Rights for all https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/21859/all cached version 04/07/2018 13:44:08 en “We have plenty of reasons to protest apart from Platon” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/russia-truck-driver-protest <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Still angry at a new road tax collection system, Russia’s truck drivers have now been forced to register as a “foreign agent”. So they’re going on strike, again. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/u-nas-i-bez-platona-mnogo-prichin-protestovat" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3169-002_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3169-002_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mikhail Kurbatov. Photo: Yulia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russia’s truck drivers have been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-ovchinnikov/voice-from-russias-truckers-protest">battling against a new road toll system</a> for more than two years now — with varying degree of success. The independent Union of Truck Operators of Russia (OPR) has become the backbone of this protest, and was formed specifically in response to a new road tax introduced in 2015 and its electronic collection system. The union now has more than 500 members, with 7,000 supporters regularly donating money. In December, OPR was <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3485934">forced to register</a> with the Ministry of Justice as a “foreign agent”. The truck drivers decided to respond with a ten-day national strike.</p><p dir="ltr">With kickoff fast approaching, Mikhail Kurbatov, a long-haul truck driver from Nizhny Novgorod and one of the union’s founders, told oDR about how law enforcement is trying to scare truckers off, why truck drivers aren’t ready to accept the regulations around road tax collection — and how they plan to ban to get rid of the Platon system entirely.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why did long-haul truck drivers started to protest?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mikhail Kurbatov:</strong> It all started when the Platon electronic tax collection system [ETC] was put into operation in 2015. Platon ETC is a specialised heavy truck tolling system: the driver must register with it and then install a cabin-mounted device that calculates the distance the truck travels and the amount of toll to be paid. Currently the toll size is one rouble 91 kopecks per kilometer. The initial fine for non-compliance is 400,000 roubles (£5,000) increasing up 1,000,000 roubles (£12,600) for the second offence. </p><p>Protests against Platon ETC have built up gradually. Many truck drivers were scared by the fines and registered with the ETC because they had to. The system was put into operation, but it didn’t kick in instantly. It was a nailbiter: the prospect of getting fined mean that everybody was unable to work. All this jump started the first protest on 11 December.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many truck drivers came forward, but the authorities responded with force: all the highways were watched by the cops and every truck was pulled over</p><p dir="ltr">We called this campaign “The Snail”: the idea was to drive our trucks at five kilometres per hour and block up the federal highways. At the time I was in Tyumen region taking part in the protest action. Cops arrested everybody at the head of the truck column. But the action brought zero results: the government simply ignored us.</p><p><iframe allow="encrypted-media" gesture="media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gelxWOhL5N8" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>"Platon doesn't only rob truck drivers, it robs the whole population of the Russian Federation" - Alexander Kotov in December 2015. Source: Youtube / Novaya Gazeta.</em></p><p dir="ltr">In response, Alexander Kotov, who at that moment was the leader of the <a href="http://www.mpvp.ru/">Inter-Regional Trade Union of Professional Drivers</a> (MPVP), recorded a video and posted it on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gelxWOhL5N8">YouTube</a>. He called on other truck drivers to self-organise and drive towards Moscow to demand negotiations with the government and, ideally, rescind the Platon ETC. A similar video was posted by Andrey Bazhutin, one of the key players in our protests. He was a regular truck driver and got elected as the leader of the protest campaign in St Petersburg. Later, in April 2016, Bazhutin was elected as the Chairperson of the Union of Truck Operators.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did truck drivers respond to these YouTube videos?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Many truck drivers came forward, but the authorities responded with force: all the highways were watched by the cops and every truck was pulled over. A highway patrol officer would produce a paper for the driver to fill out, specifying his name, license plate and ID number. The driver would have to confirm it by signing a statement saying “I refuse to take part in the protest action and the law has been explained to me.” I told the cops this was illegal and wouldn’t sign any papers. They tried to push the paper into my cabin, took my ID and recorded my personal data. Moral pressure, basically.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_2970_Fotor_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="369" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Who allowed Rotenberg to rob us on the road?" - this sticker referers to the fact the company that operates Plato, RT-Invest Transport Systems, is part-owned by Igor Rotenberg, the son of Arkady Rotenberg, a close Putin associate. (c) Natalya Shkurenok. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Still, we all managed to get together outside of Moscow. Two camps were set up: in the town of Khimki and on the 91st km of the Moscow Ring Highway. I was in Khimki with my truck and 50 more vehicles, half of them trucks. We were perfect strangers — people came from as far as Arkhangelsk and Vologda, everybody was outraged and ready to stand their ground. There were so few of us at this protest, because the government kept us from organising and getting together. I think Moscow would have come to a standstill if all the protesting truckers had surrounded it.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We realised we needed an organisation. But we were total rookies, nobody had any hands-on experience in public activism</p><p dir="ltr">When Kotov noticed how few of us had showed up, he said: “Let’s call it a day and just go home.” The response was: “No, we won’t back out. We are here, we’ll stay here and we’ll carry on.” That was the moment when Andrey Bazhutin said: “You’re destroying the protest, look how many people support you!”</p><p dir="ltr">The leader we all had been counting on just wimped out. We had to decide who was going to stay committed and keep on setting up small protesters’ truck camps. These camps were springing up both in the Moscow area and across the whole country!</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So, what did you decide to do next?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> We went out searching for a registered non-profit that could file requests to officially negotiate with authorities. Eventually, we got in touch with <a href="http://www.dalnoboi.ru/associacia">Dalnoboyshchik</a> [Long Haul Trucker] Association that existed at the time alongside TUPD, Kotov’s organisation. We went to see and meet Valery Voytko, their representative. At the meeting he said: “I haven’t got the slightest interest in what you have to offer. But in case it’s me who you need, okay, I’ll listen.” Everybody was so pissed off! You have people coming to join forces with you, and he acts as if he’s some kind of big shot.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3217-020_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3217-020_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Yulia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>We had no leader and it was high time we elected one. We drove out to the protest camp in Khimki, got together in a café. After talking, we decided that our best candidate was Andrey Bazhutin, who knows how to articulate ideas, listen to people and express their interests. He became the leader of our protest movement.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What movement? You didn’t have one then – you were just organising yourselves.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK: </strong>Absolutely! We realised we needed an organisation. But we were total rookies, nobody had any hands-on experience in public activism.</p><p dir="ltr">We decided we wanted to establish something similar to regional unions — these would join the nation-wide organisation, which in its turn will interact with the government. Lawyers, however, advised us to set up an NGO that can exercise the full power of public control.</p><p dir="ltr">During the inauguration meeting we agreed to start a nation-wide organisation. We called ourselves the <a href="https://opr.com.ru/">Union of Truck Operators of Russia</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are you implying there's no hierarchy in your organization?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Let me explain how it works. The Chairperson does not make decisions. The Board does not make decisions, it only approves them. Any member of the organisation has the right to bring up a proposal. If the proposal makes sense and has a potential benefit for the entire organisation — it is submitted to the Board for consideration and then voted. In case the proposal might involve some critical outcomes — it must be discussed with organisation members. Regional coordinators pass the proposal over to regional boards and the latter get feedback from local members. The regional coordinator then comes back to the Board and articulates the decision that was voted at a regional level. It’s a 100% flat organisation, 100% democracy.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How many regions does your organisation incorporate now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> <a href="https://opr.com.ru/regiony/?">Forty five regions</a> are affiliated with the union, it’s hard to give a more accurate estimate. It’s a young organisation. We’re evolving through trial and error. When somebody is unhappy with something — he simply walks away. I think that the chart of increase and decrease in organisational membership closely resembles a birth and mortality rate chart.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It’s a young organisation. We’re evolving through trial and error</p><p dir="ltr">When were on strike from 27 March through to mid June this year, we had a flurry of applications for membership. Regional coordinators just weren't fast enough to process applications. Many truckers even got pissed off at us: “What kind of organisation is this?!” But our coordinators truck drivers just the same as them, not public activists or management experts.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How does someone apply for membership?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> We have a feedback form posted on our website. The regional coordinator will call the applicant after the latter fills out the online application. We proceed with a phone interview: it’s person-to-person, very low profile, we ask simple questions and try to understand motivation behind the decision. Some people say: “Help me find a job.” These are not our people, we aren’t a recruitment agency.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/H5OBLHn61GA.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/H5OBLHn61GA.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The OPR column at the May Day demonstration in St. Petersburg. Source: OPR.</span></span></span>Human motivation is what matters most. If a person understands what we are fighting for and wants to join us — we then send him a membership form.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Am I correct in assuming that Platon ETC served as the catalyst for the formation of the organisation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> For the most part, yes. That was the trigger, the last straw. But we had our share of trouble prior to that. The thing is, all our disgruntled truckers were classic “couch activists”. We communicate through a dedicated radio channel and everybody keeps airing their grievances. We have plenty of reasons to protest apart from the Platon system.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has announced on TV that more than 900,000 individuals had already registered with Platon ETC. Does it mean that not everyone opposes it?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> We work the trucking routes, we talk on the radio, and we know that the majority of truck drivers were forced to register, that they are afraid of getting fined. I, for one, have never registered with Platon ETC.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Could you explain in layman's terms how much money Platon ETC is supposed to toll and where does this money go to?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> A cargo truck has an average mileage of 100,000 km a year. The official number of drivers registered with the system (900,000) must generate 177.3 billion roubles annually. However, statistics say that the system has tolled little over 37 billion roubles in two years. Because nobody pays. Truckers switch on the toll transponder only when they drive past a toll booth, since they don’t want to get fined. But they are unwilling to pay the toll nevertheless.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We see this as the destruction of the private trucking industry market and its subsequent monopolisation. Private shops and stores have been almost completely wiped out by supermarket chains</p><p dir="ltr">The government gave assurances that 10 billion roubles will be spent to pay off federal loans for highway construction. Additional 10 billion will be paid to Platon’s owner under the concession agreement. The rest of the funds will allegedly be spent on highway renovation and maintenance.</p><p dir="ltr">The government <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2016/11/16/665100-platon-sobral">report</a> says that 16 billion roubles were spent on highway-over crossings, regional and inner-city highways. Another 10.6 billion roubles were paid to the concession holder for ETC maintenance. In other words, Platon ETC tolls generated 22 billion roubles and expended 26 billion for its own maintenance. It looks like the federal budget has even sustained losses: 3.5 billion roubles of taxpayers’ money to be precise.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What other issues do long haul truckers face?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK: </strong>Fuel taxes are the scam of the century, the government pulled this off in a blink of an eye and everybody just ate it up. It made sense, when fuel taxes were imposed: why would a cab driver pay the same tax as a retired senior who drives to his country house once a week? All car owners had to pay the same transportation tax that was scheduled to be substituted by excise duties which would be used to top up the federal highway trust fund and highway repair and renovation. Everybody endorsed the idea. The fuel tax was imposed… However, the legislators said that they couldn’t lift the transportation tax since it was the source of budget funds for regional highway renovation!</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Political parties in Russia are not meant to articulate somebody’s problems, they are a means to blow off steam</p><p dir="ltr">As a result, all car owners are currently bear the full brunt of a double tax burden! And the fuel tax keeps growing. The fuel price has doubled since 2012. We used to pay 17-18 roubles per litre, now we pay 36 roubles. </p><p><strong>The transportation tax, the diesel excise duty, and then the Platon system…</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Don’t forget the tax on self-employment.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It looks like soon you will have very little incentive to work</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> It’s going in that direction! We see this as the destruction of the private trucking industry market and its subsequent monopolisation. Private shops and stores have been almost completely wiped out by supermarket chains. Now they are bearing down on us. Soon the market will be owned by large cargo transport companies. Poke around and you'll find that the majority of them are tied in with the government. Everybody knows that.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are you ready go political as an organisation? Does it make sense to seek support from the politicians to be more effective in problem solving?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> The Union’s underlying principle excludes support for any political party. We distance ourselves from any joint actions. All these political organisations are horses of the same color. You bet on a chestnut horse, I bet on a black one — it doesn’t matter, because it still the horse owner who gets the profit.</p><p dir="ltr">Political parties in Russia are not meant to articulate somebody’s problems, they are a means to blow off steam. If you find yourself in trouble, you go and seek comfort with your Mom, because you know you’ll get a pat on the back, while your Dad will just say: “You had that coming.” You get your pat, you feel good, but that’s it. The problem is still there. Political parties offer the same “pats on the back” intended to make you feel okay and spill it all out. But they never solve problems.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/yrL3siUkBOk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"I'm also a trucker!" reads this sign as part of a flashmob earlier this year to support Russian truckers' protest. Source: VK. </span></span></span>On the other hand, I can’t say we shy away from politics. Each Union member has his or her political preferences, we just aren't vocal about them, so that we don’t fight each other.</p><p><strong>What are you planning for the future?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK: </strong>Very few members of our union have registered with Platon ETC. We have drivers with toll transponders installed in Trans-Baikal, Irkutsk region and Buryatia — they truck cargo to China. Technical inspectors check their devices and can stop them from crossing the border if the transponder is not installed. But nobody pays the toll, the transponder simply hangs there on the windshield like a soapbox. We are not fighting to decrease the Platon toll rate, we strive to ban it completely.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Could you tell us about any upcoming action?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> We plan to go on strike 15-25 December in all locations where the Union has its chapters. Truckers will drive out and set up truck camps with banners and posters. Our goal is to block traffic. We have been forced to register as a foreign agent with the Ministry of Justice starting 1 December. So, we had to reschedule our actions. We also intend to start monitoring the activities of Federal Transportation Inspection Service [Rostransnadzor]. Our lawyers have been training public oversight groups for a whole month now.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Have you thought of setting up a mutual aid fund to help pay fines for those truckers who got levied?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Sure, we have plans to set up a mutual aid fund, but currently it's not that easy. We are constantly involved in some sort of long-term protest actions and many truckers face serious financial challenges. We can’t even dream of collecting regular membership fees, some truckers spend their entire income on making ends meet and paying off debts. Sometimes we do fundraising campaigns when somebody needs direct financial support. We put the word out and the truckers help fundraise on a voluntary basis, donating whatever they can. We have bank account details posted on our website, some truckers transfer money this way.</p><p dir="ltr">However, we haven’t had a single case of support request to pay off a Platon ETC fine – each case is appealed with the court.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You said you are not ready to partner up with political parties. What about grassroots organisations?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Yes, we do collaborate with grassroots movements. The <a href="https://ndza.ru/">People's Movement for Housing Justice</a> is one of them.</p><p dir="ltr">We helped <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/traktory-osadyat">tractor operators</a> who had planned a march on Moscow. They contacted us and asked for help, we dispatched some truckers to Rostov-on-Don to work out a joint strategy. But everyone got busted by the police not far from Rostov. I went there and we spent two weeks in Rostov trying to get everybody out of jail. We tried reaching out to the <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2016/10/12/gukovo-coal-miners-back-wages-official-disinformation-picket-king-coal/">Gukovo coalminers</a> near Rostov, but they seem to avoid us like the plague. They are so full with “Putin, help us!” crap, still believe that the President is kept in the dark and will come to their aid as soon as he learns the truth. They turned out to be not ready for direct action.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3180-008_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3180-008_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Yulia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>We helped <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/open-conflict-over-building-church-in-park/av-37442637">Torfyanka</a> and <a href="https://therussianreader.com/tag/dubki-park/">Dubki</a> city park defenders and drove out to join their rally. We are open to anybody who supports freedom, equality and justice — we’re going in their direction. Our motto is ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that the truckers’ protests can transform into a general protest around social concerns?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> This is something we've been saying since our first protests kicked off. Somehow, we still can’t find ways to reach common ground with others and form a nation-wide movement. Each organisation leader has his or her own view of things, unique understanding of issues. Every now and then we join forces for one-time actions, but our society is still very segmented and I find it hard to convince other people. Currently, I see no future for any kind of unification.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Russia social activists often find themselves bullied and under pressure.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> Child protection services tried to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYvaXKEmT9I">take Andrey Bazhutin’s children away</a> before the kickoff of the March 27 strike. Before that, cops suspended his driver's license during one of our protest actions.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">People used to feel compassion and care for each other. These days, other people’s tragedies are disregarded and shoved away. You’re okay if your fridge is full</p><p dir="ltr">The law says that Andrey had time to appeal this decision with the court. Despite all this he got pulled over on the highway, arrested, and had his driver’s license confiscated. His wife was pregnant at the moment and on bedrest. They have four kids. Child protection services were instantly at their residence claiming that the children had been left unattended. We kicked up a fuss and the media helped brush them away. Publicity scared them off. The next day Andrey was free. This was an attempt to cut the head off our organisation. The government simply doesn’t understand that it’s the Board of regional coordinators that’s at the head of the organisation. They will never stop us by getting rid of one person.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How does your family react to your new role?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> My work as a social activist eats up a lot of time. I am truck driver, this means I am away from my family most of the time one way or another. Some truckers end up getting divorced, but these are isolated incidents. Basically, our wives support what we do and are proud of us. In some regions truckers’ wives got into the act themselves. We constantly miss important deadlines and they help us perform mundane tasks, like posting stuff on the website.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think the rest of the population supports you?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MK:</strong> I believe everybody can understand our sentiment. But they are too scared and unwilling to get proactive. Even my closest friends prefer to live by “keep a low profile while you’re okay” rule.</p><p dir="ltr">My estimate is that roughly 20% of the population are ready to support us, the rest are fine to stay passive. They are afraid their action could provoke another Maidan. Television actively forms public opinion. Society has practically lost the very notions of solidarity and humanism. People used to feel compassion and care for each other. These days, other people’s tragedies are disregarded and shoved away. You’re okay if your fridge is stacked. You couldn’t care less about your neighbour.</p><p dir="ltr">We try to address this issue as well, talking and listening to common people. And you know, it works. When we go on strike — people show sympathy and come to our protest camps with food and water. This gives us hope that our society is not doomed.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This interview is part of our series on Russia's civic activists. Check out this <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/igor-yasin-lgbt">interview</a> with Igor Yasin on freedom of assembly, the horror of Chechnya's LGBT crackdown and why framing LGBT rights in the right way is half the battle (the other half is regime interference).&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-ovsyannikova/moscow-s-authoritarian-future">Moscow’s authoritarian future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">Dagestan&#039;s long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-ovchinnikov/voice-from-russias-truckers-protest">A voice from Russia&#039;s truckers&#039; protest</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Fomina Rights for all Russia Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:24:27 +0000 Ekaterina Fomina 115317 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Death by disdain: the fate of drug users in Russian-occupied territories https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/crimea-ukraine-drug-users-fate <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With replacement therapy now illegal, drug users in Russian-occupied Crimea and the self-proclaimed republics of the Donbas are finding it hard to survive. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/sindrom-otmeny" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_14993324_1231446496930310_5312714796326658744_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_14993324_1231446496930310_5312714796326658744_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="446" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yevgeny Selin. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>In 2014, Donetsk native Yevgeny Selin had his own business, a car and an apartment he bought with his own money. Besides work, Selin was involved in civil society, fighting for the rights of addicts, and was in contact with representatives of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health.</p><p dir="ltr">As Yevgeny recalls, his life had been very different just a few years prior. “There were good times and bad times, but mostly it was bad times. I was totally addicted to heroin — I started using when I was around 13 or 14. When we were boys we used to look for or steal poppies in other people’s gardens, this was in the Oryol region, where I used to live, poppies grow everywhere. It was harder in the winter, you had to steal more. Then I moved to Ukraine and started taking crystal meth. When you’re using, you’re always either looking for money or drugs. Or you’re doing the drugs — you do them and go to sleep. And that’s your life.”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2008, Yevgeny’s life began to change. A programme from drug replacement therapy was launched in Ukraine, sponsored by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Ukraine’s parliament had <a href="http://www.aidsalliance.org.ua/ru/library/our/pbzt/pdf/pb_rus.pdf">stated</a> that therapy standards “are in line with Ukrainian legislation” back in 2004, which was when the first pilot programs for the therapy were launched in Kherson and Kyiv.</p><p dir="ltr">Methadone replacement therapy, to be more precise, is practiced in all EU countries, as well as in the USA, India, Cambodia and China. There are 1.3m patients enrolled in treatment today. However, the therapy is banned in Russia. Russia’s top narcologist, Yevgeny Bryun, told oDR that “methadone therapy is just a business,” and that Russia will never have such programmes. </p><p dir="ltr">For addicts from Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Russian jurisdiction spelt disaster.</p><h2>Goodbye to withdrawal symptoms</h2><p dir="ltr">HIV rates in Ukraine remain high: 0.5% of the population <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24113623/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24113623/">lives</a> with HIV, and 60% of those people are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465255/">drug users who use needles</a>.&nbsp;It is believed that replacement therapy <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465255/">will curb the HIV infection rate</a>, because instead of injecting street drugs, addicts will take medicine such as Metadol (active ingredient: methadone) or Ednok (active ingredient: buprenorphine).</p><p dir="ltr">Drug replacement therapy does not result in withdrawal symptoms or euphoria. Typically, the patient comes to a distribution site, gets a glass with the medicine in liquid form, drinks it, and leaves. The addicts no longer have to look for drugs, they stop having problems with the law, and they start having free time — time they used to spend on searching for drugs or money.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Drug replacement therapy does not result in withdrawal symptoms or euphoria</p><p dir="ltr">People who have regularly taken opioid drugs (such as heroin) for over three years can participate in the program. Pregnancy or a serious chronic disease — for example, if the patient is living with HIV — are other factors that determine one’s inclusion in the programme. When an addict decides to start replacement therapy they submit an application, sign an agreement to not sell the medicine, go through medical tests, and visit a narcologist (i.e. an addiction specialist).</p><p dir="ltr">The final decision for inclusion in the program is made by a multidisciplinary committee: two doctors, a social worker and a local project leader. When therapy begins, the doses are gradually increased so that the medicine completely replaces street drugs.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 13.45.18_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 13.45.18_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="332" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Clients of the Alliance’s programme. Photo: Natalya Kravchuk, Sergey Krylatov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The first effects from therapy become evident within three months: most patients report that their physical and mental health is better and that they’re starting to be part of society again.</p><p dir="ltr">After a while, if the patient is completely clean and ready to stop the therapy, the dose of the medicine is gradually decreased until the patient is no longer on it. This usually happens over several years. Today, there are&nbsp;<a href="https://phc.org.ua/pages/diseases/">176 active therapy centres in Ukraine</a>, with a total of 9,806 patients.</p><p dir="ltr">Yevgeny sent an application to participate in the program right away, back in 2008. “Slowly, life began to change. I stopped shooting up immediately,” he recalls. “My old relationships began to repair themselves, friends saw that I was a different person, I won back their trust. I launched my own construction business; we worked on small projects, including street stalls and small shopping centres. We sold them to local businessmen — it was very profitable, and my salary was good by Donetsk standards. I bought a car and an apartment.”&nbsp;</p><h2>“Did you want to spend your whole life high?”</h2><p dir="ltr">As soon as Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, the government immediately moved against drug replacement therapy — doses were sharply reduced and then therapy was halted altogether. Leftover medicine was<a href="http://www.krym.aif.ru/incidents/details/1414061"> burnt</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Anastasia (a pseudonym), who asked me not to reveal her city of residence in Crimea, left prison in 2007, when she was 29. In 2012, she started taking methadone and was able to find work as an English teacher. She took care of herself, her young daughter, and her mother.</p><p dir="ltr">For people like Anastasia, the therapy ban was catastrophic. Like other patients who spoke to oDR, she did not want to go back to street drugs, to lose her job and her family, but she was afraid of withdrawal syndrome. All this came after the Russian government <a href="http://www.narkotiki.ru/5_46404.htm">insisted</a> that no patient would be left behind and all would be given aid.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“For the five years that we took methadone, we got our lives back. We stopped being street addicts”</p><p dir="ltr">Natalia, a native of Sevastopol, was an opioid addict for 25 years. Her medical file was marked with the number 1 — she was the first patient to get replacement therapy in Crimea.</p><p dir="ltr">“For the five years that we took methadone, we got our lives back. We stopped being street addicts. The cancellation of the therapy programme in 2014 was cruel, painful, and terrifying. I signed myself into a psychiatric facility, spent ten days there, and was simply horrified by the medicine they gave us — it put you in a fog but did nothing against withdrawal symptoms, nothing for the pain and fear. I seriously hurt the right side of my body while going through withdrawal symptoms in a bed with sharp netting, and when I asked the nurse for help, she snapped, ‘Did you want to spend your whole life high? Now you’re paying for it’.”</p><h2>“They sat outside doctors’ offices, crying and knocking on doors”</h2><p dir="ltr">Natalia refused to be hospitalised, left the facility and started taking street drugs. Eventually, local doctors suggested she go for treatment in Moscow — in 2014, former therapy patients were given Russian passports very quickly, so many could depart for the mainland. Natalia says she’s one of the few who was given real help. Today, she’s clean.</p><p dir="ltr">Alexander, a patient who lives in Sevastopol,&nbsp;<a href="http://rylkov-fond.org/blog/zamestitelnaya-terapiya/v-rossii/crimea-2/">told</a> a representative of the Andrei Rylkov Fund for Health and Social Justice about how the programme was cancelled in Crimea. Doses were drastically reduced, while clinics didn’t even have the most basic medical supplies. For those who could afford to pay about 5,000 hryvnia (which amounted to around 15,000 rubles or £430 in June of 2014), everything could immediately be found, even Ednok (buprenorphine), which was technically already illegal.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">When therapy was cancelled, former patients were given minimal amounts of painkillers and sleeping pills</p><p dir="ltr">“Other people, who paid [only] 1,500 hryvnia didn’t get that kind of [help],” Alexander said. “They sat outside doctors’ offices, crying and knocking on doors.”</p><p dir="ltr">When therapy was cancelled, former patients were given minimal amounts of painkillers and sleeping pills. Trying to find help, they went to Simferopol, but there were no beds available for them.</p><p dir="ltr">Besides lack of adequate medical help, Crimean addicts were faced with pressure from the authorities. According to Anastasia, friends of hers had their privacy invaded: “People came to distribution centres and stood in line by the office, where they gave out medicine. And they were told, ‘If you don’t give us your personal information, you don’t get access’.”</p><p dir="ltr">Anastasia’s words are&nbsp;<a href="https://www.coe.int/T/DG3/Pompidou/Source/focus/P-PG(2014)%2520Misc%25201rev%2520Report%2520medical%2520expert%2520mission%2520to%2520Ukraine0406.pdf">confirmed by the conclusions drawn by France’s Pompidou group</a>. Their report, published in 2014, says that after the annexation of Crimea, addicts began getting visits from the police — there were registered cases of the confidentiality of their medical records being violated. There is at least one known case of a man who was fired when his boss found out that his employee was a drug replacement therapy patient.</p><h2>A hundred dead — or more?</h2><p dir="ltr">Anastasia did not want to go back to street drugs and had no hope of getting aid in Crimea, which is why she immediately left for Dnipro (formerly known as Dnipropetrovsk) — to continue therapy.<a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/report-of-the-human-rights-assessment-mission-on-crimea?download=true"> According to the OSCE</a>, around 100 people made similar choices.</p><p dir="ltr">Among Crimean residents there are also those who, like Natalia, went for treatment in Russia. According to data provided by Tatyana Klimenko, assistant to the Russian Minister of Health, 113 out of 806 Crimean patients in replacement therapy made the trip.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1Pw3TAIYf2pkbYklR3HYENiZy9HrVRwA_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1Pw3TAIYf2pkbYklR3HYENiZy9HrVRwA_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Meeting of the Presidium of the State Council on the implementation of state anti-drug policy. Source: kremlin.ru</span></span></span>Yet not all got the help they needed in Russia. A former therapy patient (who asked to remain anonymous) told oDR that he personally knew Anton, a Crimean native who agreed to be treated in St Petersburg. The alternative treatment method did not work. Anton&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9zhiLK5AGY">died</a> of an overdose.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/society/2015/01/150122_crimea_drugs_crisis">According Michel Kazatchkine</a>, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in eastern Europe and central Asia, the cancellation of the drug replacement therapy programme has led to the deaths of at least 100 people in Crimea.</p><p dir="ltr">Pavel Skala, the policy and partnership director at the <a href="http://eecaplatform.org/partner/alyans-obshhestvennogo-zdorovya/">Alliance for Public Health Fund</a> (“Alliance”), believes that the real number of deaths in Crimea is higher: “According to our estimate, by 2014, up to 120 had died. We stopped tracking the deaths as to not endanger people in Crimea, because the Russian government was actively opposing information-gathering efforts. But we know that former therapy patients in Crimea are still dying. Three years later, the number of the dead is much greater than 120.”</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s chief narcologist, Yevgeny Bryun, disputes these numbers and believes they are inflated. Yet four former therapy patients from different parts of Crimea have confirmed to oDR that most of their friends are dead, and those who are not dead are using street drugs again.</p><h2>Want therapy? How about a war instead?</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2014, Skala’s organisation launched a special programme for displaced people from Crimea. This allowed Anastasia, who came to Dnipro, to receive 260 hryvnia per day (this included a housing allowance). A few months later, the programme had to expand, so that patients leaving the Luhansk and Donetsk regions could get help. Since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, drug replacement therapy has stopped there too.</p><p dir="ltr">Yevgeny Selin also became a client of the Alliance’s programme after he fled Donetsk for Kyiv, not wanting to go back on street drugs. When Yevgeny made it to the Ukrainian capital, he discovered that the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) had put out a search warrant for him, labelling him a pro-Ukrainian activist.</p><p dir="ltr">Yevgeny was able to leave quickly, but Andrei, another therapy patient in Donetsk, was in town when the war started. <a href="http://aph.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Proekt-podderzhky-pereselentsev-patsyentov-ZPT.pdf">Andrei told Alliance</a> that people with automatic weapons came to their distribution centre and forced patients to dig trenches.</p><p dir="ltr">In spite of help being offered, most did not dare leave. Addicts have a hard enough time looking for work and building relationships in their own cities, let alone starting over anew. Before the war, there were 759 patients&nbsp;<a href="http://aph.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Proekt-podderzhky-pereselentsev-patsyentov-ZPT.pdf">registered in the Donetsk region</a>, of which 327 have now left. In the Luhansk region, 639 were registered, and 289 have left. According to data from 1 February, 2016, Alliance had 207 clients who made the move from the two regions.</p><p dir="ltr">According to&nbsp;<a href="https://spid.center/ru/articles/1480">the available witness reports</a>, most of the patients who remained in territories no longer controlled by Ukraine are dead, or else using street drugs. Precise data are not available.</p><p dir="ltr">Yevgeny lives in Kyiv and has no plans to return to Donetsk. In Kyiv, he has a girlfriend, and on the day of our interview, they went shopping together and then took a stroll through the city streets. In Donetsk, without drug replacement therapy, his life would be very, very different.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Natalia Antonova.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-korolyov/down-and-out-in-crimea">Down and out in Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/kicking-habits-kicking-back">Kicking habits, kicking back</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-vlasenko/cold-turkey-in-russia">Cold turkey in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/outrage-and-outsourcing-in-russian-healthcare">Outrage and outsourcing in Russian healthcare</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-babich/crimea-is-pushed-to-limit">Crimea needs a cure</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anastasia Platonova Rights for all Ukraine Mon, 11 Dec 2017 06:28:18 +0000 Anastasia Platonova 115172 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The paradox of Armenia’s domestic violence law https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/paradox-of-armenia-s-domestic-violence-law <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If passed, Armenia’s draft law against domestic violence will only nurture patriarchy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/candle_lighting.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/candle_lighting.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Candle lighting by Armenia’s Coalition to Stop Violence against Women on 1 October 2017. The posters feature victims of domestic violence. Photo courtesy of Zaruhi Hovhannisyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This October, the Armenian government redeveloped its draft law on preventing domestic violence and opened it for public discussion. This started heated debates between state representatives and several groups who oppose the law. Women’s organisations and domestic violence survivors have been left on the periphery of a male-dominated vicious circle, and the draft law has been artificially turned from a preventive and protective tool into a mechanism for “family reconciliation” between abusers and survivors.&nbsp;</p><h2>Real legislation could mean real change</h2><p>Domestic violence remains a prevalent problem for Armenian society. Despite the latent character of the issue and women’s reluctance to seek refuge from abusive relationships, as of October 2017, there were 602 cases of domestic violence officially registered by the Armenian police this year. Women’s rights NGOs received around 5,000 hotline calls.&nbsp;</p><p>In its most cruel form of power and subjugation, femicide in Armenia continues to demonstrate the systemic oppression of women. Between 2010-2017, at least 50 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners, often on the grounds of “male jealousy”. These crimes were <a href="http://coalitionagainstviolence.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/englishversion.pdf?x24321" target="_blank">not properly punished, and were justified even on the level of court judgements</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The number of known cases of domestic violence is increasing, breaking the silence around these normalised crimes&nbsp;</p><p>Thanks to increasing media attention towards violence against women and the fact that more survivors are empowered to speak up about their abuse, the number of known cases of domestic violence is increasing, breaking the hindering silence around these unpunished and normalised crimes.</p><p>Indeed, the law on domestic violence is long overdue for Armenia, say women’s rights activists. According to Lara Aharonyan, co-founder of Women’s Resource Center: “Were the law’s mechanisms put in place, the murders of many women would be prevented.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Concrete steps</h2><p>Not so long ago, members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia were denying the existence of domestic violence in the country. For instance, in 2014, Eduard Sharmazanov, current Vice President of the National Assembly, stated: “There is no issue of violence against women as Armenians are a nation that honours mothers”. Three years on, the government seems to have “recognised” the need for protective legislation. “The public demand for this kind of law has existed for a while... The current legislation does not ensure effective and necessary mechanisms to protect and support victims and to prevent domestic violence,” remarked Armenia’s Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan on 1 November.&nbsp;</p><p>The redevelopment of the draft of domestic violence law by the Armenian government, however, is neither an indication of its sudden increased awareness of the issue — nor the magical manifestation of political will.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Will women’s rights organisations fight for the final adoption of the law in its current format? Or will they call for its total dismissal?&nbsp;</p><p>Under its Human Rights Budget Support Program, the European Commission has made an €11m grant to the Armenian government. One of the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/eni_2014_c2014_7807_final_annual_action_programme_for_armenia_humanrightsprotection.pdf" target="_blank">conditions of the grant’s provision</a> was the adoption of a standalone law on domestic violence.</p><p>This conditionality can be attributed to the persistent advocacy and lobbying efforts of Armenian women’s rights organisations, which have worked on the law since 2007. Their initial efforts resulted in the draft law being rejected by the Armenian parliament in 2013. This decade-long struggle eventually led to the new draft redeveloped by the government this year. But this work also triggered an artificially produced public controversy and media manipulation.&nbsp;</p><h2>Men (dis)agreeing on women’s destinies</h2><p>The first public hearing on Armenia’s new domestic violence draft law took place in Yerevan on 9 October. After state representatives finished their public speeches and presentations, several groups, angry and dissatisfied with the Q&amp;A format of the agenda, attempted to take the stage.&nbsp;</p><p>In the chaos that ensued, the increasingly brutally and violently expressed demands of these groups were eventually satisfied. Hayk Nahapetyan, who runs the nationalist “<a href="http://armsovereignty.com/" target="_blank">For restoring sovereignty</a>” group, took the floor and spoke on behalf of organisations opposing the legislation. Nahapetyan declared that “there is no public need for the law, the public demand comes from [European Union Ambassador to Armenia] Piotr Świtalski.”&nbsp;</p><p>Some members of these groups distributed leaflets in Russian containing information on the differences between Russian and western values in relation to domestic violence legislation. One woman, who had spoken to the Minister of Justice in Russian, condemned the work of a diaspora Armenian women’s rights defender. “You are not Armenian!” she told Maro Matosyan, the director of the Women’s Support Center, which has run a shelter for women survivors of domestic violence for many years.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2. Groups opposing the law hijacking the first public hearing_Lara Aharonyan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2. Groups opposing the law hijacking the first public hearing_Lara Aharonyan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Groups opposing the law on domestic violence attempt to hijack the first public hearing. Photo courtesy of Lara Aharonian. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In this state of turmoil, the floor was given to the Primate of Shirak Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church Bishop Mikayel Ajapahyan who tried to calm down all sides, stressing the importance of Christian education to prevent violence and encouraging the audience not to seek conspiracy in the draft legislation.</p><p>Semi-satisfied, few, if any, participants questioned the fact that neither women’s rights organisations, nor domestic violence survivors were given the floor to express their deep concerns and disagreements on the draft law.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The draft law includes a “mediation clause” that gives abusers the opportunity to reconcile with survivors</p><p>The absence of radical criticism by women’s rights groups made it appear as if their standpoint aligned with that of the state. As a result, instead of demanding improvements, for women’s groups, the fight was lowered to merely preserving the current draft, which not only fails to criminalise domestic violence, but also contains a number of problematic provisions.&nbsp;</p><p>For instance, the draft law includes a “mediation clause” that gives abusers the opportunity to reconcile with survivors via an “independent body” called a “Support Centre”. This is a clause that makes the Armenian domestic violence draft law distinct from other countries’ similar legislation as the state starts fulfilling a function of a reconciliation institution.&nbsp;</p><p>The draft does not envisage serious punishment for non-compliance with the protection and restraining orders or for revealing a shelter’s location. It also suggests creating a council to oversee the law’s implementation. The council members would, however, be appointed by the Prime Minister, thus completely discrediting the council’s independence. These and several other problematic clauses were not widely criticised, and the discussion became an attempt to “justify” (or “disprove”) the need for legislative changes to struggle against domestic violence as a serious trouble for Armenian society.&nbsp;</p><h2>From violence to empowerment&nbsp;</h2><p>During the second public hearing, several individuals who were active in the 2013 <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical" target="_blank">anti-gender movements</a> and proven to be <a href="http://uicarmenia.org/en/2288" target="_blank">backed by Russia</a>, delivered speeches in the Armenian parliament. “This law envisages manipulations and blackmailing,” stated Arman Boshyan, the coordinator of Pan-Armenian Parents’ Committee, and president of the Yerevan Geopolitical Club, a group aimed at strengthening Russia’s political influence in Armenia.&nbsp;</p><p>In fact, the domestic violence draft law was condemned by “opposition” groups, as well as by a wider public affected by their misinformation, for being a “new” mechanism to take children from their parents and give them to state-run shelters. The manipulations from these groups and the media were so intense that little, if any, attention was paid to the fact that such a clause (Article 43.2) already exists in the Armenian Family Code. As to the draft law on domestic violence, it neither envisages any mechanisms for taking children away nor opens shelters for children.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/5. Hasmik talking in the Parliament_Credits-Anna Nikoghosyan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/5. Hasmik talking in the Parliament_Credits-Anna Nikoghosyan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hasmik Khachatryan, a survivor of domestic violence, shares her story before Armenia’s parliament. Photo (c): Anna Nikoghosyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>At the second public hearing on the draft law in parliament, Arman Ghukasyan, the director of International Humanitarian Development, an NGO whose profile is impossible to find online, stated: “Women’s NGOs have an interest in the high rate of domestic violence cases in order to be able to receive more grants.” Despite the fact that none of the people opposing the legislation was a professional working in the field of domestic violence or a related area, the opinions of these groups were seriously taken into account both by state representatives and the media.