G20: St. Petersburg ‘From Russia With Love’ Action Marked by Police Intimidation

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Over the past 24 hours, there have been joint protest actions in at least 34 cities, in 21 countries, all calling attention to Russia’s recent wave of crackdowns on LGBTI and human rights organising, as the G20 summit proceeds in St. Petersburg. And, as Putin goes on record claiming that ‘we have absolutely normal relations’ (with LGBTI communities), activists report police intimidation as they attempted to carry out a peaceful ‘thankyou’ act, directed to those taking action internationally, in solidarity.

Photo: From Russia With Love Act in St. Petersburg, Russia, September 3
Barack Obama as well as David Cameron have already publicly committed to raise concerns with President Putin about Russia’s record on LGBTI rights, and Obama has agreed to meet with local Russian activists on Thursday or Friday.
In an interview with Associated Press broadcast Wednesday, Putin attempted to counter international concern about the situation for LGBTI communities in Russia.
“I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields,” Putin said.
“We have absolutely normal relations and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.”
Reports The Guardian, ‘He added that Russians loved Tchaikovsky even though the composer was said to have been homosexual. “Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music,” Putin said.’
Yet at the same time Russian activists report police intimidation.
As the G20 summit proceeds, activists in at least seven cities came together to send the message ‘From Russia With Love’ – a thank you message to all those taking action around the world in solidarity with Russian LGBTI communities – in the form of joint photo flashmobs. They were, however, subject to police intimidation as they attempted to carry out these actions.
Their media release, published today, now follows:
Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality
Post Event Press Release
4 September 2013
St. Petersburg, Russia
Police Turns a Friendly Photo Walk into a Public Action
On 3 September, the Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality, Russia, organized an acknowledgment action “From Russia with Love” to thank the global community for their support to the Russian LGBT people. The action in Russia was held at the same day with another international action of solidarity with Russia.
Recently, the world witnessed an unprecedented campaign of solidarity with the Russian LGBT people against homophobic policies of the Kremlin which are rolling down towards fascism. And yesterday, 3 September, there was another peak: a global action Speak Out For Russia was organized by a web portal ALL OUT in many cities around the world to bring attention of state leaders at the upcoming G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the ever increasing homophobic sentiments in Russia and to signing by Vladimir Putin of laws that limit human rights for LGBT people.
We, Russian LGBT people and their allies, would like to thank all the people around the world who support us and express their concern about the events in our country in hope of making a difference and pulling Russia out of a tightening medieval darkness.
To show that global support and solidarity are very important for all of us, we organized in response an acknowledgment action “From Russia with Love”.
LGBT activists and their allies from Russian cities of Arkhangelsk, Kazan, Moscow, Murmansk, Novosibirsk, Perm, Saratov, St. Petersburg, Togliatti, Ufa, Vladivostok, Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, and other places took part in the action.
In St. Petersburg, the event was planned as a friendly photo walk in the evening of 3 September. Around thirty Alliance members and other LGBT activists were going to make their photographs against the world-known landmarks of the city with posters in their hands saying in different languages “Thank you for your support and solidarity! From Russia with Love.”
However, the event took an unexpected turn. When the participants started arriving at the meeting place near the Bronze Horseman, an equestrian statue of Peter the Great, they saw they were being closely watched by the police (because of G20 the police forces have been reinforced in the city). As the number of the photo flashmob participants increased, so did that of police. The head of the city police’s public order department showed up there. Soon, the monument square was surrounded by policemen in plain clothes and several inmate transport vans had been moved there. Finally, a big police truck arrived and riot force lined the square in full alert.
Both sides were obviously stressed. To prevent misunderstanding, the flashmob participants explained the police that they gathered there not for a public action but in order to walk together and take pictures. This calmed the police and the riot force left the square. However, the event participants had been made clear that they could not use posters so after making some photographs without posters, they left for a more convenient and peaceful place. The police followed them. After reaching the St. Isaac’s Square the friends started making their photos with posters there. The police discouraged them first but after negotiations decided to treat the event as a public action and allowed the participants to make short “solo pickets” with posters in their hands. All the while the police were filming the event with their own camera and copied participants’ ID data. Finally, the flashmob participants left for the city’s main Palace Square and made a group photo there without any posters – again accompanied by the police.
“We did not plan this flashmob as an action to attract public attention. It was a friendly get-together to make a photo-shoot in the open. Our posters did not carry political information: we just wrote words of gratitude without even indicating to whom and for what: those who we are sending our smiles and thanks to, will understand it anyway,” – says Natalia Tsymbalova, the action organizer and coordinator of the Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality.
“Despite police’s nervous attention and a few attempts to disrupt us, we are glad that we were able to finish our action and send our friends abroad our deepest gratitude – this is the least we can do now. Thank you for your support and solidarity! Spasibo!”
Photos from the action see here:
St. Petersburg – http://on.fb.me/1dO2BGx
All Russian cities – http://vk.com/album-38905640_178973960

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