In Kemerovo, the local Side by Side coordinator was physically assaulted by two members of the far-right nationalist group Russian Patriot Club. In Novosibirsk, the festival was met by a mob of thirty nationalist youth gathered outside the screening hall, who harassed festival participants, and pursued taxis transporting festival organizers home, attempting to smash the rear windows. Police in both cities remained indifferent to the threats, urging organizers to cancel the festival, and failing to intervene or respond to the incidents of violence.??
Astraea stands in solidarity with Side by Side, our grantee partner since 2008, at this time of incredible violence. Founded in 2007, Side by Side uses film and media to promote dialogue, foster respect for LGBT human rights and bring about greater societal acceptance and inclusion of LGBT communities. In Russia, there has been renewed conservativist efforts in recent months to curb LGBT activism. A 2006 law prohibiting promotion of LGBT information and issues to minors in Ryazan was introduced and passed 3 new cities Archangelsk in September, 2011, Kostroma in February 2012, and most recently, in March 2012, in Saint Petersburg, where Side by Side is based. There is also an effort to pass a related federal law in Moscow, which would effectively criminalizes all public LGBT activities including demonstrations, speeches, film festivals, pride parades and other forms of public activism and cultural production. ??
The Astraea Foundation is concerned with the threats and violence experienced by Side by Side organizers this June, and condemns the negligent inaction of the police to provide them with support and investigation into the incidents. In solidarity with LGBTQI organizations throughout the country, we call for the repeal of anti-promotion of homosexuality laws that will only provide further state cover for such acts of homophobic aggression and violence. ??
Please read Side by Sides Press Release about the attacks below. And learn more about Side by Side and their Stop Homophobia campaign here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 16th, 2012
LGBT Film Festival Comes Up Against Aggression and Violence in Siberia.
For the third year running Saint Petersburg based human rights film festival Side by Side took to the road and brought LGBT cinema to Siberian audiences in the cities of Kemerovo, Novosibirsk and Tomsk between 1 11th June, 2012. With the exception of Tomsk where the festival went forward without problem in Kemerovo and Novosibirsk organizers came up against strong opposition from nationalist and religious extremist groups. The situation was further compounded by the impotence and unwillingness of local police who failed to act on complaints from festival organizers.
Kemerovo, 1-3 June, 2012
In the run up to the start of the festival organizers began to receive threats of physical violence and attack from a far-right group, the Russian Patriot Club, who are based in a nearby town Novokuznetsk. The group, having already threatened festival visitors at a Side by Side event in March earlier in the year, were reported and made known to the police. The police however failed to act on the information given, taking no measures at all against the group, following the March incident.
In the days before the start of the festival, fresh threats were sent by the group and organizers lodged new complaints with the police. Police officials began to back down on their initial promises to protect visitors from attack and the local Chief of Police of V Plakhotya began to actively persuade organizers to cancel the festival and in conversation in fact refused to provide necessary protection stating that he was not prepared to support the ideology of human rights.
Instead of preventing criminal activities of extremist organizations, whose members are well known, the authorities in Kemerovo consistently put pressure on the festival. Venues received letters and telephone calls from the administration “recommending” them not to hold the festival on their premises. Fear of the repercussions both venues pulled out two days prior to the start. In an attempt not to succumb to these forces Side by Side in these extreme conditions managed to hold on Sunday 3rd June a day of screenings and discussions. This however did not go without incident as local Side by Side coordinator was physically attacked by two members of the Russian Patriot Club in the city centre. The attack took place outside the local theatre where people had gathered in order to be taken by bus to an undisclosed location where screenings had been planned. Complaint of the attack was lodged with the police.
Novosibirsk, 5-7 June, 2012
On the second day of the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival in Novosibirsk organizers and audience came under serious threat from a homophobic mob of aggressive youths. The youths, numbering around 30 or so in total, had surrounded the shopping centre where the screening was taking place in a multiplex on the fourth floor of the building. Prior to the start, during and at the end of the event the youths gathered around the screening hall, shouting insults and it was clear from their discussions with each other and behavior that they were intent on violence.
Organizers of the festival complained multiple times to the police, who were in force but outside the building overseeing a picket in support of the homophobic law that has its second reading in the local Novosibirsk parliament today, 7th June, 2012. The youths, eventually on the request of the police, left the multiplex only to return however within minutes and again begin hassling organizers. This pattern was repeated throughout the entire period of the event. Failing entirely in their duties and the attempt to maintain effective public order and safety the threat of violence and danger to both audience members, volunteers and organizers was imminent.
At 21.00 when the screening came to end the mob of youths had gathered outside the building. Transportation was organized for both audience members and organizers. Security guards escorted visitors of the festival to their awaiting cars and taken away safely. Last to leave were the festival organizers. An attempt was made to smash the rear passenger window of the taxi. The youths had organized cars and a motorcycle to follow the organizers and police took no measures to stop their pursuit. It was only the high speed driving skills of the taxi driver that the organizers were able to escape without being followed.
In a conversation with festival director Gulya Sultanova, one of the police heads stated: “Why have you circulated information about your festival? I don’t plan to be here tomorrow and protect you.”
Police indifference and their lack of concern to protect peaceful, law abiding citizens from violent thugs forced the festival organizers to cancel the final day of screenings out of reasons of safety.
Tomsk, 8 – 10th June, 2012
The festival in Tomsk took place without problems. It opened successfully and well-known Moscow journalist from “Novaya Gazeta” Elena Kostyuchenko was in attendance. Together with other guests she took part in a discussion on LGBT censorship in Russian media held after the film homo@lv.
Tomsk proved to be a more tolerant city this year. In 2011 when there was the first attempt to hold the Side by Side Festival authorities banned the event placing threats on venues and forcing them to pull out.
Festival organizers Manny de Guerre and Gulya Sultanova: “When representatives of far-right groups dictate and set their own rules it becomes a very dangerous precedent for all. We will file a lawsuit for negligence and inaction of law enforcement agencies in Kemerovo and Novosibirsk and will do everything in our power to continue the work of the festival in these cities which are very much needed.”
Manny de Guerre
Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival