Shouting epithets like "Moscow isn't Sodom" and "Death to Gays," neo-Nazi, ultranationalist and religious fundamentalist counter-demonstrators in Moscow attacked gay rights activists Sunday who were seeking to deliver a protest letter to the mayor of the Russian capital. The mayor had rejected a petition to hold a gay-rights march in the city.
Skinheads, ultranationalists and fundamentalist members of the Russian Orthodox church have recently waged war on gay rights activists in the city, saying they would "clean" Moscow's streets of homosexuals.
On Sunday, though, they didn't have to -- police did the work for them, detaining a small group of gay rights activists that included Völker Beck, a member of the German parliament for the Green Party, and other high-profile European politicians -- allegedly for their own protection as skinheads began attacking them.
Beck and a delegation of European politicians were marching to Moscow's city hall to deliver a letter signed by 42 members of the European Parliament protesting Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's refusal to grant a permit for a gay rights march in the city for two years in a row. Luzhkov has denounced gay-rights parades as "satanic activity." But the parade earlier in May was meant to celebrate the 14th anniversary of formal Russian decriminalization of homosexuality.
Enter Beck. "We have to make it very clear to Russian politicians that the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is also a signatory, also applies to gays and lesbians," the German politician said Sunday.
It was the second time in a year that Beck had been temporarily detained by Russian authorities -- his first arrest came during a similar gay-rights protest in May 2006.
No Protection for Protesters
These demonstrations aren't popular in Russia. Religious fundamentalists marching against this year's event included a priest and other Orthodox church members dressed in black, wearing religious orders on their chests as well as heavy fighting boots. They carried crosses and icons and described their counter-demonstration as a battle between good and evil. "Those are degenerates, they're not even people," said Alexander, a religious fundamentalist taking part in the counterdemonstration. "They will only become humans again when they absolve themselves of their sins."
Beck and his fellow protesters -- a group estimated at less than 100, which included Richard Fairbrass of the British pop group Right Said Fred and the Russian pop group Tatu -- were beaten, pummelled by eggs and tomatoes. The activists were taken into what police said was protective custody, but observers said authorities took no action whatsover against the thugs, skinheads and Orthodox fundamentalists who repeated physical attacks from last year.
"The security forces haven't done anything to protect the activists and demonstrations," said Boris Dittrich, an observer from Human Rights Watch. "They allowed the different groups to mix and gave the impression that it was happening intentionally."
Russian gays have found prominent proponents for their cause in the form of two prominent national singers -- Julia Volkova and Elena Katina of the pop group Tatu. The duo grew famous with a string of pop hits earlier in the decade, and a suggestive onstage relationship -- which turned out to be fake. Fans were disappointed to learn they were straight, and now Volkova and Katina have tried to polish their image by supporting gays in Russia.
They briefly appeared at Sunday's demonstration but, according to the Associated Press, they left quickly after nationalists pummelled their car with eggs.