Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Moscow cops take sides with Nazis

MOSCOW riot police arrested about 30 demonstrators commemorating the 14th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in Russia at the weekend. British gay rights activist and Green Party member Peter Tatchell and Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass were among about 100 protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in the Russian capital. They were attacked by a right-wing gang, who apparently enjoy impunity from police interference with their thuggery.

German MP Volker Beck and Italian MEP Marco Capatto were also arrested after being attacked.

The Independent reported: 'Nationalists chanted "death to homosexuals" while throwing kicks, punches and eggs at the protesters, who were trying to present a petition signed by 40 MEPs to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov asking him to lift the ban on the parade. The mayor has made openly homophobic remarks in the past, calling such marches "satanic".

'About 31 demonstrators were detained by police, although most were released by last night. Mr Fairbrass was left with a deep gash under his left eye and blood pouring down his face after receiving several blows to the head, while trying to speak to journalists. Peter Tatchell, co-founder of the direct-action gay rights group Outrage! and member of the Green Party, was also badly beaten before being arrested by riot police'.

Peter Tatchell used less mealy-mouthed words than "nationalists" to describe the black-shirted attackers: "We arrived at City Hall and were immediately surrounded by neo-Nazis, who began to crowd and infiltrate our group. The Moscow police and riot squad gave them a free hand to attack people. I was punched in the eye, pushed to the ground, and kicked all over my body by six people. The riot police then moved in and arrested me, allowing my attackers to go free."

Tatchell was in no doubt about the relationship he'd winessed between police and the street thugs: "There seemed to be a connivance between them. They only began arresting the neo-Nazis when it was clear that journalists had footage of the attacks."

Although the foreign demonstrators were later released without charge, three Russian gay activists appeared in court. Peter Tatchell, still recovering, said the Moscow police had "stood and watched" while far-right skinheads kicked him to the ground and punched him. "Even today I'm woozy. My eyesight is pretty poor. It's difficult to see clearly. " Comparing his experience with the beating he recieved from Robert Mugabe's thugs in 2001 he said he had registered a complaint with the police.,,2089964,00.html

It's possible to have doubts and misgivings sometimes about Peter Tatchell's choice of targets, tactics and timing, even when he is right in principle. Being inadequately aware of the wider political context he can find himself receiving "support" from people who, as he must know, really hated everything he stood for. The British government and media may currently have dubious motives of their own for highlighting anything that reflects badly on civil rights and enlightenment in Putin's Russia.

That said, Peter Tatchell and his fellow-protesters deserve credit for bravely standing up to reactionary forces in Russia to raise a genuine issue, and in doing so, exposing a related and at least equally serious concern. As a matter of fact, although Tatchell's presence ensured the media publicity he wanted for this Moscow protest, British political reaction so far has been muted, if not entirely silent.

In an unrelated incident a British diplomat has been beaten up by unknown assailants in Chita, Siberia, where he had been lecturing. This is the home of Mikhail Khordorkovsky, who was jailed for eight years for tax evasion and fraud, though some alleged this was really punishment for his role in funding opposition parties ahead of 2003 Duma elections. British embassy officials yesterday said there was no link between Mr Gould-Davies's trip and Khordorkovsky.

London's mayor Ken Livingstone wrote to Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, urging him to lift the ban on gay parades in the city that prompted Sunday's protest. He also called for all charges against the gay rights demonstrators to be dropped. "I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against and arrest of Peter Tatchell," Mr Livingstone wrote, adding that gay parades were now "the practice in most cities around the world".,,2090153,00.html

Right now the British government is in a poor position to go lecturing anybody about the arrest of peaceful demonstrators. Some friends of mine were arrested last year and charged under the "Serious Organised Crime" Act, for having demonstrated in Whitehall without adequate notice to police, over the Israeli raid on Jericho in which there was British connivance.

But the police conniving with fascist thuggery is another matter, and though in this case they may have been acting in accord with Moscow's mayor, the issue is wider than homophobia, bad as that is.

Eight people were murdered and over two dozen injured in fascist and racist attacks in Russian cities in April. Karen Abramyan, an Armenian, was stabbed to death in Moscow, on April 16, and the same day the body of a 26-year old Tadjik was found elsewhere in the city, with 35 stab wounds. Add them to the 20 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives to Nazi barbarism in World War II. But on the weekend of April 21-22, far Right groups were allowed to celebrate Hitler's birthday.

The Party for the Defence of the Russian Constitution invited members of the National Socialist Soviety and the Nazi combat group Format 18 to join it in a 250-strong demonstration in Moscow's Slavyanskaya Square, near Putin's offices, where police stood by as racist speeches were made. At another nationalist and racist rally on Pushkiskaya Square demonstrators raised fascist salutes, and called for a Moscow street to be renamed after the "Pskov Commandos" , who fought in Chechnya.
(Russia: Nazis celebrate Hitler's birth with violence and rallies, from Maria Rozalskaya for Antifa-Net in Moscow, Searchlight, June 2007)

The police detained one of the leaders at the second rally; after he had made an obscenity-filled speech attacking the police, reports Maria Rozalskaya.

If this is the best the police can do, when ethnic minorities and people standing up for their democratic rights are being attacked, it would not suprise me if left-wing and anti-fascist Russians set up their own defence squads to deal with the fascists.

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