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Peter Tatchell in Moscow 2018

Peter Tatchell, the prominent campaigner for LGBTIQ+ rights, on the new crackdown in Russia

Last week, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the international LGBTIQ+ rights movement as „extremist.“ Peter Tatchell is a writer and prominent campaigner for LGBTIQ+ and human rights. Back in 2018, he was arrested by Moscow police after unfurling a poster critical of Vladimir Putin on Red Square. We spoke with him about these latest crackdowns on the LGBTQ+ community in Russia.

By Steve Crilley

Radio FM4: Outlawing the „international LGBTIQ+ movement“ in Russia, what was your reaction when this happened last week?

Peter Tatchell: Well, there’s no such thing as an LGBTIQ+ global movement. There are many disparate organizations around the world, but there’s no coherent central organized movement, so it’s a bit of a nonsense. Quite clearly this is part of the Russian state propaganda effort to demonize and delegitimize LGBTIQ+ campaigners inside Russia and of course allies beyond the Russian border. It is a part of the process of ratcheting up the internal repression against the LGBTIQ+ community, which includes a combination of ideological warfare in terms of public denunciations and attacks on same sex marriage. And then, of course, just recently the raids on bars, clubs and saunas. This is all part of the process by which Putin seems to be positioning the LGBTIQ+ community in Russia as the enemy within. He is seeking to scapegoat and demonize LGBTIQ+ people, which has some echoes of what the Nazis did against Jews and gay people in Germany in the 1930s. We hope it’s not going to get worse, but it certainly is getting more intense.

Radio FM4: Why do you think it is the LGBTIQ+ community, that Putin has set his sights on?

Peter Tatchell: Putin is in a very difficult situation. The war in Ukraine has not gone to plan. The economy is tanking, prices are rising and there’s a lot of economic stress for ordinary Russians. So Putin’s game plan is to deflect that public attention from those serious failings by his government onto a vulnerable, isolated, small minority who can be the focus of public anger and wrath. That’s his strategy and it has worked in the past in many other countries, not just against LGBTIQ+ people, but against racial and ethnic minorities. This is the well-known game plan of a dictator and tyrant.

Peter Tatchell mit blauem Auge in Moskau

Peter Tatchell in Moscow in 2018

Radio FM4: Are we likely to see an exodus of LGBTIQ+ people from Russia?

Peter Tatchell: Already we have seen more and more Russians fleeing abroad, partly because of the repression against LGBTIQ+ people, as well as the refusal of some Russians to serve in the military because they don’t want to be part of that war criminal regime. But it’s going to get much worse, there’s no doubt about it. I would be very surprised if this is the end of it. I think the raids (on Moscow bars at the weekend) are just the beginning. I think we’re probably going to see the closure of gay bars and clubs and increasingly attempts to hunt down, arrest and jail people who are not necessarily now, but who in the past have been part of the LGBTIQ+ movement.

Radio FM4: Have you heard from people in Russia how they are dealing with the situation?

Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell: The overall response is for people to put their heads down, to effectively go into hiding. Many people are removing their social media (profiles). Others have moved houses to a different location so that if the security forces have their old address, it won’t be so easy to find them. Others are very nervous about their jobs. That’s another potential line of attack, that the Russian state will (require from) employers that LGBTIQ+ people are either sacked or resigned. That is the kind of atmosphere and people are very frightened.

Radio FM4: Why do you think there seems to be such a determined opposition to the LGBTIQ+ community in Russia and many former communist countries in particular?

Peter Tatchell: Well, of course, with the fall of communism, there’s been a great revival of the Orthodox churches with a very homophobic and sexist agenda. And Putin has very much made it his strategy to ally with the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s basically a deal between the two of them. Putin will support the church if the church supports him. That’s the way it’s worked. So, you know, the great patriarch in Russia has backed the war in Ukraine 100%, (this is) exactly what Putin wanted. And now Putin is in part due to his own reasons, but also to satisfy the Russian Orthodox Church, cracking down on the LGBTIQ+ community.

Peter Tatchell is also the subject of a 2021 Netflix documentary „Hating Peter Tatchell“ - the story of his life as a human rights campaigner, whose acts of civil disobedience revolutionized attitudes to homosexuality.

Radio FM4: Is there anything that can be done from the outside or is this just something that the Russian LGBTIQ+ community will have to deal with and get through on its own?

Peter Tatchell: Sadly, very little could be done to defend the LGBTIQ+ community in Russia or indeed any other Russian who are under attack from the Putin regime. This is a police state, an extreme totalitarian regime where options for peaceful protest or freedom of expression are fast disappearing and are pretty much non-existent now. The only thing that other countries can do is to toughen sanctions on the ruling elite, on the political, religious, and military elite. Those instruments of the state that are behind this, those are the ones that need to be targeted. And particularly, in relation to the war in Ukraine, my view is that there needs to be a policy of total economic war on Russia to degrade its ability to fight (its) war (with Ukraine). And that would not only help defend Ukraine, but it would also help Russian civil society stay and survive.