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The draft law neither envisages any mechanisms for taking children away nor opens up shelters for children&nbsp;</p><p>In this environment of “suddenly emerging” deep expertise on domestic violence, Hasmik Khachatryan, a survivor of domestic violence who was subject to violence by her husband for nine years and whose abuser received an amnesty and was set free, shared her story in parliament.&nbsp;</p><p>As Khachatryan highlighted, the first time the investigator came to see her, he recommended her to return to her husband: “Women should obey their husbands when they beat them, he told me.” As she stressed the importance of the law, she referred to many women who live in a constant state of fear and do not know how to seek help. Despite Hasmik’s powerful speech, which was accompanied by applause, the draft was not saved from further distortions by the government.&nbsp;</p><h2>State-sponsored reconciliation</h2><p>In the middle of complying with the EU’s budget support programme and menace from Russian-backed campaigning against the law, the Armenian government decided to make dramatic changes in the draft, including its title. Hence, on 16 November, the government quickly and silently approved the draft law and presented it to the National Assembly. The new draft is now entitled “Preventing violence in the family, protecting the victims of violence in the family and restoring harmony in the family”.</p><p>As the new title and changed provisions suggest, this law shifts the focus from protecting individuals and preventing crime to “reconciling the family”. According to members of the Armenian Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, a unity of NGOs fighting for the adoption of the law, this concept “not only lacks a legal definition, but also contradicts local and international legal norms”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Legislation exists so that relationships between people are regulated on the basis of laws, not traditions”</p><p>Furthermore, the term “domestic violence” has been switched out for “violence in the family”, thus narrowing the targets of the law. One of the principles enshrined in the new draft is now the strengthening of “traditional family values”, while one of the actions prescribed by the law is a review of educational materials to include information on values in “traditional families”.</p><p>As Anahit Simonyan, a women’s rights defender, told me: “Legislation exists so that relationships between people are regulated on the basis of laws, not traditions.” The approved draft, however, does not question Armenian traditions — the root causes of women’s violence and oppression. Instead, it perpetuates them.&nbsp;</p><p>The Armenian government continues to be influenced by political groups whose agenda seems to align with their own politics. It is ignoring the advice of experts from the field of domestic violence and voices of domestic violence survivors — the people who should be at the frontline of these discussions. Both the effectiveness and necessity of a law that risks aggravating the situation, rather than becoming a support mechanism for survivors, are questionable.</p><p>Will women’s rights organisations fight for the final adoption of the law in its current format? Or will they call for its total dismissal? This remains uncertain. But one thing is clear: Armenia’s patriarchal state bodies are nurturing laws and policies that reflect their values — and keep getting paid for it. Even at the EU level.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian-maro-matosian/heated-debates-around-domestic-violence-in-armenia">Heated debates around domestic violence in Armenia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenia-invisible-women">Standing up for Armenia&#039;s invisible women </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves">The victims of Russia’s ultra-conservatism are the Russian people themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/violence-and-gender-inequality-in-azerbaijan">From emancipation to restraint: violence and gender inequality in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-avetisyan/armenia-s-parents-dream-of-having-sons">Armenia’s parents dream of having sons</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Nikoghosyan Rights for all Caucasus Armenia Wed, 22 Nov 2017 11:58:46 +0000 Anna Nikoghosyan 114828 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgian land, Georgian freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution would ban the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens. Is it a necessary evil, or a hollow gesture?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A cow rests in view of Bagrati Cathedral outside the city of Kutaisi, western Georgia. Photo CC-by-00: Candoyi / Pixabay. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Constitutional reform is afoot in Georgia. Many observers worry that new amendments to the electoral system may help <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84666" target="_blank">entrench the parliamentary majority of the ruling party</a> Georgian Dream, which claimed victory at the ballot boxes last October. This week, the Georgian parliament started discussing a <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30176" target="_blank">new amendment restricting the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens</a>. It’s a move that has raised less of a stir&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;but nonetheless could have important repercussions.&nbsp;</p><h2>Free Georgia, free land&nbsp;</h2><p>Following the collapse of the USSR, most people in Georgia received small plots of land from the government of first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The state granted individuals exclusive usage of these modest plots, though it was not until 1996 that Eduard Shevardnadze’s government conferred ownership on their users. Nevertheless, land records remaind patchy, and disputes were not uncommon.</p><p>Along came the reformist government of Mikheil Saakashvili, which in 2007 instituted a digital record of land ownership, helping to streamline the sale of these small plots; the Georgian Dream government has gone further, utilising <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83286" target="_blank">potentially risky blockchain technology</a> to develop a land register.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Banning sales of agricultural land to foreigners may be an easy populist vote-winner, but it still has an internal logic</p><p>Today, Georgian politicians tend to tread delicately around the question of land ownership. This is in part due to popular memories of the Soviet Union’s catastrophic experiments in state-owned collectivised land, and partly due to the capacity of the issue to feed into inter-ethnic disputes. In this context, Georgian Dream’s decision to raise the issue anew was a bold one&nbsp;<span>–&nbsp;</span>but not without precedent. Fears of foreign ownership of land and displacement by a foreign workforce may feed into rising xenophobic discourse, but there’s an internal logic to them.&nbsp;</p><p>Much like other proposed amendments, the proposal to ban sales of agricultural land to foreign owners seems partly an easy populist move bound to appease certain sections of the electorate. Parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze <a href="http://parliament.ge/en/parlamentarebi/chairman/chairmannews/irakli-kobaxidzem-konstituciuri-kanonis-proeqti-mecnierebs-gaacno.page" target="_blank">admitted just that</a>, noting that Georgian society “had a particularly emotional attitude to the issue, so it served as an important driver for the decision.” Of course, such a popular gesture by Georgian Dream comes at just the right moment, given <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin" target="_blank">impending local government elections</a>.</p><h2>Singapore of the South Caucasus&nbsp;</h2><p>The amendment in question is a mechanism that can at least delay the fire sale of valuable land to which many developing countries have been subjected. After all, there are certainly examples of foreign attempts to monopolise sectors of Georgian agriculture.&nbsp;</p><p>One colourful but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/26/opinion/as-in-the-hazelnut-caper-these-folks-dont-listen.html" target="_blank">mostly unknown incident</a> occurred during Eduard Shevardnadze’s rule (1995-2003), and involved Aslan Abashidze, maverick ruler of the autonomous region of Adjara in southwestern Georgia. Abashidze, who ruled the balmy Black Sea region as a virtual fiefdom, was in constant opposition to the central authorities in Tbilisi until he was ousted by Saakashvili in 2004 and fled to Russia. Hillary Clinton’s brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, were introduced to Abashidze where they made a deal to corner the hazelnut processing business in 1999. The Rodhams were about to strike a deal worth $118m, which was <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/17/news/mn-11267" target="_blank">stopped providentially</a> by Bill and Hillary&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;Shevardnadze was seen as an ally of the US, while the unruly Aslan was his enemy.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Saakashvili’s supply-side: headaches and high hopes. Photo CC-BY-2.0: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A more recent example of a foreign companies having free reign on Georgian soil involves the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, whose owners include BP, Stratoil and the Azerbaijani state gas company SOCAR. In the course of its construction, farmers who surrendered land to the pipeline’s eight kilometre corridor <a href="http://www.greenalt.org/webmill/data/file/publications/btc_dev_model.pdf" target="_blank">received little to no compensation</a>, losing access to water and seeing their land polluted, especially in the vicinity of Borjomi. This deal was made by Shevardnadze, and the pipeline was constructed under Saakashvili, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/recaps/articles/eav080604.shtml" target="_blank">who had some surprisingly tough words against BP</a> in 2004: “We won't be bullied, here in Washington [BP] are pressuring us... We are not a banana republic, and we still have issues with BP.”&nbsp;</p><p>While there were some initiatives to inject funds into small agrobusinesses (such as a <a href="http://www.saakashviliarchive.info/en/PressOffice/News/?p=7194&amp;i=3" target="_blank">2011 voucher scheme</a>), Saakashvili’s plan for economic development mostly&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hcMZCAAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA132&amp;dq=rural+life+saakashvili&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiMntjbxbTWAhXoJcAKHW-5BVEQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&amp;q=rural%20life%20saakashvili&amp;f=false" target="_blank">saw little role for rural life apart</a> from attracting tourism. His rule also saw a <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2473_october_28_2011/2473_salome.html" target="_blank">failed hybrid corn fiasco</a> where seeds were <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2323_march_24_2011/2323_econ_one.html" target="_blank">sold to farmers</a> for purportedly “high yield” harvests, ending abruptly when the harvests failed and the farmers had to challenge the government in court to avoid paying.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Despite Georgia’s focus on exporting specialised agricultural products, the fact remains that the country imports around 80% of its food</span></p><p>The opposition under Saakashvili consistently pointed out the government’s neglect of the countryside. Many of the United National Movement’s policies were inspired by the East Asian Tigers, embracing high industrialisation in lieu of agriculture, mixed with a heady blend of American libertarian supply-side ideology. The result was a mass import of foodstuffs with which local agricultural producers simply could not compete. The only role left for many plots was subsistence farming.&nbsp;</p><p>Today, Georgia may be gaining a reputation for its wine industry, but alongside this new taste for specialised agricultural products, the fact remains <a href="http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Europe/documents/Publications/AI_briefs/Georgia_ai_en.pdf" target="_blank">around 80% of Georgia’s food requirements are met with imports</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;mostly from Russia, Turkey and the EU.&nbsp;</p><h2>Theft or investment?&nbsp;</h2><p>Since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, the state has given the Ministry of Agriculture a new lease of life, assigning it concrete programs to encourage agricultural development.</p><p>While these new agricultural initiatives may leave much to be desired, they are still unprecedented for post-Soviet Georgia. The ministry has subordinated institutions that co-finance small and medium loans to farmers by covering high interest rates of the banks, providing agricultural training and expertise, encouraging building and expanding of processing plants. They also offer support for agricultural cooperatives, market Georgian agricultural products abroad (especially wine), develop new systems of irrigation, promote agro-insurance, and try to resurrect Georgia’s tradition of tea production.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Morning market in Telavi, Kakheti province, eastern Georgia, 2013. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Carsten ten Brink / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Nevertheless, the size of Georgia’s small, fragmented land plots makes it difficult to develop farming on a large enough scale to drive down prices and increase overall yield. As it stands, 73% of land ownership is below a hectare, in a country where 43% of land is designated as agricultural.&nbsp;</p><p>Representatives of Georgia’s libertarian right, such as the UNM member of parliament Zurab Chiaberashvili, have argued that this fragmented land ownership is a perfect reason for a complete free-for-all in Georgia’s market for agricultural land, regardless of the buyers’ origin. As Chiaberashvili stated in a panel discussion at Tbilisi’s Ilia State University, unless these areas of land are amalgamated into larger plots, large-scale agriculture can never develop. Other parliamentarians have even argued that Georgia shouldn’t develop its agriculture sector at all, as urbanisation is linked to higher incomes and foreign direct investment.&nbsp;</p><h2>Networked Georgia&nbsp;</h2><p>Other parliamentarians and businessmen stress that Georgia <a href="https://www.investingeorgia.org/en/keysectors/regional-logistics-hub" target="_blank">must instead concentrate on its new role as a “transport hub”</a> for trading goods between Europe and Asia. Georgia’s proximity to the “<a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83121" target="_blank">new silk road</a>” is a motivating factor. The move would also be an attractive prospect for investors from China, Iran and Turkey&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;countries which unlike Georgia do not enjoy an association agreement with the EU. Here’s the crux: with their products registered as Georgian exports, foreign businesses will now be able to capitalise on the European markets they could otherwise only access with difficulty.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgian Dream’s projects to support agricultural development are also tailored to this new reality&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;they are oriented to develop exports to EU markets. The EU Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) have strict and expensive standards that have to be applied in agriculture and animal husbandry in order to enter the EU market.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It is a shame that Georgian khachapuri is now produced with imported wheat, and that Georgian cheese is produced with imported powdered milk”</p><p>Crucially, the Georgian Dream government has taken no concrete steps to reduce cheap food imports, instead further encouraging the hyper-liberalisation of trade. Even the responsible EU attaché, Juan Echanove, <a href="http://www.georgianjournal.ge/business/30764-does-georgian-meat-have-a-future-at-the-european-market.html" target="_blank">advised correctly</a> that the “priority for Georgia should be to replace imports. It is a shame that khachapuri is produced with imported wheat, it is a shame that your cheese is made from imported powdered milk. Think about it.” Echanove <a href="https://www.georgianjournal.ge/georgian-review/30883-juan-echanove-there-is-a-future-of-georgian-products-in-europe.html" target="_blank">stressed</a> that he believed Georgia was more than capable of exporting competitive agricultural products to Europe, and meeting its domestic food requirements.</p><p>The summary of the <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">Ministry of Agriculture’s 2016 report</a> boasts of increases in exports, thus lowering our trade deficit. Imports have only slightly declined, reflecting their continuing importance in domestic consumption. Of course, those products developed for export are hardly daily fare for most Georgians&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;expensive wines, spirits, and mineral water.&nbsp;</p><p>Dependence on imports for staple foods is especially dangerous given that the lari frequently devalues in relation to the dollar, thus increasing food prices. Although a <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/71026/eng" target="_blank">new law on “lari-isation”</a> is supposed to bring some relief, Georgian families find it increasingly difficult to meet their increasing loan payments with their meagre household incomes. This <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1512188716000105" target="_blank">increasing vulnerability</a> drives families to take out even more loans.&nbsp;</p><h2>Credit on the cheap&nbsp;</h2><p>While the libertarian <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check" target="_blank">Liberty Act, which could be enshrined in the constitution</a>, forbids government debt to be more than 60% of GDP, many Georgian households now have loans that are 200% more than their disposable income.</p><p>According to the&nbsp;<a href="http://data.imf.org/?sk=E5DCAB7E-A5CA-4892-A6EA-598B5463A34C&amp;sId=1460043522778" target="_blank">IMF’s 2016 financial assessment survey</a>, 717 of every 1,000 Georgians borrow money to meet basic needs. This was <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/6880/In-Debt-%26-Broke-in-Georgia" target="_blank">shockingly the second highest in the world</a> (though by my calculations in 2016, it was the fourth most). The net profits of one of the country’s largest banks, TBC Bank, over the first quarter of 2017 alone <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/brief-georgias-tbc-bank-groups-q1-net-pr-idUSL8N1IO3JL?feedType=RSS&amp;virtualBrandChannel=11563&amp;c=15111507804719012357&amp;mkt=en-us" target="_blank">have increased by 64.5% y/y</a>, which amounts to $40.25 m. The exorbitant interest rates charged by Georgian banks are justified by the argument that “Georgians are high risk,” though it has been consistently shown that repayment is actually very high.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Given low wages and high prices,&nbsp;the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans at exorbitant interest rates</p><p>By statistical sleight of hand, rates of employment are inflated by the authorities. Given the low wages (<a href="http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=149&amp;lang=eng" target="_blank">according to official statistics</a>, the mean monthly wage was 990 lari (£295); the median is not calculated), high prices and high dollarisation, the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans. The countryside is hit hardest; waged work is hard to find and most people have small plots of land with extremely basic farming tools. An estimated 43% of Georgia’s total workforce is <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">engaged in some form of agriculture</a>, but 97% of those people are described as self-employed. The category of self-employment is also a <a href="http://geostat.ge/cms/site_images/_files/english/methodology/labour%20force%20statistics%20Eng.pdf" target="_blank">dubious classification</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;it could include anyone selling a few eggs on the side of a country road.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A block of Georgian 20 Lari banknotes, ready to be put into circulation – and ready for easy credit. Photo CC: Videoblocks. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In my opinion, encouraging further commodification of land in this situation is highly irresponsible. The desperation in our countryside, the lack of jobs, low financial literacy, the high cost of healthcare and high dependence on loans guarantees that Georgian citizens will sell land cheaply and quickly.</p><p>With that in mind, a constitutional amendment is a necessary but insufficient step to protect Georgia’s farmers. Land cooperatives, once proposed by Georgian Dream, could help circumvent the problem of fragmented smallholdings. Logistical problems like the efficient collecting of produce by distributors should also be a central concern. Most importantly, the underlying logic of export orientation needs to be completely overhauled and replaced with a food security program. In addition, many rural households <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235218072_The_Role_of_Social_Capital_in_Rural_Community_Development_of_Georgia" target="_blank">depend on collective land</a> like forests (which make up 40% of Georgia’s total land area) in order to survive. Any sound agricultural policy has to take accessibility to these traditionally communal lands into account.</p><p>By substituting imports, Georgian Dream could actually decrease poverty and develop a domestic market for agricultural goods, safeguarding Georgia from the global and local market volatilities that affect our currency. It could also protect Georgians from the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/15/europes-food-apartheid-are-brands-in-the-east-lower-quality-than-in-the-west" target="_blank">inferior quality food</a> that big multinational corporations have been found selling in Eastern Europe under the guise of their western counterparts. In many countries, the agricultural resources for self-sufficiency simply don’t exist. But Georgia is exceptional in this regard. </p><p>After all, we should remember that if food insecurity is man-made, this means it can be unmade too.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Read this <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom">response</a> from Hans Gutbrod, a businessman and executive director of Transparify based in Georgia.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check">Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sopiko Japaridze Rights for all Georgia Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:30:54 +0000 Sopiko Japaridze 113488 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A year and a half ago, the authorities in Abkhazia banned abortions in nearly all circumstances. These women have paid the price.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hospital-sukhum.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hospital-sukhum.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A hospital in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. Photo via Sputnik Abkhazia / OC Media. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="http://oc-media.org/the-women-affected-by-abkhazias-abortion-ban/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>, in partnership with <a href="http://www.civil.ge" target="_blank">Civil.Ge</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></p><p>A year and a half after Abkhazia banned abortion, reportedly to increase the number of births, reports of women’s deaths and pregnancy complications have became more numerous, yet the number of babies being born has not increased. Local activists have called on parliament to change the controversial new law, which they say discriminates against women.</p><p>The amendment to the Law on Healthcare passed in early 2016 banned abortions in the South Caucasus territory in almost all circumstances. It has provoked heated discussion in Abkhazian society, with local activists still raise the issue periodically, arguing either for or against the law citing various arguments.&nbsp;</p><p>oDR’s partners at <em>OC Media </em>spoke&nbsp;with three women who have been directly affected by the ban. All three asked to remain anonymous; they said that their problems were too sensitive to bring up in public — but that they could not remain silent.</p><p>One mother of two who said that when her husband found out that the family was expecting one more member, he simply left. “He told me I should have just not got pregnant if I didn’t want to. He said that he couldn’t cope with family responsibilities anyway and he just left,” the woman recalls, with tears in her eyes. “I approached a charity and asked them to help me have an abortion, but they persuaded me to keep the child, promising to provide help after the birth.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“If mothers were given higher allowances, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things”</p><p>The woman says that financial difficulties were the only reason she didn’t want to give birth to the child. “If mothers were given higher allowances, more than 500 roubles (£6.50) a month, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things,” she sighed.&nbsp;</p><p>Abkhazia’s de-facto president Raul Khadzhimba signed the law banning abortion on 9 February 2016. Two months later, the law was enshrined in Abkhazia’s constitution. The original author of the law was Vice Speaker of Parliament Said Kharaziya.&nbsp;</p><p>Supporters of the law talked of demographic fears in Abkhazia and the supposed “sinfulness” of abortion. According to Khazariya, no one has the right to take the life of an “unborn soul”. Before the law was adopted, there were suggestions that the ban should apply only to ethnic Abkhaz people. However parliament dismissed the approach as discriminatory, deciding to ban abortion altogether, even in the event of serious medical complications.</p><p>During the session of the parliament when the amendment was adopted, Said Kharaziya said that “everything was in God’s hands.”</p><h2>Not everyone can afford a child</h2><p>Our second respondent found herself in a similar situation, she already has three children and is unemployed. Her husband only has irregular work, and their social benefits are barely enough to buy school supplies for the couple’s older children.&nbsp;</p><p>She told <em>OC Media</em> that she couldn’t afford to pay for a trip to Russia to have an abortion. Despite childbirth being free under the Abkhazian law, she will still have to give the doctor a huge bribe.</p><p>“I received 1,000 roubles (£13) in benefits for two children and came to [the territory’s capital] Sukhumi for a scheduled examination with the doctor. This money is not enough. I have to pay 1,500 roubles (£19.60) for the tests alone, and then I have to pay the doctor. So that’s how I’ll spend my whole pregnancy, not knowing if my child is fine, and I also need to save money for childbirth. Until the doctor receives 20,000 roubles (£261), the newborn won’t be released from the hospital. They come up with different problems, like the child has jaundice, but the moment they see the money, the baby is suddenly alright. I already went through it three times,” she exclaims.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00130148.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00130148.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children play in a courtyard in Sukhumi, capital of the unrecognised Republic of Abkhazia, 2006. Many buildings in the city remain derelict following the bloody 1992-1993 war with Georgia. Photo (c): Alexey Nikolsky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Our third respondent, determined not to have a fourth child, went to Sochi, right across the Abkhazian–Russian border. Even there she encountered difficulties, as a number of Russian doctors were refusing to terminate the pregnancies of Abkhazian women. She was categorically rejected by several doctors, yet in the end, managed to find one who agreed to go through with the procedure. She had to pay about 3,000 roubles (£39).&nbsp;</p><p>“I was told at a clinic in Adler [district of Sochi] that women with Abkhazian passports can’t be given abortions. Some kind of order had come from above. But this one doctor felt sorry for me and sent me to another clinic in Sochi. There I was also coldly received. They said they had also been instructed not to give Abkhazians abortions. They said that they have 700–800 Abkhazians terminating their pregnancy each month. But it was my goal to remove the foetus, and I wasn’t going to stop at anything. Maybe this doctor noticed and felt sorry for me,” she remembers.&nbsp;</p><p>These are the reasons Viktoriya Vorobyova, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at the Sukhumi Maternity Hospital, is categorically against the ban on abortion. She told <em>OC Media</em> that someone who really wants to have an abortion will find a way, while economically disadvantaged and often poorly informed women will continue to give birth, including to sick children.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Two pregnant women have died since Abkhazia’s abortion ban was introduced</p><p>“Women order pills for chemical abortion online, they administer them themselves, even in late pregnancy. We have had women with severe complications at our hospital. One patient, after taking such a ‘miracle pill’ had her uterus seam loosen and the foetus fell into the abdominal cavity. We barely saved her,” Vorobyova recalls.&nbsp;</p><p>Two pregnant women have died since the ban was introduced. Their children were saved, but their two large families were left without mothers.&nbsp;</p><p>“These women came to the hospital early in their pregnancy to terminate them, but they were turned away due to the ban. One died from eclampsia — a severe condition that occurs only in pregnant women. The second shouldn’t have give birth either,” the doctor said.&nbsp;</p><h2>“Women need explaining how to behave”&nbsp;</h2><p>Member of Parliament Alkhas Dzhindzholiya mentioned the need to soften the ban in his parliamentary election programme, saying that abortion should be legal when there are medical complications. But even now, as he says, women have the opportunity to have an abortion without violating the ban.&nbsp;</p><p>“If developmental defects in the foetus are diagnosed, or the woman herself is sick, then a consultation meeting between several doctors is held. A record of the consultation goes to the Ministry of Health and there they decide whether it is possible to let the woman have an abortion. There are already precedents for this,” Dzhindzholiya told <em>OC Media</em>.</p><p>As for changes in the legislation, he said that more work was needed.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_Woman_Orchard.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_Woman_Orchard.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Woman in a walnut orchard in Gali district, southern Abkhazia, 2011. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Dmitriy Medlev / Nonviolent Peaceforce / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“We should not approach this issue categorically. You can’t allow full permission for abortion, but at the same time, you can’t put [women’s] lives at risk. That’s why we consult with the public. In general, we need to work with women. They need explaining how to behave, so they don’t need to have abortions later,” Dzhindzholiya said.&nbsp;</p><p>Dzhindzholiya discussed only medical factors. Social aspects, such as the financial situation of families, are routinely ignored by Parliament. Politicians say that there are always ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Any woman can receive a free consultation and various contraceptives at the state-funded Centre for Reproductive Health.</p><p>Doctor Viktoriya Vorobyova told <em>OC Media</em> that condoms, contraceptive pills, and the contraceptive coil are always available at the centre and are always free.&nbsp;</p><p>“Maybe we don’t inform the public well enough about the activities of the centre,” Vorobyova admits. “We need to work with young people, explain to them that [contraception] is nothing to be ashamed of.”</p><p>There is currently only one such centre in Abkhazia, in Sukhumi. Outside of the capital, international organisations occasionally implement programmes offering contraceptives, or to educate people about how and why to use them, both to protect their health and prevent unwanted pregnancies. These are all, however, sporadic at best.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/banning-abortion-in-abkhazia-1" target="_blank">Banning abortion in Abkhazia</a>” - a short video on <em>Chai Khana</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/regina-jegorova-askerova/breaking-cycle-ending-underage-marriage-in-georgia">Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe">Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Marianna Kotova Rights for all Health Caucasus Abkhazia Thu, 17 Aug 2017 12:18:19 +0000 Marianna Kotova 112905 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Here are the towns where it’s dangerous to be gay in Russia. A culture of silence and a law “against propaganda” are keeping them that way. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kondakov-shtorn/kakie-goroda" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An LGBT pride parade in St Petersburg, 2014. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Maria Komarova / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s become a tradition across the globe to celebrate LGBT Pride in the last days of June. Usually, such events are held on the weekend closest to the 28 June, as it was on that day that the modern LGBT movement in the USA began in earnest. It was an initiative that inspired strategies and tactics of human rights advocacy in many other countries. Although it takes different forms across the world, LGBT pride raises issues of freedom of expression, human rights, and healthcare for LGBT people. In some cities Europe and the USA it has turned into something of a commercial event or cultural festival for the wider public. In other locations, LGBT people march under the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-33307028/turkey-pride-march-hit-with-police-water-cannon" target="_blank">threat of police brutality</a>.</p><p>In Russia, the first LGBT pride march was held <a href="http://lgbtru.com/worldwide/lgbt-history/3125/" target="_blank">in 1991</a> on the square before Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre as part of the Soviet Union’s first LGBT festival. The more modern history of LGBT parades in Russia began in 2006 when LGBT activist Nikolay Alekseyev attempted to officially organise a pride march in Moscow. Years passed, and the city authorities still haven’t found the guts to permit a march for LGBT human rights through the capital’s streets and provide security for its participants. However, other banned marches have been <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/21/russia-european-court-rules-gay-pride-ban-unlawful" target="_blank">successfully challenged in the European Court for Human Rights</a> and Alekseyev has generated support in other regions of the country. He and his colleagues have applied for permission to hold pride marches in Blagoveshchensk, Cherkessk, Cherepovets, Kazan, and Nizhny Tagil among many other cities across Russia, though they have always been rejected and sued city governments in response. A notable exception came in 2013, when the governor of St Petersburg <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/06/29/gay_pride_st_petersburg_rally_ends_in_arrests_over_gay_propoganda_law.html" target="_blank">did not forbid the city’s LGBT pride parade</a>, although it did encounter violently homophobic protesters who tried to obstruct the march.</p><h2>The metrics of hatred</h2><p>In fact, these violent far-right groups keep close tabs on LGBT activists in Russia and the events they hold – or try to. While the government fights some homophobic campaigners and inciters of hatred, it supports others. After all, instigating violence against LGBT people is essentially the Russian state’s official policy towards sexuality. For example, the 2013 law banning “propaganda” of “non-traditional sexual orientations” sparked a wave of hatred against LGBT people across the country. As we discovered <a href="https://www.academia.edu/33142314/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2_%D0%90._%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B2%D0%B5_%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8_%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%B2_%D0%9B%D0%93%D0%91%D0%A2_%D0%B2_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8._%D0%A1%D0%9F%D0%B1._%D0%A6%D0%9D%D0%A1%D0%98_2017" target="_blank">from court decisions last year</a>, after the “propaganda” bill was signed into law, the number of hate crimes against lesbians and gay men doubled.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2012, we found 33 examples of such hate crimes, while 2013 saw 50 hate crimes against LGBT citizens. By 2015 there were 65. We registered not only a common rise of LGBT hate crimes, but also the rise of homicides: following the enactment of the “propaganda” bill, there were more and more murders of people simply for being LGBT.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The growth in hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia. Image courtesy of the authors.</span></span></span></p><p>Of course, these are only the recorded crimes – many LGBT people may not dare approach the authorities after harassment, humiliation, or worse. These data are based on official court statistics, though we had to dig through the results ourselves. Nobody officially collects information on violence against LGBT people in Russia. On the contrary, the authorities pretend that nothing is happening. This attitude sometimes reaches absurd extremes when government officials claim that LGBT citizens simply do not exist. </p><p>After facts came to light about the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">systematic torture of gay men at secret detention camps in Chechnya</a>, the republic’s press secretary <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-chechnya-gay-men-killing-torture-vladimir-putin-dmitry-peskov-chechen-leader-ramzan-kadyrov-a7693291.html" target="_blank">immediately retorted</a> that “you cannot repress those who are not and cannot be here in the Chechen Republic.” Despite the justified focus on Chechnya, these claims are hardly specific to one culture or region within the Russian Federation – officials in other regions speak in much the same manner. For example, the mayor of Svetogorsk in Leningrad Region declared his city “free from gays.” He subsequently argued that LGBT issues and rights are irrelevant there, neither an LGBT community nor LGBT people exist in the small city.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality</p><p>This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality. These comments certainly reinforce existing prejudices and reproduce violence against vulnerable groups. But what is the real picture? Let’s say that the authorities of a Russian city actually permitted an LGBT march to go ahead? Would these violent protectors of a false morality then take to the streets to fight those marching, to stop their fellow citizens expressing their point of view and standing up for their rights? <br /><br />It depends on where you are. In other words, how dangerous is it to be gay in different Russian cities?</p><h2>A “sexual stratification” of Russian cities</h2><p>Media doesn’t simply inform society about current affairs; it also provides frames for understanding social problems, rendering some topics more important than others by virtue of generating discussion around them. Violence against LGBT people may be a key cause for concern in the human rights movement, but that urgency is lost in public discussions.</p><p>But media can also remedy societies from oblivion by sharing stories which are otherwise forgotten or ignored, and spark positive change. For example, the murder of gay teen Matthew Sheppard was one of the most publicised hate crimes in the US history. The furore in the press eventually led to changes in hate crime law.</p><p>One of the effects of Russia’s “propaganda” law was not simply the rise in violence against LGBT people. It also led to more frequent ewspaper publications on LGBT topics, hence public discussion on a topic which still remains taboo for many people. This was not entirely what legislators intended. We benefitted from this situation by researching the details and contexts of violence against LGBT in Russia as they were reported in media. The <a href="https://lgbtqrightsinrussia.wordpress.com/" target="_blank">Sexuality Lab</a> studied almost 4,500 media publications about violence against LGBT people in Russia between 2011 and 2016. We categorised all newspaper articles <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map" target="_blank">in accordance with the sexuality of the victims reported</a> and the locations of crimes committed. All cities were then classified by population, making it possible for us to calculate an index of safety for every urban settlement.</p><p>The data reveal that the most dangerous places for LGBT people are villages in the countryside and small towns with a population below 100,000: they are characterised by the highest rates of violence against LGBT people per 1,000 persons. The safest locations are the largest cities (Moscow and St Petersburg): despite the greater number of crimes against LGBT in these cities, their relative indexes are actually the lowest. This can be explained by understanding the circumstances of these hate crimes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk</p><p>Very often, hate crimes are committed as soon as perpetrators learn about the victim’s sexuality, which is usually revealed in a conversation in a private space over a drink or meal. These social gatherings occur more frequently in smaller settlements, because that way of life is simply more common there: there are fewer bars to go to, fewer crowds to blend into, and more free time to kill. People drink alcohol and talk about their personal lives as there’s no other way to spend one’s spare time. Alhough many people in Russia actually <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/do-russians-give-damn-about-homosexuality" target="_blank">do not give a damn about LGBT issues</a>, some still react violently to a person’s coming out – and such reactions are more common in smaller towns and cities.</p><p>The graph below shows incidents of violence against LGBT people in different towns and cities of Russia. We compare capital cities, big cities (of 500,000 people and above) and smaller cities (of between 100-500,000 people). This graph shows that the smaller a city, the bigger the probability of violence against LGBT people. Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk. This could explain why the mayor of Svetlogorsk thinks there are no gay men in his town – anybody with half a mind in that position would leave the place as soon as they felt threatened.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="198" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Violence and hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia, by city size. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>These results aren’t surprising; they just prove once again that homophobia is on the rise in Russia and that hate crimes are supported in its remote regions. We have based our claims on a survey of media publications, which limits the whole picture only to material in the public domain. As a result, there will be many hate crimes which went unreported, and some remote regions not covered in our media survey. However, it is no exaggeration to say that there are parts of the country which are simply not safe for LGBT citizens. </p><p>One of the ways to protect oneself is to keep silent about one’s sexuality, concealing it from the public in order not to become a victim of violence. So this secrecy around the existence of homosexuals is reinforced not only by political decisions, but also by individual moves as many LGBT people opt to hide their sexuality. While their response contributes to a culture of silence, they cannot and must not be blamed for it – simply put, they fear for their lives.</p><p>The LGBT pride parades pursue a radically different approach: a public and full-throated political demand to recognise that LGBT people exist. Do our data confirm that Russian cities are not ready to host such events on their territories? If our goal is to fight the silence, the data show exactly the contrary: as long as anybody suffers and is killed because of their sexuality, it is important to shout at the top of our voices to try and stop the murders and political climate in which they are tacitly tolerated. Human rights marches across towns and cities of all sizes are one way of articulating this; a means to make violence visible and demand that it stop.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/transgender-life-in-chechnya">A transgender life in Chechnya</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Evgeny Shtorn Alexander Kondakov Rights for all Russia Human rights Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:51:20 +0000 Alexander Kondakov and Evgeny Shtorn 112004 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/14680713_1341810105859774_6392757783503302157_n%20%281%29.jpg" alt="14680713_1341810105859774_6392757783503302157_n (1).jpg" width="80" /></p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian society’s faith in simple answers could lead to the erosion of basic freedoms. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetyana-bezruk/liberalnaya-demokratia">RU</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31343627_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kyiv's Friendship of Arch, temporarily renamed the Arch of Diversity in honour of the 2017 EuroVision Song Contest. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Since war broke out in 2014, Ukraine has experienced a difficult period both for its citizens and liberal values, which are the bedrock of any democratic state. The war has affected almost everybody in the country, and the conflict has become a justification for illiberal initiatives undertaken by Ukraine’s state apparatus. For Ukrainian society, the choice in favour of liberal freedoms is becoming more and more difficult. At first glance, restricting them seems to be necessary.</p><p dir="ltr">In December last year, Fareed Zakaria<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/america-is-becoming-a-land-of-less-liberty/2016/12/29/2a91744c-ce09-11e6-a747-d03044780a02_story.html?utm_term=.dc39bf023984"> wrote</a> in the Washington Post about the coming of illiberal democracy to America. He cites the examples of Hungary, Iraq, Philippines, Russia and Turkey as states where some form of democracy is maintained, but where a range of liberal freedoms is disappearing. It’s not enough to strengthen provisions for the rule of law, the rights of minorities, freedom of speech in national legislation — these norms should be put into practice. As Zakaria writes, today, America’s culture of liberal democracy is weakening, and this process should concern both Republicans and Democrats.</p><p dir="ltr">These worrying trends are visible across the Atlantic ocean, from Ukraine. Indeed, Ukrainian citizens support the women who come out to protest, Muslims who face discrimination and suspicion, and the newspapers whose correspondents have been refused entry to presidential press conferences. But this support seems to reflect an opportunity to observe the crisis of liberal democracy elsewhere. And this begs the question: are liberal values merely an object to be observed at a distance for Ukraine? Is this just an opportunity to sympathise with the crisis of democracy in Europe and America?</p><p dir="ltr">It’d be wrong to say that Ukrainian citizens cannot see illiberal tendencies in their country. But there is one factor that restrains our reaction to them: the external threat. In discussions of liberal democracy — from freedom of speech to the right to peaceful assembly — the importance of observing human rights is not placed first.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Are liberal values merely an object to be observed at a distance for Ukraine? Is this just an opportunity to sympathise with the crisis of democracy in Europe and America?</p><p dir="ltr">There’s an expression in Ukrainian “ne na chasi”, which means literally “not the time”. The expression doesn’t imply that something isn’t necessary, but that it should be postponed for a certain period. In Ukraine’s case, this time will come after the war ends. When the issue of the country’s security is solved, that’s when different groups in society will be able to talk about various issues.</p><p dir="ltr">These non-governmental institutions and informal groups criticise and correct the agenda of Ukraine’s state institutions, to ensure they follow the interests of the entire society. But as Cas Mudde writes in <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/no-we-are-not-all-charlie-and-that%E2%80%99s-problem">“No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem)”</a>, this criticism can also be selective and subject to self-censorship. Writing a few days after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in 2015, Mudde argued that it’s easier to speak in the name of an entire society than to speak as an individual. Back then, the media campaigns that called for solidarity with Charlie Hebdo in the name of liberal values attracted people who, prior to the attack, would have refrained from criticising or supporting the magazine’s staff.</p><p dir="ltr">In February 2017, a situation similar to the Charlie Hebdo attack took place at Kyiv’s Center for Visual Culture. Members of a far-right nationalist organisation <a href="http://politicalcritique.org/blog/2017/02/13/vcrc-reopens-attack/">attacked an exhibition by anarchist artist David Chichkan</a>. But here, Ukrainian society made no large-scale demonstration of solidarity in support of freedom of expression.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/16523801_854811511326649_1914111989_o_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>David Chichkan's exhibition "Lost Opportunity" after it was attacked in February 2017. Source: Political Critique. </span></span></span>Far-right activists smashed windows, ripped up Chichkan’s pictures and sprayed slogans accusing him of separatism and playing up to Moscow. In this exhibition (“Lost opportunity”), Chichkan demonstrated his attitude to the chance for reforming the Ukrainian state that he believes Ukrainian citizens had lost after EuroMaidan. The artist believes that opportunities for change have been substituted with a nationalist programme and policy carried out by the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, which is based on the extreme right-wing ideology of Ukrainian nationalists during the 1930s and 1940s.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian society’s consensus of justification towards people who have turned patriotism into vandalism is becoming more and more tangible. Indeed, when a country is at war, and the border with the aggressor state remains open, right-wing politicians offer a clear understanding of the situation. This picture is simplified, and is based exclusively on the national idea and ethnocentrism. And it’s possible that right-wing vision of the situation at hand are incompatible with the Constitution, and stretch our understanding of freedom of speech. But they give people an opportunity to solve the problems facing the country and society via very simple methods.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There is no universal formula that would show how nationalist organisations influence politics. Indeed, electoral support at presidential or parliamentary campaigns doesn’t always reflect this influence</p><p dir="ltr">Since EuroMaidan, historians and other researchers have been discussing the extent to which the far-right were involved in the 2014 protest, and whether they were the driving force. There is no universal formula that would show how nationalist organisations influence politics. Indeed, electoral support at presidential or parliamentary campaigns doesn’t always reflect this influence. When a country is basically at war, this situation raises patriotic feelings and makes certain slogans (otherwise the exclusive domain of the rightwing) more visible. This is how society turns to the right. I’m talking about those ideas that are to the right of the centre, and which aren’t compatible with liberal values, but which aren’t a direct expression of far-right political views.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, political parties, apart from the obviously nationalist ones, don’t have much in the way of ideology. They rely on their leaders’ personal charisma. This is why it’s easy for Ukrainian politicians to pick up slogans that appeal to their electorate. According to recent surveys<a href="https://docs.google.com/document/d/10YtQeGeMZ0AQ4V2ndT7rlDeT7mLRrWH14vnefAEjpVs/edit"> carried out by Kiev International Institute of Sociology</a>, Ukrainians name the war, living standards, economic situation and security as the issues that are most important to them. And if the Ukrainian electorate wants to build a wall with Russia, then the refusal to use Russian social networks could be the prototype — it doesn’t necessarily have to be made out of bricks.