Russian police, anti-gay activists seek to stop QueerFest

Polina Andrianova of the Russian LGBT group Coming Out reports on the increased harassment that LGBTI people are facing during the ongoing QueerFest celebrations in St. Petersburg:

QueerFest logo
QueerFest logo

The Russian LGBT festival QueerFest [International Queer Culture Festival], traditionally a space for celebration, this year resembles a battleground, with each day a fight for survival. 

Sept. 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 a member of the St. Petersburg ombudsman’s staff.

Sept. 19. The venue Etazhi, well known as a site for social events in St. Petersburg, cancels QueerFest’s events, including an event for Manifesta 10 [the European Biennial of Contemporary Art]. Organizers learn that Etazhi received a phone call from the police. Another venue, planned for the next day’s event, cancels the same evening.

Scene from QueerFest's independent music concert, before the bomb threat. (Photo courtesy of QueerFest via Facebook)
Scene from QueerFest’s independent music concert, before the bomb threat. (Photo courtesy of QueerFest via Facebook)

Sept. 20. The planned “Night of Independent Music,” which had been moved to a different venue, starts as planned, but mid-way receives a fake bomb threat.

Sept. 24. Police attempt to shut down a press conference on the theme “Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?” There is now concrete proof that it is police, not extremists, that are scaring the venues. The Institute of Regional Press, hosting the press conference, is pressured by police officials to cancel the event under the pretext that “violations of public order may ensue.” IRP becomes the first and only venue that resists the pressure, so the  media and the public learn what is occurring.

At this point, the organizers stop publishing the names of locations where the festival will be held; instead, the wider public is invited to view events online. Hundreds of people do so.

Polina Andrianova, one of the festival’s organizers, commented:

“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 protection, the police create a pretext to shut down events. Instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice, the authorities look the other way.

“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’s organizers ask partners to publicize the attacks on the festival and to take a firm stand against the unlawful actions used to foil the festival with the acquiescence of the authorities.

QueerFest’s organizers urge St. Petersburg authorities to:

  1.       Ensure that the attacks at the festival’s opening are properly investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice.
  2.       Ensure that the festival’s events can proceed with sufficient police protection.

The festival program for Sept. 18-28 can be found here. People can follow festival events online, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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