Dear Igor, thank you very much for your availability! Please tell us something about your organisation. Where is the focus of your activities?
Hello! Thank you for the chance to tell about our work. The Russian LGBT Network is an interregional, non-governmental organisation working for equal rights, social acceptance and dignity independent from sexual orientation and gender identity by way of uniting and developing of regional initiatives, advocacy (among others at national and international levels) and providing social and judicial services.
What were you able to achieve since the foundation of the organisation?
Since the Russian LGBT Network took up its work, we achieved the acceptance of leading Russian human rights organisations who acknowledged the urgency to defend the rights of LGBT; we are in regular contact with representatives of the federal authorities (among others, with the Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation and the Presidential Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation); we carry out crime monitoring on grounds of hatred and discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity (SO and GI). We won judicial processes in connection with the right of LGBT to found their organisations, the rights of transgender persons, among others proceedings about the right to be parents, change of documents and names.
The network achieved that several measures for the elimination of SO and GO were included in the recommendations for Russia (UN Human Rights Council 2009, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women CEDAW at the Council of Europe, 2010, UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 2011) and initiated the submission of questions about the observation of LGBT rights in the contacts between the European Council, the European Union and Russia.
About 100 regional LGBT activists attend the seminars and trainings on strategy and policy of the LFBT movement and organisational management. We provide psychological counselling and judicial support for LGBT activists to register their NGO and defend of human rights activists.
From 2007 to 2012, there were 15 nationwide Russian information campaigns to support equal rights of LGBT. E.g. the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia from 2009 to 2011 with the participation of up to 1000 people in 40 Russian regions.
We have a hotline that can be reached toll-free from all over Russia. We provide qualified legal and psychological help. We publish quality material for legal and social questions for LGBT.
Over the last four years, we regularly organised seminars on the legal and social aspects of SO and GI for human rights activists, journalists, educational and medical workers, psychologists and politics. The seminars take place in the Russian regions as well as at a national level.
Sounds like a lot of work! What are the difficulties and problems you have to face?
The Russian government regularly obstructs human rights activities and educational work of non-governmental organisations who try to decrease the level of homophobia and transphobia in society. Territorial organs of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation practically implement denials of registration of social associations (non-governmental organisations) that were founded to defend the rights and legal interests of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. A conventional practice was the prohibition of public events (demonstrations, meetings, pickets) of the LGBT society. In some regions laws prohibiting the distribution of information on homosexualism have already been enacted. A number of politicians and public figures provide active support for comparable legal acts at the federal level. According to LGBT activists, the administration is also currently denying to participate in a dialogue on socially essential questions about the prevention of violence and the elimination of discrimination.
Are you in contact with representatives of the federal government?
We are in regular correspondence with the federal government about compliance with and defence of human rights. Their answers are usually formal. Our invitations to events are ignored. The only exceptions are the Russian Human Rights Commissioner and the chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Council, who we met personally.
Would you say that your work became more difficult over the last years?
Well, we haven’t had any difficulties (beyond the ones listed above).
How close is your cooperation with Russian and international NGOs? What would you like to achieve in this context?
We have close partnerships with Russian human rights organisations like the Moscow Helsinki Group, the International Human Rights Movement, Agora, the anti-discrimination centre "Memorial" and others. We exchange information and carry out joint projects. Among international organisations, we cooperate with EVZ, ILGA-Europe, Amnesty International, HRW, OSI and others.
As far as the acceptance of globalisation processes are concerned, representatives of the "Third Sector", like in Russia, are not fully aware of the direct consequences for them. In our opinion, no matter what the results are, our project-based cooperation and cooperation at the level of concrete events is crucial to develop longterm and midterm strategies about questions like the safety of NGO cooperation with the state and others.
Igor, the Russian LGBT network joined the Civil Forum EU-Russia only a couple of months ago. What was your motivation to take this step? How did you find out about the Forum?
Our partners, who are already partners to the Forum, invited us to participate. As already mentioned, we understand the urgency to integrate civic organisations and initiatives at the European level in particular. Furthermore, our organisation actively participates in the EU-Russia dialogue for human rights and is interested in an increase of influence on their non-governmental organisations. We hope that the Forum provides us the possibility to find mechanisms and forge coalitions not only, but also for this purpose.
Your organisation participates in the Forum’s General Assembly in Saint Petersburg in October. What do you expect from this meeting?
First of all we expect that participating in the General Assembly will give us the opportunity to get to know the Forum, its possibilities and experience. Furthermore, we hope to have a productive dialogue with established partners and to meet new partners from both Russia and the EU member states. We are ready to make our contribution and participate in the debate of the Assembly’s agenda.
Thank you very much, Igor! We are looking forward to seeing you in St. Petersburg!
Thank you, too.
Interview conducted by Polina Baigarova, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum