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Russia’s Invisible Youth

By Blog Admin, on 18 June 2014

Deti 404 is an online project for Russia's LGBT teenagers. Photo CC: Ivan Simochkin

Deti 404 is an online project for Russia’s LGBT
teenagers. Photo CC: Ivan Simochkin

Maxim Edwards and Imogen Wade introduce a new documentary from Russia that will have its UK premiere at the closing gala of Open City Docs in London (17-22 June 2014).

Footsteps echo through the hallways of an undisclosed school in Russia; a telephone camera rocks to and fro before the grainy, leering faces of classmates. ‘For me, every day at school starts with shouts of ‘Faggot!’, ‘Be careful, he could f*** your ass with that fork’, and other terms of abuse. I think of it as ‘Good Morning.’ So begins the day of one of 45 teenagers, interviewed for Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev’s 2014 documentary film Children 404.

The ‘404: page not found’ youth of Russia

The effects of Russia’s controversial 2013 law prohibiting ‘LGBT propaganda’ are well known, but as the creator of Deti 404 (Children 404), journalist Yelena Klimova knows, few people have bothered to ask the opinions of those the law supposedly protects – Russia’s children. Deti 404 is an online project for the children who many believe do not exist – Russia’s LGBT teenagers, the ‘404: page not found’ errors who live in daily fear of harassment and intimidation in the classroom and at home. These are the children who have found a voice in Klimova’s project, allowing them to share their stories with the world.

The authorities’ response was predictable. As a result of Deti 404, Klimova was charged with breaking the law, though her trial on 27 February 2014 found no evidence of ‘gay propaganda’ in her activities. With 22,000 people joining its group on Russian social network VKontakte in its first year and 1364 teenagers having shared their stories so far, the project has been described by journalist Valery Panyushkin as the ‘youth crisis centre the state ought to have created, instead of adopting its anti-gay law.’

The film shows a world of faces hidden behind hands and cameras, furtive glances over shoulders and echoing taunts in school corridors. This is nothing to do with cinematic style; the majority of these children were interviewed on condition of anonymity. (more…)

International responses to homophobia in Russia: A win-win for Putin

By Blog Admin, on 26 March 2014

Gay putin

Photo: Brian Minkoff-London Pixels/Wikicommons
CC BY-SA 3.0

Vladimir Putin has used the international backlash against Russia’s sweeping anti-gay laws as part of his wider strategy for asserting conservative Russian values against those of the West argues Richard Mole.

Despite the best efforts of President Putin to keep the focus on sport, the Sochi Winter Olympics became a focal point for international criticism of the Russian law banning the spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, with global media coverage of the Olympics casting a spotlight on Russia’s anti-gay laws and rise of extreme homophobia in the country.

The law did not initially contain a definition of what constituted propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations – not that this stopped the police from making arrests.  But in December the government published the Criteria of Internet Content Harmful for Children’s Health and Development, which listed the following as examples of homosexual propaganda:

  • Information that justified the acceptability of alternative family relations, including any statistics or stories about children adopted by gay or lesbian couples, which might lead to the conclusion that same-sex couples are ‘no worse than straight couples at coping with parental responsibilities’;
  • ‘Intense emotional images’ aimed at discrediting traditional family models and propagating alternative family models;
  •  Information that contains ‘images of behaviour associated with the denial of the traditional family model’ which promotes homosexual relationships;
  • Depiction of homosexual people as role models, including any mention of famous homosexuals; and
  • Anything that ‘approves or encourages’ LGBT people in their homosexuality.

The latter condition is so poorly defined, that it effectively means that any content which may be considered offensive by the Russian government can now be deemed illegal and subject to prosecution.

The international backlash was vocal. (more…)

A transnational lone-wolf terrorist: the case of Pavlo Lapshyn

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2013

When Ukrainian postgraduate Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced for racially-motivated murder and terrorism in the West Midlands, the response from Ukrainian media was to distort facts; from authorities to remain silent; and from British journalists to pin blame on UK society. These approaches obscure the uniqueness of the case, says Anton Shekhovtsov

On 25 October, 25-year-old Ukrainian postgraduate student Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years for a series of terrorist acts carried out in the West Midlands, UK. In Ukraine, Lapshyn’s case provoked a critical response in the media, revealing a distressing, if not unusual aversion to national soul-searching. In Britain, some of the significance of the case was obscured by the irresistible urge to interpret it in terms of British society. What is currently missing in the accounts of Lapshyn’s terror campaign is an understanding of its uniqueness.

Lapshyn came to the UK from the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, hometown of now jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, having been awarded a temporary work placement at the Birmingham-based Delcam software company. He arrived on 24 April 2013. Five days later he murdered Mohammed Saleem (82). In June-July, he detonated three home-made bombs near mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. Fortunately, his lack of experience in making explosive devices meant there was no physical damage to anyone. However, in the course of his bombing campaign he was able to improve his skills and make his devices more dangerous. Only the timely intervention of the West Midlands police, who identified and arrested Lapshyn on 18 July,  prevented him from continuing with his deadly mission.

After his arrest, Lapshyn willingly cooperated with the police. He made no secret of the fact that his actions had been motivated by racism, of his desire to ‘to increase racial conflict’ and make Muslims ‘leave our area.’ In his room at Delcam’s premises in Small Heath (Birmingham), police recovered mobile phones he had adapted to trigger devices, chemicals and bomb-making equipment. There were also 98 video files and 455 photographic files on his laptop showing chemicals, firearms, component parts of explosives and images of Lapshyn manufacturing and detonating bombs, presumably in Ukraine. According to Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Edwards from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, ‘Lapshyn stressed he was acting alone – not part of a wider cell or influenced by any group – and was keen to take credit for masterminding and carrying out the attacks.’ After his arrest, Lapshyn twice rejected any legal assistance from the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK. (more…)

New anti-gay laws are a lightening rod for the Putin regime

By Blog Admin, on 19 July 2013

Gay Pride

Photo: Valya Egorshin via Flikr (CC-BY-2.0)

By banning ‘homosexual propaganda’, protecting ‘religious feeling’ and reining in ‘foreign agents’, Vladimir Putin is seeking to entrench Russian traditional values against Western liberalism.  LGBT activists may now need to rethink their tactics, writes Richard Mole.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to tighten his political grip at the expense of the country’s nascent civil society is continuing apace. Following the bill last summer requiring NGOs which receive foreign funding and engage in ‘political activity’ to register as ‘foreign agents’, on 30 June Putin signed into law a bill banning the spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’.

 The bill, which passed in the Russian Duma by 436 votes to 0 (with one abstention), levies fines of 5,000 roubles (£100) on individuals who disseminate information about ‘non-traditional sexual orientations’ among minors or promote ‘the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional relationships’.

The fine is increased to 100,000 roubles (£2,000) if individuals discuss gay-related issues in a positive or neutral manner in the media or on the Internet, and rises to one million roubles (£20,000) for organisations. The inclusion of the phrase ‘among minors’ ensures that practically any public LGBT event will violate the law; just in case, anti-gay protestors at last month’s Gay Pride in St Petersburg were encouraged to bring their children with them to ensure that the law did indeed apply.

 Activists have argued that the ‘homosexual propaganda’ law legitimises discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals in Russia, citing the cases of two gay men murdered in separate incidents in May. Critics have sought to establish a causal link between the new anti-gay law and anti-gay feeling in Russia. However, this overestimates Putin’s ability to mould public opinion – his anti-Westernism has, after all, failed to dent Russians’ generally positive feelings towards the EU –  and underestimates the pre-existing intolerance towards lesbians and gay men left over from the Soviet period. (more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)