Moscow prepares for gay rights showdown

With European media attention focused on Moscow for this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest finals, Russian gay rights activists are planning a major demonstration on Saturday and it’s quite to get ugly. Officially, the Moscow city government is required to let the march go forward, but mayor Yuri Luzhkov who has described gay people as “satanic” ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
585834_090513_russiagay2.jpg
585834_090513_russiagay2.jpg
A member of the Russian gay community holds a flag during a banned gay rally in Moscow on June 1, 2008. Russian gays defied a ban by city authorities and demonstrated for greater public acceptance, demanding the resignation of Moscow's mayor, Yury Luzhkov. Moscow police detained at least one gay activist and several far right youths who came to oppose the demonstration, hurling eggs and in one case punching a gay demonstrator, AFP reporters observed. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY KOSTYUKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

With European media attention focused on Moscow for this weekend's Eurovision Song Contest finals, Russian gay rights activists are planning a major demonstration on Saturday and it's quite to get ugly. Officially, the Moscow city government is required to let the march go forward, but mayor Yuri Luzhkov who has described gay people as "satanic" and "weapons of mass destruction," has banned it anyway.

A similar march in 2007 turned violent after the demonstrators were attacked by counterprotesters, and more of the same is expected this year:

With European media attention focused on Moscow for this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest finals, Russian gay rights activists are planning a major demonstration on Saturday and it’s quite to get ugly. Officially, the Moscow city government is required to let the march go forward, but mayor Yuri Luzhkov who has described gay people as “satanic” and “weapons of mass destruction,” has banned it anyway.

A similar march in 2007 turned violent after the demonstrators were attacked by counterprotesters, and more of the same is expected this year:

Few are optimistic that the rally will go off without trouble. “Groups of fanatics and extremists will be roaming the streets in the centre of Moscow looking for people to beat up,” Nikolai Alekseev, the organiser of the Slavic Pride rally, told the Guardian. “Nobody will care. Moscow police will do nothing to protect them.” Asked whether gay British fans should avoid travelling to Moscow this Saturday, he warned: “Everybody has to make their own choice. But they won’t be safe.”

That Eurovision has a wide gay following isn’t much of a secret, even in Russia. “Lots of gays and lesbians are fans of Eurovision. It’s a very gay event,” Alekseev said.

..

Russia’s far-right and orthodox Christian groups yesterday made it clear they plan to given their own uncompromising response to any gay manifestation. “We won’t allow this satanic gathering,” Nikolai Dovydenko, the organiser of last week’s anti-gay picket told the Guardian. “We don’t want Moscow to become Sodom,” he remarked. “It’s an affront to Russian society and to our spiritual peace.”

Dutch contestant “The Toppers,” have threatened to boycott the finals unless the march is allowed to go on, proving that their heart’s in the right place, even if their musical taste is most definitely not.

It’s a big week for gay rights events in Russia. On Tuesday, two women (flanked by a crowd of reporters) attempted unsuccesfully to register the country’s first same-sex marriage. It might be tempting to hope that this is the beginning of an attitude shift in Russia, where casual homophobia is rampant, but it’s probably way to early to say for sure.

Another question: if Russia can’t even host the world’s kitschiest song contest without an international diplomatic incident with Georgia and gay fans fearing for their safety from bigoted thugs, what are the 2014 Olympics going to be like?

DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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