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Thursday, 30 September 2010

What if a Russian gay leader was kidnapped + nobody protested?

Photo of the arrest of Nikolai Alekseev at Mos...Image via Wikipedia 
By Paul Canning

Two weeks ago the leader of Russia's embattled LGBT movement Nikolai Alekseev was kidnapped for three days by unknown forces. He was interrogated and, he thinks, drugged and then dumped 100km from Moscow after being picked up with the connivance of Swiss Air Lines whilst trying to board a plane to Geneva.

Since then the French Foreign Minister and the German government have formally asked questions and, as Alekseev has requested, asked for an inquiry by the Russian government.

But other government's have either said nothing or refused to protest to the Russians. The latest being Canada. Xtra! documents how the Canadian government felt able to protest Uganda's 'Kill the gays' bill but not Alekseev's kidnap. Instead they are 'monitoring'.

LGBT Asylum News is aware that requests for a protest have gone from MPs to the British and Australian Foreign Ministries, whose Moscow embassies are also presumably 'monitoring' (the events have been big news there) but preferring to say nothing publicly.

The lack of interest in protesting Russia's repression of LGBT is not new. In June an appeal went out from Russian activists to support Moscow's gay pride march, banned and violently stopped for several years by the homophobic former Mayor, to European embassies. The EU and particular government's, such as the UK, has been proudly flying the rainbow flag in those Eastern European EU members like Bulgaria and Latvia who have either banned pride marches or otherwise not supported LGBT rights. But not in Moscow, no support shown there.

The United States too has shown no support. Several US Congresspeople, LGBT Asylum News is aware, have asked the State Department to take an interest but it hasn't made any statement. This, again, follows a pattern. Last year Hillary Clinton visited Moscow to unveil a statue of the gay American poet Walt Whitman. Activists appealed to her to use the opportunity to support LGBT rights in Russia. She didn't.

The organizers of St Petersburg Pride asked the US Consulate in St. Petersburg in July to help in advance of St. Petersburg Pride by screening a documentary, Beyond Gay, the Politics of Pride, which features the differences between several Gay Prides around the world, like New York, Vancouver, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Warsaw. The Americans refused, and the excuse was: “We cannot show a Canadian documentary in the US consulate.”

Clinton has spoken to US audiences about her support for LGBT rights internationally, as have EU Foreign Ministers - apparently this solidarity doesn't include Russia.

Interviewed by Doug Ireland in August, Alekseev said that Russia prior to 9/11 was often criticised internationally for human rights abuses but after, not so much: "You know, if tomorrow the Kremlin starts to put us in jail, do you think someone will care? Does someone care when human rights activists are arrested? Not anymore. They used to care," said Alekseev.
"Europeans have experienced the collateral damages of the fight between Russia and Ukraine on the issue of imported natural gas. When Russia switched off the gas to Ukraine, Western Europe started to be cold as well. The Europeans understand that they have limited margin of maneuver with Russia... Human rights activists in Russia are the hostages of this geopolitics. And I am including us in that pot."
Despite the lack of international support, Russia's gay activists fight on, arrests after arrests after arrests, and have just scored a significant victory.

For the first time the Moscow government has approved a protest. It's of Swiss Air Lines at Moscow's airport, calling for a boycott of the company which allowed Alekseev to be carted off by Russian security agents despite him past Russian customs at the terminal and legally in international territory. They also asked for a fee when he returned to retrieve the bag he thought stowed on the plane. He wants compensation and an apology.
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