[Marxism] Queer art threat averted in Petersburg by Die Linke's new allies

Thomas Campbell avvakum at gmail.com
Wed Sep 24 01:20:59 MDT 2014

Queerfest Opening Quashed by Attackers
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
September 24, 2014

Queerfest — an annual LGBT rights socio-cultural festival that opened in
St. Petersburg on Sept. 18 — was forced to cancel most of its events
following attacks, pressure from authorities, bomb threats and last-minute
cancellations. A group led by anti-gay lawmaker Vitaly Milonov tried to get
into the venue where the invitation-only opening event was held. After not
being let in, the anti-gay protesters blocked the entrances and attacked
the audience with an unknown gas and green dye, with the police not
immediately intervening.

The festival’s opening event was moved to Ziferburg cafe on Nevsky Prospekt
after the Kazanskaya 7 business center — where Queerfest’s scheduled main
venue, the art space Freedom, is located — canceled the opening 90 minutes
before its announced time. A representative of the owner annulled the rent
agreement due to a “suspicion of damage to the integrity of the arch above
the main staircase of the building,” which did not prevent other events
from being held in there, Queerfest organizers said in a statement on Sept.

The event started with a nearly one-hour delay at Ziferburg cafe after the
Queerfest exhibition of photographs was hastily moved and assembled there.
About 200 people, including foreign diplomats, were gathered when Milonov
and between 15 to 20 anti-gay attackers tried to stop the opening.

Milonov, the Legislative Assembly’s United Russia deputy and chairman of
the committee on legislation responsible for the city’s 2012 law forbidding
the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bi-sexuality and transgenderness
amongst minors,” led an anti-gay group to the cafe, located on the third
floor of the Passage shopping center.

Showing his deputy identification, Milonov tried to get in but was stopped
by security guards. He ended up instead standing near the door, swearing
and throwing insults while telling the guards that ethnic Russians should
not protect LGBT people. He described the audience as “pedophiles who rape
children,” among other things. Attacks started minutes after Milonov left
the building.

Having thrown vials containing unknown gas that smelled of rotting fish
under the door, anti-gay attackers prevented visitors from entering and
leaving, spraying green dye from syringes on them. At one point, both
entrances to the cafe were blocked. One was locked from outside by
attackers and the other was held by security and volunteers to prevent them
from entering and attacking people inside.

“Milonov left just a couple of minutes ahead of the attacks,” organizer
Anna Anisimova told The St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 21. “They met in the
stairwell, or he passed the baton to them, but I can’t say for sure because
the fact was that thugs came just after Milonov had left. They were not
together at one time.”

A number of people felt sick because of the gas and one or two were
eventually taken away by ambulance. According Anisimova, some 20 to 30
members of the public had their clothes spoiled by green dye, including two
representatives of the St. Petersburg ombudsman Alexander Shishlov. She
said that foreign diplomats did not suffer. About 20 formal complaints
regarding criminal assaults were filed with the police.

The police that were stationed in large numbers outside the building did
not intervene until Shishlov arrived and urged the officers to protect the
festival’s audience, while Alexei Smyatsky, the chief of the city’s public
safety police, was seen speaking with Milonov in front of the building at
the time when the attacks apparently began.

As attacks went on outside the café, the opening event was briefly held
with foreign diplomats expressing their support for the festival and the
LGBT community in St. Petersburg.

Attendees included Norway’s Consul General Heidi Olufsen, Sweden’s Deputy
Consul General Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson, the Netherlands’ Deputy Consul
General Hugo Brouwer, Acting U.S. Consul General Courtney Nemroff and U.K.
Deputy Consul General Robert Kempsell.

On Sept. 19, Ombudsman Shishlov appealed to city council chairman
Vyacheslav Makarov asking him to take measures against Milonov, Zaks.ru
reported. “The human rights of citizens were severely violated as the
result of violent actions,” Shishlov wrote.

“I suppose that the active participation of a Legislative Assembly deputy
in such actions discredits the city council and harms the reputation of St
Petersburg. I request that you assess the actions of the deputy related to
human rights abuses, as well as take measures for the code of ethics to be
observed by Legislative Assembly deputies.”

Shishlov also urged St. Petersburg police chief Sergei Umnov to personally
supervise the investigation into people’s complaints and take legal action
against the offenders. He also asked Umnov to prevent possible attacks
against the festival’s future events.

Despite Shishlov’s appeals, the pressure on Queerfest continued. An art
workshop organized in cooperation with the Manifesta biennale and the
conference “Queer or What Is the Art of Being Yourself,” Queerfest’s first
public events scheduled for Sept. 19, were both canceled after the art
space Loft Project Etagi refused to host the events one hour before the
scheduled start.

On Sept. 20, the underground music club Zoccolo 2.0 canceled Queerfest’s
Independent Music Night event, which was moved — in a shortened version —
to the LGBT club 3L. At about 1 a.m. the police evacuated the venue due to
a bomb threat. The LGBT club Malevich, located opposite 3L on Zastavskaya
Ulitsa, was also evacuated.

“As far as we know, the police, among others, contact the owners of the
venues and warn them about riots and put pressure on them, so that owners
pressure the venues that rent their rooms from them,” Anisimova said.

“Zona Deistviya [a co-working space at Loft Project Etagi] was shut down
altogether, so they create such conditions that nobody should work with us
at all. On Sept. 20 we held a closed, peaceful musical event without any
advertising at 3L and it still received a bomb threat, so even LGBT clubs
fear working with us under the circumstances.”

Parents’ Day, a meeting with parents of LGBT people scheduled to be held on
Monday, was also canceled “due to the inability to ensure the safety of
participants. We fear for our parents; if we can cope with the situation,
they don’t have such strong nerves,” Anisimova said.

Although Loft Project Etagi admitted reacting to a warning from the police,
in most cases it was difficult to find out from whom exactly the pressure
came, because the owners of the premises did not speak to the organizers
directly but instructed the management of the venues.

Anisimova said that the festival would hold some lectures and a conference
for a small number of people at places undisclosed for safety reasons,
broadcasting them on the Internet. The events on Friday and Saturday will
be public with announcements made on the festival’s website, assuming the
situation does not deteriorate further, she said.

The festival’s closing event, a concert called Stop Homophobia in St.
Petersburg featuring Swedish rock singer Jenny Wilson on Saturday, will be
held but the organizers may move it into another venue that is less likely
to be pressured by authorities and anti-gay activists — and would work on
safety measures with security and in cooperation with ombudsman Shishlov.

According to Anisimova, attacks and pressure on the venues came as a
surprise both to the organizers and the LGBT community.

“It was unexpected for me,” Anisimova said. “After the May 17 [the
International Day Against Homophobia] rally and some other events went
peacefully, it appeared that negative attention and homophobic aggression
toward us had subsided. Turns out it hasn’t.”

See www.queerfest.ru for updates.

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