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31320919_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A public exhibition detailing casualties and deaths at the frontline of the Donbas conflict. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 16 May, President Petro Poroshenko <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/ukraine-blocks-popular-russian-websites-kremlin-role-war">signed a decree</a> on the decision by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council on “applying special personalised economic and other limiting measures”. Among others, the popular Russian social media websites VKontake and Odnoklassniki fell under these sanctions. And given that these websites were named “economically unsafe” only in the third year of the Russian-Ukrainian war, it raises questions about why this step wasn’t taken earlier. The ban on social networks (which are used mostly for mobilisation or entertainment) became more prominent than the educational campaigns about why signing over personal information to Russian social networks might be risky for users.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">There were no prominent protests against this decree. The debate about whether freedom of speech can be limited during wartime has divided Ukrainian society between those who are ready to forego human rights under conditions of war, and those who aren’t. Indeed, Ukrainian journalists, public figures and human rights defenders are among those who supported the ban against Russian social media.</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, the limits of the permissible, which can be violated by the state, are becoming less and less clear. And it is no less hard for a society traumatised by war to resist simplifications and ignore the destruction of something valuable before its very eyes.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/no-we-are-not-all-charlie-and-that%E2%80%99s-problem">No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Rights for all Ukraine Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:05:46 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 111633 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The inequality of women keeps the North Caucasus vulnerable https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/victoria-gurevich/inequality-of-women-keeps-north-caucasus-vulnerable <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Corruption, violence and underdevelopment still plague Russia’s North Caucasus. By empowering women, the Russian authorities could build grounds for a more sustainable peace.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechen women near the Berkat market, Grozny. (c) Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>The North Caucasus has a challenging history. Underdeveloped, plagued with violence and corruption, the region has struggled to arrive at peace and stability. Similar to the Russian Federation in many ways, such as in their shared history, political systems and popular culture, the republics of the North Caucasus observe traditions, culture, legal codes and attitudes that diverge from, and in some cases and oppose, those of the rest of the country. As a result, life in the North Caucasus can differ starkly from the experience in the rest of Russia, particularly if you’re a woman.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Women in the North Caucasus, especially in its eastern republics of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, routinely have their freedom limited and their potential suppressed. Bridal kidnapping, child marriage and honour killings are realities that threaten the lives of many girls and women. The circumstances of women in the North Caucasus are a major security vulnerability and a key cause of continued instability. But is it causally indicative that the region in Russia that marginalises its women the most is also the most dysfunctional and entrenched in violence? Or is it symptomatic?</p><p dir="ltr">Many, if not all, of the grievances of the North Caucasus (conflict-related violence, corruption and underdevelopment) can be ameliorated with the elevation of the social, economic and legal station of its women. It is in the Russian state’s best interests to advance the cause of peace and prosperity in its North Caucasus republics by protecting and empowering its female population.</p><h2>Challenge: conflict-related violence</h2><p dir="ltr">For decades after the collapse of the USSR, one of the most devastating and pressing concern facing the North Caucasus was armed conflict and violent insurgency. Various radical groups and extremely heavy-handed counter-insurgency have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">shattered the region</a>, and continue to subvert any chance for stability.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If expulsion of violence from the region is the pursuit, then the inclusion of women in all spheres of life is a prerequisite</p><p dir="ltr">If expulsion of violence is the pursuit, then the inclusion of women in all spheres of life is a prerequisite. Beginning in the home, women play the central role in raising children and caring for the family. Empowering women through education and economic and legal initiatives translates into a generation of young people being raised in environments that are respectful, dignified and conducive to peace. </p><p dir="ltr">Mothers especially serve as an important figure in the lives of their children and their marginalisation adversely affects the worldview that the child holds. The case for the fair treatment of women expands beyond their immediate influence in the home, but also speaks as to how women pursue their emancipation. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9598298812_5a3fe713b4_z_1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2013: the house of the third wife of underground leader Magomed Suleimanov is destroyed by Russian security forces. CС Varvara Pakhomenko/International Crisis Group/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Recent trends indicate that more and more young, unmarried women from the North Caucasus are leaving to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq, a phenomenon that many experts observe as being a form of empowerment for them. In order to stop young girls and women from seeing violent radicalisation as the sole means by which to take control of their lives, more opportunities must be made available to them. </p><p dir="ltr">Women in the North Caucasus can be very outspoken against conflict-related violence and injustices, a recent example being the <a href="http://kavpolit.com/articles/serdtsa_materej_svjazany_odnim_gorem-29182/">Mother’s Heart</a>&nbsp;movement in Dagestan, which, in October 2016, organised in response to a string of abductions of young people.</p><h2>Challenge: corruption</h2><p dir="ltr">Widespread corruption can be found at virtually all levels of government and civil society, further debilitating development and contributing to instability. </p><p dir="ltr">Pervasive bribes at the local level may seem inconsequential in the overall elevation of the region. But the large scale graft, embezzlement and corruption that occur with federal and local budgets have stymied economic development and modernisation, thereby keeping the region dependent on Moscow. In 2013, Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia were dependent on federal subsidies for around 80% of their budgets; and in 2016, Chechnya benefitted from a <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chechnya-kadyrov-challenges-moscow-budget-subsidies/28123822.html">14 % increase</a> in subsidies from Moscow during the first half of the year, despite the North Caucasus receiving a 12% region-wide decrease in subsidies. Furthermore, a program that was implemented in 2002 and intended to help finance Chechnya’s post-war reconstruction until 2020 was suspended in 2007 due to <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chechnya-kadyrov-challenges-moscow-budget-subsidies/28123822.html">ineffective use of funds</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The large scale graft and corruption that occur with federal and local budgets have stymied economic development and modernisation, keeping the region dependent on Moscow</p><p dir="ltr">Evidence shows that there is a <a href="https://cmi.atavist.com/men-women-corrupt">negative relationship</a> between gender inequality and level of corruption, and a <a href="http://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey%20offices/middle%20east/latest%20thinking/gcc_women_in_leadership_final.ashx">positive relationship</a> between female employment and organisational effectiveness. A 2014 report for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on women in leadership found that “companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher [in] organisational effectiveness.” This leads to the conclusion that women should be developed as leaders as they “contribute to their own organisations’ effectiveness and to the strength and resilience of their economies.” </p><p dir="ltr">While there are mixed reviews on whether or not women are less corrupt than men, several cities have tested the relationship between the inclusion of women and corruption, witnessing promising results. In Lima, Peru, public perceptions of bribery plummeted several years after <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-women-leaders-corruption-idUSBRE8B306O20121204">2,500 female traffic officers</a> were deployed to the streets, and Mexico State's Transit Department took the Lima experiment one step further and <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38077422">removed every man from the traffic police force and hired 400 women</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In order to invigorate the economies of the North Caucasus and ensure financial reliability at the local and republic levels, more women must be encouraged not only to participate in public and professional spheres, but they must also be able to thrive and reach influential positions (where they are currently severely underrepresented). And with more women going to work, the child-care industry can undergo some much needed development.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Fathers_Grandsons_Dagestan_0_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grandfathers and grandsons in a mountain village, Dagestan. CC-BY-NC-2.0: Dagestan Mountains and People Partnership / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>As a result of high birth rates and insufficient funding, the North Caucasus has the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab">“longest waiting lists for nurseries in the country”</a>, with nurseries in Chechnya accommodating 146 children per 100 nursery places and Ingushetia being able to support “just over half of the republic’s children”. As women are able to join the workforce, the demand for child care services will increase thereby prompting expansion of such services through more private initiatives.</p><h2>Challenge: under-development</h2><p dir="ltr">In addition to corruption being a challenge in day-to-day operations and an impediment to financial security and sustainability, corruption also stands in conflict with growth and prosperity. </p><p dir="ltr">The North Caucasus republics are sorely underdeveloped, representing some of the highest levels of unemployment in Russia. While it may seem counter-intuitive to add people to an already underutilised labour force, a 2012 OECD report <a href="http://www.oecd.org/employment/50423364.pdf">highlights</a> a study that found that the inclusion of women in a work force actually helps economics grow. Studies done on household finances show that women are much more fiscally responsible and discretionary when it comes to allocating family resources. As opposed to fathers, mothers are more likely to <a href="http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDR2012/Resources/7778105-1299699968583/7786210-1315936222006/Complete-Report.pdf">prioritise expenses that benefit the children</a> and other household operations rather than leisure activities. To take the decision-making values of women and elevate their role to a regional level would benefit the community at large. Initiative in this direction has been taken in India: a 1993 law which reserved 30% of the seats on village councils for women has been credited with improved public services and <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-women-leaders-corruption-idUSBRE8B306O20121204">lower levels of corruption</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">One analysis found that “gender equality is a better indicator of a state’s peacefulness than democracy, religion, or GDP”</p><p dir="ltr">An analysis conducted by Inclusive Security <a href="https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/publication/why-women-inclusive-security-and-peaceful-societies/">found</a> that “gender equality is a better indicator of a state’s peacefulness than other factors like democracy, religion, or GDP” and that the more women there are in government, the less likely the state is to commit acts of <a href="https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/publication/why-women-inclusive-security-and-peaceful-societies/">political violence</a>, another obstacle in the way of a flourishing society. Looking at the labour force participation rate in the North Caucasus, there are significant <a href="http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/b16_50/Main.htm">disparities</a> between women and men’s engagement: 66.8% of women and 79.6% of men are counted as part of the labour force. Bringing more women in as decision makers would only benefit the North Caucasus, and Russia, as the republics would adopt qualities that promote stability and growth.</p><h2>Proposed solutions</h2><p dir="ltr">The challenges of the region do not have an easy cure, but any progress can only begin with the federal government abandoning its orientalist approach and taking the problem more seriously. </p><p dir="ltr">For one, Moscow should respond more strictly to official comments and announcements that oppose Russian federal law and values. Comments <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-north-caucasus-mufti-femal-genital-mutilation/27925915.html">made by a Mufti in the North Caucasus</a> during the summer of 2016 that encouraged the practice of female genital mutilation led to an international outcry, but resulted in little more than a few “official statements” and a half-hearted investigation in Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, Ramzan Kadyrov has been quoted as saying that <a href="http://www.newsru.com/russia/01jun2010/kadyr.html">Sharia law supersedes the laws of the Russian Federation</a>, and has openly promoted polygamy, supported honour killings and enforces strict dress codes for women in his republic. The challenging and contradictory comments oftentimes made in the republics of the North Caucasus by various public figures have suggested claims that were not only illegal in Russia, their tolerance also threatens to exacerbate the conditions of an already repressive patriarchal society.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The first order of business must be the unshackling of North Caucasian women from local customs and regional laws that limit their potential and influence</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, Moscow should encourage initiatives that promote the development and self-realisation of girls. A <a href="http://7plustv.ru/News/2016/08/03/12139">gymnastics centre in Grozny</a> that opened in August 2016 met capacity enrollment for girls and boys just a few weeks after classes started , thereby demonstrating the eagerness of families to support both their sons and their daughters. Of the funding that Moscow already allots to the North Caucasus, a gendered aspect should be considered such that a portion of this funding is dedicated to initiatives that stand to benefit women and girls. Programmes, funding and other assistance should be made readily available to enable girls to flourish in all spheres — sports, arts and education — and opportunities for development and realisation stand to benefit women of all ages.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingush-1997-woman.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingush-1997-woman.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An elderly woman displaced during the Prigorodny Conflict between ethnic Ingush and Ossetians sits in her bullet-riddled home, North Ossetia, 1997. Photo CC-by-NC-and-ND-2.0: T. Bolstad / UN Photo / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Besides programmes that promote activities, efforts should also be directed at making women and girls aware of their legal rights, inadequate knowledge of which is often used against women in their private and public life. Local NGOs and women’s initiatives should sponsor work in this direction, which the federal government would be smart to support.</p><p dir="ltr">Women should be positioned equitably with men in all public sectors for a variety of priority, perspective and opinion. In order to support the hiring of women, Russia can establish quotas — such as India did with 30% of parliament seats being reserved for female MPs — or offer incentives to republics or districts that meet certain benchmarks, especially in industries that are asymmetrically staffed between the sexes. </p><p dir="ltr">The North Caucasus region has a multitude of strong, distinct traditions that add vibrancy and character to the region. But the condition of women cannot be the cost of preserving culture. If Russia is going to better position itself to address the challenges of its territory — conflict-related violence, corruption and underdevelopment&nbsp;— the first order of business must be the unshackling of North Caucasian women from local customs and regional laws that limit their potential and influence.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab">“It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">Gubden, Dagestan: where ‘radicals’ police themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/book-review-veiled-and-unveiled-in-chechnya-and-dagestan">Book review: Veiled and unveiled in Chechnya and Dagestan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Victoria Gurevich Rights for all Ingushetia Dagestan Chechnya Caucasus Mon, 12 Jun 2017 18:40:39 +0000 Victoria Gurevich 111547 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What can we learn from Russia’s spring of protest? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexei-kozlov/what-can-we-learn-from-russia-s-spring-of-protest <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian citizens are fed up. Truckers keep on protesting, and allegations of corruption at the highest levels are drawing crowds. Recent demonstrations teach us that protest could be the only right we’ve got left. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-kozlov/vesna-protestov" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Vorovat-SPB_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Vorovat-SPB_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A protest against corruption in St Petersburg, April 2017. Photo CC-by-2.0: Farhad Sadykov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The past two months have seen prominent and mass protests in Russia. The most high profile was the “Anti-Dimon” protest, initiated by Alexei Navalny and his <a href="https://fbk.info/english/about/" target="_blank">Anti-Corruption Foundation</a>. This <a href="https://fbk.info/search/?q=%23%D0%9C%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B2" target="_blank">demonstration</a> was directed against PM Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged illegal activities. On 26 March, tens of thousands of people across Russia, from small towns as well as large regional centres, took to the streets carrying placards with anti-corruption slogans. In most places, the demonstrations went peacefully, but in Moscow there were mass detentions of protesters by the police. </p><p>At the same time as these rallies were taking place, the country’s road traffic was being disrupted by a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory" target="_blank">long distance truckers’ strike</a>. The truckers are protesting an electronic toll system introduced to compensate for damage done by heavy goods vehicles to Russia’s roads. And, finally, on 29 April came the “Fed Up” demonstration, set up initially by the Open Russia movement, although admittedly it wasn’t the demo itself that had the most impact, but the inclusion of the movement’s American and British branches in the <a href="http://article20.org/analitycs/eng#.WRsHsNy1uUk" target="_blank">Russian government’s list of “undesirable organisations”</a>, as well as an illegal search of its Moscow office and seizure of equipment and literature. </p><p>The “Fed Up” protest, unlike the 26 March protests, attracted few people and was basically a failure. It was unsuccessful in part due to its strange format (it reminded me of a petition to the Tsar) and in part due to unsuccessful mobilisation of participants (there were practically no direct or repeated calls to drum up potential protesters), as well as the inability of the organisers to convert the moves against Open Russia into media hype and a call to action. There was no publicity around the fact that the searches of Open Russia were linked directly to the forthcoming protests. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">The authorities’ reaction to the new wave of protest was predictable: mass arrests, detentions, searches and other infringements of civil rights</p><p>It also became clear that Open Russia had no real leaders or even “talking heads”. Although Andrey Pivovarov, an Open Russia organiser in St Petersburg, is coping with this role (thanks mainly to his previous experience), in Moscow, that is, at the national level, there’s no one to fill this niche. </p><p>The authorities’ reaction to the new wave of protest was predictable: mass arrests, detentions, searches and other infringements of civil rights. Charges and trials on a scale <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20" target="_blank">similar to those triggered by the Bolotnaya Square events</a> in May 2012 are a distinct possibility for those involved in the 26 March protests. The Russian authorities are evidently still terrified of street protests and don’t understand why they are happening.</p><h2>Prosecutions, trials and detentions </h2><p>Protesters, in numbers comparable only to those of the first days of the For Fair Elections demonstrations in 2011, have been charged with both criminal and administrative offences. There have been far more detentions and administrative charges than even during the violent dispersal of the Bolotnaya protesters in May 2012. </p><p>Moscow City Court’s official record <a href="http://mos-gorsud.ru/mgs/news/podvedeny-itogi-rassmotreniya-de" target="_blank">shows</a> that Tverskoy district court filed 732 administrative charges against people detained on Tverskaya Street on 26 March alone. There were also dozens of charges filed in the regions, and 89<a href="https://regnum.ru/news/society/2256471.html" target="_blank"> known</a> in St Petersburg. So far 64 people in Moscow have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/28/spisok-dostavlennyh-v-specpriemniki-moskvy-posle-akcii-antidimon" target="_blank">sentenced</a> to administrative detention of between two and 25 days.</p><p>No less than 543 people detained by police in Moscow have been given fines of 10,000- 20,000 roubles (£138-£275). All those known to have been charged with administrative offences have been found guilty. Court sessions have had a <a href="http://www.article20.org/ru/news/sharov-delone-vpechatleniya-posle-dvukh-nedel-v-tverskom-sud#.WRQhkOV942w" target="_blank">formal, unlawful and accusatory character</a>. </p><p>“The police used to turn a blind eye in at least half of cases, but now the Tverskoy court will swallow everything,” says Sergei Sharov-Delaunay, who works in Moscow as a public defender. “It’s come to the stage when someone might be detained at 3pm for a supposed offence at a rally that had been banned between 4pm and 6pm, not to mention that half the trial documents would no longer be in place and the court session would be taking place without any witnesses being called.” </p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the future, photos and video clips may be enough to charge someone with an administrative offence</p><p>There’s a similar situation in other cities. In Samara, for example, an activist was <a href="http://www.article20.org/ru/news/v-samare-za-uchastie-v-mitinge-protiv-korruptsii-osudili-che#.WRQf5-V942w" target="_blank">convicted of taking part in a picket</a>, although he had been detained before it started and was sitting in a police station when it was taking place. Exceptions, such as the <a href="http://article20.org/ru/news/arkhangelskii-sud-opravdal-pensionerku-obvinyaemuyu-v-narush#.WP8WLtKLSHt" target="_blank">case of the Arkhangelsk pensioner Marina Venchikova</a>, only prove the rule. Local law enforcement tried to charge Venchikova with holding an unlawful picket on the basis of a photo posted on a social network in which, according to them, she was allegedly standing with some other people carrying a placard reading “Putin isn’t Russia: Russia is us”. In the end, an Arkhangelsk district court found she had no case to answer. </p><p>So far (in most cases), Russian courts have convicted people who have been actually (however unjustifiably) arrested at public events. But in the future, photos and video clips may be enough to charge someone with an administrative offence.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaddyWagon_Ticket_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaddyWagon_Ticket_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A souvenir ticket to a police van (146 roubles a ride). Photo CC-by-2.0: Evgeny Isaev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In general, the present situation with administrative prosecutions doesn’t much differ from previous protests followed by mass detentions. There has been no order to “rough them up”, but no one is to be allowed to get off scot-free. One new initiative has been <a href="http://article20.org/ru/news/zhitelnitsu-sverdlovskoi-oblasti-oshtrafovali-za-uchastie-do#.WRwVx9y1uUm" target="_blank">fining parents of underage protesters</a>, as well as applying extra-judicial pressure (FSB and police officers visiting protesters’ schools and homes, parents being summoned to juvenile affairs commissions and the public prosecutor’s office etc.). The earlier practice of detaining young protesters at protests has been dropped in favour of this new repressive mechanism. </p><p>As well as administrative cases, numerous criminal cases have been instigated. In Moscow, four people have been accused of attacking a police officer during a protest, and one charge of using force against a representative of authority has been brought in Volgograd, with another one attempted in Petrozavodsk. </p><p>These cases are characterised by haste and pressure brought to bear by the law enforcement agencies on the accused. Yuri Kuliy, a 28-year-old actor, for example, was arrested on 4 April. According to the prosecution, on 26 March he had grabbed a National Guard officer by the arm on Moscow’s Pushkin Square, causing him “physical harm”. According to Elena Liptser, Kuliy’s lawyer, the guard was unhurt — no injury was recorded. In custody, Kuliy admitted his guilt (a mistake, according to Liptser). His case was examined in special procedure (without any examination of evidence or witnesses) and he <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/eight-months-for-allegedly-attacking-police-officer" target="_blank">received eight months in prison</a> as a result. </p><p>The central figure in another case connected with the Moscow protests, on a charge of justifying terrorism and organising mass disruptions of public order, is Dmitry Bogatov, a mathematics lecturer at Moscow University of Finance and Law. Meanwhile, a case of incitement to religious discord was used as a reason for searching the homes of the organisers and participants in acts of protest in Irkutsk, and a case of incitement to hatred as grounds for searches at Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation’s offices in Moscow.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">All searches, on any possible grounds, are designed to collect material to be used later to fabricate cases against more people</span></p><p>But if cases of alleged violence are proceeding according to a scheme developed during the Bolotnaya trials, Bogatov’s justification of terrorism charge is a whole new ball game. The fact that the authorities have increased the severity of the charge, and that he will be held in custody until 8 June, also reveals a tendency towards criminalising anonymity online by one means or another. </p><p>So far, Bogatov is guilty only of connecting to a Tor network (which is still legal), through which documents allegedly “justifying terrorism and organising mass disruptions of public order” were published. The investigators claim that under the alias “Airat Bashirov”, Bogatov posted two documents that included calls for radical action at protests in Moscow on 2 April. The police have decided to interpret them as “organising mass disruptions of public order” and “incitement to terrorism”. </p><p>Unfortunately, protest organisers and protesters (and their parents) are facing not just official prosecution but numerous threats and defamations. One woman in Cheboksary has been reported as <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/v-cheboksarah-uvolnyayut-i-otchislyayut-iz-universiteta-uchastnikov-akcii" target="_blank">losing her job</a>. A teacher in Krasnoyarsk has been fired for showing his students the <a href="https://fbk.info/english/english/post/304/" target="_blank">Anti-Corruption Foundation’s “Anti-Dimon” video</a>. Official bodies are also holding “awareness raising” sessions for young people and school heads about “banning participation in acts of protest”. In Primorsky Krai, for example, the authorities have <a href="http://www.article20.org/ru/news/v-primore-direktorov-shkol-prizyvayut-zapreshchat-uchenikam#.WRWk0OV97b0" target="_blank">distributed circulars</a> about the need for headteachers to talk to their students about this and forbid them to go to opposition rallies.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Utka_Dimon_6_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Utka_Dimon_6_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Некоторые права защищены. The yellow duck became a symbol of Russia’s anti-corruption movement when, during the “Anti-Dimon” protests, jokes appeared online about the duck house seen at a residence believed to belong to prime minister Medvedev. Photo CC-by-SA-4.0: Daggets / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>There is nothing new in the police detaining protesters and protest organisers, but the scale of arrests after 26 March and the fact that they have continued for days and months afterwards has made them particularly shocking. The most flagrant case is that of Vyacheslav Maltsev, a prominent anti-establishment blogger and politician, whose door was broken down so he could be flown back to Moscow from his home city of Saratov — just so that he could be held in detention for 15 days for insubordination to a police officer. He <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20" target="_blank">suffered from heart trouble en route</a>. </p><p>All this implies a desire on the part of the government to extend the range of the “<a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/24/repressive-measures-against-anti-corruption-action-march-26th-2017" target="_blank">26 March Case</a>”, both in terms of numbers of arrests and territory covered. All searches, on any possible grounds, are designed to collect material to be used later to fabricate cases against more people. </p><h2>The official limits to freedom of assembly</h2><p>The 26 March protests and the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/03/st-petersburg-metro-rocked-by-explosion-sennaya-ploshchad-station" target="_blank">St Petersburg metro attack</a> in April have been used by the authorities in several regions to limit the public’s right to peaceful assembly. </p><p>Voronezh’s Anti-Terrorist Commission, for example, has <a href="http://article20.org/ru/news/v-voronezhe-ogranichili-provedenie-aktsii-po-rasporyazheniyu#.WP8I2tKLSHt" target="_blank">ordered</a> “measures to be taken to limit public and mass events within the Voronezh city limits. The <a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://www.bbc.com/russian/news-39626539&amp;prev=search" target="_blank">authorities in Tomsk moved the city’s “Hyde Park”</a> away from the city centre (where it had been the venue for an anti-corruption rally on 26 March) to an industrial zone on its north-eastern outskirts. In Samara and Orenburg, protest venues were removed from the list of local “Hyde Parks” — specially designated places where Russians could rally without seeking permission from the city authorities, the name a reference to London’s famous “Speakers’ Corner”. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Protest is one of Russian citizens’ last political rights, the last opportunity they have to question and make demands of the powers that be</p><p>There have, nonetheless, been a few cases where bans on public meetings have been overturned. Pskov City Court <a href="http://article20.org/ru/news/organizator-pskovskogo-mitinga-protiv-korruptsii-vyigral-sud#.WP8E-NKLSHs" target="_blank">declared</a> a ban on protests on 26 March illegal, although the idea was possibly to ban protests specifically on 26 March, while leaving any further activity alone. </p><p>There have been numerous attempts to introduce official restrictions on freedom of assembly at regional level. They exist de facto in the North Caucasus, where an authorisation system is in force for public events, whereas by law there should be a simple notification process. According to the letter of the law, organisers should inform the authorities of their wish to hold a picket. The authorities may then suggest a change of time or place for the picket, but formally they have no right to permit or prohibit events of this kind. </p><p>With the use of this system in several regions at once and in the absence of any “tweaking” from central government, this tendency might become more common. In some ways, it ties in with Putin’s 10 May directive on <a href="https://rusreality.com/2017/05/10/putin-signed-a-decree-on-strengthening-security-measures-at-the-time-of-the-world-cup/" target="_blank">special security measures</a> during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup. The directive includes the introduction of a strict authorisation system for public events, which for a limited period will require permission from the FSB. The idea of a directive of this kind is not new (there were similar restrictions in place during the 2014 Winter Olympics), but the scale will be much larger this time. </p><p>Official civil rights bodies such as the Ombudsperson’s department and the Presidential Council on Human Rights are unlikely to interfere with these decisions. The only hope lies with regional activists, who have successfully challenged such initiatives many times on the past, in some cases through the courts. In Voronezh, for instance, no less than three attempts by various regional bodies to limit the holding of public events were successfully contested. Civil rights activists Natalya Zvyagina and Ilya Sivoldayev defended the right of the citizens in Voronezh to peaceful assembly on many occasions and in courts at various levels. </p><h2>Dealing with detention</h2><p>Trials in connection with the 26 March protests are continuing: they are expected to drag on until the end of May. </p><p>We mustn’t forget that in Russia, protest is criminalised: the penalty for an administrative offence, such as taking part in an unauthorised rally, is close to that for a criminal offence — being held in custody for up to 30 days and a fine of up to 300,000 roubles [£4,065]. And repeated infringement of the law on public assembly can trigger a criminal charge and a possible two year prison sentence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This abundance of administrative cases against protesters has practically exhausted the capabilities of Moscow’s NGOs and public defenders</p><p>In this situation, the role of lawyers and public defenders (people with appropriate knowledge of the law but without the status of a lawyer) becomes especially important. In the first place, Russia’s Administrative Code doesn’t comply with modern judicial procedure or conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, especially on the right to a defence. It includes no requirement, for example, to record court proceedings. The presence of a lawyer and public defender lowers (although it doesn’t avoid completely) the level of arbitrary decision making in administrative cases. Besides, the specifics of cases relating to public assembly assume relevant knowledge on the part of these people, including knowledge of the corrupt practices resorted to by officials and the police. The effectiveness of the defence is also increased if a lawyer is present at the time when someone is charged.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Protest_Russia_87762_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Protest_Russia_87762_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The cry of dissenters. Photo CC-by-2.0: Ilya Shchurov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This abundance of administrative cases against protesters has practically exhausted the capabilities of Moscow’s NGOs and public defenders — imagine that you have some 1,000 detainees and only 20 lawyers. Meanwhile, because of the array of administrative cases, information on criminal cases has often not been worked out in time, and human rights lawyers arrive at these cases late and unprepared. In short, the main problem of all these complex criminal cases is the almost complete absence of human rights lawyers attending to them, a gap which “lawyers for hire” then come to fill — lawyers who are quite clearly biased on the side of the state investigators.</p><p>In this situation, exchange of information and coordination play a crucial role. How many people have been detained, where they are, what they’ve been charged with, do they need a lawyer, and if so, when should that lawyer get involved? Obviously, it’s entirely up to the detainees whether they get involved or not, and other organisations have helped those who do. During the 26 March detentions, Jailed Russia, Open Russia, and OVD-Info all helped coordinate assistance and keep people informed.</p><p>By contrast, the FSB’s searches of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation offices and detentions of its staff has certainly impeded their ability to provide legal assistance. Nevertheless, the key issue was that Navalny’s organisation was just not prepared for the volume of work that came in. Olga Romanova, a prominent human rights defender and journalist, said that “on practically every day following 26 March, defence lawyers were working at the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow, including many from Jailed Russia [Romanova’s organisation].” And they worked for free, under the umbrella of OVD-Info, Memorial, Public Verdict and Jailed Russia, with their headquarters at OVD-Info’s offices. Romanova mentions some 37 lawyers and public defenders working in Moscow that day.</p><p>It came as no surprise that the courts were biased and in practice offered far from a fair trial to the detainees. Moscow-based lawyer Alexei Avanesyan testified that documents and video recordings put forward by the defence were not taken into account, and even that the authorities’ detention records with justifications of the arrest had been taken on carbon paper — documents pertaining to multiple detainees included the same smelling mistakes! </p><p class="mag-quote-center">The lesson is that organisations that aim to mobilise mass protests should also prepare in advance for mass detentions</p><p>Why were Open Russia and its various initiatives able to provide such a high level of legal support to people detained during the “Fed Up” protest? Firstly, the organisation had its own human rights programme and many lawyers who were immediately available to get down to work. Secondly, there was a relatively small number of detained people given the small number of overall demonstrators. Although the number of human rights violations by the authorities was quite visible, there were fortunately no criminal cases launched — the harshest sentence was for ten days administrative arrest.</p><p>The lesson is that organisations that aim to mobilise mass protests should also prepare in advance for mass detentions, in the eventuality that the authorities refuse to allow such protests to go forward, or simply forbid them outright. Protest organisers should commit to maintaining contact with human rights defenders and negotiating with any other structures which express support for such demonstrations. Undertakings to guarantee the safety of protesters and to follow the conduct and mood of a public event are also crucial.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/nadoel_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/nadoel_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nevsky Prospekt is fed up. Photo CC: PaperPaper / VK.com. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Remuneration of lawyers poses yet another problem. They should be paid either by their client, or a third-party organisation. Going by standard legal fees, it’s clear that only one in ten protesters could afford this support. The current practice is that detainees are generally represented by lawyers who are compensated for their work by human rights organisations. As human rights defenders have very limited resources, there are not many lawyers willing to work under such conditions.</p><p>My advice is as follows: anybody participating in, and certainly organising, a protest in Russia needs to take legal support seriously. Everybody should also bear in mind that regularly violating the law on peaceful assemblies could lead to a criminal case being opened against you. Yes, Ildar Dadin is free. But that doesn’t mean that another won’t take his place — perhaps even one of the 1,500 people across the country who were detained during protests on 26 March. After all Maria Baronova, as organiser of the “Fed Up” protest, has already been <a href="https://zona.media/news/2017/05/16/nado" target="_blank">fined by the authorities</a>.</p><h2>What’s to come?</h2><p>The role of protest organisers is again significant. The direct participation of Alexei Navalny in his own protests, along with his 15 days’ detention, certainly won’t harm his reputation. Faced with a situation where mass media deliberately do not mention forthcoming protests, circulating information about the course of such demonstrations becomes extremely important — which is why independent media initiatives are important once again. This is exactly why the authorities searched the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s offices — in order to disrupt their live broadcast and find any evidence of preparations for future mass protests.</p><p>The strike against Open Russia was pre-emptive. It’s as yet unclear quite what the consequences will be for the authorities’ inclusion of Open Russia’s British and American branches in the <a href="http://article20.org/ru/content/zakon-o-nezhelatelnykh-npo-isklyuchit-vozmozhnost-raboty-lyu" target="_blank">list of “undesirable” organisations</a>. But there should be no illusions about the prosecutor’s statement that this will not impede their regular operation. If you look carefully at Russia’s law on “undesirable organisations”, it becomes obvious that prosecutions will be carried out against individuals, not organisations.</p><p>Will there be any further street protests in Russia? Undoubtedly, and it’s clear that the Moscow rally of 14 May against the “renovation” of Soviet-era apartment blocks won’t be the last. Protest is one of Russian citizens’ last political rights, the last opportunity they have to question and make demands of the powers that be — because otherwise, the authorities just won’t listen. Will there be further repressions against the organisers of protests, and those who participate in them? Of course, because the authorities know no other way to respond — and aren’t interested in any other answers.</p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><p><em><strong>Find out more about freedom of assembly in Russia in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ovd-info" target="_blank">our regular digest</a> with OVD-Info</strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/state-society-and-individual-in-russian-courtroom">State, society and the individual in the Russian courtroom </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">Dissecting Russia’s winter of protest, five years on</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">Dagestan&#039;s long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexei Kozlov Rights for all Russia Tue, 23 May 2017 14:46:28 +0000 Alexei Kozlov 111101 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>News of mass arrests, detentions and murders of LGBT people in Chechnya has spread around the globe. The outrage prompts this Chechen journalist to reflect on his people’s place in the world.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03082928.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03082928.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov gives a speech in Grozny, April 2017. Photo (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="http://oc-media.org/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></strong></p><p>One gets the feeling that no moment in Chechnya’s history has been as roundly condemned by the world as this current human rights violation. The US State Department, the UN, and the majority of European governments have demanded an immediate cessation of the <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/04/72027-raspravy-nad-chechenskimi-geyami-publikuem-svidetelstva" target="_blank">detention and execution of gay men</a>&nbsp;(link in Russian). Chechens question both the scale of the repression, while the republic’s authorities have dismissed the allegations as groundless, denying the very existence of queer people within the republic.</p><p>Up until now, discussion of sexual minorities within Chechnya has been taboo. Even the suggestion of someone belonging to a sexual minority was considered to leave an indelible stain of shame upon them and their family. Now the genie has been freed from the bottle, and within everyday life in Chechnya, a new word has appeared — gay.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">A taboo has been broken. The genie has been freed from the bottle, and within everyday life in Chechnya, a new word has appeared — “gay”</span></p><p>The majority of the population knows nothing about Chechnya’s gays. Some admit they exist, but refuse to believe they could constitute an entire queer community. In Chechnya, it’s believed that homosexuality and bisexuality aren’t natural, but are instead learned, or taught.&nbsp;</p><p>Families dedicate great attention raising children, from the very beginning, in accordance with traditional gender roles. Girls are expected to behave in ways appropriate to future brides. Boys are trained in “male labour” at, for example, construction sites. They fight often, but under no circumstances should they cry. This is perceived as weakness, and invites comparison to girls. The older generation believes that with such an upbringing there is no way a boy can become gay; they also believe that homosexuality is a trend that came from the west.&nbsp;</p><h2>Not in accordance with tradition&nbsp;</h2><p>There exists in Chechnya a tradition of <em>tsano yar </em>— “cleansing of libel”. Its essence is that every accusation must have proof, or else the good name of the accused must be restored. There must also be a minimum of three witnesses, ready to swear on the Quran and uphold the statement of the accuser. The witnesses must also have, as guarantors, respectable members of the community. An outsider cannot swear on the Quran either: it would be considered sacrilege. Based on all this, it follows that a person of non-traditional sexual orientation should be safe from rumours.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The beating or murder of a person signals entry into a feud with the victim’s family. But men of “non-traditional sexual orientations” are an exception</p><p>In Chechnya, the beating or murder of a person signals entry into a feud with the victim’s family. The enmity might escalate to a blood feud, and at that point, the original victim’s orientation no longer matters: that he is someone’s son, brother, father, is what does. Clearly, we are talking about an idyllic interpretation of Chechen traditions. But every rule has its exceptions: the murder of a woman of ‘loose morals’ (by local standards) or men of non-traditional sexual orientations, for example.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Muslim women at the Berkat market in Grozny, Chechnya, 2012. (c) Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s worth noting that killings without trial are prohibited by Islam, and that Chechen traditions align with Sharia law. There is also no honour court in Chechnya — as had been stated by <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> — nor any institutions, nor prescribed procedures for such situations. Allusions in the press suggesting as much have turned out to be fabrications.&nbsp;</p><p>Furthermore, the death of the perpetrator does not cleanse a family’s honour. On the contrary: it becomes the topic of rumours and gossip. Killing a family member is not a law in some behavioural code, or some non-existent honour court; domestic violence, too, also exists in other countries considered “civilised”.</p><p>According to Chechen traditions, if a young man and a young woman had a consenting relationship before marriage, then the young man is obligated to take her as his wife. If the relationship was one of harassment, the young man might be stripped of his trousers and paraded around the village or the city streets as punishment. Such moral humiliation is considered sufficient recompense. In cases of rape, the punishment can be as severe as murder — which, in other countries, is also considered a crime committed under emotional duress.&nbsp;</p><h2>Kremlin politics as cause for division&nbsp;</h2><p>Until recently, there was no precedent in Chechnya for organised violence against any social group within Chechen society. Even the political division between the opposition and supporters of independence during the First Chechen War did not grow into a civil war. Because of this the Kremlin had to bring in outside forces — the Russian military — for the Battle of Grozny in November 1994. After the end of hostilities, Chechen leaders gave amnesty to members of the pro-Russian opposition. Serious clashes didn’t occur at the end of the 1990s, either, when Chechnya was more definitively divided into supporters of President Aslan Maskhadov and the Islamists.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Most Chechens aren’t surprised at the arrests of queer people. Instead they wonder why is the world speaking only of them?</p><p>The situation changed with the emergence of the Putin–Surkov policy of “Chechenisation” in the early 2000s. Russian authorities have formed, financed, trained, and included within the ranks of Russian law enforcement agencies Chechen detachments, which act according to their own vision of tradition and custom. The aim of this policy was to resolve the “Chechen problem” using the Chechens themselves. Those who came under fire from these detachments, now often called “Kadyrovtsy”, were often members of armed groups opposing Russia, as well as their families and supporters.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zakharova_nemoyatema.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zakharova_nemoyatema.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>When asked by Yahoo News’ Katie Couric last month to comment on the detention and murder of gay men in Chechnya, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson responds “this is not my issue. I’m not a specialist in that.” The clip provoked strong reactions internationally. Image still via YouTube/Vlip. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The next wave of repressions came against young people who didn’t participate in the war, but adhered to a suspicious, from the perspective of the Russian authorities, strain of Islam — Salafism. Then they came for the human rights activists and honest journalists. Those were followed by women who wore the hijab, and then women who refused to (this is where paint-guns came into play, as did bans on appearing in various institutions — in direct contradiction to customs that say only close male relatives can tell a young girl or woman what to do). Repressions also affected alcoholics and drug addicts. Then, they came for the gays.&nbsp;</p><p>According to <em>Novaya Gazeta</em>, the detention of Chechen men suspected of homosexuality follow a well-known pattern: take one person, force him to name a few names, arrest them, and force them to give up more names.</p><p>Phones are also useful for rounding people up — grabbing everyone who’s called, and who shows up in the contacts list. In the case of the gay community, dating apps were also checked. For most Chechens, there is nothing unusual in the arrests and detainment to secret prison camps of queer people. Instead they wonder why is the world speaking only of them? Why does the international media not sound the alarm at the detainment, torture, and killing of Chechens who aren’t members of sexual minorities?