Russian LGBT festival QueerFest, traditionally a space for celebration, this year resembles a battleground, with each day – a fight for survival.
September 18, QueerFest opening ceremony. Two hours before the event, main venue calls to cancel. Reason: "...compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance, which may result in its collapse." At the same time, all other events continue.
The new venue is attacked by 20 "orthodox activists" accompanied by Vitaly Milonov, insulting, spraying green liquid and unknown gaseous substance.
24 complaints were filed with the police, including one from the St. Petersburg ombudsman's staff member.
September 19. The venue "Etazhi", well reputable for its social projects in St. Petersburg, cancels QueerFest's events, including the event by "Manifesta 10", biennale hosted by St. Petersburg this year. Organizers learn that "Etazhi" received a phone call from the police. Another venue, planned for the next day's event, cancels the same evening.
September 20. The planned "Night of Independent Music", already having moved to a different venue, starts as planned, but mid-way receives a fake bomb threat.
September 24. The police attempts to shut down the press conference themed "Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?" There is now concrete proof that it is not the extremists that scare the venues but the police. Institute of Regional Press, hosting the press conference, is pressured by podpolkovnik and major of police to cancel the event under the pretext that "violations of public order may ensue". IRP becomes the first and only venue that stands up to the pressure, exposing it to the media and the public.
At this point, the organizers no longer openly publish festival venues, instead inviting the wider public to view the event through the online feed, already viewed by hundreds of people.
"In the six years of organizing the festival, there has never been such a consistent and organized attack on our freedom of assembly and expression. Instead of ensuring public order by providing protections, the police use it as a pretext to pressure the venues to shut down the event. Instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice, the authorities look the other way," say the festival organizers. "Every means is used to push us into the "ghetto." Yet, the festival is about dialogue and being open in society, and our best defense right now is to stay visible."
"QueerFest", the queer pride event of Russia, opened today in St. Petersburg with a bang. Over 160 people made it, despite the last minute change of venues, attacks by provocateurs, and insults by the usual guest – Vitaly Milonov.
Yesterday, the organizers learned of the planned actions to foil the event by infamous homophobic activists, some of them, such as Enteo and the crew, coming especially for the festival from Moscow.
The police and the ombudsman for human rights of St. Petersburg were alerted.
Today started with a call from the main venue, receiving threats. 1,5 hours before the festival was scheduled to open, the owner of the building (same building that hosts "Manifesta 10" biennale headquarters) informed us through his representative that our contract was annulled. Reason given "compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance into the building, which may result in its collapse". Needless to say, this public threat did not impede all other events in the building to proceed as planned.
Volunteers of the festival moved the exhibition and equipment to a new venue in under 1 hour.
The ceremony was a success. While QueerFest's security barricaded the door from Vitaly Milonov and his friends, who proceeded to insult and push guests, representatives of human rights organizations and European and the US diplomatic missions in St. Petersburg spoke of the importance of respect for human rights and non-violence.
About 20 hooligans sprayed guests with green substance and some sort of stinky gas. At one point, two foreign guests were being pulled into the venue by the security while being pulled out by their feet by the perpetrators.
The police, who carried themselves professionally, were taking numerous statements by the victims, while St. Petersburg ombudsman urged more people to document violations.
Unfortunately, the second venue also ceded to pressures, and most events are now homeless. But the organizers remain optimistic.
"We feel exhausted and exhilarated. Thanks to the work of 40 volunteers, partners, and random kindness by strangers and by passers, our event was a success. People - their rights - but also their light and kindness, is what our festival is all about. And there are more of them around us every day. That is why we will prevail", says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers.
The organizers thank all partners, friends, volunteers, colleagues, and participants for today's support.
The time has come for the sixth international queer pride festival of Russia, "QueerFest 2014". This year, "QueerFest" is going back to its original slogan – the Art of Being Yourself – as it is truly becoming an art to be proud and openly express your identity in Russia.
Taking place September 18-27 in St. Petersburg, "QueerFest", one of the largest public LGBT events in Russia, celebrates its sixth year in the context of increasing pressures on civil society and the LGBT community. In view of ever diminishing spaces for freedoms, "QueerFest" becomes an island for safety and self-expression for many.
This year, the audiences will discuss how tolerance can be taught to kids, and will make an excursion into early Soviet homosexual subculture of Petrograd. Special guests of the festival – Manifesta 10 Biennale exhibiting this fall in St. Petersburg – will join us in discussions on queer art, and the interrelation between art, society and politics. Audiences will enjoy dance performances and photo exhibitions. Traditionally, the festival will be closed with a concert against homophobia, this year headlined by the Swedish singer Jenny Wilson.
As always, complications are to be expected. "We expect bomb threats, visits from extreme right group members and orthodox activists, "provocations" with minors, and harassment of the organization. Threats already fill the internet. And yet, it feels that we've already succeeded, as the spirit of celebration and pride is in the air and will be with us these ten days. Everything is so gloomy throughout the year, it feels good to set aside a time when the LGBT community, our supporters and allies, can join together to openly and publicly celebrate our work, our identities, and our lives!" says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers.