Monday, May 18, 2009

A Fairytale of Moscow


HDEO's good mate Bob McKerrow posted on facebook the other day the well-worn but oft-neglected maxim of Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it".
 
Like Bob, we at Headdowneyesopen are inveterate breeders. Five kids and counting between us. As red-blooded as the next guys. And we feel the need to stand up and shout 'stop' for our friends and brothers who got beaten and arrested in Moscow over the weekend. Not that we, nor Bob, disapprove of what they were saying, just of how they were treated.
 
Using the special forces of OMON to "deal with" forty or so "gay activists" (why do they have to be activists, and how does the media know they were all actively gay anyway?) is a retrograde move. But it seems to work. Looking at the footage some of the few attendees were carrying flags from Belarus and Ukraine. Did Russian gays know better?
 
But come on. Breaking up a rally by a group of citizens who do no harm to anyone, who just want to be able to fully love whoever it is they happen to fall in love with is bad enough at the best of times, but sending in OMON was an over the top reaction from the authorities. At least there were no reports of serious injuries. Wow. Progress.
 
OMON, or Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznechenia is a special purpose police squad, whose motto is "we know no mercy and do not ask for any". They have done some wonderful work in their time, such as being instrumental in getting hostages out of the horrific theatre siege in 2003. They continue to protect Moscow from terrorist threats, and no one would dispute their effectiveness in this regard.
 
The gay and non-gay protesters who defied a ban on their march managed to do one thing - unite neo-nazis, ultra-nationalists and so-called Christian groups, as well as the city mayor who describes gay pride marches as "satanic". (Insert your own joke about horns here). Of course the BBC is accused of being a hotbed of homosexuality, but still, this Youtube report is a good piece of old-fashioned on-the-spot work.
 
The ultimate irony was, as winner Alexander Rybchak noted, that in Eurovision, Moscow was hosting "the biggest gay party in the world" and had lavished 24 million euro on a week of decadence, the like of which only Moscow knows how to do. Paul and I have both done long stints in the capital of "Asiopa"and can attest to the fact that the party scene in Moscow is wild, wild, wild. Gay, straight or whatever your having yourself.
 
But where, oh where was Graham Norton's outrage? Or the rest of the international glitterati and apparently Andrew Lloyd Weber thought the march had been broken up to stop traffic congestion.
 
Two anecdotes. A friend of mine was a tour guide in Moscow in Soviet times. One day, two young men Dutch tourists asked her if she knew any gay club in Moscow. Her reply came straight from the textbook: "Comrades! There are no sufferers from that disease in the Soviet Union, or if there are I've never met any."

"Well you just met two of them," giggled the lads.
 
Second. I had the good luck to attend the McCartney concert in Red Square (and was right at the front, ahead of the politicos who included President Putin). Macca  says "here's a song from Sergeant Peppers that no Beatle has ever performed live." Cue the wonderful fluttery mandolin that heralds "She's Leaving Home". Two men in their fifties next to me turned to one another, hugged, and tears spilled down their faces as they held each other. 
 
They survived the Soviet Union and it's ban on who they were, and heard their song played live, by the author, floating over Lenin's tomb on that balmy Moscow night.  
 
I'd say that was a pretty magical feeling. I hope they managed to avoid the batons on Saturday.

/JL

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