&nbsp;</p><h2>A feeling of isolation</h2><p>We are now witnessing a schism which will divide Russian liberal journalists and Chechens into different camps; a schism which will perhaps create unimaginable new and presently politically-unimaginable combinations. Despite the complicated relationship between supporters of independence and the Kadyrovsty, they came out together against the article in <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> and accused its author, Yelena Milashina, of creating a public relations campaign in the style of Western media, and questioned the honesty of her concern for the people being subjected to violence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Chechnya, it’s believed that appealing to the Russian authorities to restrain Kadyrov, supports the myth that he is an independent ruler, and that Moscow does not bear responsibility for his crimes</p><p>Many Chechens perceive this scandal as an addition to an age-old narrative going back to the conquest of the North Caucasus in the 19th century, propagated by Russian authorities. According to this narrative, the Chechens are a savage and uncivilised people, undeserving of international support in their aspirations for freedom, justice, and a place in the world community.&nbsp;</p><p>Yelena Milashina and her publication have become an additional tool in the long-running and not-unsuccessful strategy employed by Putin and the Kremlin of demonising the Chechen people and depriving them of support from foreign countries and human rights institutions. In Chechnya, it is believed that appealing to the Russian authorities to restrain Kadyrov, is to support the myth that he is an independent ruler, and that Moscow does not bear responsibility for crimes committed within the republic since the entry of Russian troops and other oppressive agencies into its lands.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/protest_chechnya_lgbt.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/protest_chechnya_lgbt.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Close the secret prisons!” and “Stop cherishing barbaric traditions!” read placards at a demonstration in solidarity with LGBT people in Chechnya. Moscow, 6 May 2017. Image still via YouTube/Grani.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Many believe that despite its good intentions, <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> acted in step with the policy of “Chechenisation”, the main agenda of which is the destruction of the people’s democratic traditions — traditions which lead them, time and again to rebel against Russia.&nbsp;</p><p>Chechens, who were shocked by the violation of this taboo, are strongly committed to tradition; it is tradition which has allowed them to create a more or less functioning structure for life in a land full of lawlessness, violence, uncertainty, and fear for the future. What is happening to men suspected of homosexuality is unacceptable, but it is the leading policies of the Kremlin, and not just homophobia, that are to blame. Chechen society is not ready to discuss that which, until recently, appeared not to exist.&nbsp;</p><p>Chechens today feel lonely and isolated as never before. They are torn — between the traditions that have helped them survive as a people, and the rest of the world, which has had the chance to develop under conditions that Chechens can only dream of.</p><p><em><strong>Want to know more about the fate of LGBT people in Chechnya? Read these <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">stories from gay men who fled the restive region for their lives</a></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ali Gubashev Rights for all Russia Chechnya Caucasus Fri, 12 May 2017 13:52:29 +0000 Ali Gubashev 110812 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/FullSizeRender.jpg" alt="FullSizeRender.jpg" width="80" />By reinforcing libertarian principles in Georgia’s constitution, the ruling party aims to keep government small — and the space for egalitarian politics even smaller.&nbsp;<strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopo-japaridze/sakartvelos-akhali-konstitucia" target="_blank">ქართული</a></em></strong></p><p></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/29726110661_9b8d7217f4_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rustavi, Georgia. BY-NC-ND Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Today, public hearings <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/430665-tsinastsari-informaciith-sakonstitucio-cvlilebebis-sakhalkho-sayovelthao-gankhilva-5-maiss-quthaisidan-daitsyeba.html?ar=A">begin across Georgia</a> on constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling coalition. Ever since receiving a constitutional majority in parliament last year, Georgian Dream has prepared to change the country’s constitution.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian Dream’s first step was to set up a <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentma-saxelmwifo-sakonstitucio-komisiis-sheqmnas-mxari-dauchira.page">Constitutional Reform Commission</a> to develop draft constitutional amendments, which would later be subject to public debate and two parliamentary votes. The commission has been plagued by severe differences between Georgian Dream and opposition groups from the very start —<a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30041"> many have left and boycotted the commission</a>. In response, the opposition has voiced concerns over the commission’s plans to make the current mix of proportional and majoritarian systems into a strictly proportional one, keep the 5% parliamentary entry threshold for political parties and abolish direct elections of the president, stating the ruling party will <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83171">use these new changes to stay in power permanently</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">However, opposition groups are yet to comment on Paragraph 94 of Georgia’s constitution. This particular paragraph forbids the raising of taxes by parliament without holding a special referendum, which can only be initiated by the government. This paragraph is part of Georgia’s “Liberty Act”, which former president Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/media/axali-ambebi/speech-of-the-president-of-georgia-mikheil-saakashvili-on-the-plenary-sitting-of-parliament-21685.page">pushed through in 2010</a> in order to severely weaken future governments by limiting their sources for budget revenues and strangle the prospect of progressive taxation in the name of “freedom” for enterprise and market. In doing so, it entrenches libertarian ideology in the country’s constitution, to the detriment of desperate, working Georgians.</p><h2>Putting the taxmen out of a job</h2><p dir="ltr">After Saakashvili’s “Rose Revolution” began in 2003, Georgia’s tax system was reformed to be one of the simplest — and most regressive — tax systems in the world. There are only<a href="http://www.transparency.ge/sites/default/files/post_attachments/Taxation%20in%20Georgia%20_ENG_final_0.pdf"> six types of taxes</a>: a 20% flat income tax, a profit tax (which is now abolished if the company reinvests, then the pay no taxes), an excise tax on a few selected goods, VAT at 18%, an import tax that ranges from 0% to 12% and a property tax which is up to 1%. There is no progressive taxation, no inheritance tax and there are no social security taxes.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-2OP_42.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution" was <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment>supposed to usher in a "mental revolution"</a> to the country. CC A-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2010, Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2010-10-20/constitutional-reform-georgia-changing-to-stay-same">rushed through amendments</a> to the constitution restricting the powers of the president and rebalancing power in favour of the cabinet of ministers. At the same time, Saakashvili included a paragraph and an accompanying organic law that would restrict tax-raising powers, the so-called “Liberty Act”, without much in the way of public or private consultation.</p><p dir="ltr">Even the IMF was against it, and international advisors forced a provision in the bill allowing the government to temporarily increase taxes for up to three years in case of emergencies. As Saakashvili and Kakha Bendukidze, the&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">mastermind of Georgia’s free-market reforms</a>, co-wrote in their article&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.ge/books?id=xa5oDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA149&amp;lpg=PA149&amp;dq=georgia+the+most+radical+catch+up&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=P2o0f83wcJ&amp;sig=yryZEjxcabBtp5efpVVcO9VlAA4&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjM_tur19PTAhXGWxQKHbK2Ab8Q6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&amp;q=georgia%20the%20most%20radical%20catch%20up&amp;f=false">“Georgia: The Most Radical Catch-Up Reforms”</a>: “The idea was to design a straitjacket for the irreversibility of reforms carried out by the government during the previous period and to create the basis for the inviolability of the principles of economic freedom.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Paragraph 94 effectively removes one of the most important topics of debate out of Georgia’s public and political sphere&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Paragraph 94 thus&nbsp;<a href="http://gov.ge/files/34_32576_148262_GEORGIAADOPTSTHEECONOMICLIBERTYACT.pdf">caps government expenditures</a> to GDP ratio at 30%, the debt to GDP ratio at 60%, and the budget deficit to GDP ratio at 3%. A referendum on this issue can only pose the question of raising flat taxes for all Georgian citizens — the organic law forbids a referendum on progressive taxation. &nbsp;</p><h2>Go liberate yourself</h2><p dir="ltr">Last month, as part of the constitutional reform process started by Georgian Dream, the Social-Democrat parliamentary faction <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30050">initiated</a> the removal of Paragraph 94. </p><p dir="ltr">They did so with virtually no support from other parliamentary groups. Instead, they co-signed a letter demanding its removal with 24 other public organisations, including the sizeable Georgian Trade Union Confederation. In turn, the Constitutional Reform Commission, which has focused on deliberating procedures of political party participation, safeguarding the Georgian language and defining marriage as between a man and a woman, overwhelmingly voted against removing the Liberty Act during the final vote on the draft amendments.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Liberty Act is detrimental to building an inclusive, healthy and sustainable economy. It cripples the budget both in income sources and a cap on expenditures</p><p dir="ltr">Over the past year, Georgia’s conservative groups have demanded strict definition of marriage, with stalls in the streets and massive canvassing to promote a traditional and heterosexual definition of marriage. Not surprisingly, western media has largely concentrated on the “marriage question”, completely ignoring other detrimental aspects of the constitution amendments. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the commission’s decision signals the high level of commitment to free market ideology that is being reified in Georgia’s constitution. And since the commission has voted, they will now hold brief discussions over the new draft for the <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30072">benefit of the public</a> before parliament votes in the spring and again in the fall sessions.</p><h2>The lingering libertarians</h2><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22963">Liberty Act</a> is thoroughly undemocratic. It restricts taxation by the people’s representative body, the parliament, and ensures that the referendum necessary to increase taxes can only be initiated by the government (rather than 200,000 signatures, as is the case for any other referendum). It thus effectively removes one of the most important topics of debate out of Georgia’s public and political sphere.</p><p dir="ltr">The Liberty Act is detrimental to building an inclusive, healthy and sustainable economy. It cripples the budget both in income sources and a cap on expenditures. Indeed, Georgia’s current budget is mostly made up of VAT and income taxes supplied by Georgia’s poorest citizens (as statistics I obtained from Georgia’s Revenue Service show) — there is no significant middle class who can pay for the country to function.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Rustavi_-03_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protests in the city of Rustavi, western Georgia, against layoffs at the nearby Azoti plant, 1 February.</span></span></span>As deteriorating labour rights <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">have sparked protests across Georgia</a>, new amendments, much like the original constitution, are a dream for liberal free-marketeers.</p><p dir="ltr">There are some forward-thinking, though mostly cosmetic, proposals too, such as enshrining the <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/119510-right-to-access-to-internet-to-be-included-in-new-constitution-of-georgia">right to internet use</a>. But given the growing needs of Georgia’s population, whether in terms of social services or better education for the job market, they require a proactive government which can provide assistance. But the act restricts the development of social welfare provision — tax revenues to sustain long term and robust social services are limited without changing existing tax scales. The Liberty Act thus permits the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">previous government’s libertarian ideology</a> to remain in force, despite Georgia’s electorate voting the Saakashvili government out of power in 2012.</p><p dir="ltr">If this paragraph is not taken out of Georgia’s constitution now, there will be no other chance of removing it in the foreseeable future — obtaining a constitutional majority willing to agree on changes will be almost impossible in the current conditions of polarisation. This will doom the country to continuing economic policies that have impoverished and indebted Georgians, whose only hope of a better life is to leave the country.</p><p dir="ltr">Western states didn’t build democratic institutions and social welfare provision in a day — for decades, if not centuries, people fought for their rights and won. And in Georgia, there is a <a href="http://oc-media.org/are-georgias-disparate-left-wing-protesters-consolidating-into-a-coherent-political-force/">budding movement</a> that focuses on economic and social rights. Indeed, the 24 organisations behind the open letter to the constitutional commission have formed a coalition, and will spend the next month raising this issue at the public consultations over the amendments across Georgia. Yet the time it will take to educate and mobilise the population against the Liberty Act will be long and tortuous — and if Paragraph 94 remains in place, it’ll be too late.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/bakar-berekashvili/georgia%27s-puzzled-transition">Georgia&#039;s puzzled transition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sopiko Japaridze Rights for all Georgia Caucasus Fri, 05 May 2017 13:47:49 +0000 Sopiko Japaridze 110614 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine: sex work in times of war https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/ukraine-sex-work-in-times-of-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s military conflict and economic crisis are affecting the country’s sex workers. Read how these women’s lives and concerns are changing, in their own words.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC_0724.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The red umbrella is the international symbol of sex workers. Source: <a href=https://humanrights.org.ua/en/materials/article>Human Rights Information Centre</a>. </span></span></span>Ukraine used to be depicted as a paradise for sex tourists. The news that the country would co-host the European Football Championship in 2012 was followed by alarmist predictions that more local women would be drawn into sex work, conveying a moral panic and a desire to titillate all at once. When Femen were just starting out in Ukraine, the feminist activist group <a href="http://observers.france24.com/en/20090828-how-they-protest-prostitution-ukraine-femen-sex-tourism">campaigned against sex work</a>, which was seen as being part of the systematic exploitation of Ukrainian women. A documentary on Femen’s early activism is called <a href="http://variety.com/2013/film/global/ukraine-is-not-a-brothel-review-venice-1200608905/">Ukraine is not a brothel</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Western men who visit Ukraine for sex tourism have been known to document their adventures online. Graham Phillips, a pro-separatist British blogger, wrote about his encounters with young Ukrainian women, including <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20140627060619/http://grahamwphillips.com/2014/01/07/prostitutes-and-me-part-1-of-2/">sex workers</a>, before his interests turned to geopolitics. Western journalists have explored the topic in stories that often focus on the seediness of sex work and the beauty of Ukrainian women — stories where sex workers' perspectives or voices are often absent, like<a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/sex-tourists-ukraine-staying-away-turks-human-rights/"> this Politico article</a> by a male journalist on the decline of sex tourism after conflict broke out in the Donbass.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began, the topic has taken on a new dimension — supporters of the pro-Russian side occasionally compare Ukraine to a prostitute, a lost woman who has forgotten her ancient and deep connection with Russia in order to sleep with the EU and the US for money. But what of the actual people doing sex work in Ukraine? What do they have to tell us? And has the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine changed the realities of sex work in the country?</p><h2>Tales of police violence in Kropyvnytsky</h2><p dir="ltr">If one is to speak with sex workers, the city of Kropyvnytsky, in central Ukraine, is a good place to start. “We're not going to Kropyvnytsky. There's no such place as Kropyvnytsky,” the bus drivers joke as I try to find a ride from a Kyiv bus station. “We're only going to Kirovohrad,” they say, using the city’s old name before it was renamed under decommunisation in 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">The provincial city that appears after a five-hour drive through the snow is home to <a href="http://legalife.com.ua/">Legalife</a>, Ukraine's leading sex workers' organisation. When I arrive, the head of the organisation, Natalia Isaeva, is taking a cigarette break with some of her colleagues — the stairs of their office are filled with smoke and laughter. Their organisation got its start following an episode of police abuse in 2009, when Isaeva, a former sex worker who conducted outreach work with sex workers,<a href="http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/UKR/INT_CAT_NGO_UKR_18681_R.pdf"> was unlawfully detained</a> by an anti-trafficking police unit. They threatened to charge her with pimping, and when Isaeva tried to file a complaint the next day, there was no trace of her detention. She did, however, obtain an apology. The head of the anti-trafficking unit was transferred and the officers' bonuses slashed.</p><p dir="ltr">This incident prompted the women to stand for sex workers' rights, attracting the attention of international donors such as Open Society who have funded Legalife ever since.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_6551S.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>3 March: sex workers and supporters mark International Sex Worker Rights Day, and call for decriminalisation of sex work. Source: <a href=http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2017/03/marsh-seks-pratsivnits-ta-pratsivnikiv-mayemo-pravo-na-svoyu-robotu/>Political Critique</a>. </span></span></span>The women tell me Ukraine’s economic crisis and the hryvnia’s devaluation after Maidan have seen more women resort to sex work. “When [ex-president] Yanukovych left, he left an empty budget,” Isaeva says. “Lots of benefits were cut or became more difficult to access, including benefits for single mothers.” It became really hard to survive on a salary of 2,000 hrvynia (£58) a month, one of the co-founders explained.</p><p dir="ltr">Isaeva is aware of sex workers traveling to the Donbass, to both sides of the frontline, to work for soldiers on both sides. “The violence that they face there is not much different from the violence that they face elsewhere in Ukraine,” she tells me. Violence is so common that, when we start talking about mistreatment at the hands of the police, all the women in the room start listing and miming what they have experienced in detention.</p><p dir="ltr">“They beat you on the sole of your foot so as not to leave traces,” one woman tells me. “They beat you with electric cables so as to not to leave marks,” another explains. “That's called Motorola!”, they all chime. “They handcuff you to the heaters!” “They handcuff you with your arms behind your back and make you hang on a pole like that,” another woman tells me, miming the action by lifting her hands behind her back. “It makes your shoulders hurt so much.”</p><p>Sex work is criminalised in Ukraine. A woman (or a man) waiting for a client in the street can be apprehended by the police and given a small administrative fine up to 255 hryvnia (£7.50). A conviction for pimping is a criminal offence and carries a prison term.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 10.07.47.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="327" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Legalife's newspaper <a href=http://legalife.com.ua/gazeta-lilit/>Lilit</a> covers health and human rights issues for sex workers. Source: Legalife. </span></span></span>If this is the theory, Isaeva and her colleagues have experienced how the law is applied in practice — and how stigma constantly threatens to ruin their life. </p><p>In Kropyvnytsky, for instance, the women say the police keep apprehending sex workers who wait for clients on the highway and make them fill out a police report. “No one pays the fine, but the police keep doing [it for the] numbers. It proves they are doing their job. Then they send the letter saying the woman has to pay a fine in the small town where she lives.” This happened to one of the women sitting with us. “It was sent to the head of the district where she lives,” Isaeva says. “The secretaries found out, everybody found out. Her kids got bullied at school by kids who teased them by saying 'Your mum is a prostitute!'”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Legalife members, Ukraine’s criminal legislation against pimping, which carries a prison term, is seldom applied to pimps themselves, and more often used to punish sex workers.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">For these women, the reluctance of the police to accept complaints from sex workers creates a climate of impunity for pimps or clients mistreating them</span></p><p dir="ltr">“No one is trying to apprehend pimps, they always go after the girls,” Isaeva tells me. “It’s the same with drugs. The police go after drug users, not drug traffickers. They go after sick people, common people, where it’s easy because they don’t have to use force, or put much effort into it.” Alongside Amnesty International, Legalife members <a href="http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2017/03/marsh-seks-pratsivnits-ta-pratsivnikiv-mayemo-pravo-na-svoyu-robotu/">have taken part in several protests where they carried red umbrellas</a> (the worldwide symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement) and demanded the decriminalisation of sex work.</p><p dir="ltr">For these women, the reluctance of the police to accept complaints from sex workers creates a climate of impunity for pimps or clients mistreating them. As one woman puts it: “The police often say: ‘Stop being a prostitute and that won't happen’, so the victim is blamed for the violence she has experienced.”</p><h2>By the highway in Kyiv</h2><p dir="ltr">Sex work is everywhere in Kyiv. Everyone seems to know someone who has either worked as a translator or a copy editor creating ads that advertise women's sexual services (a good part time job for a broke literature student), a dispatcher juggling between her different mobile phones to match clients and sex workers, an administrator running a brothel, a male or female exotic dancer who occasionally sells more than dances.</p><p dir="ltr">Iulia Tsarevska, who works for <a href="http://aph.org.ua/en/home/">Alliance for Public Health</a>, an organisation that provides walk-in consultations for sex workers and conducts weekly outreach work in brothels or on the highway, tells me that in the eleven years working with sex workers in Ukraine, she’s found the last two years the hardest after the country experienced a significant drop in living standards. The organisation has been helping sex workers working in brothels that were moved, very suddenly, from Donetsk to Kyiv, and who didn't know where the basic services were located in the capital.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">All the women I meet there are over 30 and come from the provinces. Most are single mothers who have to support their children alone</p><p dir="ltr">That same night, I climb aboard a van providing free HIV tests, condoms as well as lubricant or syringes for sex workers who need them. They pick me up at the end of a tube line and we drive past huge discount shops, typical of the city’s periphery, then a small wood. It’s cold tonight (minus 12), and the sex workers are waiting by a highway joining Kyiv and another city. All the women I meet there are over 30 and come from the provinces. Most are single mothers who have to support their children alone.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/image6.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/image6.JPG" alt="" title="" width="160" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On the outskirts of Kyiv. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>On a cold night like this, they tell me, there aren't many clients. Whenever they set off in a client's car they either conduct business in the car or are driven to a sauna nearby. The social worker has some of them take a quick HIV test, and repeats essential information about HIV transmission.</p><p dir="ltr">I meet Masha (the name she uses for work), 35, who learnt French while working as a dancer in Switzerland for two years — she’s happy to practice it while walking in the snow towards a nearby petrol station. “Today I saw in the news that Ukraine's received a loan from the IMF,” she remarks. “Where does that money go? I'd be curious to know. Are they ripping us off?”</p><p dir="ltr">She seems different, a bit lost and sadder, when I visit her in her flat a couple of evenings later. I expected to see her teenage daughter there, but there’s only a small dog for company. While frying eggs and brewing coffee, Masha explains she lost custody of her daughter after the police intervened during an argument between the two of them in that same kitchen. Masha’s daughter is now in an orphanage, and she is doing more sex work to pay for legal fees to try to get her back.</p><p dir="ltr">The conflict in the Donbas has affected Masha’s life in ways that seem impossible to fix. She tells me she lost her savings when she paid for her mother and her daughter to move from Donetsk to Mariupol. She then ended up living with her daughter in Mariupol when the city was surrounded by separatist forces in May-June 2014. Masha’s mother still lives near Donetsk. She shows me souvenirs from Switzerland and says she dreams of going back there, or at least of paying her debts and making enough money to move to the western bank of the Dnipro, in a neighbourhood “where there are fewer people from Donbass and where people don't know me”.</p><p dir="ltr">We smoke cigarettes, and Masha tells me she has some amphetamines left if I want any. Then we get into a cab that takes us to the metro station&nbsp;— she’s heading to work by the highway. I’m traveling to the east. “Be careful out there,” Masha tells me.</p><h2>Survival sex and sexual violence in the grey zone</h2><p dir="ltr">Many people refuse to speak about sex work taking place near the conflict zone. They say the topic is sensitive, and that talking might displease soldiers or put sex workers at risk from the police. Doors are closed, organisations never return calls. I’m told people are probably concerned I will use the information obtained against the Ukrainian side.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kharkiv, Evgeny Kaplin, who has spent two years providing humanitarian help in what he calls the “grey zone”, behind the eastern frontline, via an organisation funded by the UN Refugee Agency, agrees to talk about what he’s seen. We meet in Kaplin’s office, which is full of donations to be taken to the frontline, and also contains big pieces of shrapnel, on display on a table, strangely.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02685714.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Checkpoint in Maryinka, Donetsk region. (c) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Cities further from the frontline where there is still infrastructure, such as Bakhmut, Pokrovsk or Volnovokha, are places full of soldiers where women, who sometimes come from closeby towns, provide sexual services,” he tells me. “Closer to the frontline, it's generally about trading. In Maryinka or Svitlodarsk, women don't provide sexual services for money but for food or if soldiers help them set up a house. It's for survival,” he continues. In Krovpyvnytsky, Natalia Isaeva had told me the same.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kaplin, survival sex with soldiers occurs in places where soldiers are stationed for a long time. Women don't talk about it unless something goes wrong and they need help. “We had a case in Vodina, a village near Donetsk, where a woman admitted she had sex with soldiers for food. She got pregnant and gave birth to a child. She didn't come back to the village as she thought she wouldn't be accepted under those circumstances. We helped her settle in a more peaceful part of Ukraine, in the Poltava region. And another woman, also from Vodina, called us on the last week of her pregnancy because the ambulance wouldn't go where she lived and she needed to go through a checkpoint to go to the nearest hospital. She also needed money to buy nappies and food for the kid.”</p><p dir="ltr">Reports of sexual violence, although indirect, have also multiplied. “If we were to ask women, if they have been raped by soldiers, they wouldn't tell us. And they won't speak out as long as soldiers are stationed where they live,” Kaplin explains.</p><p dir="ltr">Katya Shutalova, who works as a psychologist for an NGO called <a href="http://rubezhi.org.ua/">Ukrainian Frontiers</a> which provides assistance to people living near the frontline, hears many first hand reports on survival sex, often with very young women. Shutalova’s office is also packed with donations for the frontline.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“In times of war people do stuff in order not to go crazy and to feel alive. Have you ever been to the frontline? Do you know what it's like?”</p><p dir="ltr">“We go to places where life was very hard before the conflict and has gotten even worse since,” Shutalova tells me. “Alcoholism is much worse. Women have sex with soldiers to feed their kids or even their parents. Everything around them appears feels like a nightmare and soldiers appear to be a potential protection. These girls can be 13 or 15. They tell you about what happens in confidence, but they are scared of any kind of institution — schools, hospitals, social services — finding out because they could suffer the consequences. Victims of sexual violence are stigmatised. It’s very hard to talk about that violence. If you speak up, people see it as an assault on patriotism.”</p><p dir="ltr">Shutalova herself refuses to blame soldiers: “In times of war people do stuff in order not to go crazy and to feel alive. Have you ever been to the frontline? Do you know what it's like?” I say that no, I’ve never been and I don't know what it’s like.</p><h2>In Mariupol</h2><p dir="ltr">“Here women sell themselves for a bottle or for 100 hryvnia,” this is how the female presenter of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN0VX_WNLUU">Revizor</a>, a well-known Ukrainian reality show, described Mariupol, an industrial city near the frontline, in December 2016. “Can you believe this is how they presented Mariupol?” Julia Romanova, a journalist who has recently moved here from Donetsk, tells me. “Can you believe the level of misogyny?”</p><p dir="ltr">As I arrive in Mariupol on a night bus from Kharkiv, shelling can still be heard from the eastern part of the city. Mariupol, a big port town and transit hub, has traditionally been attractive to sex workers, and Albina, a sex worker I met in Kropyvnytsky, is supposed to meet me at the bus station, but when I call her at nine in the morning she’s still with a client.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/image3.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mariupol Metallurgical Factory. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>For sex workers as well as women involved in survival sex, one of the greatest dangers is the absence of condoms in areas close to the frontline, and soldiers’ reluctance to use protection.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Donetsk region was a leader in terms of HIV infection,” Kaplin tells me. “And what’s bad is that the infection will travel further than where the soldiers are located. Sooner or later there will be a spike. The soldiers are given a kit with food and medicine, without condoms. If they distributed condoms, then maybe we'd see fewer cases of women getting pregnant and people getting sick. As for buying condoms, yes, they can be found in place that are more stable, maybe 20km from the frontline, but closer to the frontline prices are high. In Artemovsk, for instance, if a soldier sees a pack of condoms for 40 or 50 hryvnia [£1.20-1.50], he's unlikely to buy them.” In separatist territory, the situation is believed to be even worse, as NGOs have left and harm reduction programmes are illegal, as in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“I am not doing this for you, I am doing this to show we are human beings”</p><p dir="ltr">In Mariupol, I meet Uliana Tokareva, who has been involved in harm reduction programmes for over a decade. Tokareva’s organisation conducts outreach with women working in the streets of the city. They have successfully distributed condoms to sex workers for years, but they have only met refusal when trying to distribute condoms to soldiers through official channels. “I think they [the army] still live in the Soviet Union, where there was <a href="http://rbth.com/amp/500001">‘no sex’</a>. This could end badly,” Tokarieva tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">But there is sex, as always, and lots of sex work. Abina tells me it was financially profitable to travel here for a sex working stint, as there are lots of clients. That night, she calls and agrees to meet around midnight. She also apologises for being drunk, asking if I could pay for a cab that will take her to the centre. I say that yes, of course, I would pay, as she was doing this for me. Abina replies: “I am not doing this for you, I am doing this to show we are human beings.”</p><p dir="ltr">The cab takes her to a hipster café she’d never been to before, where she explains that none of her fellow sex workers talk about their experiences: “They are all scared, when they hear the word journalist they get scared, and fear the police will do something to them. I am the only one who is open about what I do, but that's because I don't have a family. I have a son, but I am not raising him.” Albina is enthusiastic about the Legalife organisation, very grateful for the help they have provided, and the solidarity she has felt there.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“They are all scared, when they hear the word journalist they get scared, and fear the police will do something to them”</p><p dir="ltr">A few hours before, in the same café, Julia Romanova had told me: “We don't talk about abuse in Ukraine. We are told not to kick the dirt outside the house, and this is, in fact, the story of my family too. My grandfather beat my grandmother, but she didn't leave him. She said, and I think is a good summary: ‘How can you raise children without a man?’”</p><p dir="ltr">In a country where <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">domestic violence is normalised</a>, violence against sex workers and violence against women and girls at the hands of soldiers is not <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking-on-sexual-violence">receiving the attention it deserves</a>. And while stigma against sex workers is extremely high in Ukraine, and might seem peripheral, I suspect it is a reflection of stigma against all women, who can always be called “sluts”, always be blamed for the violence they suffer at the hands of men.<a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1468280236"> </a>This can translate into attitudes among law enforcement. In June 2016, a Ukrainian soldier was <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1468280236">given a suspended sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl</a> — the fact he had been serving in Donbass was considered as an extenuating circumstance. A system of impunity, which assigns the blame to the victim, prevails.</p><p dir="ltr">Tonight, Albina is so drunk that the conversation keeps returning to her desire to leave for another country, to be with a pimp she’s fallen in love with. “I’ve never felt this in my life,” she tells me. “In 33 years, I have never felt love. What do you think, does he love me or not?”</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="color: #434343;"><i>Read on: Living with HIV in Ukraine is fraught with stigma and discrimination. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">It’s even harder if you’re a woman</a>.</i></span></p><p> <iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/319130307%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-bwCsZ&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" height="166" width="100%"></iframe></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">We have lift-off on speaking out on sexual violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking-on-sexual-violence">As Ukraine&#039;s women speak up on sexual violence, we must not ignore those affected by conflict</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Listen Valeria Costa-Kostritsky Rights for all Mon, 03 Apr 2017 07:06:02 +0000 Valeria Costa-Kostritsky 109846 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Living with HIV in Ukraine is fraught with stigma and discrimination. It’s even harder if you’re a woman.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 18.05.58.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One of the protagonists of <a href=https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/balka-women-hiv-and-drug-use-ukraine>Balka</a>, a film which follows the lives of women struggling with drug use and HIV in Ukraine. Source: Open Society Foundations. </span></span></span>On International Women’s Day in early March, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) published a<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2017/march/international-womens-day"> report</a> stating there is an “urgent need” to increase HIV treatment and prevention for women and girls around the world. “Girls and women are still bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic,” Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, <a href="http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/when-women-lead-change-happens_en.pdf">laments in the report’s introduction</a>, pointing to stigma, discrimination and violence as factors that make women more vulnerable to HIV than men.</p><p dir="ltr">None of this is news to Svitlana Moroz, who heads up<a href="https://www.women-union.org.ua/"> Positive Women</a>, a Ukrainian NGO that advocates for the rights of women living with HIV across the country. Last month, Moroz and other activists filed a<a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/en/material/v_oon_upershe_poskarzhilisja_na_porushennja_prav_vilpozitivni_zhinki_ta_spozhivachki_narkotikiv"> report</a> to the UN, alleging violations of human rights of HIV-positive women in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Moroz and other activists have collected disturbing stories from women with HIV across Ukraine. Natalia, a pregnant HIV-positive woman in western Ukraine, was turned away from a maternity ward, being told there was no place for “people like her”. Another pregnant HIV-positive woman managed to get into the hospital, but was placed in a room with broken windows in winter — she was told they couldn’t put her with other women. &nbsp;Other women have been accused of being drug addicts, denied health care and had their children take from them — all because of their HIV-positive status.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Vera, unfortunately, isn’t alone. She is one of many HIV-positive women in Ukraine who have had to deal with institutional discrimination</p><p dir="ltr">Some women have lost even more. Vera, an HIV-positive sex worker, gave birth by caesarean section in hospital. When she awoke to ask the doctor, a woman, how the surgery had gone, the doctor replied by saying she’d performed a tubal ligation without Vera’s consent: “You have no right to build a family and have children.”</p><p dir="ltr">Vera, unfortunately, isn’t alone. She is one of many HIV-positive women in Ukraine who have had to deal with institutional discrimination.</p><h2>HIV back on the upswing in Ukraine</h2><p dir="ltr">Prior to 2014, Ukraine was putting up a<a href="http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103657"> strong fight</a> against one of the worst HIV epidemics in Europe. Thanks to concerted efforts from government, civil society and international donors to provide treatment and prevention programmes to at-risk populations, by 2012 Ukraine had actually reported a decline in new HIV cases for the<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2013/november/20131120report"> first time</a>. It looked as though the country was about to turn a corner.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s all changed, following the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and the country’s turbulent political and economic situation. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health <a href="http://ucdc.gov.ua/uploads/documents/83da57/582407606b6036307d75611eb87a32e2.pdf">estimates</a> that at the beginning of 2016 there were 220,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine — a prevalence rate of 0.9%, with almost equal numbers of men and women testing positive.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 18.11.27.png" alt="" title="" width="455" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>How infection is transmitted — from the brochure "If you're positive" produced by Positive Women NGO. Source: <a href=https://media.wix.com/ugd/23686c_956ee5a796444fdfae8d21fce8588e3a.pdf>Positive Women</a>.</span></span></span>The trends over the last year are worrying. According to the most recent<a href="http://ucdc.gov.ua/uploads/documents/83da57/582407606b6036307d75611eb87a32e2.pdf"> statistics</a> from Ukraine’s Public Health Center, part of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the number of new officially registered people with HIV/AIDS rose by almost eight percent in 2016; most (62%) of new infections came from sexual intercourse, while 22% from intravenous drug use. While deaths from HIV-related causes have been on a <a href="http://www.who.int/gho/hiv/epidemic_status/deaths_text/en/">decline </a>worldwide, the mortality rate from HIV-related causes increased in Ukraine by seven percent in 2016 - the majority (52%) caused by tuberculosis.</p><p dir="ltr">These official Ukrainian government statistics don’t include Crimea or the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts not controlled by Ukraine (the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”). This means these figures could actually be an underestimate, especially since Donetsk, says UNAIDS Ukraine country director Jacek Tymszko, has long been an epicentre of Ukraine’s HIV epidemic. More than half of all officially registered Ukrainians living with HIV live in Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk oblasts as well as in Kyiv.</p><h2>Stigma “is still very strong”</h2><p dir="ltr">Ilona, a social worker in Kyiv who works with people who have HIV/AIDS, knows how tough it is to be a woman living with HIV in Ukraine — she tested positive herself for HIV ten years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">Ilona tells me about a time when, before she’d disclosed her status to many people, she and her husband had a group of friends over, including her mother-in-law. Some of these friends, Ilona says, were HIV-positive, and her mother-in-law (“a good, accepting person,” she made pains to stress to me) knew about the HIV status of some of these friends and had no problem with it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/HIV-ukraine-unicef.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"28% of young people know how HIV is transmitted and how they can protect themselves." Unicef promotional poster in Ukrainian, 2013. CC Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>“But when they left,” she tells me, “my mother-in-law asked me to help disinfect everything they touched,” all despite the fact HIV<a href="https://www.avert.org/hiv-transmission-prevention/myths"> can’t be spread</a> by touching shared objects like toilets or cutlery. With her mother-in-law at that time unaware of her HIV-positive status, Ilona helped her disinfect and scrub everything her HIV-positive friends had laid a hand on.</p><p dir="ltr">She’s able to laugh about it now, but it still hurt. “It was quite humiliating for me,” Ilona says.</p><p dir="ltr">That said, there has been some progress in reducing stigma against people with HIV in Ukraine. A Democratic Initiatives poll from 2016 showed that 21% of people surveyed believed that people living with AIDS should be<a href="http://dif.org.ua/article/ukraini-25-dosyagnennya-ta-porazki-gromadska-dumka"> isolated</a> from society, down from 36% in 2006 and 50% in 1991. “It’s moving in the right direction,” says Dmytro Sherembey from the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS, “but it’s still very strong.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This type of attitude — that HIV is a disease just for “those at the bottom” — can manifest itself in violence against women with HIV</p><p dir="ltr">Aside from her own experiences, Ilona’s worked with women of all ages and backgrounds who’ve tested positive for HIV. She’s seen how women of all backgrounds — particularly older women, she says — have a difficult time accepting their diagnosis. “They see [HIV] as a disease for those at the bottom,” Ilona says.</p><p dir="ltr">This type of attitude — that HIV is a disease just for “those at the bottom” — can manifest itself in violence against women with HIV. Violence against women is<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova-maria-dmytrieva/shut-up-woman-your-day-is-march-8"> bad</a><a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/07/ukraine-conflict-spike-domestic-violence-150722094335117.html"> enough</a> in Ukraine, but according to a November 2016 <a href="https://www.women-union.org.ua/kopiya-podiyi-2016">survey </a>Positive Women conducted with 1,000 HIV-positive women across the country, more than a third (35%) of women living with HIV reported that they’d been the victim of violence from either their partner or husband, and almost half (47%) said they’d had no support afterwards. Worse still, the findings from the survey suggest the likelihood of being the victim of violence increases after testing positive for HIV.</p><p dir="ltr">Violence against women with HIV can even extend to their children, especially if they also have HIV. Olga Rudneva, Executive Director of the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation in Kyiv, tells me about an incident in a small town in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, where a social worker started trying to raise money for a family with an HIV-positive child. The family, including the children, had stones thrown at them and were eventually forced to flee the town.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s 2017, in the middle of Europe,” Rudneva sighs.</p><h2>“For people like you, we have no place”</h2><p dir="ltr">Outright discrimination against women with HIV in healthcare environments is a problem in Ukraine. The<a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/en/material/v_oon_upershe_poskarzhilisja_na_porushennja_prav_vilpozitivni_zhinki_ta_spozhivachki_narkotikiv"> report</a> Positive Women and other activists filed with the UN last month has several stories of HIV-positive women being denied access to health care because of their HIV status.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2016, when it was time for delivery, I came to the perinatal center, but the administration refused to admit me, saying that ‘for people like you, we have no place,’” Natalia, a HIV-positive woman, is quoted as saying in the report.</p><p dir="ltr">Likewise, a social worker recounts how an HIV-positive client of theirs was placed in a hospital room with broken windows during the winter, on the grounds that there weren’t any other rooms available, and another spoke of how a client of hers was denied in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because of her HIV-positive status.</p><p dir="ltr">At her office in Kyiv, Svitlana Moroz walks me through the findings of the survey. The numbers tell a story of how health care providers can discriminate against HIV-positive women across Ukraine, and how many of these women don’t know where to turn for help. One-third (33%) of women, when asked whether they believed healthcare providers would keep their HIV status private, said they didn’t believe they would. Almost one-third (31%) don’t know their rights and don’t know who to talk to if they feel their rights have been violated.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s very important to mobilise and empower women living with HIV”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In Positive Women’s survey report, one woman’s account stands out as an example of the discrimination women living with HIV can face at an institutional level.</p><p dir="ltr">Marina, a then-pregnant HIV-positive woman, recounted to the researchers at Positive Women that, at a gynecological clinic, “…the doctor started screaming at me and accused me of not telling her about my [HIV] diagnosis. She said she’d sue me because I could infect her, and added a few humiliating epithets… ‘So you’re a drug addict, right?’”</p><p dir="ltr">“I was afraid to go to the doctor for a long time because they’d judge me,” Marina says in the report. “Talking about my status was still humiliating. So I never asked for help, even when I felt pain that was getting stronger by the day. I was taken to the gynecological department bleeding, unconscious.</p><p dir="ltr">“It turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. My life was saved but, sadly, I’ll never be able to have children.”</p><p dir="ltr">Women living with HIV aren’t always able to access the healthcare services they need. According to Positive Women’s survey, only 36% of HIV-positive women reported receiving regular cervical screening and only 32% had regular consultations with a doctor about breast cancer — even though women living with HIV have a greater risk of developing cancer.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25101731.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2015: A rally of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis patients demanding budget funds for treatment. (c) Serg Glovny/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Part of the issue, Natalia Ruda from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) tells me, is that many HIV-positive women don’t know enough about their own health to know what they could be asking for. She says that her organisation, which provides HIV testing services and treatment across Ukraine, has seen more and more women over 40 coming in and getting tested for HIV — and testing positive.</p><p dir="ltr">“No one’s telling them about their health,” Natalia says, “about risks, about safe sex.”</p><h2>“When you feel that coldness, indifference… you feel despised”</h2><p dir="ltr">“It’s something I’ll never forget,” this is how Ilona, the social worker living with HIV, describes her treatment at a Kyiv maternity hospital several years ago. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ilona was in a special unit of the hospital for women with pregnancy difficulties. There were a few other HIV-positive women on the unit with her and, because of her personal and professional background, she met up with the chief doctor to offer some help.</p><p dir="ltr">“He screamed at me,” Ilona says. “He said: ‘You sleep around, get infected! It’s a headache to deal with you, to treat you!’”</p><p dir="ltr">“I learned later this was his manner with all patients with HIV during first contact, basically telling them off,” Ilona says. She tells me that this story is “quite typical,” that an HIV-positive woman’s first experience with a doctor is often aggressive and accusatory.