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Russia: Authorities Want To Rain On The Gay Parade

"Kvir" editor Eduard Mishin (right) with Bashkortostan legislator Eduard Murzin in Moscow If a small group of gay activists in Moscow have their way, Russia's capital city will host its first gay pride parade in May 2006 to mark the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of gay sex in Russia in 1993. However, obstacles to the event are considerable.

In fact, when the organizers -- lawyer Nikolai Alekseev and former Libertarian Party founder Yevgeniya Debryanskaya -- first announced their plan last July, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov declared that "if I receive such a request, then I will refuse," explaining that "the capital's inhabitants would be categorically against such an initiative." Luzhkov may have a point, since even listeners to the politically liberally (in a Western sense of the word) Ekho Moskvy voted 68 percent against such an initiative. Under the new law for holding public rallies, organizers can apply for permission no earlier than 15 days and no later than 10 days before the event. Luzhkov already rejected an earlier parade request in 2001.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church are also no fan of the parade plan. They have spoken out against it, telling various media outlets that homosexuality is a "sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spiritual death," "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 2 August. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 2 August, Father Aleksandr Borisov of Moscow's Church of Kosmas and Damian said that "If such events occur as Alekseev described, then I would consider it a huge sorrow personally and for our nation.... This would simply be evidence that Christianity has somehow completely lost its position in people's hearts and minds."
"If such a parade took place in Moscow it could lead to an explosion of homophobic tensions."

Even other members of the gay community are less than enthusiastic about a parade. Ed Mishin, editor of "Kvir," a Russian gay magazine, told Ekho Moskvy that he fears that parade participants would be physically harmed because of strong homophobia in Moscow: "To overcome this by having a parade is impossible.... According to the logic, we will go out on the street and people will think there are some gays. They are not so bad; OK, let's not be homophobes." Aleksandr Kukharskii, director of the St. Petersburg organization Kryla -- one of the oldest lesbian-gay organization in Russia -- told RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau on 20 September that the conditions are not right for holding a gay parade in Moscow. "If such a parade took place in Moscow it could lead to an explosion of homophobic tensions," he said.

Aleseev, however, remains undaunted. He told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 20 September that even if the parade does not take place, other events such as a gay festival and international conference devoted to discrimination against sexual minorities will go ahead. Participants will include public figures from abroad, such as former French Culture Minister Jack Lang. He also vows to pursue legal appeals for the parade all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. Asked about possible violence against parade participants, Alekseev told "Novye izvestiya" that he doesn't think that "Moscow authorities have sufficient strength to provide security, but naturally we would have our own security."

Russian opinion polls show that Mishin and others' fears about a possible homophobic reaction are perhaps well founded. VTsIOM conducted a poll in January that found that 31 percent of respondents believe that persons with a nontraditional sexual orientation should be "isolated from society." Actually, this illustrates an increased tolerance since 1990 when the question of whether homosexuals should be isolated got a response of 48 percent in favor.

Organizers of parades in other Russian cities may be experiencing an even colder reception than in Moscow. According to "Novye izvestiya" on 23 August, authorities in the western Siberian city of Tyumen were "in shock" when organizers proposed closing the city's streets for three hours on 5 September so that 500-700 participants could hold a gay-pride parade. Participants were going to wear masks in order to avoid possible retaliation. The request was rejected because it was filed too far in advance of the planned event. A police department official told the daily: "To say that I was surprised is to say nothing. The police cannot ban a gay parade -- this will be resolved by the administration. But in my personal opinion, Tyumen is not Amsterdam." Some representatives of the local gay community in Tyumen denied having anything to do with the application to hold a parade. One person, who wished to remain anonymous, told on 15 August that "You should understand that [such an event] in our city would be suicide."

While authorities in Moscow and Tyumen seem less than eager for a gay-pride parade, Yekaterinburg, Russia's third-largest city, had been hosting an annual "love parade" since 2001. While the concept is different -- the love parade was organized by local night club owners to promote safe sex -- persons of a nontraditional sexual orientation did participate, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 2 July 2004.

This year, however, the mayoral administration banned love parade organizers from holding their event in the central city streets. Organizers instead held a scaled-down event on 25 June in a large downtown building. The mayor had been under strong pressure from the Yekaterinburg-based Russian Orthodox eparchy to cancel the event. According to on 24 June, members of the eparchy met with officials from the mayoral administration and police to try to stop the annual event as early as March.

Before this year's parade was banned from the streets of Yekaterinburg, "Rossiskaya gazeta" commented that the "love parade had taken place in the city for three years in a row, and obviously people have started to feel more warmly towards those who do not hide their 'nontraditionalness.' And this means that the main serious goal of the joking measure has been achieved." That may be exactly what representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church think. Father Vladimir Zaitsev of the eparchy's missionary and catechism department, refused to call the parade anything other than a "procession of perverts, propagandizing their way of life." His department issued a statement that it would consecrate the "defiled city streets along which the procession of homosexuals moved."

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