Moscow Defies EU Court, Bans 2011 Pride

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 18, 2011

Moscow has directly defied a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in banning a planned Pride celebration in the city. Moreover, Moscow authorities announced the ban on May 17--the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), reported UK Gay News.

The ban was a double slap in the face for GLBT Muscovites, given not only the date of its announcement, but also the fact that only a few weeks ago Moscow city officials had given the green light to the event--a first for the former capitol of the Soviet Union.

What is more, the ban seems to be illegal, since it defies a European Union court ruling from last October 21 that required Russia to "ensure gay parades are freely held in its cities, and requires the country to pay organizers of gay pride events euro29,510 ($41,300) for damages and court costs stemming from bans from 2006 to 2008," an Oct. 21, 2010, Associated Press article reported. "The court is an arm of the Council of Europe, the continent's premier human rights watchdog and Russia is a member," added the article.

The ruling came only a few weeks after Moscow's former mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, was fired for, among other things, refusing to allow GLBTs to celebrate Pride.

Under Luzhkov--who compared gays to the devil--equality advocates who defied the mayor and attempted Pride demonstrations were subject to arrest. This year, for the first time, the city government had been prepared to allow a Pride gathering, according to an announcement last month by activist Nikolay Alexeyev.

"The Moscow government told the Moscow gay pride parade organizers... that the Moscow authorities have authorized a gay pride parade in Moscow," said Alexeyev last April 26.

The equality activist has butted heads with Russian officials for years over the issue. On Sept. 15, 2010, Alexeyev was arrested before he could board a flight to Geneva. Alexeyev had planned to picket Luzhkov, and had filed suit against the Moscow government over the issue of obtaining permission for Pride events.

Earlier that year, Alexeyev told the world media that the city's refusal--for the fifth year in a row--wouldn't stop organizers.

"Despite the requirements of the relevant legislation the Moscow government has not offered the organizers any alternatives for holding the planned event," Alexeyev said. "The action will be held anyway. Gay activists have held unauthorized rallies every year, being beaten and detained by police."

Alexeyev's profile has only risen lately, following the EU court's decision and Luzhkov's firing. The rights activist embarked on a series of speaking engagements around the United States last month.

"Whatever happens here on human rights can be heard in Moscow, and it's the same when it happens in Moscow--it can be heard all over the world," the equality campaigner told American audiences.

"It was a major blow for the Russian government because it was the first-ever defeat at the European Court of Human Rights for the Russian government," Alexeyev remarked regarding the victory in the European Union courts. "And it shows there are violations of the rights of LGBT people, which is contrary to what the government always claimed."

But the city's officials rescinded that permission, citing anti-gay protests and what the city's deputy mayor, Ludmila Shvetsova, said was "the impossibility to provide security" for the event, UK Gay News said. The news prompted a denunciation from Alexeyev.

"Today, we realized that former homophobic Mayor Luzhkov has a successor at the City Hall," the equality campaigner said.

"The reasons for banning the Moscow Pride this year are exactly the same reasons used in the past years--and for which the European Court of Human Rights judged against Russia for violating the European Convention on Human Rights," Alexeyev told the media. "Russia has decided to mark the Day Against Homophobia by showing, once again, its homophobic policy towards its LGBT citizens."

Alexeyev went on to say that he would appeal to the president of the country himself to obtain permission for a Pride event.

"We will apply today to President Dmitri Medvedev for permission to hold our Gay Pride March next to Kremlin, an area which is solely within his jurisdiction," the equality activist declared, adding, "The ban does not change anything to our intention to hold our rally as planned." The rally has been billed as a cultural event under the name "Moscow Gay Pride Parade: Homosexuality in the History of World Culture and Civilization." The event was to have been limited to 500 participants.

"The purpose of the rally will be to provide society with objective information on the history of the attitude towards homosexuality in culture and science, on the contribution made by prominent gay people to culture and art, and role of prominent culture figures and artists in the protection of the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals," Alexeyev said in a statement last month.

Alexeyev himself came in for scrutiny and criticism when, just prior to his U.S. tour, his scheduled appearance in California was canceled following the activist having posted anti-Semitic comments.

Alexeyev, in his turn, accused American activists of pressuring him and making him for miserable than he had been during his arrest the previous September.

The GLBT equality campaigner insists that the rally is still scheduled for May 28 and will take place in Bolotnaya Square.

GLBT equality activists have been at work in many of the nations formerly belonging to the Soviet bloc. But progress has been piecemeal; though Pride celebrations are becoming more commonplace in nations where they were never allowed before, or where they drew heavy and even violent opposition, legal impediments to GLBT equality persist.

One notable anti-gay legal development took place last month, when Hungarian lawmakers enacted a new national constitution that included a heterosexuals-only provision for marriage, denying gay and lesbian families recognition.

Same-sex couples may, however, register as domestic partners in Hungary.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.