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We say: ‘nothing for us without us’”</p><p dir="ltr">Ironically, Ilona laughs, she’s now friends with the doctor, but the memory of this incident still bothers her. “When you feel that coldness, indifference,” Ilona tells me, “you feel despised. You feel they’re not ready to pay to attention to you, not ready to give any time for you.”</p><h2>“This is our last window of opportunity”</h2><p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/"> Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria</a>, by far the largest international donor to the HIV/AIDS fight in Ukraine, had originally planned to significantly cut funding in<a href="http://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/eastern-europe-central-asia"> 2017</a> to Ukraine. Activists were concerned that the situation in Ukraine could be a larger-scale rerun of what happened in<a href="http://kff.org/news-summary/global-fund-withdrawal-from-romania-negatively-impacting-hivaids-epidemic/"> Romania</a>, when a cut in Global Fund money contributed to a<a href="http://www.icaso.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Romania-case-study.pdf"> sharp increase</a> in HIV infection rates among at-risk populations.</p><p dir="ltr">Fortunately, as several activists and officials were keen to point out, the Global Fund has since stepped up with more than $120m in continued and emergency funding over the next three years. More funding has come from other sources — the Ukrainian state is<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2016/november/20161103_ukraine"> fully funding</a> opioid substitution therapy in 2017 for the first time ever and the US government recently<a href="http://www.aids.ua/enews/us-to-provide-375-mln-to-ukraine-for-hivaids-relief-in-2017-12013.html"> announced</a> it will providing almost $40m in emergency funding.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AIDS-2016-Sveta-Moroz.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="354" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svitlana Moroz from <a href=https://www.women-union.org.ua>Positive Women</a> at AIDS 2016, Durban, South Africa. Source: <a href=http://www.club-svitanok.org.ua/aids2016-nashe-uchastye/>Club Svitanok</a>. </span></span></span>But, as Dr Natalia Nizova from Ukraine’s Public Health Center tells me, “for us it’s absolutely clear that the situation of huge donor support will not last forever,” given that Global Fund is expected to withdraw most of its funding from the country in 2020. Effectively tackling and turning around Ukraine’s HIV epidemic will require transition planning and cooperation with advocacy groups like Positive Women.</p><p dir="ltr">Above all, it will require working closely with Ukraine’s politicians and the country’s cash-strapped state to ensure HIV remains high on the agenda so that Ukraine, in just a few years, can take over and effectively fund its HIV treatment and prevention programmes. “This is our last window of opportunity,” says Dr Nizova.</p><p dir="ltr">But Svitlana Moroz says women with HIV are still struggling to have their voices heard. Ukraine’s current national AIDS council and other committees have no HIV-positive women on them, she says.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s very important to mobilise and empower women living with HIV,” Moroz tells me. More women living with HIV, she says, need to be invited into policy and programme discussions across Ukraine, at all levels of government.</p><p dir="ltr">Moroz, for her part, sounds determined to be part of the conversation, whether HIV-positive women like her are invited to the table or not.</p><p dir="ltr">“We say: ‘nothing for us without us.’”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-tucker/ukraine-s-unwanted-orphans">What does the future hold for Ukraine&#039;s children in care? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Michael Colborne Rights for all Ukraine Human rights Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:30:58 +0000 Michael Colborne 109551 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Shut up, woman. Your day is 8 March” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova-maria-dmytrieva/shut-up-woman-your-day-is-march-8 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What should International Women’s Day mean to contemporary Ukraine?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a style="line-height: 1.5; text-decoration: underline;" href="https://opendemocracy.net/westminster"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555228/howDoParls-banner%402x.png" alt="howDoParls-banner@2x.png" width="100%" /></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kiev_March8Demonstration.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kiev_March8Demonstration.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Don’t be a ‘real man’!” Demonstrators march down Volodymyrska Street in central Kyiv on International Women’s Day. Photo courtesy of Tom Rowley. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span style="font-style: italic;"><a>I</a><span style="font-style: italic;">n 2017, International Women’s Day is a contentious holiday in Ukraine. Some see it as a Soviet anachronism to be disposed of, some see it as both a celebration of women’s rights and a reminder of how much there is left for women to achieve. Millions of others view it as a celebration of traditional femininity and the advent of spring.&nbsp;</span></span></p><p><span style="font-style: italic;"><em>oDR’s Natalia Antonova chatted with Ukrainian feminist Maria Dmytrieva, linguist, activist and founder of the&nbsp;</em></span><span style="font-style: italic;"><em>Feminism UA community on Facebook, about International Women’s Day and its wider implications in a post-Maidan world.</em></span></p><p><strong>Natalia:</strong> <strong>So, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory wants Ukraine to stop recognising International Women's Day, which falls on 8 March. Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of the institute, characterizes 8 March as just another holiday which has been "left over from our Soviet past."&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Of course, 8 March was not even invented by the USSR, but many people in this part of the world associate it with the Soviets, simply because it was always one of those holidays enthusiastically promoted in those days. Do you think it's possible to get rid of the so-called "Soviet cultural baggage" people associate with this holiday? And if so, how?</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maria.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maria.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="181" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ukrainian feminist activist Maria Dmytrieva</span></span></span></strong></p><p><strong>Maria:</strong> Whether we can restore the holiday to its activist, revolutionary roots is a key question. This day is currently perceived as a celebration of women’s beauty and caring nature — in fact, it celebrates how women are easy and pleasant to consume and exploit. Women are rewarded for playing their feminine reproductive role of a housemaid (both at work and at home) with small tokens of appreciation and are supposed to play this role quietly for the rest of the year.&nbsp;</p><p>We even have a saying, “Shut up, woman, your day is 8 March”. We inherited this perception from the late years of the Soviet Union, but, to be fair, for the most part, during the Soviet times, this was not a day off and it was indeed centered on women’s issues all over the world with emphasis on how the Soviet rule supports, cherishes, and upholds Soviet women, and how to show their gratitude they have to be diligent workers and dedicated mothers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If Ukraine’s president talks about women’s rights on 8 March instead of spring, youth and beauty this will send a clear message to everybody that the paradigm has shifted</p><p>Ukrainian women have been pulling double and triple shifts, working at home and at their jobs and in their communities for so long that they wish to be recognised and celebrated – even it is just once a year and with a poorly chosen last-minute gift from their co-workers and a kitchen cleaned, for a change, by their husbands and children.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8-Bereznya.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8-Bereznya.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ukrainian-language Soviet poster wishing a happy women’s day. Photo courtesy of Rarita.</span></span></span></p><p>Ukrainian feminists and activists in the women’s movement inform officials and public servants that it is not appropriate to wish women to stay young and beautiful and that this day is the opportunity for these officials to report on how they have been promoting women’s rights and how they recognise women’s contributions in their respective sector.</p><p>Young feminists have also organised marches and events and happenings to raise public awareness about the women’s issues. We as women and feminists can do a lot – but it comes down to state policy: If Ukraine’s president on 8 March talks about women’s rights and not about spring and youth and beauty this will send a clear message to everybody that the paradigm has shifted.&nbsp;</p><p>We have a good example of a quick and effective paradigm shift: Victory Day on May 9. In recent years, it has been consistently steered by the media and civil society away from the Soviet victory discourse towards a more European discourse of memory and recognition of our loss and sacrifice and tragedy. I firmly believe that the same can be done for 8 March.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Natalia:</strong> <strong>What's usually left out of the conversation around 8 March are women's actual needs - whether it's comprehensive health care or protection against domestic violence. As if a bouquet of flowers can make up for all that.&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>In general, I see huge discomfort around these real issues in modern Ukraine. At best they're "too heavy to talk about,” at worst you're told, “lady, the country is at war, save your petty little issues for when the war is over.” But several experts tell me that the war is <a href="http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21187" target="_blank">directly contributing to domestic violence</a> - people are coming back from the front with severe issues and not a lot of ways of addressing them, so I imagine that domestic violence, already underreported, is probably on the rise. Are you seeing the same trends? How can we best address what's happening around 8 March in the context of war?</strong></p><p><strong>Maria:</strong> I don’t work directly survivors of DV – but from my conversations with different specialists working in the field, and in zones near to the front, the level of violence against women is indeed growing (as could be expected: women are sanctioned victims for male violence).&nbsp;</p><p>The situation is exacerbated by the fact that several years ago, legislators moved the funding for social services from the state budget to local budgets, and more than 15,000 trained social workers were let go and state-funded services mostly disappeared. Those social workers who remain are now under attack, too, as in the course of decentralisation local authorities are cutting down what’s been left. This leaves both the victims and their actual and potential abusers out of reach. Not to mention that in Ukraine, people are reluctant to seek psychological, let alone psychiatric, help.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lesya_Ukrayinka.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lesya_Ukrayinka.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mural of the famous Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka in Kyiv. Photo CC-by-2.0: TravelMag / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Another issue in relation to war is what women have to endure in areas near to the front: the number of women engaged in transactional sex is growing – to survive, they sell sex to men on either sides of the war. The numbers of women subjected to sexual violence are unknown; no agency is gathering this data, no official institution is addressing the issue, no law enforcement agency is looking for their rapists. There’s news every now and then about local girls kidnapped by the so-called separatists to be used as sex slaves to be never heard from again – and this isn’t addressed by the state in any way either. The situation looks grim.</p><p>In this context, 8 March might be a good moment for the Ukrainian authorities at all levels to confirm their European values by committing to upholding and protecting women’s rights in concrete and targeted ways, as you say.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Natalia:</strong><em> </em><strong>Some of the things you just said are really shocking - but they totally go along with my own observations on what's happening. Over the course of the last year, I've also been speaking to women who have relocated to Kyiv since the war started, and some of them find themselves in vulnerable situations. I know of one woman who went to a job interview in Kyiv after she first moved, at what seemed like a legitimate business establishment, only to be told that, “I'll be blunt - you're from Donetsk, there are lots of women like you out there now, so in order to be able to keep your job, ‘favours of an intimate nature’ may be required.” She told me she was at least glad they were fairly upfront about it. She didn't feel empowered enough to lodge a complaint with the police, but regrets not doing it now, because the experience was so humiliating.</strong></p><p><strong>On that note, a lot of fervent patriots will disagree with me, but I see many parallels with Russia in Ukraine right now when it comes to the issue of gender/sexism and the like. There is a lot of lip service being paid to "the beauty of womanhood" (or motherhood, or housewife-hood), but in practical terms, conservative movements on both sides of the border are heavily invested in marginalising women in society. Would you agree or disagree with my assessment?</strong></p><p><strong>Maria:</strong> When it comes to internally displaced women – they are just somewhat more vulnerable than local women. We are all often left to mercy of employers and are forced to decide what we value more, food on the table or our dignity. Several years ago, before the war, I met a woman who worked as a prostitute to feed her children because her salary as a Red Cross educator was lower than the minimal salary defined by law.&nbsp;</p><p>Moreover, we've seen employment websites that specialise in positions with the so-called “added benefits”: those included different forms of sex services for the boss, his friends or business partners. You can imagine how specific and colorful the job descriptions on those were! With a failing judicial system, it is close to impossible to get justice for cases like these.&nbsp;</p><p>I would say we fare somewhat better compared to Russia. At least we have a law penalising domestic violence and legislation in place to combat trafficking in human beings unlike in Russia, where the women’s movement has been lobbying the domestic violence law for 20 years to no avail, and the Russian legislators recently <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves" target="_blank">removed first-time domestic abuse from the list of criminal offenses</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These days, it is fashionable to support LGBT rights, but rather few people outside the women’s movement and feminist initiatives care for women at all</p><p>But as to the general attitude towards women, we are pretty close to Russia’s rampant misogyny. Virtually all our political parties have come forward, at a certain point in time, with initiatives either to ban abortions or to legalise prostitution. Our male politicians are sexist at best and misogynist at worst. Ukrainian MPs <a href="https://en.lb.ua/news/2016/11/17/2351_ukraine_fails_ratify_european.html" target="_blank">sabotaged the ratification of the Istanbul Convention</a> (which outlines the state’s duties in regard of protection of women against domestic violence and punishment and correction programs to their abusers) because they did not like the word “gender” used in it.</p><p>What I find most disturbing, though, is that clergy on the both sides of the border is using the same phrases to tarnish and discredit the women’s movement: they appeal to the notion of the so-called “gender-gay dictatorship” to silence women talking about women’s issues and gender equality.&nbsp;</p><p>These days, it is fashionable to support LGBT rights (and for those who are more advanced, even LGBTQIA rights!) but rather few people outside the women’s movement and feminist initiatives care for women at all. I see numerous initiatives to raise funds for animal shelters but none whatsoever for women’s shelters. And when you start talking about violence against women the response is usually to change the topic.</p><p>Despite the enormous wave of public outrage after the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence" target="_blank">#IAmNotAfraidToSay flashmob</a>, the Ukrainian overall attitude to survivors of sexual and domestic violence is still negligent.&nbsp;</p><p>But, on the other hand, our shiny new police force intends to introduce a new, all-women, department to combat specifically domestic violence. We will see how successful it will be.&nbsp;</p><p><strong><strong>Natalia: </strong><em><strong>I'm really glad that you've mentioned the new police force, because they are held up as one of the things the new government has really gotten right, and I actually tend to agree.</strong></em></strong></p><p><strong><em><strong>Besides combating domestic violence, I also see women on the police force as new role models. Do any other examples come to mind for you? I feel like for far too long the base role model for young women in Ukraine was the embodiment of a pretty cynical (but also somewhat understandable) philosophy: "be a woman who marries rich - and then hope for the best." Would you agree with that? And do you think this mindset is changing?</strong></em><em>&nbsp;</em></strong></p><p><strong>Maria:</strong> I would not say the “marry up” model was that popular – it exists out there but the base model for women for a long time has been “marry and have children” with an optional divorce along the way (many older women even preferred this for their daughters – so then they don’t have to tend to the son-in-law, too). That is, the most widespread societally approved model for women still is to be a mother – and to carry the load by herself, without inconveniencing anybody in the process, including the children’s father.</p><p>This load, obviously, includes putting food to the table. Women are still not encouraged to pursue their dreams, they are told in no uncertain terms to serve others with no regard for the price to their own aspirations or hopes (or health and life, for that matter) and to look attractive in the process.</p><p>But at the same time I have to say that there are more and more families that want something better than mere survival and satisfaction of basic needs, and these families invest in their daughters – their talents, their desires, their aspirations, and these girls grow up independent, curious, fierce, strong and caring. As long as they look forward to their future, Ukraine has a future too.</p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">This article is published in association with the <a href="http://www.wfd.org/">Westminster Foundation for Democracy</a>, which is seeking to contribute to public knowledge about effective democracy-strengthening by leading a discussion on openDemocracy about what approaches work best. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of WFD. WFD’s programmes bring together parliamentary and political party expertise to help developing countries and countries transitioning to democracy.</span></div></div> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/bikinis-and-babas-gender-subtext-of-clich%C3%A9s-about-ukraine">Bikinis and babas: the gender subtext of clichés about Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/olesya-khromeychuk/what-place-for-women-in-ukraine-s-memory-politics">What place for women in Ukraine’s memory politics?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool">In Russia, propaganda starts in preschool</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/8-march-in-praise-of-russian-women">8 March: in praise of Russian women</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Maria Dmytrieva Natalia Antonova Rights for all Ukraine Wed, 08 Mar 2017 10:26:39 +0000 Natalia Antonova and Maria Dmytrieva 109315 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kicking habits, kicking back https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/kicking-habits-kicking-back <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Russia, a punitive Soviet approach to drug users is still in place. But a new generation of activists is ready to challenge it. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/narkouchet-i-borba-s-nim" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lomka_Rossii_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lomka_Rossii_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A pharmacy in the city of Yekaterinburg. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: Perets Partensky / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>When Russian media report an increase or decrease in drug addiction in the country, they are usually only reflecting the number of users officially registered at state clinics. The practice of putting anyone requesting treatment for drug abuse on the drug users’ register traces its roots back to the Soviet era, but it has made a smooth transition.</p><p>Once registered, people find that their rights are subject to various restrictions: they are banned from certain types of work; they can’t get a driving licence or residence permit, or adopt a child. The very fact of being on the register also stigmatises them as addicts, fostering social isolation and humiliation. And even if they manage to overcome their addiction and come off the register, that doesn’t guarantee that the stigma goes away.</p><p>People who use know this, and those who could come off drugs are wary of asking for treatment. This makes it very difficult to even guess the real numbers. As for their civil rights, the NGOs working in this area lack the resources to provide much help: last year, for example, both the Moscow-based <a href="http://en.rylkov-fond.org/" target="_blank">Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice</a> and Project April in Tolyatti were declared “foreign agents”, a status that brings with it numerous financial inspections and court appearances, and considerably complicates the organisations’ work.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Being on the register stigmatises people as addicts, causing them social isolation and humiliation </p><p>Last December, the Mayor’s Office in Tolyatti, a large city with a reputation for drug problems and high HIV figures, <a href="http://samara.ru/read/99401" target="_blank">announced</a> that the number of its citizens on the drug user register had fallen by 1.3%. Many in the media, as usual, interpreted this as “<a href="http://news.sputnik.ru/obschestvo/1ca851d64e94d79753ba98de6188f8be6a4e0546)" target="_blank">a fall in the number of drug addicts</a>”. One Tolyatti resident taken off the register was Ivan Anoshkin, who was, until recently, on Desamorphine, an opioid derivative of codeine with the street name of <em><a href="https://www.drugs.com/illicit/krokodil.html" target="_blank">krokodil</a></em>. Anoshkin now works with Project April on programmes to help other addicts off drugs.</p><p>Ivan’s story is not just about how he recovered from his addiction, but about his battle with the inert and retrograde institution that is Russian narcology as a whole — and the drug users’ register is a key element of it.</p><h2>Surveillance and punishment</h2><p>Ivan Anoshkin started using drugs in 1994 at the age of 14. His addiction led to three jail sentences on theft charges and by 2010 he was in a sorry state: his health was wrecked by krokodil and he had no money for proper treatment.&nbsp;</p><p>That was the year he finally turned to Tolyatti’s state drug addiction clinic and agreed to undergo treatment. This, however, didn’t last long. Russian narcotics specialists, despite the recommendations of the international medical community, still base their therapy programmes on tranquillisers and anti-psychotics. As an in-patient at the clinic, Ivan was forced to take unfamiliar medication that muddled his brain and left his body helpless.&nbsp;</p><p>Another part of the problem was the hostile and arrogant attitude of clinic staff. After one attempt to escape and find drugs, Ivan was forced to spend a night tied down in his bed, unable even to go to the toilet. Unable to kick his habit, he returned to the clinic five times but failed to complete a detox course even once. He only finally went into remission with the help of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation and Project April, which promote a more humane approach to drug issues, as well as a users’ mutual support group.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Anyushkin_Foto_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Anyushkin_Foto_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tolyatti resident Ivan Anyushkin. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span><span>Ivan came to the media’s attention while he was still drug dependent: he heard about the effectiveness of drug replacement therapy (which is banned in Russia) and wrote to the Ministry of Health asking to be prescribed methadone and buprenorphine, the drugs most commonly used elsewhere to treat opioid addiction. His request was, of course, refused, so he took his case to various courts and eventually filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights. Another case Ivan filed attracted less attention: he demanded the abolition of the drug users’ register, on which he had automatically been placed as soon as he checked into the clinic.</span></p><p>As Ivan recalls now: “I knew from friends about the downsides of being registered, but at the time I had no alternative. I hadn’t left my flat for years and was basically dying. They gave me a bed at the clinic and since then I have been an official Russian drug addict, complete with the side effects of that status – social stigmatisation, restricted access to work and a driving ban.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Patients can’t prevent their names from being included in the register, and it’s difficult to prove that it’s been done illegally&nbsp;</p><p>In early 2016, after a routine clinic appointment (compulsory for anyone on the register) Ivan discovered, to his surprise, that traces of cannabis had been found in his blood, although he had been clean for a year. This sent him back to square one — and another three years on the register. After long and pointless correspondence with the Health Ministry and the drug clinic, he decided to take his case to a civil court with the help of the Rylkov Foundation. This case was less about the restrictions of Ivan’s rights and the fact of being on the register, but questions of procedure. According to the law, registration was completely voluntary, i.e. Ivan had to give his written permission to be placed on the register – a technicality that, in his case, had not been adhered to. Having discovered this legal anomaly, he began his battle with the Ministry and the narcology community.&nbsp;</p><p>Despite the fact that Ivan’s complaint was officially against the Health Ministry, it was the local drug rehab clinic that acted as the respondent. They presented a whole pile of papers supposedly confirming the correctness of Ivan’s inclusion on the register. The difficulty with this kind of case is that patients can’t prevent their names from being included in the register, and it’s difficult to prove that it has been done illegally, i.e without their written consent. As police officers acting as witnesses in court admitted, an agreement to have treatment means, effectively, an agreement to being placed on the register, which judges can accept as a convincing argument – especially if the litigant is a former or current drug user. </p><p>After several sessions, the court took the Ministry’s side. But Ivan refused to accept this verdict and took his case further up the judicial ladder.</p><h2>What is the drug users’ register and how did it come about?&nbsp;</h2><p>The drug users’ register is, in its present form, a system set up in the twilight years of the Soviet Union and based on a joint directive issued by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Health from May 1988. The directive required all individuals using psychoactive substances to be forced to undergo treatment, placed on a register and have regular examinations by a psychiatrist specialising in addiction — for five years in cases of drug dependency and one year for casual use.&nbsp;</p><p>Nowadays, both compulsory treatment and compulsory registration are banned. But while treatment at a clinic is now truly voluntary, in practice registration never is. It is automatic, so that many users are either unaware of their official status as an addict, or find out by accident — when they are issued a narcotics report to give a new employer, for example.</p><p>As Timur Madatov, a lawyer with the Rylkov Foundation, says: “the register has been, and remains part of the health system, despite the fact that all Soviet directives connected with narcotics use have been revoked. Now the so called clinical monitoring is regulated by a Ministry of Health directive of 30th December 2015, covering procedures for routine checkups, when they should be discontinued etc.” This document doesn’t even contain the words “drug users register”, but the requirement for three years of remission before checkups can be dropped is basically just a shorter version of the former five year registration period, and which psychiatrist Vladimir Mendelevich describes to me as a “cosmetic measure”, designed to massage the statistics.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tolyatti_1_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tolyatti_1_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A church in the city of Tolyatii, Samara Oblast, 2016. Photo CC-by-SA-3.0: Mstislav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to the new rules, users must give written consent for regular checkups, while the doctor carrying them out must complete a questionnaire on them, the responses to be included on the register database. But given that being on the register means losing certain rights, and is a form of surveillance more appropriate to police officers than medical personnel, not every user is willing to be included in the register.</p><p>In fact, the very phrase “voluntary registration” sounds like an oxymoron in this context, and as a result, registration is happening “under the counter” — automatically, without users’ consent. It has therefore become a judicial anomaly that seriously affects citizens’ civil rights and poisons their daily lives.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The original, Soviet formulation of the drug users’ register was partly drawn up by law enforcement, casting serious doubt on its medical credentials&nbsp;</p><p>Another “cosmetic” but equally unsound practice is the current system of anonymous treatment. This involves no register and no infringement of patients’ rights, but instead involves payment.</p><p>This means that people with little in the way of cash, such as Ivan Anoshkin, have no means of avoiding registration, while other people with similar dependency needs but more money lose none of their rights. They can happily drive cars, apply for any job they choose, and not worry about having their children taken into care.&nbsp;</p><p>As Human Rights Watch <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2007/11/07/rehabilitation-required/russias-human-rights-obligation-provide-evidence-based" target="_blank">rightly points out</a>, “the financial situation of the patient is not a legitimate criterion on which to judge whether their personal details should be included in a database and used to limit certain of their civil rights”. This is, however, the logic behind the whole edifice of Russia’s current approach to its drug problem.</p><h2>Making criminals of addicts</h2><p>The original, Soviet formulation of the drug users register was partly drawn up by the law enforcement agencies, which casts serious doubt on its medical credentials.&nbsp;</p><p>As Lev Levison and Mikhail Torban of Russia’s <a href="http://www.hrights.ru/" target="_blank">Institute for Human Rights</a>, the register is “a tool of punitive psychiatry” that makes no sense in either statistical or medical terms. They believe that its sole raison d’etre is as an instrument for policing the public. As psychiatrist Vladimir Mendelevich says: “The register was not thought up by narcology specialists. Regular monitoring is essential in certain medical disciplines to prevent flare-ups of chronic conditions. The assumption is that patients have rights and voluntarily choose this pattern of interaction with medical professionals. In the case of drug users, however, the principle of regular checkups has ceased to be about medical procedures and has become an instrument of social control and loss of patients’ rights.”</p><p>Both the Soviet and the current drug users register are examples of a practice that, under the pretence of care for, and ongoing monitoring of, people living with drug dependency, brings with it stigma and restrictions on their rights for several years after they have begun treatment. Given that removal from the register, and thus a restoration of their normal rights, requires a lengthy period of remission (in 2015, only 3% of users were taken off the register), many people are simply trapped within the system.</p><p>Narcotics specialists justify the existing system by claiming that it promotes public order. According to this logic, drug users, with their limited rights and constant medical surveillance, are highly unlikely to threaten the social order.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The register’s sole <em>raison d’être</em> is as an instrument for policing the public&nbsp;</p><p>As Vladimir Mendelevich says, the present system is a hangover from Soviet times, when narcology specialists were pressed into service as “sanitary inspectors”, to deal with unruly dissidents. And, according to Mendelevich, “most of our narcologists still adopt a repressive approach to their work. They often think of themselves as citizens, not as doctors.”</p><p>As a result, the drug users’ register has become an ideological tool for weeding out the “deviant” and the “abnormal” in the name of preserving some kind of social order. The effectiveness of this strategy remains, however, in doubt. According to Mendelevich, “the experience of most European countries, which have no such procedures, shows that there are more effective and reasonable ways to help prevent lawbreaking by drug users. They see no reason to deny driving licences to people on the sole basis of a diagnosis of narcotics dependency. Moreover, out of every 100 drivers caught under the influence of alcohol behind the wheel, there will be only one registered drug user.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00111928.LR_.ru__1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00111928.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Preparing for the “students against narcotics” campaign: a competition for the best poster against drug use, 2004. (c) Dmitry Korobeynikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Apart from restrictions on civil rights, the users’ register has yet another negative side - as a punitive measure. Although narcology specialists have no right to share confidential information about their patients with third parties and state organs (apart from occasional and legally permitted cases where criminal investigations are involved), users are often caught up in a “revolving door” policy between the medics and the police.&nbsp;</p><p>To quote the Human Rights Watch report, “it appears that some Russian drug clinics share personal details of people on the register with the police and other government bodies.” Ivan Anoshkin tells me that after unsuccessful courses of treatment in state clinics, he came to the notice of the police and was eventually arrested, beaten up in the local police station and charged with possession of drugs (which the cops had planted on him).</p><p>Fortunately, Ivan escaped an actual prison sentence, and after he lodged several complaints, the suspended sentence has had been given was also rescinded. This individual case is, however, symptomatic of a widespread approach, where people on the drug users register are vulnerable to blackmail, extortion and abuse of police powers.&nbsp;</p><h2>How the register does more harm than good&nbsp;</h2><p>The most negative aspect of the drug users’ register is probably the fact that it scares off people who might go for treatment, if that didn’t mean losing some of their civil rights.</p><p>In 2015 there were 544,563 addicts on the register, but according to the police, the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/russia/2015/06/150626_drug_addicts_number" target="_blank">real number of drug dependent Russians runs into the millions</a> (Russian link). Knowing the consequences for their rights, and the corruption and inefficiency in the health service, many users try to avoid the state health sector — only to fall into the hands of charlatans in religious or occupational rehab centres where they can forget about any rights at all. So the original idea of preserving public order is, in practice, turned on its head: the attempt to monitor drug users pushes them “underground”, and even further marginalises them, rather than offering professional treatment and a potential return to normal life.</p><p>The register undermines trust between doctor and patient — the user sees the medic as part of the law enforcement system, only interested in checking whether they have “gone back on the hard stuff”&nbsp;</p><p>Another problem with the register is that it doesn’t allow a personal and trust-based relationship with users — they become mere statistics, their rights abused and unable to influence their situation in any way. “At the clinic they looked at me like I was a traitor,” Anoshkin tells me. “And as I tried to exercise my rights, I was faced with a wall of prejudice. But I’d always thought of a doctor as someone I could trust, someone with a sense of duty and with whom I could have a friendly relationship.”&nbsp;</p><p>The register is in fact one of the chief obstacles to forming such relationships. As lawyer Timur Madatov says, “The register is a real hangover from the past, that only gets in the way of doctors treating addicts, since the creation of trust between doctor and patient is an essential part of effective treatment. The register undermines this trust: a visit to a doctor is seen as a box to be ticked and the medic becomes part of the law enforcement system, only interested in checking whether the user has “gone back on the hard stuff”.&nbsp;</p><p>Psychiatrists Levinson and Torban agree with this analysis: “the regular check up system is not focussed, as it should be, on preventing relapses and helping the user if they have relapsed or are in danger of relapsing, but just on recording whether they have taken drugs or not since their last visit.” So instead of having a right to rehabilitation, the addict is just forced to regularly report to the clinic, which is pointless from a treatment point of view.</p><p>There is another factor here that might explain the amazing longevity of the register. The fact is that Russian narcology is currently experiencing a severe deficiency in both the quality and quantity of its practitioners. Most narcotics specialists have come up through the repressive Soviet system and see nothing odd about the continued existence of the register. At the same time, their numbers are dropping year on year, so that some doctors are seeing up to 40 patients a day. According to Timur Madatov, “the situation is critical and only getting worse. And abolishing the register at this point would probably just mean more users looking for help, something the system simply couldn’t cope with.”&nbsp;</p><p>The parlous state of the medical system also means that users are being constantly exhorted to take personal responsibility for their condition, accused of not wanting to get better and generally made to take the blame for the whole situation.&nbsp;</p><h2>Collective resistance&nbsp;</h2><p>The latest court session in Ivan Anoshkin’s case took place on 30 December, and this time at regional level, with the Samara Region Narcology department as the defendant.&nbsp;</p><p>It was no surprise that no one from either the department or the Ministry of Health turned up, the session lasted a mere five minutes and Anoshkhin’s complaint was once again thrown out. He had been called for his final check up a few weeks earlier: his time on the register had supposedly expired. There was no logic to this: with the traces of cannabis discovered in his bloodstream two years before, under the new regulations he should theoretically have been monitored for another year.&nbsp;</p><p>Ivan believes that his progress through the courts has had an effect: “The Ministry of Health still couldn’t accept that it had acted illegally, and so decided to take me off the register early instead. They also expunged my conviction for possession, when the drugs had been planted on me. The system decided to draw a line under my whole case, but they still won’t admit any mistake.” So Ivan’s unlawful inclusion on the register ended with a correspondingly unlawful removal from it.</p><p>Despite not winning his case in Russia’s courts, Ivan still plans to take it, with support from lawyers, to the European Court of Human Rights. Timur Madatov believes that “winning a case against government bodies in a national court is always highly unlikely. Whereas if we can take Ivan’s case as far as the ECHR, I think that at the very least, the infringement of his right to voluntary informed agreement to medical treatment will be recognised under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which embodies ‘a right to respect for one's private and family life’”. The situation is complicated by a recent government directive <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-signs-law-allowing-russian-court-to-overthrow-international-human-rights-rulings-a6773581.html" target="_blank">giving decisions taken by Russia’s Constitutional Court priority over ECHR verdicts</a> — the outcome is impossible to predict. Nonetheless, this attempt to test the Russian narcology establishment’s ability to cope with stress and force it to admit its mistakes seems perfectly reasonable per se.</p><p>In a country where the norm is not the protection of human rights, but a systemic resistance to protecting them, where drug users are considered responsible for the ineffectiveness of the clinicians supposedly treating them, and where over 50% of the population believe that drug use should be a criminal offence, protecting the rights of drug users and addicts would seem to be a lost cause. Ivan Anoshkin’s case shows that institutional shortcomings can, and should, be exposed.&nbsp;</p><p>Ivan’s story is less a classic Kafkaesque parable about the little man challenging the state machine, than a demonstration of how the law can be used to collectively resist repressive institutions on legal grounds. Neither Ivan’s recovery from addiction nor his path through the courts would probably have been possible without help from others.</p><p>This case shows the effectiveness of collective solidarity against the ideological rhetoric about personal responsibility. The familiar Russian scenario, where an individual is pitted one on one against the institutional abuse of their rights or banal ineffectiveness, only leads to the further erosion of human rights and the half-dead public institutions themselves — and the first to be affected are vulnerable groups such as people who are drug users and or living with HIV. In this context, any collective attempts to oppose this erosion become particularly important.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/outrage-and-outsourcing-in-russian-healthcare">Outrage and outsourcing in Russian healthcare</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-vlasenko/cold-turkey-in-russia">Cold turkey in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Lebedev Rights for all Russia Human rights Health Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:36:15 +0000 Dmitry Lebedev 108914 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The victims of Russia’s ultra-conservatism are the Russian people themselves https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Vikhrest_oDR.jpg" alt="" width="80" />Russia has decriminalised domestic violence: one step towards “traditional values” means two steps back from international human rights standards</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/amnesty-international-woman-600-22328_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/amnesty-international-woman-600-22328_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Amnesty International 'Woman' poster against domestic violence. Picture via Air Brussels.</span></span></span>In an unnecessary but dramatic attempt to stand out, Russia’s Duma has decided to take a major step back from international standards on the human rights of women. On 25 January 2017, some 385 MPs of the Russian Parliament agreed to decriminalise domestic violence, placing the issue atop the agenda for 2017. With only two brave votes against and one slightly less brave abstention, the Duma (the lower chamber), passed a text on the second reading which will relegate certain categories of domestic violence currently falling under battery, from a criminal offence to an administrative one. Today, the bill sailed through the Duma on its third reading, and only needs signing into law by Vladimir Putin.&nbsp;<br /><br />From now on domestic violence which does not bring “lasting harm” or is not a repeated offence will carry a punishment of just 30,000 roubles, a 15-day detention or community service. This law reveals that the ultimate victims of Russia’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">ultra-conservative political posturing</a> are the Russian people themselves. The Duma is making it painfully clear that the health and protection of its citizens stand far beneath the need to score a political point.</p><p>Furthermore, this posturing plays to an image the Kremlin projects to audiences at home and abroad. On the global stage, this shows Russia turning its back on international human rights norms. On the domestic front, it plays into a narrative of so-called “traditional values.”</p><h2>Traditional values at home&nbsp;</h2><p>The ultra-conservative Duma deputy Elena Mizulina is the author and engine behind the current draft law and one of the faces of the traditional values and religious lobbies in Russia. She has buttressed her career <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/egor-mostovshikov/yelena-mizulina-creation-of-conservative">by capitalising on outrageous propositions</a> that either play out as publicity stunts or are sometimes realised if they overlap with the Kremlin’s agenda.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Duma has made it clear that the health and protection of its citizens stand far beneath the need to score political points</p><p>Best known for being the lead author of the 2014 anti-gay law against so-called “gay propaganda”, Mizulina has also placed herself in the spotlight with such outlandish proposals as prohibiting women access to university education prior to giving birth and reducing access to contraception. Mizulina was also the lead author of the law banning the adoption of Russian children by American parents. This was Russia’s retaliation to US sanctions imposed against Russian officials involved in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison after attempting to expose high-level government-sanctioned fraud.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02574455.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02574455.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Elena Mizulina, author of the current bill decriminalising domestic violence and a range of other ultraconservative social laws in Russia. Mizulina was also behind notorious laws against “LGBT propaganda”. (c) Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>All of this is in the pursuit of supposed traditional Russian values by which women and children are subservient to their husbands and fathers. In alignment with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, the responsibility for Russia’s declining demographics is placed on women and the LGBTI community, with “foreign” liberal values depicted as a threat to national security and interests.</p><p>As an example, developing on her position of having women give birth prior to university, Mizulina pointed to the times of Tsarist Russia, explaining that while women were mostly illiterate they would still frequently bear 10-12 children over their lifetime. This was a perverse nod to Russia, with its declining population, being better served with women who are less educated but bear children in large numbers. Given this professed commitment to the national interests of Russia, the dismissal of the extensive consequences of domestic violence at all levels is contradictory, harmful and absurd.</p><h2>“Foreign agents” under the bed</h2><p>In recent years, the Kremlin has strategically worked to undermine the international human rights regime at the global level and at the regional level in Europe. It increasingly rejects human rights as being inconsistent with Russian traditional values.&nbsp;</p><p>For example, in recent years the Kremlin has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/russian-civil-society-deemed-%E2%80%98undesirable%E2%80%99">severely cracked down on Russian civil society</a> with a series of measures including a law by which NGOs receiving funding from donors abroad are labeled “foreign agents” and face harassment and persecution by the authorities. This has received ample criticism from both the United Nations and the Council of Europe, as some of the oldest and most respected Russian organisations like Memorial have been targeted. Russia also famously adopted legislation permitting official discrimination and persecution of the LGBTI community in Russia, allowing vigilante violence against LGBTI persons to go unpunished.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Responsibility for Russia’s declining demographics is placed on women and the LGBTI community, with “foreign” liberal values depicted as a threat to national security</p><p>Loosening laws against domestic violence gives the green light to both perpetrators and to authorities to further resist and violate international human rights norms, falsely framed as being in opposition to traditional Russian values. Unlike civil society, which challenges the Kremlin establishment, and the LGBTI community which is perceived as challenging the Orthodox Church and its homophobia, violence against women does not fit so easily in this narrative of denial and resisting “foreign influence”.&nbsp;</p><p>Battery, which ostensibly does not result in “serious” harm to health or is committed less than once a year, actually affects a substantial portion of the country’s population. Moreover, acts of domestic violence that are reported once a year, are far from a reliable mark of how often it actually occurs. Similarly it is not realistic for the police to substantiate what is a first-time offender, unless women are encouraged to come forward in the first place. </p><p>In her speech at the Duma hearing before the vote in the draft law’s first reading on 11 January 2017, Mizulina declared that bringing criminal responsibility in such cases is anti-family, discriminatory and allows for undue intrusion from the outside. This, of course, she saw as “against Russian values.” This implicit framing of resisting domestic violence as somehow being an internationally imposed ultimately betrays ignorance on top of disregard.</p><h2>A life-long burden
</h2><p>Conservative estimates establish that within the global pandemic of violence against women, <a href="https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016800d383a" target="_blank">12-15% of women suffer from domestic violence</a>. This translates into at least 8.5 million women across Russia who experience domestic violence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Violence takes place in one in four families in Russia, with two-thirds of homicides attributable to “household or domestic motives”, and a reported 14,000 women dying per year as a result</p><p>Moreover, according to a <a href="http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/RUS/INT_CEDAW_NGO_RUS_46_9974_E.pdf" target="_blank">report by the Russian NGO ANNA</a>, the National Centre for the Prevention of Violence, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs admitted in 2008 that violence takes place in one in four families in Russia, with two-thirds of homicides attributable to “household or domestic motives”, and a reported 14,000 women dying per year as a result. In all probability, even these awful numbers may be higher as domestic violence is notoriously under-reported and under-documented.&nbsp;</p><p>International law recognises that domestic violence can amount to conditions of torture and ill-treatment and violations in the right to life. Gender-based discrimination by governments that do not adequately respond to the problem compounds the problem.

