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GAY PRIDE & LIBERATION EVENTS

Moscow Pride 2009 SIDE-BAR:

From Depression to Elation

Return to the Country Hideaway Following the Protest

Saturday, May 16

GLN permalink posted May 18, 2009

As dusk fell on the Saturday night following our early afternoon protest, anxiety rose among us activists who were already out of jail and those who avoided jail due to legitimate fears of losing jobs, etc.

The overwhelming majority of our fellow activists were clearly being held beyond the official three hour detention limit for charges such as they faced. Worse, we got preliminary indications that certain people were being singled out for particularly harsh treatment.

Upon arrival at the police station, Moscow Gay Pride's foremost leader Nikolai Alekseev was sequestered away from all of us fellow protesters. While we were relatively comfortable together in a moderately large processing room, Nikolai was god knows where, in isolation from ourselves and the outside world. There are no gay activists in the United States who come anywhere near to Nikolai in his visibility to both gays and non-gays alike. In a country as repressive as Russia, that makes him a target. To say that we were increasingly worried is an understatement.

Then there were the Belorussian arrestees. A policeman told one of the Russian arrestees that the Belorussians probably would be deported. Now any experienced activist knows that policemen commonly lie, especially to those they have in their custody. Messing with people's minds is part of their all to common power-thirst. But credible or not, the threat of deportation of our friends into the waiting arms of a government far more repressive than Russia's sent chills up our spines.

Belorussia is ruled by a longtime tin-pot dictator well-practiced in the art of stealing elections and shutting down any independent institutions, be they media, NGOs or whatever. He makes George Bush look like an amateur, and the demeanor of his nasty police force makes ours look like Andy of Mayberry.

Our original post-protest plan for the evening was for all activists, after they got out of custody, to meet up near a particular subway station at 9 PM, and then make our way via coach back to our hideaway dacha in the Russian countryside. As the time drew near, we knew that only a smattering of us activists were out of jail, scattered about the city. We wondered if any rendezvous would take place at all, and our Russian friends considered calling the meeting off, except that the dacha was where all the out-of-towners were to stay the night anyway.

Worse, the entire Russian and Belorussian leaderships were in jail. Given the threats they faced, would it not make more sense to stay in the city with its access to the internet and try to call an emergency press conference to denounce the extended detentions for the following morning? In the end, the fact that so many were in jail and our communications thus nearly broken down, our Russian friends concluded that we had to go with the original plan and hope that the scattered groupings would make their way to the bus rendezvous in time.

In the end, Peter Tatchell and I, neither of whom speak Russian, met up late with only about six Russian-only speaking friends. By about 11 PM, there were only about ten of us at the bus rendezvous, none of us bilingual, and no one who had a firm idea of how to get back to the dacha. Peter and I only learned about the latter dilemma en route, as we observed a feverish debate among the Russian speakers concerning what turns the bus should make in the deserted Russian countryside. Our previously full coach now only had the small group of us huddled in the front – a depressing contrast to our triumphal journey to the dacha a few days earlier. After a few wrong turns down unmarked country lanes, we eventually stumbled upon the right one and grimly made our way on foot the last mile to the dacha (the road was so poor that the bus could not go down it).

Entry into the dacha was another depressing matter. Whereas previously it had bustled with the excited voices of dozens of young men and women, now it was just Peter, a small group of young Belorussians and me, and the dacha was frankly trashed after a few days of close-quarters living. Most of us had previously slept three or four people to a bed, and now we had the pick of the place, with garbage strewn about and floors in desperate need of sweeping and mopping.

Knowing we could do nothing to help our friends, even by way of emailing appeals for protest actions against Russian embassies and consulates which were closed for the weekend anyway, we decided that the least we could do is clean up the place so that whoever had put down the security deposit wouldn't be saddled with a huge fine.

With hand gestures for communication, we all pitched in glumly, glad that we were able to do something useful, however minor. But a few hours after the cleaning began, an odd mood swing took place among the Belorussians. Their cleaning, which on all of our parts had been desultory, suddenly took on a pitched energy. Moreover the kitchen was suddenly abuzz with vegetables being chopped and grains I didn't recognize being boiled. Our Belorussian friends kindly gestured to Peter and me to partake of the bounty as they finished each dish, but there was clearly something else going on.

Finally at 3 AM a very neat, long row of shot glasses was carefully lined up on a central table in the common room, plates carefully arranged, and a feast with the bowls of food put in the center. No more clues were necessary – a large group of the Belorussians had finally been released about an hour earlier and were making their way to the dacha! A few moments later the dacha was again alive with young voices speaking rapidly and unintelligibly to us! Our depression switched to elation, and we went to bed optimistic that the new day would bring more good news.

- Andy Thayer



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