placement into “the cellar” (secret prison) where violence prevails, money is being extorted by way of calls to friends… All this takes the form of creeping terror, without being highlighted by the mass media (as was the case with LGBT persecution in Chechnya), and no preliminary investigations take place as in those parts there are no bodies for conducting them, there is no one to even call for the need of such investigations.

The campaign of solidarity with the LGBT people of Chechnya and Donbas was supported by many European politicians and celebrities: members of the European Parliament from various political tendencies (“greens”, liberals, socialists, British conservatives), movie stars and singers (Michael Youn, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin), renowned writer Jonathan Littell. Thousands of people supported the campaign in social networks, almost three million Internet users have already learned about it.

Unfortunately, there are almost no reactions from countries that are directly affected by the problem of homophobia in Chechnya and Donbas, that is, from Russia and Ukraine. Even the writers and journalists from the “Free Word” Association, who spoke in support of Novaya Gazeta, focused on solidarity with their fellow writers, but did not consider it necessary to stand up for LGBT people, for those, whose troubles led to the investigation launched by Novaya Gazeta. Perhaps the signatories of the letter in defense of Novaya Gazeta simply did not know how to express their solidarity with the persecuted LGBT people of Chechnya and Donbas. But if so, it’s never too late, as the solidarity campaign continues.

The words of Lev Rubinstein, which had been already published on the campaign’s webpage deserve to be quoted in their entirety:

“The objects of xenophobia in different times and epochs were either people who practiced “wrong” religion, or people of another skin color, or people having “other” convictions and “another” world view that differed from mainstream one, – and this is the most bright and clear example of dark, aggressive archaic.

Nowadays, this primitive xenophobia appears in a form of wild, hysterical homophobia. Contemporary civilized mankind, after moving through endless series of self-destroying prejudices and superstitions, through bloody wars and crimes, went to the understanding that the sovereign right of people to be different from each other is a ground of our world. This contemporary world is based not only on mutual tolerance, but on friendly curiosity towards the “other’. Not hate, not suspicion – but trying to understand and readiness to defend those who are under repression and aggression.

To oppose, with all possible legitimate tools, the wild archaic that can base only on force and dark superstitions, – this is not only our right, but the duty of people belonging to the contemporary world, that is our duty.”

Stefania KULAEVA

First published in the blog of Radio Liberty