Meanwhile, the <a href="http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/" target="_blank">World Health Organisation has also identified many short and long-term social and economic costs of domestic violence</a>. Women who have experienced intimate violence from partners are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression and drinking problems. Consequences also include post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Russia_Women.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Russia_Women.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Domestic violence is estimated to take place in one in four families across Russia. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Maria Bibik / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Moreover, intimate partner violence in pregnancy increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and babies with a lower weight at birth. Therefore even implying a more tolerant position on domestic violence contradicts Mizulina’s major concern of reversing Russia’s population decrease. The long-term consequences of domestic violence not only reduce the quality of life of the survivors, but also diminish their ability to contribute to society, their families and children.&nbsp;</p><p>As for the impact on children who grow up with violence in the family, they may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances as a result of the trauma. There is also a correlation between experiencing violence in the family as children and perpetrating violence later in life or having a higher acceptance and tolerance for experiencing violence as adults.&nbsp;</p><h2>What’s the way forward?</h2><p>Signing this bill into law would not only put more lives at risk, but would perpetuate a justice system that continues to ignore the problem. It would send a strong message to both perpetrators of domestic violence and their victims about the tolerance of the authorities and the impunity that awaits them. Perhaps most egregiously, it dissuades women from reporting violence and reduces trust in law enforcement and justice officials to punish domestic violence. Moreover, it reduces the responsibility of the Russian authorities to address an internationally recognised crisis within their borders.&nbsp;</p><p>Given the gravity of this development, on 16 January 2017, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/russia-decriminalising-domestic-violence-would-be-a-clear-sign-of-regression-says-council-of-europe-secretary-general-jagland-in-a-letter-to-russian-l" target="_blank">Thorbøjrn Jagland addressed a letter</a> directly to the heads of both chambers of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council and the State Duma. In an unusual move reserved for the most serious and urgent situations, the Secretary General criticised the proposed legal amendment after it had passed the Duma’s first reading, calling it a “sign of regression.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The sad fact of the matter is that there was once a readiness among the Russian authorities to tackle the problem, with a draft domestic violence law prepared in 2012</p><p>A sad fact of the matter is that there was once a readiness among the Russian authorities to tackle the problem. According to a <a href="http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/RUS/INT_CEDAW_NGO_RUS_21870_E.pdf" target="_blank">2015 report by the ANNA National Centre for the Prevention of Violence</a>, in recent years Russia came closer to passing a specialised domestic violence law. Extensive drafting of the law took place with the civil society and federal authorities starting in 2012, under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development. It was even backed by the president’s Council for Civil Society and Human Rights.</p><p>Although a specialised law has yet to be adopted, in July 2016, amendments introduced by the Supreme Court of Russia were adopted by the Duma which made assault by family members subject to public prosecution. This was a welcome change from the previous private prosecution approach, by which it was the responsibility of the survivor to collect and furnish evidence and bring the case to court with the help of expensive legal counsel. The removal of this substantial hurdle shows that there is, or was, an appreciation of the need to tackle domestic violence.</p><p>It would therefore be unfortunate if Russia continues to exclude itself from international advances in this arena. International recognition of the urgent need for governments to take action to fight and prevent violence against women has hugely risen over the past decade. Amidst global efforts, many successes have been achieved. Key among them has been the entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/about-the-convention" target="_blank">Istanbul Convention</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Since 2011, when the Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe and opened for signature and ratification, of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, Russia is one of only four that still have not signed the Convention. This is despite Russia having taken an <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/cahvio" target="_blank">active part in the 2008-2010 negotiations</a> leading up to the adoption of the final text, attended by of senior representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.&nbsp;</p><p>The Istanbul Convention has been hailed by governments and activists around the world as the most progressive binding international instrument putting forth a thorough framework on preventing, prosecuting, and eliminating violence against women and domestic violence. Importantly, it defines different forms of gender-based violence including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment, distinguishing between physical, sexual and psychological violence. The Convention ensures that perpetrators are prosecuted and requires states to take a range of measures to ensure the effective investigation of allegations of violence against women. Under the convention, law enforcement agencies have to respond to all reported cases, collect evidence and assess the risk of future violence to adequately protect the victim.&nbsp;</p><p>Had Russia signed and ratified the Istanbul Convention, Mizulina’s convoluted, harmful, and self-serving platform would have been more easy to counter by her opponents. By distancing Russia from the Convention and not taking part in its monitoring mechanism, Russian authorities are doing a great disservice to the millions of people continuing to suffer the egregious consequences of domestic violence.</p><p>Russian authorities must signal their commitment to their own people’s right to be safe from domestic violence. The Duma should drop this bill, and reinvigorate efforts to adopt the draft domestic violence bill. Ultimately, Russia should sign and ratify the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention without further delay. </p><p>

Millions of women, men and children are counting on it.</p><p><em><strong>After Russia’s “conservative turn”, it’s back on the political agenda: read <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia" target="_blank">Anastasia Ovsyannikova’s essay on how Russia speaks about abortion</a>.&nbsp;</strong></em></p><p><em><strong><br /></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">We have lift-off on speaking out on sexual violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/natalia-antonova/can-russia-confront-horrors-of-its-domestic-violence-epidemic-0">Can Russia confront the horrors of its domestic violence epidemic? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenia-invisible-women">Standing up for Armenia&#039;s invisible women </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/prita-jha/is-indian-law-on-domestic-violence-fit-for-purpose">Is the Indian law on domestic violence fit for purpose?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Antonina Vykhrest Rights for all Russia Human rights Health Fri, 27 Jan 2017 09:19:20 +0000 Antonina Vykhrest 108391 at https://www.opendemocracy.net As Ukraine's women speak up on sexual violence, we must not ignore those affected by conflict https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking-on-sexual-violence <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/DJ_profile-1.jpg" alt="DJ_profile-1.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /><span>A new campaign is challenging taboos over speaking about sexual violence in Ukraine, but we need to include survivors of conflict violence too.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02862865.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Donetsk Airport. (c) Igor Maslov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>This month, an online campaign using the hashtag ##ЯНеБоюсьСказати (”I am not afraid to speak” in Ukrainian) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">brought domestic and international attention to the problem of sexual harassment and gender-based violence</a> in Ukraine, Russia and other post-Soviet countries. Thousands of women opted to post their intensely personal stories in the very public setting of social media. In the process, they found widespread support and solidarity, and </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">sparked quite a few ugly comments</a><span> in the process.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>As I read through hundreds of Facebook posts, I came to a startling realisation: there was rarely any mention of sexual trauma related to the war in eastern Ukraine. One woman notes the irony of fleeing violence in the Donbas, only to find herself sexually assaulted on the streets of Kyiv. Another points out the shamefulness of a Kyiv court’s <a href="http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1468280236">recent decision to suspend a 24-year-old man’s sentence for brutally raping a 16-year-old girl</a>, based on the “extenuating circumstance” of his military service in Donbas. But these posts are the exceptions.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This does not mean that more such stories do not exist. Since the conflict began in 2014, t<a href="womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/all-enveloping-silence-persists-around-rape-in-ukraine-conflict">here have been documented cases</a> — as well as many unconfirmed reports — of rapes, sexual slavery and torture of women in detention in the conflict zone.</p><h2>Missing stories<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>As recently as June, a new report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights <a href="http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/Ukraine_14th_HRMMU_Report.pdf">found several cases of conflict-related sexual violence</a>, as well as threats of sexual violence towards female relatives of male detainees. When people are taken prisoner amid the fighting in eastern Ukraine, they are made to believe that their female relatives will be raped or sexually assaulted if they do not confess to crimes or give up their property. It is likely that a general culture of violence against women in the country helps make such threats credible.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In addition, various groups have pointed to <a href="http://eca.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/12/ukraine--invisible-batallion">gender discrimination against female soldiers</a> and <a href="http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/a-global-look-at-where-women-can-turn-after-rape">a spike in domestic violence</a> among IDPs and the families of demobilised soldiers.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Although we lack specifics about the vast majority of these cases, there are clearly many different ways that the war in eastern Ukraine is negatively impacting on women. This impact is not limited to women living in the occupied areas or along the contact line. Instead, it extends across the country and even to refugees who have moved abroad.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">For the war in eastern Ukraine, there is no “post-conflict” in sight — the bloodshed continues, humanitarian needs go unmet and ceasefires are ignored</p><p>These women’s experiences are surely rooted, at least in part, in the same culture of violence against women that gave rise to the international social media campaign. As such, they should be part of the broader conversation the campaign has fostered. How can we explain the gap between truth-telling about gender violence on social media and the silence about its relationship to the war?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>When the campaign’s leader Anastasiya Melnychenko <a href="http://https/www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/12/in-russia-and-ukraine-women-are-still-blamed-for-being-raped">expressed concern that the online action could re-traumatise survivors</a>, she was reminded that “people don’t share stories in social media unless they are ready to talk.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For some, perhaps the experiences of the war are still too raw to bring to light in such a public setting as Facebook — especially given that many social media posts have encountered skepticism and blame. Or perhaps some women need to deal with more <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown">basic humanitarian priorities first</a>, such as finding shelter or medical care for themselves and their families, helping to rebuild infrastructure in their communities, searching for jobs or burying their dead.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Why truth is necessary to overcome trauma<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>But it is also possible that conflict-related violence against women has activated and reinforced some of the most disheartening lessons from history in post-Soviet countries.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In a recent editorial at oDR, Natalia Antonova invoked the idea of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">collective PTSD from the violence of the past</a> to explain why women have been so disrespected in these societies. This concept is not new to Ukrainian citizens or Ukraine-observers — some have argued that Ukraine is <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/commentary_Ukraine_Postgenocidal_Society/1357424.html">post-genocidal</a>, while others have linked identity issues, corruption and the current war to the <a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/ukraine-s-unique-totalitarian-trauma-offers-key-to-historic-healing">trauma of its totalitarian past</a>.</p><p>There is much more to Ukraine than just the suffering of its past. But it is important to recognise that truth-telling is central to processing this kind of trauma and integrating it into the lives of individuals and communities in post-conflict settings. And yet for the war in eastern Ukraine, there is no “post-conflict” in sight — the bloodshed continues, humanitarian needs go unmet and ceasefires are ignored. This creates a sense of powerlessness and distrust, which can only be compounded by memories of past traumas that have not been addressed. </p><p><span>Just as truth was obscured in the Soviet period, just as many promises of post-Soviet life have not been fulfilled, now <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maryna-stavniichuk/ukraine-s-rulers-are-backing-themselves-into-corner">there are not even straight answers about what to call the current conflict</a>&nbsp;(an anti-terrorist operation? A civil war? A Russian military operation? A frozen conflict?), who the combatants are (Russian troops? Pro-Russian rebels? Ukrainian volunteers or official armed units?), or what the end game really is (is Russia trying to take back the Donbas or undermine the entire country? Will Ukraine give autonomy to the occupied areas, or is it possible to reintegrate them?) Given all this, what meaning can women give to their traumas, endured in the name of such a war? Why can they expect change from the painful exercise of truth-telling?</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Through sexual violence, which is both a weapon and a consequence of this war, the violence in the east will touch everyone in the country. As women who have been affected carry their traumas with them across the territory, into their families and communities — as IDPs, as returning combatants, as battered wives or sisters or daughters — the war will begin to seep through the social fabric of the country in more insidious ways. If they feel they cannot speak, if they feel that it would be pointless to tell their stories amid so much obfuscation, Ukraine as a whole will be pulled down by this new collective trauma.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Now that people in Ukraine are talking about discrimination, harassment, abuse, and exploitation against women, let us also encourage the voices of women who have become casualties of conflict because of their gender</p><p>It is disappointing that <a href="http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/all-enveloping-silence-persists-around-rape-in-ukraine-conflict">we still know so little about how the war is impacting women</a>. Consistently unconfirmed anecdotes about sexual violence should be a call to action, and yet report after report brings only more vague acknowledgment that bad things are happening to women.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>More time and attention needs to be given to investigating and documenting exactly how women are being affected, so that they know their experiences will be taken seriously if and when they choose to come forward. This will also signal that they are not viewed simply as victims, but as survivors whose testimonies will play an important role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.</p><p>Granted, it is extremely challenging for human rights monitors and others to gain access to the occupied territories. Nevertheless, the momentum and the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/12/in-russia-and-ukraine-women-are-still-blamed-for-being-raped">faith in collective action that the campaign has created</a> must be used as a platform to ask questions and demand answers about what has happened to women as a result of the war.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>It should also be used to encourage men to share their feelings openly and honestly, without being shamed for it. Alona Zubchenko of La Strada Ukraine, an NGO that operates hotlines for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, told me that 2016 has brought their highest-ever number of calls from men.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Many of them are IDPs or demobilised soldiers and they tend to call at night, perhaps because they are “scared or shy”. This pattern suggests that it is only after darkness falls, when men are alone and unlikely to be overheard, that they feel safe enough to confront their own traumas. The origins of their fears must be an important part of the national discussion brought on by the flash mob.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In her seminal work on trauma and recovery after violence, Judith Herman argues that women who have endured sexual violence need recognition and restitution from their communities in order to move on. The campaign has created a powerful opportunity to do just this for women who have been impacted by the war.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Now that people in Ukraine are talking about discrimination, harassment, abuse, and exploitation against women, let us also encourage the voices of women who have become casualties of conflict because of their gender. They need to be heard, now and for posterity, if Ukraine is to overcome its collective trauma and build a sustainable peace for all its citizens.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">We have lift-off on speaking out on sexual violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/serhiy-kudelia/what-does-murder-of-pavel-sheremet-say-about-contemporary-ukraine">What does the murder of Pavel Sheremet say about contemporary Ukraine?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Danielle Johnson Rights for all Mon, 25 Jul 2016 08:26:29 +0000 Danielle Johnson 104231 at https://www.opendemocracy.net "You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia" https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I spoke to four Russian gay men on discrimination, rights and Vladimir Putin. Here's what they said.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18321726-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>2013: gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St Petersburg. (c) Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>The current geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the west has partially taken gay rights in Russia off the international agenda.</span></p><p>But back in 2013, Russia’s LGBT community attracted worldwide attention after the parliament passed the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/node/75693/backlinks">“gay propaganda law”</a>, which was designed to “protect children from information advocating for a denial of traditional family values". In short, the law, though applied selectively, bans the distribution of information that recognises "non-traditional sexual relationships" as an acceptable social norm among children. Possible punishment includes fines for individuals, officials and legal entities. Legal entities might face suspension of operations for 90 days. Foreigners can be detained or deported.</p><p>Since 2013, Russia <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/russia-putin-lgbt-violence-116202">has seen a rise in homophobic attacks</a>. People are beaten, humiliated and even murdered. But it isn’t always clear whether these crimes are motivated by homophobia or by other factors. The <a href="https://rainbow-europe.org/#8656/0/0">ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index</a> tracks how policies, laws and practices affect the lives of LGBT people across 49 European countries on a percentage basis (0% = no equality, 100% = full equality). According to the index, in 2015, Russia came 48 out of 49, with an overall score of 8% (Azerbaijan scored lower). In 2016, that score decreased to 7%. </p><p>Meanwhile, president Putin continues to defend the “gay propaganda” law, insisting that gay people in Russia do not face discrimination. For example, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/putin-talks-gay-rights-on-60-minutes/">in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes in 2015</a>, Putin claimed: “We have no persecution at all. People of non-traditional sexual orientation work, they live in peace, they get promoted, they get state awards for their achievements in science and arts or other areas. I personally have awarded them medals.” Speaking about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, Putin stated that he doesn’t “see anything un-democratic in this legal act".</p><p>I decided to talk to 16 young gay men (18-35) about discrimination, expanding LGBT rights and their views on the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. We chatted on Russian social network VKontakte — unfortunately, they refused to meet in person. Some of their comments shocked me, but I believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Eventually, I selected the following four interviews as I felt they were representative of the other men’s views.</p><p><strong>Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your sexuality? Have ever had any issues, including psychological ones, because of your sexual orientation?</strong></p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>I haven’t felt any discrimination as such. Of course, I have had some issues. The most difficult thing was to accept myself because I was raised in a Christian family and I was a Protestant. The second most difficult thing was my family’s refusal to accept me. It was a difficult time for everyone: for my father, my mother, my sister and for me. I do not hide my sexuality from anyone. I do not want to maintain any relationship with those who are unhappy about that. </p><p>For me, the most important thing is the acceptance of my family. I do not care about others.</p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>When I was almost 14, I went to the internet and found out that my desire was called homosexuality and it was condemned by the society. At that time, I began to suppress the desire because I was scared of being beaten. No one knew that I was gay until I turned 18. I have always accepted myself. I could understand one thing: why do people gang up against me for something that was given to me at birth?</p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>When I was in ninth grade, I went to a birthday party. I drank too much and could not control myself. I kissed my classmate. I don’t know how I did that! He beat and then I went through this hell. My school was small and rumors flew quickly. I was humiliated. Everyone picked on me. Some friends thought that it was a sort of trolling. I was thinking about committing a suicide for the whole year. </p><p>Time went by and I managed to survive. I moved to a different city and decided to start a new life. I focused on studying and did not have any relationship until I left my new school. Up until now I haven’t felt too much pressure because I have been hiding my sexuality. Yes, I have got some friends who know about me. They fully support me. We even exchange jokes about my sexuality. And these are my male friends, not girls, who are either married or have children. At first they did not believe me. They told me that that I was lying, but they could not understand why I was doing that. Today they understand and accept me.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>I was bullied by degenerates, chavs at school. Everyone, who should know, knows about my sexual orientation. I do not hide it, but some people do not need to know.</p><p>Are you in favor of expanding LGBT rights? By this I mean introducing civil partnership for same-sex couples, same-sex marriage, adoption of children by a same-sex couple, the repeal of the LGBT propaganda law and legal measures that would specifically protect LGBT people </p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>Of course, I fully support it. Or, I’d say that I stand for the equation of my rights with heterosexual people. I do not understand why I am the subject of discrimination just because I like people of my own sex.</p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>I believe that our society has a more negative opinion on different sexual orientations than it should have. And the LGBT movement is partly responsible for this perception. They have chosen crazy tactics to improve public opinion about the LGBT community in Russia. To hold a parade when everyone hates you is like to shake a piece of meat in front of a hungry, crazy and chained dog: sooner or later the chain will break. The dog should be fed regularly and well fed so that it would look at meat indifferently. </p><p>In other words, it is necessary to develop very subtle methods to work with people. In any case, it is important not to attract attention to gay people. In Russia, this doesn’t work. But who knows what will happen in 10-20 years?</p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>I do not try and do not want to fight for LGBT rights. It is pointless with our Russian mentality. This is not what the people need right now. When a person has food, home, a good salary ... then he or she will not care about other people’s sexual preferences. To a greater extent I blame the media for all negative things about us.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>I'm in favor of same-sex marriage etc. Russia is xenophobic and patriarchal, but the new era is about to begin and we will have to keep up with the times. We lack of tolerance towards each other!</p><p><strong>Some people say that the government and church have been waging a war against our rights and liberties. Has this process affected you? Are you concerned? Have you felt the growing level of hatred in the Russian society?</strong></p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>I feel that the level of tolerance has decreased sharply compared with the 2000s. I am a historian. This process scares me and makes me constantly to draw historical parallels. </p><p>The most annoying thing is the parochialism of my colleagues and friends. They say that in general, the Russian state and church are going in the right direction. And when I try to explain that it specifically affects me — their acquaintance, friend and colleague — they immediately respond: "Well, it does not affect you because we know you personally."</p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>I believe the state has the right to choose how society will develop. And normally, what the state does corresponds to the will of the people. In reality, things may be different. If they prohibit propaganda, they should ban propaganda of everything: children must be isolated from certain information until they reach a certain age. Or, they should not ban anything. In this case parents should explain to their children everything. </p><p>The government should tell parents that they have no right to condemn a child for their choice of sexual orientation. However, parents have the right to express their wishes to the child, saying things like "we want grandchildren and if you're gay, we will be a little bit sad when we get old." And in fact, that’d basically be utopia — I cannot say responsibly what would be better for our society. </p><p>The ban on propaganda of non-traditional values is a very severe blow to gay people. It will definitely drive driven a certain percentage of people against the gay community. If the state condemns it, they think they can too — that’s how you generate violence. However, I have never encountered violence, I am very careful. I do not let anyone interfere with my personal life.</p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>What’s happening is nonsense. The country should ban alcohol and cigarettes. You can’t teach sexuality to a child. It is a state of mind... The world is stupid and cowardly. Something new has always scared us. This is a norm.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>No law against gay people has personally affected me, but I'm worried about it. I am fed up with Milonov [Vitaly Milonov, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg], Mizulina [Yelena Mizulina, former Duma MP, Senator in the Council of Federation] and all those morons who sit in the government.</p><p><strong>Vladimir Putin’s critics claim that the Russian government promotes anti-gay sentiments. In 2013, the Russian parliament passed the infamous gay propaganda law. It was Vladimir Putin who signed it. It is the Russian police that cannot protect gay people (and not only them) from thugs. </strong></p><p><strong>In 2016, Meduza and Radio Liberty conducted investigations into the Russian state’s unwillingness to protect gay people. Daniil Turovsky, Meduza's special correspondent, discovered that a group of around 20 men had been operating in Saint Petersburg for more than a year. Members of the group approached gay men on websites, arranging a fake date, and then beat the victims and robbed them. These attacks have not been properly investigated, and are part of a broader pattern of non-investigation into hate crimes. </strong></p><p><strong>It is logical to hold president Putin and his government to account. Do you support the government led by Vladimir Putin? </strong></p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>I have never supported the current government. The usurpation of power and blatant seizure of power is not the best way to establish civil society.</p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>I can’t help but support Putin. I just do not see a better candidate. Medvedev has already given a taste of his qualities during the intervention in Libya in 2011... Oh well, it's his fault. Liberals now... Well, they are simply liberasti [an offensive word that people use for liberals, it resonates with a common pejorative term]. They will not do anything good for the country. Overdose with freedom will not kill worse than heroin. Russians still need a strong leader who will teach and guide them.</p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>I am a political scientist. I really respect Putin because I already know many things in this life and work as a civil servant. I can see from the inside how mechanisms work. We should not blame Putin. He knows that the country is huge, so it is too early to make it more gay friendly. He has never been a homophobe. He is a competent person.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>I don’t have any opinion about Putin. Many people complain about him. Ok, find a better candidate, for f***’ sake!</p><p><strong>Emigration levels from Russia have risen steadily in the past few years since Putin’s return to the Kremlin due to the economic and political situation in the country. In 2015, a record number of 265,086 Russian citizens applied for the U.S. green card lottery, compared to 167,600 in 2012. </strong></p><p><strong>Do you want to leave Russia?</strong></p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>Yes, I do. I want to live in a country where there is social and civil justice, where I can be confident that my interests and freedoms are protected at the state level and enshrined in legal form, regardless of income and personal connections.</p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>No, I do not want to leave Russia. I am going try to gain a foothold here, grow up professionally in a particular field, and get an understanding of what I want to do. Then I’ll decide whether I can achieve my goals in Russia or in Europe.</p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>I love Russia. I do not want to leave, but I'd like to visit San Francisco.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>It may sound ridiculous, but I am a patriot. Today it is fashionable to criticise Russia. But you have to start improving yourself to improve Russia, other people will join you. And we are just saying “oh, ah” and thinking about leaving Russia.</p><p><strong>What would you do to improve the status of the LGBT community in Russia if you were in charge?</strong></p><p><em>Alexander, 34, Moscow</em></p><p>I'm not a politician. I’d probably pay attention to the development of the secular state and separation of church from politics. We should renounce the principles of the imperial trinity formed in the 19th century: "Orthodoxy. Autocracy. Nationality" [the conservative concept developed to symbolize the unity between the Tsar, his subjects and the Orthodox church]. </p><p><em>Roman, 19, Saint Petersburg</em></p><p>I'd launch a few TV programs where people would discuss various issues relating to morality: what should be condemned and why, what should be encouraged and why and what should be treated neutrally. </p><p>Perhaps it would make sense to discuss taboo subjects, but it would be a very short list. Over time, I would explain why gay and other people (e.g. people with disabilities, from disadvantaged backgrounds) should be treated in a particular way. Basically, we’d have to work on a new set of moral standards of modern society with explanations. </p><p><em>Vlad, 24, Yaroslavl</em></p><p>I would say that Russia is not ready to accept gay people. The country is young and as strong as she has never been before. Our country has been attacked for hundreds of years, it has no time for everyday problems.</p><p><em>Nikolai (name changed), 20, Moscow</em></p><p>If I were president, I would take radical measures. I’d criminalise any humiliation and violence against the LGBT community. Everyone must be treated equally under the law.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kirill Guskov Rights for all Queer Russia Wed, 15 Jun 2016 07:33:06 +0000 Kirill Guskov 102964 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Depoliticising protests in Armenia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Years of social and environmental protests in Armenia have proven one thing — our demands must be political in nature. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/goar-saroyan/politika-depolitizatsii-politiki">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02666574.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2014: police officers block activists from "Stand up, Armenia!" from moving towards Yerevan's Freedom Square. (c) Asatur Esayants / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Several days ago, Armenia</span><span>’s</span><span>&nbsp;Compulsory Enforcement Service banged on my door. They stated I had several administrative fines outstanding — fines stemming from my participation in protests and civil actions.</span></p><p>The court ordered that I pay 53,000 dram (roughly 100 euros — a little less than half of my monthy salary) for each instance.<span>&nbsp;</span><span>Around 500 people were detained and arrested in those protests. And over 200 were, like me, subject to political repressions and administrative fines for daring to be active in our country’s civic life. The number of political prisoners in Armenia is also growing.</span></p><p><span><span>I often came home from the</span><span>&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">Electric Yerevan protests</a><span>&nbsp;</span><span>covered in bruises, soaked from the water cannon — but m</span>y situation is not unique. This is how the Armenian government pressures and punishes those of us who want to change the country for the better.</span><span>&nbsp;</span>Like many of my comrades, I’ve participated in many protests that we perceived to be strictly “social” in nature. But if the problems we were trying to solve were strictly “social” or “economic”, I don’t think the government would have persecuted us nearly as much.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The conflict between “social” and “political” protest is artificial, created by pro-government powers, and until we destroy this false dichotomy of a “political/apolitical” protest, we won’t see systemic change.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>“Don’t politicise the parliament!”</h2><p>This phrase belongs to Galust Sahakyan, the speaker of Armenia’s parliament, and it perfectly captures the situation in Armenia.</p><p>The binary discourse of whether a civil action is “politicised/not politicised” is caused by two factors.<span>&nbsp;</span><span>First of all, people in Armenia believe that a “politicised protest” is any civil action targeted toward regime change and revolution. This has to do with the bitter legacy of March 1, 2008, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/02/25/armenia-skewed-prosecution-over-2008-clashes">when the blood of protesters covered Yerevan’s central streets</a> — for 10 days, these people had peacefully protested against voter fraud in the presidential elections.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Armenia, the very notion of civic mindedness presupposes loyalty, respect for state institutions and for the law&nbsp;</p><p>The second factor has to do with what it means to “be politically active” and who has the right to participate. In Armenia, the very notion of civic mindedness presupposes loyalty, respect for state institutions and for the law. Besides that, there is a widespread stereotype that only a privileged elite and political parties can be involved in politics professionally. In recent years, the people who challenged these stereotypes were dismissed as “marginals”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-Armenian_Presidential_Elections_2008_Protest_Day_11_-_French_Embassy_Demonstration_430pm_general_view_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2008: people come out in Yerevan to protest against falsifications at the presidential elections. CC Wikipedia.</span></span></span><span>From 2008 to 2016, various civic initiatives in Armenia tried to raise awareness of local problems and solve some of them, but there were no mass protests that could challenge the government and spark major changes in society. Most of the problems discussed were social and environmental issues — the fight to preserve <a href="http://barevarmenia.com/travelblog/trchkan-waterfall/">Trchkan waterfall</a>, <a href="http://russian.eurasianet.org/node/31041">the fight to preserve the Moskva summer cinema hall</a>, the <a href="http://teghut.am/en/">Save Teghut initiative</a>, which aims to challenge the damage wrought by copper mining in northern Armenia. </span></p><p><span>The solutions to these problems should have been political, but in most cases these issues were perceived as problems for “volunteers”.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The fight for Mashtots Park</h2><p><span>“Social” and “environmental” protests were perceived as having nothing to do with the fight for regime change, but as a means of solving private problems. This perception was changed <a href="http://asbarez.com/107292/from-teghut-to-mashtots-park-armenian-youth-discuss-new-wave-of-activism-in-armenia/">by the months-long fight for Yerevan’s Mashtots Park</a>.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In December 2011, Yerevan city hall moved dismantled shopping pavilions onto the territory of Mashots Park in the city centre, inciting a wave of anger from the public.&nbsp;<span>The first protests in support of preserving the park came at the end of January 2012 under the banner of an initiative called “We are in charge of our country”. These protests grew in size, and the protesters occupied the construction site. In February, a sit-in commenced, and it lasted for three months.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Mashtots_Park_Movement_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 2012: people gather to protest illegal constructions at Mashtots Park, Yerevan. CC Wikipedia.</span></span></span>As Vagram Sogomonyan, a prominent participant of the Mashots Park movement, said: “The fight for nature, for trees and flowers grew into a rethinking of public spaces over the course of three months.” This was a fight for public ownership, and it was no accident that&nbsp;</span><span>one of the slogans of this protest, which later grew into a slogan for greater civil action, was “Give what’s public to the public”.</span></p><p>According to Sogomonyan, Mashots Park turned into a “horizontal, decentralised platform for self-organisation, which united very different people”. And it was in Mashots Park that protesters began to doubt the myth of an “apolitical” fight to solve individual issues.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">A dummy that represented an oligarch — as well as old thinking, based on patriarchal principles — was demonstrably laid to rest</p><p>Two month later, in April 2012, participants of the Mashots Park sit-in and others staged a public action called “A self-determined citizen buries an oligarch”, where a dummy that represented an oligarch — as well as old thinking, based on patriarchal principles — was demonstrably laid to rest.</p><p>But this campaign ran up against a familiar problem: the park issues were solved based on the principle of “ethics”, there was no legal decision made. At the start of May, the Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan visited the park with Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan. “Taron, you did everything right, Yerevan city hall works effectively, but take a look – this is ugly,” the president said, and the unwanted pavilions were put away. This tendency of solving problems via the principle of “Look, Taron, this is ugly”, rather than through the courts, remains strong to this day.</p><h2>“The king is dead – long live the citizen!”</h2><p>After Armenia’s presidential election of 2013 were falsified, mass student strikes commenced. The platform Azatagrum (literally: Liberation) was created, and began daily discussions on the problem of rule of law, the need to self-organise and the importance of nonviolent struggle.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We began to find slogans put up all over Yerevan: “The king is dead. Long live the citizen!”, “Being conscious of your rights is power!”, “Resist when they pressure you and use force against you!”, “We are in charge of our country!” Azatagrum would go on to play a major theoretical and practical role in the 2013 protests against rising transport tariffs in Yerevan.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Meanwhile, the most powerful civil initiatives focused on social issues were “We pay 100 dram”, “I’m against!”, “No to robbery!” and later “Electric Yerevan”, of course.&nbsp;<span>“We pay 100 dram” (which opposed the public transport fee rise to 150 dram) was special because it brought democratic principles and horizontal decision-making to Armenia’s activist scene. Here, tolerance and cooperation brought together people from different social backgrounds, they looked upon this initiative as “social” and financial, involving everyone, due to the fact that raised transport tariffs affected the whole of society.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">One way or another, we must breach the wall of the “apolitical” to gain leverage against the government</p><p>This movement held daily public debates where everyone could raise their hand, make suggestions or criticisms with regard to ongoing civil actions in Mashots Park, which had become a symbol of freedom of speech. Even Valery Osipyan, the vice head of Yerevan police, had to get in line in order to have his voice heard.</p><p>Within days, every bus station and public transport vehicle had become a tiny hotbed of civil disobedience. Every citizen that paid 100 dram, rather than 150, for a ticket became part of the movement, whether they wanted to or not, and thus became political. </p><p><span>But the government feared that this movement could become a multi-pronged fight against officials. In July 2013, the decision to raise tariffs was cancelled. This was yet another extra-legal step in the vein of “Look, Taron – this is ugly”.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This time, several members of the “We pay 100 dram” initiative decided to take things further and announced a sit-in in front of city hall demanding that certain corrupt officials, including Genrikh Navardasyan, the head of the city transportation department, be sacked. Unfortunately, despite an exhausting sit-in that lasted three months, there was no positive outcome.</p><h2>I’m Against!, ElectricYerevan and police brutality</h2><p>“I’m Against!”, another popular civil initiative, chose a different tactic and mobilised parties and various politicians (a tactic which other initiatives rejected outright).</p><p>Srbui Pogosyan, an active member of the coordination group behind “I’m Against!”, remembers: “Members of the initiative held a series of meetings with four groupings in the Armenian National Assembly, with a goal, among others, of filing a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court that would challenge several statues in the law on the cumulative pensions system, since these statues directly contradicted the Constitution on the issue of protecting private property and the issue of discrimination based on age. After these statues were declared unconstitutional, we wanted to change existing law, allowing citizens to join this system voluntarily.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Civil initiatives ran up against a familiar dilemma: yes, the problem was of a “social nature”, but without politicising the problem, we were getting nowhere</span></p><p>“Four parliamentarian fractions addressed the Constitutional Court, which began debating [the issue], and on April 2, 2014, the court made a decision that declared such statues unconstitutional and called upon the Government and the National Assembly to make necessary changes within a six-month period.”</p><p>In this manner, “I’m Against!” was able to find a compromise-based solution, using political parties as a lever, even though this also had the effect of legitimising a kind of pseudo-opposition.</p><p>In June 2014, when the government announced a 10% hike on electricity tariffs, the initiative “No To Robbery!” was formed — during a subsequent protest, the police used rough force, some people were hurt, 20 were detained. The initiative, in this instance, was unable to reach its stated goals.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02655069.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2015: people gather at Freedom Square <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan>to protest against electricity tariff rises</a>. (с) Kirill Kallinikov / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>In April 2015, rumours of new electricity tariff hikes began. This was followed by a sit-in at Freedom Square in Yerevan, then the protesters blockaded Bagramyan prospect, which is home to government and foreign diplomatic buildings, overnight. Around five a.m. that day, the police used a water cannon against the peaceful protesters (I was one of them – many of us were also beaten, many were hurt), around 250 people were detained, 27 journalists had their equipment damaged.</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>I remember the moment that the water cannon struck — plainclothes police officers simultaneously attacked us from behind, beating us.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the police station, many of the people detained were not given first aid, until I was able to secretly contact a journalist friend and get the word out about what was happening. I was let go after 16 hours of waiting, though my identity was not confirmed and no administrative paperwork was signed. While we waited, we weren’t allowed any food. Practically speaking, this was a kidnapping. </p><p><span>In the evening, after those detained were let go, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">Bagramyan Prospect was again blockaded</a> — this time for a long time. The protesters constructed a barricade out of trash containers.</span></p><p><span>A debate emerged again — should the protest be politicised? Should we demand regime change? Should we draw parallels between us and Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest? This is how the slogan “This is not Maidan! This is Bagramyan!” was born.</span></p><p><span>A <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">two-week long sit-in and a blockaded Bagramyan Prospect</a> did not, however, bring results. On 6 July, the police forcibly removed the remaining protesters, and the fight went out of the protest.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Civil initiatives ran up against a familiar dilemma: yes, the problem was of a “social nature”, but without politicising the problem, we were getting nowhere, since all decisions made by politicians are not based on rule of law, but on the old principle of “Look, Taron – this is ugly.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">We are growing into responsible citizens of our state</p><p>If I could generalise my experience of civil disobedience, I could say that in these last few years, we’ve received a schooling in politics — we’ve gradually understood that we matter as far as socio-political life of our country is concerned. We are growing into responsible citizens of our state.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Today, in the difficult, almost war-like environment that Armenia lives in, we are more aware of the importance of our actions, the importance of the establishment of rule by the Armenian Constitution and public oversight, the importance of seeing the link between corruption and the safety of our very lives.</p><p>Those who have been “authorised” to engage in political activity have, in effect, failed at their task. We see failures in foreign policy — if diplomats were doing their jobs,<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anonymous-feminists-from-south-caucasus/they-make-money-through-our-dead-bodies"> Armenia wouldn’t be taking up arms to defend itself</a>. We see failures in economic policy — due to Serzh Sargsyan’s catastrophic “property instead of debt” scheme, which sees Armenian enterprises sold to Russia in lieu of state debt repayments, Armenia is now wholly economically dependent upon Russia and <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/armenia">a minimum 30% of Armenians living in poverty</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Corruption in Armenia is flourishing, there is a crackdown on civil rights, and jails are filling up with new political prisoners. All of this makes it obvious that there are no exclusively “social” issues in Armenia — there are social and economic problems, but every protest, in its nature, is political.</p><p>One way or another, we must breach the wall of the “apolitical” to gain leverage against the government. After the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">four-day war with Azerbaijan this past April</a>, we all began to understand that in our country, it is the citizens, and not politicians, who will be forced to solve our problems from now on.</p><p><em><em>What movements have you been involved in? How should we respond to the tension between "private" or "local" causes and bigger political issues? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and c</em><span>heck out our other articles below on </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">"Electric Yerevan"</a><span>, </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">how the state circumscribes public debate</a><span>&nbsp;and the </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">call for social justice behind the war in Nagorno Karabakh</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">The power of Electric Yerevan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anonymous-feminists-from-south-caucasus/they-make-money-through-our-dead-bodies">They make money through our dead bodies</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian/selfdetermined-citizens-new-wave-of-civic-activism-in-armenia"> Self-determined citizens? A new wave of civic activism in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ingar-solty-davit-stepanyan/post-democracy-in-armenia-how-new-constitution-will-d">Post-democracy in Armenia? How the new Constitution will depoliticize Armenian society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openmovements openMovements Gohar Saroyan Rights for all Queer Russia Politics Armenia Mon, 06 Jun 2016 11:19:19 +0000 Gohar Saroyan 102747 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/11995964_1466807293647567_550120012761703031_n_0.jpg" alt="11995964_1466807293647567_550120012761703031_n_0.jpg" width="80" /></p><p><span>In Georgia, violations of workers’ rights, low pay and negligent treatment by private corporations continue to go unnoticed. We need to politicise the world of work.