What was the initial goal of your organisation Russian LGBT Network?
First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about our organisation. The Russian LGBT Network was founded as a human rights organisation in 2006. If I’m not mistaking, we became a member of the Forum in 2012. Why? Because both our organisation and the Forum have human rights as a main topic on our agenda. It’s an opportunity for us to find allies and like-minded people and work together for human rights to actually function in Russia.
On which projects is the LGBT Network currently working?
When we talk about the Russian LGBT Network, it can be difficult to formulate the agenda, since we have 27 participating organisations from 27 regions. Every organisation is unique, and each one has its own agenda. Generally speaking, we have many directions of work. One of our most important directions is advocacy work in the sphere of human rights. Despite of difficulties working both in the country and on the international level, we provide the LGBT community with various services, such as telephone hotlines, psychological support and legal assistance. We strive to find partners in various professional spheres in order to spread more information on who LGBT people are and what kind of legislative challenges their community faces in our country.
You said that you have 27 organisations all over Russia; you’re working a lot in the regions. Nowadays, the situation in Chechnya has been resonating the most and the Russian LGBT Network has been working on assisting LGBT people from Chechnya. That includes advocacy and other kinds of support. What are the developments on this case now?
The events in Chechnya actually started one and a half years ago. We worked in two directions from the very beginning. The first direction was simply saving people, saving the lives of those people who suffered in camps and among them their relatives, who were in danger. The second direction was of course working for such crimes to stop in that region. Even though we talk about so-called “waves,” it wouldn’t be true to say that violent threats against LGBT people ever ceased in Chechnya. They’re constantly there. In January, we learned that similar crimes are occurring again, that people are yet again being tortured, that there is even evidence of deaths. Very recently, we filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee on the need to investigate such crimes. I think that all of us know quite well that the region of Chechnya is denying such crimes, as is also the federal government, which tries to ignore such problems despite efforts from big international mechanisms. Many human rights organisations, including international organisations, repeatedly called for the need to investigate and combat those crimes.
An argument that is often heard in Russia and unfortunately also sometimes in EU countries, is that many people who are supposedly pretending to be LGBT people and activists are actually only wanting to gain a foothold in EU countries in order to move here. What’s your comment on this?
First, I want to say that people who are currently suffering in Chechnya, are not LGBT activists. In Chechnya, for very understandable reasons, there has practically never been any LGBT activism. People are extremely terrified. Sometimes they don’t even understand the term “LGBT”. And unfortunately, most often, when you ask someone if they’re gay or not, they will answer no, simply because they don’t understand what‘s really meant with that word. Therefore, when someone says that those people are activists, that’s not true. They’re ordinary people who are simply living there. And they’re the ones who are suffering. Not activists, not some people who are protesting against the regime or the authorities, but just normal, ordinary people.
Unfortunately, the wave that has again started in Chechnya, sparked a new portion of hate, among them towards your organisation and its director Igor Kochetkov. How can the international community and EU-Russia Civil Society Forum provide support in this situation?
There has always been hatred towards LGBT organisations. Program director Igor Kochetkov received direct threats through a video on YouTube. Of course, we’re all worried about his personal safety. And not only Igor’s safety, but the safety of all people who are in one way or another engaging in the group. What can be done? I think that the first thing people can do is to continuously monitor the situation. Always feel the pulse of the events. On this point, this is the most important task. I think that the Forum, as an international organisation, could appeal to the federal organs, although such attempts may seem elusive. Claim, insist that the crimes are combatted, that people who voice such threats are punished in accordance with Russian Federal law. We cannot allow those people to calmly receive our tax money and do whatever they want with it.
Thank you for the interview. Good luck with your activities.