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Today, Georgian workers face severe violations of their labour rights, with low pay and negligent treatment by private corporations. Yet workers’ demands have no political weight.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Several weeks ago, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura">the mine at Chiatura in western Georgia stopped production</a>. Georgian American Alloys, a Miami-based manufacturer of ferroalloys and one of the biggest employers in Georgia today, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura">temporarily suspended some 3,200 workers for four months</a>, citing a slowdown on the international market.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the same time, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/azot-chemical-plant-in-rustavi-shuts-down-for-a-month-40618">workers at a glass factory went on strike in a town not far from Chiatura</a>. And most importantly, after two weeks of miners’ strikes and local protests in Tkibuli, also nearby, neither workers, nor the trade union, nor the government <a href="http://dfwatch.net/solution-reached-in-tkibuli-miners-strike-40568">managed to advance their agendas in the workers’ disputes</a> against&nbsp;a local coal-extracting business.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">What exactly is needed for political topics to acquire real weight in our country — a power of their own and support from other citizens? &nbsp;</span></p><p>At Tkibuli and Chiatura, political actions have been absent. At the former, for instance, all the conditions seemed to necessitate political action: national television was livestreaming from the strike, youth and human rights organisations were on the ground, satisfying the general public’s growing demand for information, and a public rally was organised in Tbilisi to support the miners. Nothing materialised.</p><p>When politics feels so light in Georgia, how could these people possibly position themselves against big business? What exactly is needed for political topics to acquire real weight in our country — a power of their own and support from other citizens?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The unbearable lightness of politics</h2><p>Today, <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/3551_january_27_2016/3551_tea.html">currency devaluation</a>, poor livelihood conditions and the scarcity of employment alternatives has made the problem of exploitative labour practices increasingly pronounced across Georgia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/why-there-s-little-hope-for-georgia-s-trade-unions">There is little in the form of protection</a>. Everybody knows that Georgia’s current trade union (the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation) plays the card of both business and the government. Both believe that, in a country with high unemployment and low GDP per capita rates, the only legitimate goals are preserving jobs or avoiding the relocation and closure of factories.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Everybody knows that Georgia’s current trade union plays the card of both business and the government</span></p><p><span>This situation has a history, of course. Cast back to the </span><a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4532539.stm">Rose Revolution in November 2003</a><span>, when a revolutionary group of former government officials and politicians seized power. </span></p><p><span>The population were relieved at the overthrow of the stagnant and corrupt government that had emerged with the post-communist transition economy in the 1990s. It was in this period that the extractive industries mentioned above were reopened and revitalised as Saakashvili’s government tried to stimulate the economy.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-2OP_50.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>November 2003: Parliament building, Tbilisi. CC BY-SA 3.0 Zaraza / WikimediaCommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>What followed in Georgia was </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/bakar-berekashvili/georgia%27s-puzzled-transition">new institutionalist economic approaches (or “good governance”) to the country’s development</a><span>. These approaches fostered privatisation, enforcement of property rights, the advancement of managerialism and the promotion of opportunism.</span></p><p>You’d be wrong to assume that this alleged new institutionalist model ended the phase of the so-called “transitional economy” without a strong interventionist state. This model ended the “transition” era through strong intervention in the affairs of business, but worked to weaken the institutional capacities necessary for maintaining balance between capital and labour.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Depoliticising labour</h2><p>As new marketisation processes commenced in Georgia, the post-revolutionary political leadership centrally planned this process with the help of foreign investors and local oligarchs. Targets for the necessary number of jobs to be created, as well as the share of private turnover to be re-invested, were largely controlled by the state.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Most citizens living in industrial zones who are currently involved in organising — be it in Tkibuli, Ksani, Chiatura or Zestaponi — can attest to this fact. Today, heavy industry workers on strike across Georgia believe economic efficiency was stable under Saakashvili, who, throughout his authoritarian rule, had the power to dictate to business elites where and what to produce.</p><p>Both the general public and the current ruling government have come to deeply despise new institutionalist economics. Yet among the demonstrators at the current strikes, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">there is no other desire but to see the state interfering in local development again</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/10778455935_824a8b15e8_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chiatura as seen from one of its ropeway cars. CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>But as Georgia’s formal and informal institutions were reconstructed around markets during the 2000s, the authorities would immediately neutralise and depoliticise any public discontent with marketisation. Saakashvili himself would “hijack” such criticisms from other political parties or civic actors, making public statements against “those to blame” on behalf of the authoritarian leadership itself.</span></p><p><span>For example, in January 2011, after a series of fatal casualties at the Tkibuli coal mine, Saakashvili <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23072">made a televised public speech from Yerevan</a>, in which he demonstratively accused the coal mine owners of committing criminal offenses by not taking adequate safety measures.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Two of the plant’s workers, allegedly responsible for the casualties, <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23084%20%E2%80%93">were then punished</a>. Of course, neither public accusations, nor arrests brought advancement in labour conditions, nor did they empower the workers in their relationship with their employers — as demonstrators at the strikes in Tkibuli can now report.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">When you talk to strikers or workers involved in organising movements locally across Georgia, they often talk of having been terrorised for voicing concerns about social protection&nbsp;</p><p>Instead, Saakashvili’s focus on mismanagement at Tkibuli was part of a broader programme of “good governance” that depoliticised workers’ demands by framing grievances as responses to corruption, management or discipline issues, rather than genuine claims.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Although it did create jobs, the neoliberal economic model deployed under Saakashvili has not allowed for sustainable interventionist policies <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/georgia-through-glass-darkly">that could serve to lessen the destructive impacts of markets on Georgia’s population</a>. While Saakashvili masked stories of everyday exploitation with populism, in reality, workers were never allowed to be vocal in their demands for interventionist policies to limit the power of corporations.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>When you talk to strikers or workers involved in organising movements locally across Georgia, they often talk of having been terrorised for voicing concerns about social protection and human rights conditions.</p><p>When injuries or deaths take place in hazardous working environments, or when there is a need to investigate accidents and enforce compensation claims — there is still nothing to shield Georgia’s workers from offenses and abuses of power by private companies.</p><h2>How to avoid reductionism</h2><p>Little of Georgia’s good governance strategy, coupled with the new institutional economics, attempted to strengthen democracy and create institutions that could shield the population from the negative effects of markets and trade liberalisation. When there is no single body or organisation fighting for better social protection and risk aversion mechanisms together with workers today, we see working people threatened, fought and defeated individually.</p><p>Nowadays, “survivors” of Georgia’s new institutionalism openly say that improving labour protections will lead to Georgia losing its advantage over other countries in terms of cheap labour, thus deterring investors.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Nowadays, “survivors” of Georgia’s new institutionalism openly say that improving labour protections will lead to Georgia losing its advantage over other countries in terms of cheap labour</span></p><p>And today, despite local groups sensing and voicing their insecurities, or leftist solidarity movements (feminists, advocates of liberal drug policies, environmentalists etc.) joining protests at Tkibuli and Ksani glass factory, important parts of socio-economic life are being politicised without any political reaction to it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>More pressingly, the Georgian government and the trade unions have taken reductive approaches to labour disputes. They treat them as special cases, taking actions in the mediation process that may be productive for the technocrats, but do not go far enough. Despite a rising number of people protesting across Georgia, state officials bypass or ignore discontent with ease.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/miners_on_strike_tkibuli_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="420" height="352" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2016: Workers strike at Tkibuli coal mine. Image from Tkibuli municipality / Facebook. </span></span></span><span>Policy recommendations from the European Union, International Labour Organisation or local and international human rights organisations in Georgia are left unfollowed. These institutions call for the commencement of tripartite “vibrant and sustainable social dialogue” between employers, employees and the highest level of government.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This would require the government to represent a party, rather than a mediator between businesses and the employed, as well as the unions of the employees to be strengthened through provisions for collective bargaining.</p><h2>Towards social transformation</h2><p>We are yet to see a situation where oppression and exploitation can acquire the public representation capable of achieving change outside the Georgian election cycle. To change this, the politicised concerns and demands for real intervention on behalf of citizens against corporations must find space in Georgia’s media.</p><p>Journalists cannot treat labour disputes as standalone instances. Likewise, Tbilisi shouldn’t pay attention to Georgia’s periphery solely in terms of humanitarian aid, but develop together with it. More worryingly, misinformed media have a tendency to see human rights organisations and social movements that provide consultancy to workers or help strengthen their capacities as conspiracies against the state.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">While there is a demand for advancing democracy, there is also a refusal among Georgia’s exploited and oppressed to become significant only in terms of partisan politics</span></p><p>The conditions of globalised trade and increased marketisation, as well as the collective action mobilised against it, represent an opportunity to create audible political actions in Georgia, be it together with leftist organisations, social movements or real trade unions.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The point workers and supporting leftist groups are making today is that while there is a demand for advancing democracy, there is also a refusal among Georgia’s exploited and oppressed to become significant only in terms of partisan politics.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>People remember how labour strikes achieved minor victories in the twilight of Saakashvili’s rule — higher salaries, but no end to poor working conditions.</p><p>It is time for collective actions to deliver progressive goals: the balance between labour and capital is crucial for achieving welfare and prosperity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura">Life slows down in Chiatura</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/why-there-s-little-hope-for-georgia-s-trade-unions">What do Georgians have against trade unions?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/georgia-through-glass-darkly">Georgia through a glass, darkly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatuli Chubabria Rights for all Politics Georgia Economy Thu, 03 Mar 2016 12:15:32 +0000 Tatuli Chubabria 100276 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Ukraine needs its own Harvey Milk https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-dmytriiev/why-ukraine-needs-its-own-harvey-milk <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/dmytriiev.jpg" alt="Daniele Rumolo.jpg" width="80" />On 25 October, Ukraine will vote in local elections where not a single openly gay candidate will stand. The country’s LGBT movement and public<span>&nbsp;conservatism are both to blame. </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/антон-дмитриев/почему-украине-необходим-свой-собственный-харви-милк">на русском языке</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Right now, the Ukrainian media is full of stuff about how there are several active gay organisations around—active like there’s no tomorrow. At the same time, we hear about how it’s all doom and gloom:&nbsp;<span>it’s</span><span>&nbsp;generally time to split.</span></p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/ukraine%E2%80%99s-european-integration">We’re supposed to be fighting for European values</a>, but only on the initiative of a few individual politicians and NGOs. It’s a planned spontaneous battle. It seems we were there on the Maidan together, fought the&nbsp;<span>‘</span><span>terrorists</span><span>’</span><span>&nbsp;together in eastern Ukraine, but neither the public nor the government has any values or impetus for change.</span></p><p>This month, <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/ukraine/177906">people in Ukraine go to the polls to elect local government bodies</a>. Across Europe, and the Atlantic,&nbsp;<span>openly gay and lesbian mayors and local councillors have been elected in</span><span>&nbsp;post-Soviet Poland and Czech Republic, in Germany and France, in libertarian northern Europe and Mexico. As for transgender people, Anna Grodska is a member of the Polish Sejm, Vladimir Luksuria has been a member of the Italian parliament and even in Cuba Adela Hernandez won a seat in the national assembly.</span></p><p>That is what is meant by openness, freedom, LGBT political activism and a mature society. Even in communist Cuba. </p><p>Things are very different in democratic Ukraine. We spend our time being amazed at other people’s projects – bad mouthing and passing judgement on them – rather than creating our own. It’s so much easier to copy the history of Europe or the USA than come up with something for ourselves. </p><p class="pullquote-right">It’s much easier to copy European or US history than come up with something for ourselves.</p><p>Of course, it’s much more important to sit twiddling our thumbs or publicly campaign for things that nobody really cares about than to do something really earthshaking. </p><p>Dreaming about changing the world as we play in our sandpit is so much easier than trying to actually do it. </p><h2>Potemkin villages </h2><p>Let<span>’</span><span>s start with copying: </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/denis-gorbach/struggle-for-progressive-politics-in-ukraine">during Gay Pride in Kyiv</a><span> this summer, there was a lot of talk about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be appointed to public office in the USA in 1977. But what's important here is that this only happened eight years after the Stonewall Riots in New York. During those years, the American public had gradually become aware of LGBT rights.</span></p><p>Milk served just 11 months in office in San Francisco, but in that time he sponsored an important anti-LGBT discrimination law for the city, and prevented the passing of a discriminatory amendment to Californian state law. This campaigning led to the assassination of Milk&nbsp;<span>along with San Francisco’s mayor George Moscone</span><span>&nbsp;in 1978.</span></p><p>Now here’s a question: how many Ukrainian and Russian gay activists – not just ordinary guys but the ones that give media interviews, lead organisations and spend grant money – were assassinated in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed?&nbsp;<span>The answer is: none.</span></p><p>Do you know why? Because none of these gay activists and their organisations present any threat whatsoever to public life, the government or the ethical values of any part of the population, and nor do they bring anything new to the political or everyday life of their fellow Ukrainians. </p><p class="pullquote-right">None of our gay activists or organisations present any threat to our public life or government.</p><p>This is not to say that people should aim for martyrdom,. But it’s all very simple – not one gay rights organisation represents the interests and hopes of even 1,000 people. It can aspire to this, but in Ukraine, more often than not, NGOs (including LGBT ones) are like Potemkin villages – pure facades, set up to satisfy somebody’s own personal interests. </p><p>To put it another way, if our conservative society fails to react to the ideas and proposals of LGBT activists, this is because these ideas and projects never reach beyond the offices of a niche social group. It’s all just a simulation of frenzied activity. </p><p>You can read on social media about this or that gay activist receiving a grant to travel abroad, organising a training workshop or once again upsetting the Orthodox Church hierarchy. But has any of this done anything to reduce public hostility to people of another ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation? Not one bit!</p><p>What have gay rights activists done to break the stereotypes created in people’s minds by the politicians, our national culture and the media? Nothing. </p><h2>The capital effect doesn’t even work in Kyiv</h2><p>Of course, it's cool to live in Kyiv, organise parades, processions, festivals and cultural activities. But it won’t change public attitudes to anything. And sitting round a table in some official building and discussing some law that no one takes any notice of is even more absurd, given Ukrainians almost total disregard for any law. </p><p>It’s a truism that, in any post-Soviet country, the capital is completely unrepresentative of the place as a whole. This is the case in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and, naturally, Ukraine as well. So until we have gay parades in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lviv and Odesa we can’t talk about an organised movement and activism. </p><p>Talking of Odessa: its governor, <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-odesa-bans-gay-pride-festival/27189482.html">the ‘great democrat’ Mikheil Saakishvili banned a Gay Pride parade</a>&nbsp;in Odessa earlier this year, causing a storm of protest from Europe and the US. There are basically two explanations for this. In the first place, back when Saakishvili was president of Georgia, he refused to allow gay parades in Tbilisi. In 2013, <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/05/georgia-homophobic-violence-mars-tbilisi-pride-event/">the first Gay Pride event to take place in Georgia (after his resignation) was disrupted by homophobic violence</a>. In the second, the organisers of the Odessa event were not a broad group, but a dubious organisation with a dubious past. </p><p>All this had predictable consequences: an Odessa court banned the parade; gay groups complained about censorship and curtailment of their rights; the EU and the US embassy sent messages of support, and both radicals and church authorities had another chance to pronounce that LGBT and Odesa were incompatible. </p><p>Everyone, in short, was happy and got what they wanted – apart from the public and gay people themselves. </p><h2>Harvey Milk and the local elections </h2><p>Many LGBT activists, thanks to their close relations with the centres of power, have connections with and are known in political circles. People from president Petro Poroshenko’s political bloc even took part in the Gay Pride parade in Kyiv in June this year, and Poroshenko himself said he would not interfere with the event. But will we see the first real gay and lesbian candidates at the real local elections? Far from it.&nbsp;</p><p>The simplest explanation of this is that Ukraine's political parties are conservative. They have no desire to sully their unblemished image by consorting with members of the LGBT community. But that’s a double lie: the parties’ reputations are less than spotless, and they would be happy to welcome gays and lesbians, but only<span>&nbsp;if the activists were real activists, involved in advocacy campaigns and lobbying. There is no problem about coming to an agreement with a party or an individual politician – it’s just a question of social impact and the influence of the activist.</span></p><p>However, the fact that a gay activist who works as an aide to a parliamentary deputy close to Yulia Tymoshenko can’t even stand as a candidate in a local or municipal election is an indicator of his social worth and his organisation’s influence, even at local level. </p><p>As it happens, in Kyiv nobody will stop a gay candidate from standing for mayor. Again, it’s the capital effect: there have been openly gay mayors in Paris and Berlin, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, although he’s not gay, is a far cry from the grey bureaucrats of eastern Europe. But Kyiv hasn’t produced any colourful candidates. </p><p>And would the armchair and Facebook activists have the guts to follow in Harvey Milk’s footsteps not only in inspiring tens of thousands of his fellow Americans, but in sharing his tragic fate? </p><p>This is the main problem for Ukraine’s LGBT community: most of those who call themselves its leaders would rather sit in their armchairs, speak at meaningless conferences and dispute with the perennially conservative Orthodox Church. This is the vicious circle of LGBT activism in Ukraine. </p><p class="pullquote-right">The leaders of Ukraine’s LGBT community would rather sit in their armchairs and speak at meaningless conferences.</p><p>All the members of our organisations are also terrified of being murdered, as Milk was. For in spite of all the assurances it gives the west, the Ukrainian public’s level of tolerance has not noticeably risen in the last few years – indeed, if anything it has fallen. </p><p>Of course, it is easy enough to condemn some politician who makes a provocative demand for a ban on abortion or the criminalisation of single-sex relationships – this is in fact what most Ukrainians do, and they even derive some sado-masochistic pleasure from it. </p><p>But at the same time the self-appointed leaders of our country’s gay movement are incapable of standing for election openly, as members of our community, at even a local level. Many of the activists that I know hide their fear and impotence behind protests that they ‘are destined for higher things’ and are aiming for membership of the Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament. What of it, they ask, that Harvey Milk started small? We Ukrainians can make it to the top in one go. </p><p>So why bother, then, with the activism and bravery, or the human rights and awareness-raising activity that all these LGBT groups engage in? Is it to raise their leaders, on the bones and wounds, the stigma and discrimination experienced by thousands of gay men and lesbians, to their desired lofty place in a high-ceilinged cabinet in the corridors of power? Why? </p><p>To satisfy their own egotism and prove to themselves that all their demonstrative but worthless efforts for the LGBT movement can be transformed into not only money, but real power. Power for power’s sake. </p><h2>Ukraine can’t reproduce western LGBT movements </h2><p>That’s it. In Europe and the USA the battle for gay rights was always accompanied by radicalism and frequent violence (both justified and otherwise) on the part of all sides in the conflict. It was also gradual and attracted members of different social groups. And public opinion was often swayed by openly provocative actions by LGBT activists and groups, especially at local level. </p><p>Ukrainians will never hear sexual minority voices, selectively transmitted through their somewhat amorphous LGBT organisations, simply because these prefer intrigue, backroom deals, alienation from processes, arrogance and non-interference to confrontation and real activism.</p><p>In other words, LGBT groups, instead of fighting for their rights, continue their mere semblance of activity: talking about draft laws, amendments, decisions, constitutional changes and other bits of waste paper. None of this has any connection with the real world and real people – the law here has never shaped how things actually happen.</p><p><span>In the 24 years since Ukraine became an independent country, o</span>ur gay activists, living in their imaginary, mythical world, have found themselves unable to organise an open and bold political campaign, to show that Ukraine could produce a gay mayor or parliamentary deputy. </p><p class="pullquote-right">Thousands of LGBT Ukrainians are still forced to lead a double life and live in fear.</p><p>Meanwhile, thousands of LGBT people in Ukraine are still forced to lead a double life and live in fear, just because the people who call themselves their leaders are even more cowardly, unself-sufficient and dependent on foreign grants. </p><p>These activists and organisations are no use to Ukraine. They don’t help it become better, and think broadly and globally. We need to take our cues from Harvey Milk.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nadzeya-husakouskaya/sex-change-commission-in-ukraine">The sex change commission in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/denis-gorbach/struggle-for-progressive-politics-in-ukraine">The struggle for progressive politics in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anton Dmytriiev Queer Russia Rights for all Thu, 08 Oct 2015 08:45:31 +0000 Anton Dmytriiev 96650 at https://www.opendemocracy.net О чем не говорят «социальные гей-эксперименты» https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lina-%C5%BEigelyt%C4%97/%D0%BE-%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%BC-%D0%BD%D0%B5-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%8F%D1%82-%C2%AB%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%B9-%D1%8D%D0%BA%D1%81%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B%C2%BB <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sxye_1zj7HCZftL0WWaNilH-67CWFLmSS4XlpbgSkSU/mtime:1440585393/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen%20Shot%202015-08-26%20at%2011.23.55.png" alt="" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p><span style="line-height: 21.6666679382324px;">Клипы, показывающие дискриминацию против гей-пар в Москве и Киеве, стали популярными везде. Но они не дают полную картину.&nbsp;</span><a style="line-height: 1.5;" href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lina-%C5%BEigelyt%C4%97/why-%E2%80%98gay-social-experiments%E2%80%99-in-eastern-europe-are-missing-point">in English</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>В июле западные, российские и украинские СМИ сообщили о скандальном видео, в котором двое молодых москвичей, известные своими социальными розыгрышами (ChebuRussiaTV), <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgm3lb9JUU0">гуляли по улицам столицы России, изображая из себя гей-парой</a>. Это произошло вскоре после решения Верховного суда США об однополых браках.</span></p><p>Эти ребята ходили по улицам Москвы, держась за руки, одетые в рваные узкие джинсы и хипстерские шапочки. Целью розыгрыша было сравнить состояние с правами геев в России и Соединенных Штатах. Центральные западные СМИ не акцентировали внимание на том, что эти двое пранкеров – гетеросексуалы и изображали из себя послушную гей-пару. «Пара» никогда не отвечала на устные оскорбления или толчки прохожих, они никогда не защищали себя, никто не пытался оказать им помощь и защитить. </p><p>Участники этого розыгрыша сделали очевидный удручающий вывод: геи в России - одинокие пары без сообщества, они не бросают вызов гомофобии. </p><h2>Сенсация</h2><p>Вскоре после этого аналогичный эксперимент повторили в Киеве (<a href="bird.depositphotos.com/ru/">Bird in Flight magazine</a>). На этот раз, на часовую прогулку вышла реальная гей-пара: Зорян Кись и Тимур Левчук. Их одежда была проще, чем та, которую носили московские пранкеры, но они предпочли быть более провокационными. </p><p>Как показывает видео, один из мужчин, держа букет белых хризантем, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYzccu5tn7A">сидит на коленях своего партнера в общественном месте</a>. Пару сразу окруживает десяток праворадикально настроенных мужчин, один из которых брызгает на них из перцового баллончика. Драка с кулаками и пинками быстро остановливается группой, сопровождающей пару.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 11.23.55_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Скриншот из клипа Bird in Flight magazine (YouTube).</span></span></span></p><p>Зорян сделал вывод, что это повторение «Социального гей-эксперимента» было не таким гомофобным, как в России. Кроме случая с перцовой атакой, киевляне не выразили никакой враждебности в отношении пары. Но эксперимент фокусировался снова на одинокой гей-паре, уединившейся в границах большого города. </p><h2>«Социальный гей-эксперимент» </h2><p>В августе «Социальный гей-эксперимент» в третий раз прошел в онлайне, <a href="http://ru.delfi.lt/news/live/moskovskij-eksperiment-povtorili-na-ulicah-vilnyusa.d?id=68651758">на этот раз в моем родном городе Вильнюсе</a>. С ним усилилось мое беспокойство об этих реконструкциях жизни геев в Восточной Европе. </p><p>Причина была проста. Хотя я не эксперт об истории и современном состоянии сексуального инакомыслия в России и Украине, я обладаю обширными знаниями о сфере ЛГБТ-сообщества в Литве. Вильнюсское видео, снятое местным журналистом, унизило их. То, что я наблюдала, было ленивой прогулкой во время обеденного перерыва двух худощавых, тайно держащихся за руки и небрежно одетых представителей поколения двухтысячных.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Мы не слышим эту пару и не можем видеть, где они живут и что они делают.</span></p><p>Светило солнце, на заднем плане играл джаз, пара шла с застенчивыми улыбками на лицах. Люди смотрели на них и улыбались, не было никакого выражения враждебности. Мы не слышим эту пару и не можем видеть, где они живут и что они делают. Как в Москве и Киеве, эта пара действовала самостоятельно.</p><p>Это безобидное видео, в котором ничего не происходит, затеняет много аспектов, главных в существовании геев в этой стране - таких, как реальный страх перед насилием, которое начинается после появления на публике с партнером открыто.</p><p>Видео не объясняет, что мужчины - не пара, что их консервативная одежда была договоренностью, сделанной перед съемками, для того, чтобы они выглядели неприметно. </p><p>Западные зрители не знают, что один из актеров, Артурас Рудоманскис - известный активный борец за права человека, политик и открытый гей, чье присутствие на съемке, возможно, способствовало сдержанной реакции окружающих на эксперимент. Видео также не показывает, что в целях предосторожности и для безопасности журналисты согласились провести прогулку только на улицах с камерами видеонаблюдения.</p><p>Неудивительно, что «cоциальный гей-эксперимент» в Вильнюсе прошел без видимой враждебности, в отличие от тех, что прошли в Москве и Киеве, и не дошел до международных новостных сайтов. ЛГБТ-сообщество в Литве и других небольших странах обычно привлекает западных журналистов только когда происходит множественная агрессия или в случае публичной гомофобии. Часто новости из этих стран достигают западной аудитории только потому, что защитники прав геев и правозащитные организации напрямую обращают на них внимание средств массовой информации. </p><p>Без сомнения, примеры ненависти к гомосексуалам в странах бывшего советского блока являются важными для разговора. Московские и киевские видео показывают нам, как может быть опасна повседневная жизнь ЛГБТ-сообщества, и история за кулисами вильнюсского видео тоже подразумевает это. </p><p>Не менее важно признать, что на Западе мы редко покидаем наши зоны комфорта, чтобы понять, что движет геями в других культурах. Западные активисты, общественные деятели, педагоги и защитники прав человека могут многое узнать, обратив внимание на то, как гей-сообщество выживает и осуществляет свои мечты в другой стране.</p><h2>Тонкая картина</h2><p>В конце этого лета исполнилось два года, как «Скальвия», последний оставшийся некоммерческий дом кино в Вильнюсе, стал местом сбора для местной гей-молодежи. Там проходит <a href="http://festivaliskreives.lt/">фестиваль Kreivės</a> (точнее всего переводится как «геометрические кривые»).</p><p>На неделю Kreivės превращает кинотеатр на 100 мест в пространство, изменяющее акценты активности ЛГБТ-сообщества в этой маленькой балтийской стране. Вместо того, чтобы рассказывать обществу о геях или защите геев, фестиваль фокусируется на создании и воспитании сообщества. С вдумчивой программой международных фильмов, ретроспективой Райнер Вернера Фассбиндера, обсуждениями, музыкой и небольшими выставками, Kreivės имеет много предложений для местных геев и их сторонников за границей.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Проекты подобные этому - реальные социальные эксперименты о которых мы должны узнавать.</span></p><p>Он начался в 2013 со скромного показа цикла фильмов о ЛГБТ-сообществе. Под руководством Аугустас Чичелиса фестиваль в Вильнюсе эволюционировал из мелкого мероприятия для 30 человек в культурный эксперимент, очень необходимый для гей-сообщества. </p><p>Для первых показов Аугустас выбирал фильмы, отобранные через местные посольства и культурные представительства – такие, как Институт Гете. Все фильмы были получены свободно, вход на фестиваль был бесплатным. Аугустас начал фестиваль без какой-либо поддержки литовских гей и лесби организаций, которые вместо художественных ценностей сосредоточены на пропаганде и политических исследованиях. </p><p>Делая акцент на исскустве, Kreivės открывает неизведанное в гей-активизме и напоминает нам о начале 1990-х в Литве, сразу после коллапса Советского Союза. В этой балтийской стране это была эра активных гей и лесби культурных событий, гей-прессой и лесби-барами, которые могли заинтриговать. </p><p>Сегодня фестиваль Kreivės воскрешает эту важную историю. Организаторы говорят, что они хотят сделать этот фестиваль местом, где гей-молодежь может узнать друг друга и делиться своей культурой без давления, чтобы потом активно отстаивать свою позицию. В городе без центров ЛГБТ-сообщества и с небольшим вниманием среди существующих молодежных гей и лесби организаций, такая дальновидность может даже спасти жизни, создав пространство для существования геев в обществе, где они могут казаться незаметными. </p><p>Для сторонников ЛГБТ-сообщества за пределами Литвы Kreivės может показаться похожим на другие художественным фестивали, посвященные сексуальности, которые проходят во всем мире. Но понять важность фестиваля как queer-пространство возможно только через его корни, стихийность. </p><p>Проекты подобные этому - реальные социальные эксперименты о которых мы должны узнавать. Они рассказывают о гей-сообществе на весь мир и напоминают нам о способах, которыми может эволюционировать гей-культура.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/%D1%83%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B5-%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%80/%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B5-%C2%AB%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B2%D1%87%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%85%C2%BB-%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%8F%D1%8E%D1%82-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B4%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D1%83%D1%8E-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D1%83">Российские «девчонки на роликах» меняют гендерную политику</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D0%B3%D1%83%D1%81%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F/komissiya-po-%D0%BF%D0%BE-smena-pola-v-ukraine">Комиссия по «смене пола» в Украине</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lina Žigelytė Rights for all oDR Русский Ukraine Russia Cultural politics Wed, 26 Aug 2015 12:08:32 +0000 Lina Žigelytė 95507 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why ‘gay social experiments’ in eastern Europe are missing the point https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lina-%C5%BEigelyt%C4%97/why-%E2%80%98gay-social-experiments%E2%80%99-in-eastern-europe-are-missing-point <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sxye_1zj7HCZftL0WWaNilH-67CWFLmSS4XlpbgSkSU/mtime:1440585393/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen%20Shot%202015-08-26%20at%2011.23.55.png" alt="" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>In the west, recent videos of discrimination against gay couples in Moscow and Kyiv have gone viral. But they don’t tell the full story.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>In July, British and American media <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/virals/11738047/Watch-what-happens-when-two-gay-men-hold-hands-while-walking-around-Moscow.html">reported on a viral video in which two male Moscow-based celebrities</a>, known for their social pranks, walked the streets of Russia’s capital attempting to pass as a fey gay couple. This took place shortly after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The pranksters <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgm3lb9JUU0">walked the streets of Moscow, while holding hands and dressed in ripped skinny jeans and hipster beanies</a>. The intent of the prank was to compare the state of gay rights in Russia to the United States. Mainstream western media did not elaborate on the fact that the two pranksters were straight and they portrayed themselves as a very docile gay couple. As the video shows, the ‘couple’ never challenge the verbal insults or shoves from passers-by, no one comes to their aid, they are never defended, nor do they defend themselves.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Instead, the pranksters send a plain and dispiriting message: gay people in Russia are lonely couples with no community who do not challenge homophobia.&nbsp;</p><h2>Sensation-seeking?</h2><p>Shortly after the Moscow video was released, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqRqtKQD7RU">a similar experiment was repeated in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv</a>. This time, an actual gay couple, Zoryan Kis and Tymur Levchuk, went for an hour-long stroll around town. Their clothes were plainer than those worn by the Moscow pranksters, but they chose to be more provocative.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>As the video shows, one of the men, holding a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, sits on his partner’s lap in a public space in central Kyiv. Immediately, the couple is surrounded by a dozen far-right men and attacked with pepper-spray, but the team accompanying the couple promptly stop the volley of punches and kicks.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 11.23.55.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Still from the video of Zoryan Kis and Timur Levchuk being attacked. Via YouTube. </span></span></span></span></p><p>Zoryan, campaign coordinator for Amnesty International Ukraine, concluded that this version of the ‘gay social experiment’ was not as homophobic as the one in Russia. Save the pepper-spray attack, Kyiv residents expressed no animosity toward the couple. However, the experiment’s focus, again, was on a lone gay couple, isolated within the confines of a big city.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>A distorted lens<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>In August, a third iteration of the ‘gay social experiment’ appeared online—this time in my hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania. With it, my uneasiness about these re-enactments of queer lives in eastern Europe intensified.</p><p>The reason was simple. Though I know a little bit about current and historical sexual dissidence in Russia and Ukraine, I possess substantial knowledge about the scope of LGBTQ experiences in Lithuania. The Vilnius video, initiated by a local journalist, watered these experiences down.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>What I watched was a <a href="http://en.delfi.lt/lithuania/society/how-do-people-in-vilnius-react-to-two-guys-holding-hands.d?id=68652428">lazy lunch break stroll of two lean, casually dressed millennials surreptitiously holding hands</a>. There is sunshine, a jazzy soundtrack in the background and shy smiles on the couple’s faces as they walk. </p><p>People look at them and smile, but there is no expression of animosity. We do not hear this couple speak and don't see where they live or what they do. Like in Moscow and Kyiv, this couple are on their own.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class="print-no mag-quote-left">We don't hear this couple speak and don't see where they live or what they do.</span></span></p><p>This bland video in which nothing happens obscures a number of aspects central to queer existence in this country—such as the real fear of violence that comes with appearing in public with your partner if you don’t ‘pass’ as straight or the importance of finding a queer community.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The video does not explain that the men are not a couple, nor that their conservative dress was an arrangement made prior to filming, with the purpose of making them seem inconspicuous. </p><p>Western spectators do not learn that one of the actors, Artūras Rudomanskis, is a well-known human rights activist, politician, and an openly gay man whose media presence may have impacted low-key reactions to the hand-holding experiment. The video also does not reveal that, as a security precaution, the journalists agreed the stroll would happen only on streets with security cameras.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>It comes as no surprise that the Vilnius’ ‘gay social experiment’ with no evidence of visible hostility, unlike its counterparts in Moscow and Kyiv, did not catch the attention of international news sites. LGBTQ issues in Lithuania or other smaller countries tend to attract western journalists only when Pride events include aggression or in cases of public homophobia. Often news from these countries reaches western audiences only because gay rights activists or human rights organisations direct media attention to them.</p><p>Without a doubt, <a href="http://www.levada.ru/eng/homophobia">homophobic attitudes in the former Soviet union need to be addressed.</a> The Moscow and Kyiv videos show us <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-pavlukevich/lgbt-in-samara-%E2%80%93-pederasts-and-paedophiles">how dangerous</a> everyday life can be for LGBTQs and the story behind the Vilnius video implies this. It is equally important to acknowledge that, in the west, we rarely leave our comfort zones to grasp what drives queers in other cultures.<span>&nbsp;W</span><span>estern perceptions of LGBTQ life 'abroad' often positions gay people as individuals and victims. T</span><span>hese videos, while certainly helpful in attracting attention, are also detrimental.</span></p><p>Western activists, community leaders, educators, and human rights advocates can learn a lot from paying attention to how queer communities survive and nourish their desires elsewhere.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>A subtler picture</h2><p>One such illuminating example is Kreivės, a Vilnius-based festival which is now in its second year. The festival (the name is best translated as ‘geometrical curves’) is held at Skalvija, the last remaining non-commercial cinema house in Vilnius, which, for a week in August, becomes a haven for local queer youth.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span></span><span>Accounts of events like this Vilnius-based festival provide a much-needed alternative to the worn-out narratives of gay invisibility and homophobia that dominate media reports about queer lives outside the western world.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/festilval posters.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="346" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Augustas Čičelis putting up posters promoting Vilnius LGBT* festival Kreivės. (c) Kreivės.</span></span></span></span></p><p>For ten days in August, Kreivės builds a precious space, and one that is changing the terms of LGBTQ activism in this small Baltic country. </p><p>Instead of educating society about homosexuality or advocating for gay visibility, the event focuses on community building and nourishment. With a thoughtful programme of international films, a Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective, talks, music, and small-scale exhibitions, Kreivės has a lot to offer to local queers and their allies abroad.</p><p><span><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Projects like this one are the real social experiments we in the west should be learning about.</span></span></p><p>Kreivės started in 2013 as a low profile series of LGBTQ film screenings. Under the dedicated supervision of Augustas Čičelis, a Vilnius local in his 30s, the festival has evolved from its grass-roots beginnings as a cultural experiment into a much-needed queer space. </p><p>For the first screenings, Augustas sourced films through local embassies and cultural bastions like the Goethe-Institut.</p><p>All films were obtained free of charge, entrance to the festival was free. Augustas’ vision of an artsy LGBTQ festival began with no substantial support from any Lithuanian gay or lesbian organizations, which focus on advocacy and policy research rather than art-driven activities. </p><p>By emphasizing artistic expression, Kreivės opens up new ground in queer activism and reminds us of the early 1990s in Lithuania, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this Baltic country, the 1990s was an era with a vibrant gay and lesbian cultural scene, which boasted intriguing gay press and lesbian-owned bars.</p><p>Today, this festival brings this important history back to life. Organisers say they want to grow this event as a temporary site where queer youth can get to know each other and share their culture without the pressure to immediately enter the activist scene. In a city with no LGBTQ centres and with little attention among existing gay and lesbian organizations to youth, this vision may even save lives by creating a space for queer existence in a place where it can seem invisible.</p><p>For LGBTQ allies outside of Lithuania, Kreivės may appear similar to the many art festivals on sexuality that have sprouted up all over the globe. It is in the context of its grass-roots origins that the festival’s importance as a queer space can be understood. </p><p>Projects like&nbsp;<span>Kreivės</span><span>&nbsp;are the real social experiments we in the west should be learning about. They expand the dimensions of our queer worlds and remind us of the ways queer culture can evolve.</span></p><p><em> If you enjoyed this article, please consider following oDR on <a href="http://on.fb.me/1IAtrLR">Facebook</a>&nbsp;or <a href="http://bit.ly/1g0I7x3">Twitter</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/olena-svitlytska/can-feminist-art-free-women-from-patriarchy-in-eastern-europe">Can feminist art free women from patriarchy in Eastern Europe?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/denis-gorbach/struggle-for-progressive-politics-in-ukraine">The struggle for progressive politics in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lina Žigelytė Rights for all Ukraine Russia Cultural politics Beyond propaganda Wed, 26 Aug 2015 10:31:36 +0000 Lina Žigelytė 95498 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Can feminist art free women from patriarchy in Eastern Europe? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olena-svitlytska/can-feminist-art-free-women-from-patriarchy-in-eastern-europe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554750/Pic%202.jpg" alt="Pic 2.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /><span>As post-Soviet states continue their 'conservative turn', feminist artists stand up to address gender injustice in Belarus, Russia and&nbsp;</span><span>Ukraine.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>I first became acquainted with feminist art in Kyiv in 2012, when&nbsp;<a href="https://ofenzyva.wordpress.com/">Feminist Ofenzyva</a>&nbsp;(Feminist Offensive) organised ‘Women’s Workshop’, a project which invited female artists to create their works in collaboration with the public. </p><p>I was particularly struck by the work of <a href="http://www.kadyrova.com">Zhanna Kadyrova</a>. Famous in Ukraine for her enormous sculptures and mosaics occupying up to two floors of a building, Zhanna was sat with a pile of newspapers, cutting out photographs of people with nail scissors for a surreal collage of miniature figures.&nbsp; <em></em></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Zhanna Kadyrova in the process of creating her collage, ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition, 2012. (c) Karina Sembe.</em></p><p>The newspapers were from various countries, but the world appeared uniform&nbsp;<span>in the collages,</span><span>&nbsp;as if inhabited only by men in suits doing highly serious things. Only rarely did a woman make an appearance amongst this mass of be-suited males, often with a smile on her face, either elegantly dressed or nude. In </span><a href="http://artukraine.com.ua/a/vyrezaya-povsednevnost%E2%80%94zhanna-kadyrova-v-pinchukartcentre/">an interview</a><span> with&nbsp;</span><em>ArtUkraine,&nbsp;</em><span>Zhanna explained that ‘the discrepancies between images of men and women struck me: for every three images of women, there were a hundred images of men. I then noticed how their roles are depicted. Men are shown shaking hands, women are shown in adverts, in the cultural sphere, or with a baby and that’s all.</span><span>’</span></p><p><span>‘</span>There are no other roles for women… Elsewhere in Europe or the US you can sometimes find images of a business woman in front of a microphone who has something to say. But it is rare in our [Eastern European] countries.’</p><h2>In the mirror-world of patriarchy</h2> <p>The world in Kadyrova’s collage may seem strange, but it reflects the situation of women in contemporary Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. </p><p>The social, political and economic differences between the three countries are considerable, but the patriarchal tendencies found in each are often identical. Many of the issues faced by women have their roots in the Soviet era. It was in the Soviet Union that the idea of the ‘working mother’ took hold: a woman was to work on the same level as men, but was also expected to bring up the children, look after the household and herself. Nowadays, gender equality is proclaimed de jure as a goal rather than given. However, in reality it is not implemented in law, and many experience discrimination.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many factors contribute to what amounts to the feminisation of poverty in these countries. Women are forbidden from working in a great many professions (almost 200 in Belarus, more than 400 in Russia, and over 500 in Ukraine). There exists a strong vertical and horizontal gender segregation at work, and the pay gap between men and women is large (25-40% depending on the country). Similar to Soviet times, women come home after work and start an unpaid ‘second shift’ of housework:&nbsp;<span>cooking, looking after children and relatives.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>While the USSR was far from paradise for women, its legislation had a silver lining: Soviet Russia was the first country in the world to legalise abortions, and, apart from Stalinist times, abortions were free and easily accessible in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Yet in recent years, these states have all tried to restrict women’s reproductive rights under the guise of preventing a demographic crisis. This conservative politics is often initiated on the basis of a return to the traditional values of the hetero-normative family, and women are expected to produce a large quantity of children. </p> <p>The situation is <a href="http://sexualrightsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/UPR22_Belarus_Stakeholder-submission_Final.pdf">particularly acute in Belarus</a>. In 2013, a council of ministers severely restricted the possible justifications for an abortion in the later stages of pregnancy: now a woman is only granted an abortion in cases of rape or the previous deprivation of parents’ rights. According to 2014 amendments in legislation, every woman in need of an abortion must first consult with a lawyer and psychologist. </p><p>Finally, this March, the Ministry of Health together with the Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called&nbsp;<span>‘</span><span>Week without abortions</span><span>’</span><span>&nbsp;(where a week for the Ministry somehow equals 9 working days): each day, abortions are banned in a different region of Belarus.</span></p><h2>Men in suits</h2><p class="pullquote-right">The Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called week without abortions.</p> <p>The be-suited men who occupy the vast majority of positions in the Russian government have actively maintained a programme that limits the rights and roles of women in Russia. </p><p>The lives of bisexual, lesbian, and transgender women are endangered because of the infamous law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ adopted in 2013. Despite a petition which gathered over 100,000 signatures, the government has yet to propose a law concerning violence against women. </p><p>Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which maintains substantial links with the Russian government) have actively sought to restrict the use of the term ‘domestic violence.’ Russia is also on the verge of criminalising abortions: a recent legislative initiative proposes a criminal penalty of a year in prison for a woman, her partner, and a doctor who performed an abortion. News of the proposed restrictions on abortions has already provoked a response by Russian feminists. One of the examples is the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRpGArygiXdUxd1zlk13kPQ">YouTube campaign</a> ‘A Right to Abortion’ &nbsp;led by Leda Garina of LeftFem. Garina and other feminist activists are now being called for an interview with the Department for Countering Extremism: apparently, defending women’s rights is an extremist activity in Russia.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Dmytryk1 - pravo na abort.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>More than 100 women have taken part in the campaign #PravoNaAbort. Still taken from YouTube.</em></p><p>The Ukrainian government strived to adopt the conservative turn maintained by their Russian and Belarusian counterparts. However, their efforts have met with considerably less success. In 2013, an attempt to outlaw abortion failed. Measures against homosexual ‘propaganda’ were also proposed in 2011 and 2012, but were not ratified into law.</p><p> Quite why these measures failed is not clear. It is likely that street protests by leftist, feminist, and LGBT groups may have influenced an outcome, although Ukrainian geopolitical gyrations shifting back and forth from Russia to Europe up to 2014 is perhaps one of the key factors:</p><h2>Reproductive labour</h2> <p>It is not surprising that protest voices have appeared in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. But these voices are heard not only in street demonstrations, but also in works of art dedicated to criticising the established order. </p><p>Violence against women run through contemporary feminist art projects. For instance,&nbsp;<a href="http://office-antipropaganda.com/wordpress/">works</a> by Belarusian artists such as Alesya Zhitkevich and Marina Narushkina embody the feminist slogan, ‘the personal is political’, and speak about various forms of violence against women: verbal and physical; emotional and sexual. Amongst many Russian artists, Masha Ivanova, Anna Repina, and Yana Smetanina have all dealt with the experience of violence against women and the stigma that is associated with it. Like many other post-Soviet countries, the problem of violence is particularly severe in Russia. Whilst no exact statistics exist, it is thought that around 14,000 women die from violence inflicted by men every year.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>In her project Alesya Zhitkevich (Minsk) reflects on a classic feminist essay by Carol Hanisch. ‘Personal is Political’, 2013-2014. (c) Sergei Zhdanovich.</em></p><p>Reproductive labour is also important. The Ukrainian artists Ksenia Gnilitskaya and Alina Yakubenko created a video called ‘The Lifelong Game’ in 2015: the work imitates a videogame, in which a woman, occupied with everyday household chores, earns points and bonuses for each completed stage. The ‘game’ reflects the lives of many women in post-Soviet countries, but sadly, in real life, women’s reproductive work is endless and any points that the woman accrues are illusory, as they cannot be converted into money or social status. </p><p>The endless cycle of reproductive labour is often explored by artists with a mixture of seriousness and humour. For example, Mikaela from Moscow analyses the ‘ritual of an ironed shirt’ in her <em>Anthropological Reconstruction</em> (2014) with scientific rigour; Anna Zvyagintseva from Kyiv makes a <em>Catalogue of Women’s Labour </em>(2013), and Ukrainian artist <a href="http://www.alevtinakakhidze.com/">Alevtina Kakhidze</a> creates her texts and drawings about domestic labour at the same time as she performs the tasks which she depicts (<em>In Order to Clean More Quickly</em>, 2013).</p> <p>While we can trace common themes in some artworks, feminist art in post-Soviet countries is not limited to a narrow circle of ideas. In fact, it is often intersectional, turning to the experiences of various marginalised groups. </p><p>For instance, a graphic art series by Viktoria Lomasko <a href="https://therussianreader.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/victoria-lomasko-18-plus/">captures moments from different lives</a>: of Russian sex workers, of lesbian women, of anti-authoritarian protests’ participants. <a href="http://hagra.ru/gellery/feministskie-raboty-feminist-art">The artist Hagra</a> from Russia raises the issues of classism and transphobia in her comic work, and paints the life within and beyond the gender binary framework. Alina Kopytsia from Ukraine, in her drawings, fabric collages and sculptures, explores BDSM and exhibitionism, tracing the connection between the sexual and social. While taking an action against conservative attacks, feminist art also reflects on the society, offering it new visions and perspectives.</p><h2>The art of survival</h2> <p>Feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine is a way of life, but those who engage in it often must master an art of survival. Although more and more male and female artists are addressing gender questions in their work, such a topic is not accorded the prestige and status of more conventional artistic mores, particularly when it positions itself as feminist.&nbsp; </p><p>In 2014, I took a friend of mine to an exhibition at the prestigious Pinchuk Art Centre gallery in the centre of Kyiv. &nbsp;I was overjoyed to see the same collage which Zhanna Kadyrova had created for the ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition in 2012. I started to explain the feminist undercurrent of this work to my companion, only to be cut short by the description of the artwork on the wall provided by the curator. Any mention of gender had disappeared completely and the work was described as addressing the ‘globalisation of mediatised images’. In 2014, after the Maidan protests, the same work was described as a ‘symbol of the protests which are flowing all over the world.’ In other words, the very same processes which feminist artists explore and criticise in their work can function in the discourse of galleries and curators so as to deprive art works of an explicitly feminist or polemical orientation. </p><p>Telling is the reception of Anna Zvyagintseva’s iron sculpture <em>Fragment</em>. Although it was called ‘a monument to women’s work’ by its author, the media and galleries maintain a stubborn silence with regard to its intended subject matter, and generalize the work as merely addressing ‘labour as such’ and the ‘mundane nature of life.’ &nbsp;</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Anna Zvyagintseva: 'The movement to bring together feminist artists must simultaneously exist in institutional and activist realms and create connections between the two. Perhaps it should even create its own activist institution.' ‘Fragment’ installation, 2013. (c) Anna Zvyagintseva.</em></p><p>Sometimes this silence passes over into censorship. In 2013, the curators of an exhibition called ‘International Women’s Day. Feminism: from avant-garde to the present day’, excluded a work by Viktoria Lomasko due to its referencing the Pussy Riot group.&nbsp; It is not surprising therefore that feminist artists often prefer to organise and display their work on their own and maintain autonomous projects. Even though they can receive token support in the form of grants or free exhibition space from friendly organisations and curators, these artists rarely receive any payment, and work merely due to their commitment to their ideas.</p> <p>In post-Soviet countries, feminist art frequently exists in a space between galleries and the streets. As street artists, Mikaela, Smart Mary (Umnaia Masha), and the groups Gandhi and Zoa art all predominantly work on the street. They use the streets to create political art, directing society’s attention to social problems, and remind viewers of the historical traditions of feminism. </p><p>Although such art is soon destroyed and painted over, it is perhaps the most accessible to the general public. Many artists in Russia and Ukraine are also activists in political social movements, and readily create posters and stickers, which are used at feminist actions. Banners and posters by Smart Mary appear both at various demonstrations and in gallery spaces as art objects. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 4.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="405" height="407" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Smart Mary (Moscow): 'I believe that in order to achieve civic victory, we have to recognise our individual weaknesses and to speak out about them. The cult of strength and purity leads only to fascism and segregation.' ‘On-Off’ poster, 2013 (c) Smart Mary.</em></p><p>Although feminists must survive in these conditions, their work can directly help others to survive. A recent example is a performance of the <em>Vagina Monologues </em>in St Petersburg in 2014 (curated by Leda Garina and Anastasia Khodyreva). The money raised by the performance gathered funds for a women’s crisis centre that provides support for victims of people trafficking as well as victims of domestic and sexual violence. </p><p>At a time when Russian state support for crisis centres is almost zero, the money raised by ticket sales contributed to enabling a telephone hotline, which female victims can call and receive support. Similarly, a performance of the <em>Vagina Monologues</em> in Kyiv (organised by the Positive Women group and curated by Galina Dzhykaieva, Galya Yarmanova, and Lesia Pagulich) helped gather funds for a women’s crisis centre in Donetsk in order to aid women in the Donbas conflict zone.</p><h2>Feminism without borders</h2> <p><span>Despite their working in various formats, some feminist artists from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia often meet and share their experiences. At the end of 2014, the new platform Feminist (Art) Criticism arose in Minsk. The curators Irina Solomatina and Tatsiana Shchurko gathered together feminist artists and researchers from 11 countries. For two weeks the project became a hub of academic and creative activity, providing exhibitions, concerts, master classes and conferences.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.</p> <p>In Russia, the socially engaged project Feminist Pencil was created in 2012. Organised by Nadia Plungian and Viktoriya Lomasko, the project led to a few exhibitions and the establishment of an international separatist feminist art movement. The female artists of the Feminist Pencil revived the somewhat forgotten art of graphics and political posters. </p><p>The bravery of the statements and the ‘sharpness’ of the artists’ pencils are aimed at destroying stereotypes and exposing society’s many double standards. The project’s success inspired new feminist art initiatives, and clearly demonstrated that, despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 5.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550419/Pic 5.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="177" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><em>Artivist Mannaya Kasha (Moscow-Novosibirsk): ‘For me, feminist art is a fight against hierarchy. The weapon is a multi-tool with a double edge: it's not just aimed at women viewers, but also functions as an instrument of unceasing self-analysis for the artists themselves.’ 'Feminist banner’ street sticker, 2012-2013 (c)&nbsp;</em><span>Mannaya Kasha.</span></p><p>Amongst those international feminist art projects in Ukraine, it is important to note the most recent, <a href="http://vcrc.org.ua/en/%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BA%D0%B0-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%BE/">Motherhood</a>, in 2015. With the developing war and economic crisis, Ukrainian society finds itself on the threshold of yet another conservative turn, and one which is based on crude nationalist rhetoric: men are praised as heroes whilst women and marginalised groups are forgotten. Curated by Oksana Briukhovetska, the project Motherhood addressed this problem through an exhibition, film screenings, lectures, and public discussions.&nbsp; It seems that many feminist artists would agree <a href="http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2015/03/mystetstvo-publichnoyi-mozhlyvosti/">with the remarks Motherhood participant Joanna Rajkowska</a>:&nbsp;<span>‘</span><span>I do not perceive reality as a permanent state of affairs, which I must endure with pain. The way we arrange our own world and our co-existence in it depends on us – the residents of this building, city, country, world…’&nbsp;</span></p> <p>In its direct movement towards equality, feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine supersedes personal and state boundaries. It inspires protest, and its protest gives us inspiration in return.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/exhibition-review-%27borderlands%27-grad-london">Exhibition review: &#039;Borderlands&#039; (GRAD, London)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sonja-katharina-schiffers/times-of-war-in-russian-arts-and-culture">Times of war in Russian arts and culture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Olena Svitlytska Rights for all Politics Human rights Health Cultural politics Thu, 21 May 2015 16:48:44 +0000 Olena Svitlytska 92976 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Psychiatric abuse of transgender people in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yana-sitnikova/psychiatric-abuse-of-transgender-people-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555470/shutterstock_175109303.jpg" alt="shutterstock_175109303.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" />The existence of the diagnosis ‘Transsexualism’ in any form leads to psychiatric abuse, and negatively impacts the lives of transgender people in Russia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p> A brief historical background will help to understand the context in which psychiatric oppression of transgender people operates in Russia. Since the 1960s, psychiatry was used systematically as a weapon against dissidents in the Soviet Union. The infamous diagnosis ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ was used to detain in mental hospitals, opponents of the government, and other people, whose behaviour was considered to be against social norms. There, they were subjected to compulsory treatment.</p><p>There is no evidence that transgender people in the USSR were intentionally subjected to the political abuse of psychiatry – for the simple reason they were invisible. However, when they appeared in front of the psychiatrist, either of their own volition or thanks to those who considered their behavior deviant, they were faced with the same cruel system, which goal was not the person's welfare but the continuation of social norms and official ideology. According to an interview with a trans woman, which appeared in the press in 1961, when she first tried to get help from the doctors, she was ‘beaten and medicated into a vegetative state’; and received the diagnosis ‘Paranoid schizophrenia’. Due to the preoccupation of Soviet psychiatry with ‘schizophrenia’, it seems that this diagnosis was often given to transgender people (however, direct evidence for that period is difficult to find). </p><p>This historical context is to some degree similar to the situation in post-Soviet Russia. Although on a smaller scale, punitive psychiatry is being revived in present-day Russia, the latest case is that of Mikhail Kosenko, a protester at the Bolotnaya Square protests in 2012, who was diagnosed with 'paranoid schizophrenia' and forced to receive psychiatric treatment. The attitude towards transgender people in Russian psychiatry continues to follow the Soviet model in some forms.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Although on a smaller scale, punitive psychiatry is reviving in present-day Russia. </p><h2>Legal framework </h2><p>Many transgender people in Russia need to change their names and legal gender in order not to be discriminated against. But this procedure, known as legal gender recognition (LGR), is not clearly defined in Russian legislation. Federal law N143 ‘On the acts of civil status’ briefly mentions the possibility of LGR in article 70: ‘Making amendments or changes to the statement of the act of civil status is made by the civil registry, where ... a document of the established form about the change of sex issued by a medical organisation is submitted’. However, no exact ‘document of the established form’ exists, and that gives the registries and the courts room to arbitrarily judge which medical interventions a person must accomplish in order to be eligible for LGR. </p><p>In most cases, two documents are required for a change of status: psychiatric diagnosis F64.0 ‘Transsexualism’ and/or sex reassignment surgery. Even if the diagnosis is not explicitly required, doctors will not perform surgery without it, with few exceptions. That all but makes psychiatric assessment a requirement for transgender individuals who wish to change their legal status. </p><h2>Procedure </h2><p>Unlike, for example, in Ukraine, no centralised body for issuing a diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’ (F64.0) exists in Russia What is more, undergoing psychiatric assessment in a place different from that where one lives is possible. It is also possible to get the diagnosis from a different psychiatric commission, if the first attempt fails. This gives transgender people in Russia a great degree of flexibility in choosing between different psychiatrists. However, this flexibility is limited by the low number of non-transphobic doctors who have an understanding of trans issues. Until recently, there was only one such psychiatrist in the whole country — Dmitry Isaev, who works in St Petersburg. Another clinic, which positions itself as trans friendly — Department of Reconstructive Surgery, Andrology and Sexopathology (RSAS) — opened in Moscow in 2013. Given the long distances, not many trans people from Siberia and the Far East of the country can afford to travel to St Petersburg or Moscow, and rent a lodging during their stay. Moreover, they may be required to visit a psychiatrist several times before they receive the diagnosis. These circumstances limit their choice to local facilities where doctors tend to be ignorant of trans issues, extremely transphobic and rude.</p><p class="pullquote-right">No centralised body for issuing a diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’ (F64.0) exists in Russia (unlike, for example, in Ukraine). </p><p>The treatment of transgender patients in Russia was previously described in the Decree of the Ministry of Health N311: ‘Models of diagnostics and treatment of mental and behaviour illnesses’, enacted in 1999. As we will see, this decree caused some negative changes to psychiatric practice. In 2012, the decree was repealed, and in 2013 in its place the ‘Standard of primary medical care in the case of sexual identity disorders’ was introduced (the exact reason for this change is not known, but it definitely is not connected to pressure from human rights activists). The new document requires examinations by a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, sexologist, endocrinologist and medical psychologist for individuals who wish to obtain the diagnosis ‘Transsexualism’. It is too early to judge whether these amendments will result in any change in psychiatric practice. The new Standard is very short and mentions only the specialists that a trans person must visit, and the average number of appointments with each of them. It also mentions the drugs that can be used for hormone-replacement therapy. But only four drugs are in the list, which might shut off access to other drugs in future. And, unlike Decree N311, it does not explain the criteria and recommended treatment, meaning that the old Decree might still be in use as an unofficial guide for psychiatrists. </p><h2>Psychiatric interview </h2><p>Obtaining the diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’ usually requires several appointments with a psychiatrist. Additional inspections by a sexologist, psychologist, gynaecologist, as well as hormones and karyotype tests are usually required. If the psychiatrist considers the applicant appropriate, a commission of several medical practitioners is appointed. </p><p>The experiences of trans people during the interviews with psychiatrists and the commission vary significantly, from quite positive or neutral reviews, as far as St Petersburg and Moscow are concerned, to horrible situations in many other places. No matter where they are interviewed, trans people are constantly addressed in the wrong gender by their passport name. Asking about the applicant's personal and sexual life is another widespread practice. Here is a fragment of conversation between Alexandr Bukhanovsky, a psychiatrist in the Phoenix psychiatric clinic, in Rostov-on-Don, and a trans man: </p><p>- Do you have natural sexual intercourse?<br /><span>- What do you mean by natural?<br /></span><span>- As a woman or anally?<br /></span><span>- Anally?<br /></span><span>- Do you take off your clothes when in an intimate relationship?</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Asking about the applicant's personal and sexual life is another widespread practice.</p><p> A trans woman who tried to get the diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’ in the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry reports that 90% of questions were about ‘sex, masturbation, anal stimulation, nocturnal emission [and] fantasies’. After that, she was told that she is not a ‘typical’ transsexual but a homosexual with obsessions. </p><p>Sex-related questions can be accompanied by general rudeness towards the patient, as follows from the questions a trans woman was asked by Mikhail Beil'kin, a sexologist from Chelyabinsk: </p><p>- So why the fuck do you need a vagina? What the hell brought you here?<br /><span>- When was the last time you fucked your wife?<br /></span><span>- Why the shit do you want a vagina, if you don't like boys?</span></p><p>This conversation brings us to the question of the interconnection between gender identity and sexual orientation. Although a few progressive psychiatrists accept that a trans person can have any orientation, most still insist that one must be heterosexual in their gender of choice to be ‘enough trans’. The above-mentioned Decree N311 listed ‘homosexual orientation’ (according to sex, assigned at birth) as one of the symptoms of ‘Transsexualism’. </p><p>It is common for psychiatrists to make offensive comments about the applicant's appearance; this usually goes together with an attempt to dissuade someone from changing gender. This was actually one of the steps of ‘psychotherapy’ aimed at a ‘reconciliation with the innate sex', according to Decree N311. A friend of mine was told during the commission in RSAS, Moscow, ‘You will never become a real woman, and no normal man will want to have an affair with you’, and ‘You will never look thoroughly like a woman’. Bukhanovsky's comment about a trans man was that ‘Outwardly, I would not say that you are a man’. </p><p>In most cases, appearance in accordance with gender stereotypes seems to play an important role in receiving the diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’, although this depends on the psychiatrist. For example, a trans woman in Krasnoyarsk, was shouted at by doctor Andrej Sumarokov for wearing ‘female’ clothes. When trying to dissuade ‘trans; people, psychiatrists use not only cissexist and heterosexist arguments, but patriarchal ones as well: ‘You are choosing the wrong way for fulfilling your destined function, you have everything physiological and biological ... you could become pregnant...’ (Bukhanovsky, to a trans man). </p><h2>Psychiatric torture </h2><p>Inspection by a psychiatrist is not enough in many cases, and transgender people are required to stay in a psychiatric institution for around 30 days. Feedbacks on this experience vary from ‘better than expected’ to what may be defined as psychiatric torture. In less common cases, transgender people are hospitalised against their will upon demand by a parent. This may happen to minors under 15 years-old, who can be hospitalised, with the consent of their parents, according to the Law ‘On Psychiatric Care’. Due to high levels of corruption in the Russian health system, transgender individuals older than 15 can also be hospitalised against their will: ‘For a bribe, I was locked in the <em>psikhushka</em> [Russia word for mental hospital], and fed with Zyprexa [antipsychotic drug], and told that I had schizophrenic delusions as a result of birth trauma’.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Transgender people are required to stay in a psychiatric institution for around 30 days.</p><p> Whether voluntarily hospitalised or not, transgender individuals are placed in the facilities with other patients according to their legal gender, one that is different from the one they identify with. This can lead to hostility and violence from other patients. A trans woman describes having been raped three times, with no effort by the personnel to stop it: 'My parents recommended putting me in hospital, and cure my head of nonsense. Of course, I tried asking for a diagnosis of transsexualism, but no one listened to me; and I was put in a "tigers" cage, that is a cell for seriously ill and violent patients. I arrived in female clothes and I was immediately manhandled there, even raped three time by some bastards, but the staff didn't care!’ This woman received the diagnosis of ‘Schizotypal personality disorder’, and had to pass a psychiatric assessment again in a different city to get the required diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’. </p><p>Psychiatric torture is widespread in Russian mental hospitals. Before hospitalisation, transgender individuals are made to sign an agreement on using drug treatment — even though their goal is to receive a diagnosis, not to be treated. In Krasnoyarsk, one person described what this treatment might be like: ‘I was in a madhouse for 30 days. I was injected with neuroleptics, without antidotes. I was subject to pressurising psychopathy, and 24 hours a day they watched to see whether I will cope with it or go mad’. This person reports that no one told her what she was being treated for, and which drugs were used. But, after a month, she received the diagnosis of ‘Transsexualism’. What is perhaps more astonishing is that such mistreatment is not only the result of incompetent doctors but is officially described in Decree N311 as a method of pharmacotherapy ‘in cases of psychogenic diseases, with employment of tranquilizers, antidepressants, anxiolytics, nootropics, sedatives’. </p><p>Furthermore, taking hormones may be prohibited in some hospitals. This measure not only violates an individual’s human rights, but also is harmful for the health of transgender individuals who had started taking hormones before hospitalisation, because irregular variation of hormone levels is not recommended. </p><h2>Reform </h2><p>The situation described above obviously needs to be changed. Actions aimed at educating Russian psychiatrists about trans issues on the national level may be one option. This, however, is hardly possible in the current political situation, and the complete unwillingness of most psychiatrists to listen to trans activists' arguments (whom they perceive as patients, not equal participants in the dialogue). And even if this were to happen, it will not remove the system of ‘gatekeeping’ (controlling access to gender recognition), but will only make it a little less oppressive.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Standfirst image: Depiction of the effects of schizophrenia. Image by Velekvez via Shutterstock (c)</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valery-pavlukevich/punitive-psychiatry-in-samara">Punitive psychiatry in Samara</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nadzeya-husakouskaya/sex-change-commission-in-ukraine">The sex change commission in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yana Sitnikova Rights for all Russia Human rights Health Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:17:11 +0000 Yana Sitnikova 91223 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Gender equality is holding Belarus back https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-pershai/gender-equality-is-holding-belarus-back <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554750/men%20women%20toilet%20.png" alt="men women toilet .png" hspace="5" width="140" align="right" />Belarus is slowly opening up to the idea of gender equality. But the conservative meaning attached to the concept is holding it back.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Gender equality is somewhat of a buzzword in politics these days and like so many buzzwords, its meaning is largely accepted at face value. However, gender equality doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone the world over. Its meaning varies depending on the specific cultural and linguistic context to which it is exported, and where it is then shaped, among other things, by local history, the political climate and the economic stability of the place in question.</p><p>Gender equality is also a highly politically-charged term; it is often associated with issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexist oppression, etc. This can make a critical analysis of the concept somewhat difficult because criticism may come across as the dismissal of these important social issues. Nonetheless, it is important to engage with the terms that politicians and state institutions use; these, after all, form the basis of policies that have profound effects upon society at large.</p><h2>Gender equality in Belarus</h2><p>It would be untrue to say that gender equality is a ‘hot topic’ in Belarus. Like many other ‘post-Soviet’ countries, Belarus remains, on the whole, a deeply patriarchal society where traditional ideas of gender norms and identities prevail. Gender stereotypes, which define the ‘correct’ behavioural codes for both women and men persist to this day, as do normative standards of femininity and masculinity. Homophobia too is common place. Moreover, gender, by and large, remains an unpopular framework through which to view social oppression and inequality. More often than not, the dominant order is explained away as a matter of tradition or with the flippant response: ‘it’s just the way things are.’</p><p class="pullquote-right">Gender, by and large, remains an unpopular framework through which to view social oppression and inequality</p><p>But while gender equality remains a largely peripheral issue in contemporary Belarus, the concept has slowly been attracting greater public attention and acceptance over the past ten years. <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/volha-piatrukovich/in-belarus-women-need-not-apply">Debates about issues such as domestic violence, unequal pay, the glass ceiling and sexual harassment</a> have gradually become more common since the mid-1990s as more and more people have begun to question the differences in men’s and women’s salaries and pensions, the under-representation of women in formal politics and the treatment of women in the work place. It’s not that people weren’t aware of these things before, but rather that they didn’t perceive them as priority issues.</p><p>At state-level too, the issue of gender equality is being met somewhat more warmly (though this warmth has its limits as the recently amended<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/volha-piatrukovich/in-belarus-women-need-not-apply"> list</a> of prohibited jobs for women goes to show). Several government and not-for-profit initiatives have been established with the aim of promoting gender equality. These programmes concentrate on issues such as domestic violence, sexism, and reproductive health. There are also more than a few university research centres and online resource platforms that address ‘gender issues.’</p><p>While an increased awareness of ‘gender issues’ in Belarus is certainly to be welcomed, one should perhaps be a bit more cautious about embracing this ‘gender equality’ that more and more Belarusians are talking about. Simply championing and perpetuating buzzwords without careful consideration of what they actually mean can, despite the best of intentions, wind up doing more harm than good. So when we talk about gender equality here in Belarus, what do we mean?</p><h2>Heterosexual gender equality</h2><p>There is no one official definition of gender equality accepted by all in Belarus, however the dominant definitions all have one important thing in common: they refer exclusively to men and women and they dismiss entirely other ‘unconventional’ forms of gender identity. For example, transgender and intersex people are rarely, if ever, covered under the concept of gender equality in Belarus (this is sadly also true of many other societies).</p><p>Indeed, attempts to broaden the definition of gender equality so as to make it more inclusive are often met with hostility. Experts are keen to point out, for example, that the meaning of gender equality is often switched or distorted by those in Belarus who seek to use the term for ‘propaganda’ purposes so as to promote same-sex relationships, the rejection of the family as a social institution, and the formation of genderless individuals. It is worth repeating that this assertion is made by those who are accepted as experts on ‘gender issues,’ which makes their unabashedly discriminatory stance towards the LGBTQ community all the more concerning. As far as they are concerned: gender equality is about (heterosexual) men and women, and nobody else.</p><h2>A not-so progressive idea</h2><p>The fight for gender equality, increasingly being taken up by government officials, activists and experts in Belarus, thus operates on a paradox in which a principle originally ‘designed’ to resist and fight gender discrimination in fact itself becomes a vehicle for sexist oppression. By separating and privileging the male and female genders from and over other ‘non-traditional’ genders, the concept facilitates the shoring up of an already rigid gender status quo. Those who fall between the male/female binary and/or fail to live up to the social expectations of what men and women are and should be, are seemingly unworthy of equality and so they are left once more marginalised at the edges of a system clearly not meant for them. Every time gender equality is understood in this narrow way as the equality of males and females, it comes at the cost of a silent but pervasive discrimination against unrecognised and marginalised gender identities.</p><p class="pullquote-right">A principle originally ‘designed’ to resist and fight gender discrimination in fact itself becomes a vehicle for sexist oppression</p><p>Moreover, the conservative nature of gender equality as commonly understood in Belarus is, in direct contradiction to its proposed aim, constricted in its ability to shatter the prevailing dividing lines between men and women. Gender equality as a concept in Belarus has emerged out of a long and widely-accepted tradition, which has deeply-set views about what gender is – namely male and female – and about what it means to be male and female. This conservative conceptualisation of gender is not just simply an abstract idea which has little impact upon the lived realities of people in Belarus, it is embedded in the very system which categorises and distributes the men and women of Belarus (and those who fall in between) into specific economic, political and social structures. Within this system, social positions for men and for women are pre-set and clearly-defined. In failing to address this system, which produces and demands gender normativity, the gender equality ‘movement’ in Belarus is unable to instigate genuine and meaningful change, and is instead reduced to seeking social, political, and jurisdictional ‘adjustments’ of the existing androcentric system in which men are the norm and women simply deserve a ‘better’ share.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Gender equality in Belarus is constricted in its ability to shatter the prevailing dividing lines between men and women</p><p>As the prevailing interpretation of gender equality becomes ever more accepted in Belarus, women may well succeed in attaining greater public representation in, for example, politics and/or industry. However, the stereotypical requirements of what constitutes ‘proper’ femininity (and masculinity, for that matter) will remain untouched. In concrete terms, this means that the gender requirements imposed upon women will remain the same: namely, to provide subsistence labour in order to keep the house in order and the children fed; to dress in a particular way and to wear makeup; and, at the extreme end, to accept the violent repercussions that stem from a man’s social requirement to assert his superior position within the family structure.</p><p>So, while the concept of gender equality at first glance appears to represent a progressive ideal, which seeks to overturn a centuries-old gendered hierarchy, its acutely conservative nature merely supports and reinforces the masculinised system – and the corrupted hierarchies which run throughout it – that it seeks to uproot.</p><h2>Moving forward</h2><p>This is not to demean the importance of women’s rights in any way. On the contrary, women’s activism within or outside of a particular line of feminism is imperative; it must be supported and promoted. But it is crucial to differentiate between women’s rights and gender equality. These are not interchangeable categories and each requires its own strategies for communication.</p><p class="pullquote-right">It is crucial to differentiate between women’s rights and gender equality</p><p>Meaningful and worthwhile changes will follow when activists, analysts, journalists, civic educators, politicians, etc. cease to approach gender equality in the lazy, short-sighted and binary way outlined above. The dichotomy of male and female is constantly being regenerated in various forms throughout the patriarchal system; adjusting aspects of the gender binary, as suggested by the current gender equality discourse, does not eliminate it. This, in turn, ensures the continued patriarchal division of society’s resources. </p><p><span>Such a system cannot be overthrown overnight, but it is possible to introduce changes that might have positive outcomes. For instance, it might be helpful to make transgender, intersexuality, agender, and other forms of marginalised gender identity a consistent part of the public discourse. The recognition of gender diversity will then eventually lead to an inclusive understanding of gender equality that accepts everyone in Belarus.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/volha-piatrukovich/in-belarus-women-need-not-apply">In Belarus, women need not apply</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sinead-walsh/nagornokarabakh-gender-inclusive-approach-to-peace">Nagorno-Karabakh: a gender inclusive approach to peace</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Pershai Rights for all Politics Justice Human rights Foreign Belarus Wed, 03 Dec 2014 16:11:17 +0000 Alexander Pershai 88456 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The sex change commission in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nadzeya-husakouskaya/sex-change-commission-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/2.jpg" alt="" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" />Transgender citizens in Ukraine have good reason to think that they are all but invisible. Even the EU is not pushing for inclusiveness; and then there is the sex change commission… <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D0%B3%D1%83%D1%81%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F/komissiya-po-%D0%BF%D0%BE-smena-pola-v-ukraine">на русском языке</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>It is a time of great change in Ukraine. Changes have taken place in Kyiv’s political order and its state borders; and military conflict continues to rage in the east of the country, all of which has captivated the imagination of the international media industry. As these ‘priority’ topics continue to dominate the debate, ‘peripheral’ issues such as feminism and LGBT activism inevitably fade into the background; on the rare occasions that they make it on to the radar, it is in a fragmented and one-sided manner.</span></p><p><span>If the mainstream media is to be believed, the LGBT community has faced two problems in ‘post-Maidan’ Ukraine: the cancellation of the Kyiv Gay Pride in July of this year and the decision of the new government – with EU consent – to defer the inclusion of sexual orientation or gender identity in anti-discrimination legislation. However, there are other things being ignored: the exclusion of particular issues from any debate, and the unequal distribution of power and resources within the LGBT community itself. In this situation, the experiences of Ukraine’s transgender citizens are forced out of the public arena, excluded from the activist agenda, and ignored in academic analysis.</span></p><h2>A transgender blackout</h2><p><span>Of more than 40 registered LGBT organisations in Ukraine, <em>Insight</em> is seemingly the only one which advertises itself as an LGBTQI-inclusive organisation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex). The organisation gives priority to some of society’s most vulnerable groups – lesbian, transgender and intersex people. Since 2009, it has been helping and advising transgender people, and providing them with information, and psychological and legal counselling.</span></p><p><span>Issues faced by transgender people in Ukraine are, more often than not, the very last item on the LGBT agenda – that is if they appear at all. According to Olena Shevchenko, director of <em>Insight</em>, this is partly due to the fact that Ukraine’s LGBT organisations tend to follow the vision and priorities of their Western funders, leading to a situation where those organisations are often insensitive to local contexts, and view the problems faced by Ukraine’s LGBT community in a narrow light.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Ukraine’s LGBT organisations tend to follow the vision and priorities of their Western funders.</p><p><span>‘Most organisations in Ukraine work with so-called MSM groups (men who have sex with men), and focus primarily on HIV/AIDS as this area received a great deal of funding at one time,’ says Olena. ‘At the last national LGBT conference, where 80% of the attendees were gay men and 20% "the rest", there was a particularly animated debate about lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people. I am always surprised by people who say that they only work with gay men, and that transgender issues should be an optional issue.’</span></p><p><span>Though many LGBT and feminist activists skirt over or ignore the transgender subject, the word is neither new nor unknown in Ukraine. The dominant Western (Anglo-American) understanding of ‘transgender’ is extensive and inclusive, and encompasses a diverse range of gender-variant subjectivities and experiences such as transvestism, transsexuality, genderqueer, female and male drag etc. In many non-western contexts such as Ukraine, ‘transgender’ is often re-defined and/ or reduced to particular meanings. Thus, in Ukraine, the term ‘transgender’ refers to what in the West is usually meant by ‘transsexual’; it is used to describe those people whose gender identity does not match the biological gender assigned to them at birth, and who opt for medical procedures in order to ‘transition’ to the opposite sex (both medically and legally). In Ukraine, the term is reduced to the procedure and practice of sex change, and has this narrow meaning both amongst the general public and within the LGBT community. However, it is crucial to understand that the trans community in Ukraine is loath to ally itself with the term ‘transsexualism’ because this is how the state medical institutions have translated ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ (the diagnosis described in the International Classification of Disease-10). Keen to distance itself from this pathologising medical label, the trans community has largely accepted the term ‘transgender.’</span></p><p><span>That being said, it is important to acknowledge that the transgender community in Ukraine (and indeed everywhere else) is not a homogenous group that thinks and acts in unison. Some view the prefix ‘trans’ as temporary, unnecessary and/or humiliating, and aim to transition into the neat category of ‘man’ or ‘woman;’ others wear the label ‘transgender’ with pride and consider it part of their social and political identity; and yet others feel that the term ‘queer’ is more appropriate to them.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">In Ukraine, the term ‘transgender’ refers to what in the West is usually meant by ‘transsexual.’</p><p><span>For all its diversity, however, the transgender community in Ukraine is united in the struggles its members face when dealing with the country’s medical and legal institutions during the ‘gender reassignment’ process.</span></p><h2>The sex change commission</h2><p><span>In Ukraine, the procedure for sex reassignment – or ‘sex change (correction)’ as it is called in official documents – is regulated by the country’s Ministry of Health, according to Decree No.60 (03/02/2011).</span></p><p><span>This decree determines how the procedures should be carried out and stipulates the 'medico-biological' and 'socio-psychological' indications and counter-indications for changing (correcting) sex. It also provides for a commission of doctors, with the power not only to permit or refuse medical procedures (both surgical and hormonal) but also to determine whether transgender individuals have the ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’ grounds to have the sex stated on their official documents, legally changed. Any such change may only be made with the permission of this commission.</span></p><p><span>When I met Max, a transgender man who has already passed the scrutiny of the commission, he described it to me as such: ‘these are people who determine the fates of others. And they behave like people who determine the fates of others. They are conscious of their absolute power and this is reconfirmed to them the moment you first appear before them. They understand that you are utterly dependent upon them and that your life is in their hands. You can do nothing but play according to their rules as long as you possibly can. It is a totalitarian machine…’</span></p><p><span>According to <em>Insight</em>, the 12 doctors who make up the commission do not change. The rigidity of the commission’s structures makes it almost impossible for transgender people to try again, having already failed, to pass or to challenge the verdict of the commission. The commission’s structures also appear corrupt as some of its doctors actually provide (for payment) the very services they then force upon applicants. Corruption within the medical sector, the imbalance of power, and the victimisation and demonisation of transgender ‘patients’ in Ukraine makes the process of going before the commission a humiliating, traumatic, almost Kafkaesque experience for Ukraine’s transgender citizens. This situation is rendered even more difficult by the fact that they have little say (literally) at the commission hearings.</span></p><p><span class="pullquote-right">‘These are people who determine the fates of others. And they behave like people who determine the fates of others.'</span></p><p><span>Anna Kirey, a trans activist, has attended commission hearings in the past (to support transgender ‘patients’ and monitor how they are treated by the commission): ‘during the two evaluations that I attended, there was hardly one word uttered by a transgender person. The doctors didn’t seem interested in their individual needs and didn’t even think to ask them whether they in fact wanted medical or surgical procedures. The evaluations felt more like criminal trials than a process in which the rights and interests of the individuals under discussion were being taken into account.’</span></p><p><span>For most transgender people in Ukraine, the commission is a necessary and unavoidable evil which they must confront in order to have the sex on their documents legally changed so as to reflect their desired gender identity and, often, their appearance (many begin hormone treatment long before the commission, and without medical advice). Having this change made to their documents is of extreme importance to transgender people because the documents have a profound impact upon their daily lives.</span></p><h2>Documentation</h2><p><span>Anton, a transgender man, has been taking hormones for quite some time, and his appearance barely differs from that of a ‘natural’ man. However, the discrepancy between his physical appearance and the stated sex in his official documents can make situations, which for most people are safe and unproblematic, both uncomfortable and dangerous.</span></p><p><span>‘Of course it’s very important for me to have these changes made to my documentation. My current documents make life pretty complicated, from finding work to simply boarding a train. Even the most banal situations can be uncomfortable and difficult for me. For example, I earn extra money by working for a foreign company that transfers the money to me from abroad. For this, you need to open a foreign currency account, and to open a foreign currency account you need to go to the bank. Going to the bank always involves some sort of drama for me. I hand over my passport with a kilometre-long queue of customers waiting impatiently behind me. The girl behind the counter starts to ask questions about my appearance and the name in my passport. Everyone in the crowded bank stops and begins to stare at me. It’s like that everywhere I go. It’s annoying, to say the least. It’s bearable if people just take a look and then move on but some people get aggressive. It’s even worse now with Ukraine’s current situation where there are many threatening people walking around, some with guns.'</span></p><h2>‘Voluntary’ hospitalisation</h2><p><span>Despite the challenges Anton faces on a daily basis, he continues to delay appearing before the commission. His personal reasoning for this is the requirement stipulated by Decree No. 60, for transgender people to admit themselves into a psychiatric hospital before being allowed to come before the commission. According to the decree, individuals must spend between 30 and 45 days in a closed psychiatric hospital, and be officially diagnosed as ‘transsexual’ before being permitted to appear in front of the commission. Ukraine is the only country in Europe, which forces its transgender citizens to be hospitalised in a closed psychiatric facility, before they can be classified as ‘transsexual.’</span></p><p><span>Being hospitalised in a psychiatric facility is often a humiliating, uncomfortable, and traumatising experience for transgender individuals. Some transgender people succeed in coming to some sort of arrangement with their doctors. Max, for example, took the time to acquire a complete understanding of the nuances of Ukraine’s medical system during his transition process, and managed to secure a partial hospitalisation agreement, whereby he would alternate between one week in hospital and one week at home where he had both work and school commitments.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">‘One day you’re a “regular” person, and the next day you have to admit yourself into a psychiatric hospital.’</p><p><span>‘Nonetheless, it’s a traumatic experience’, says Max. ‘Just imagine, one day you’re a “regular” person, living independently in society and socialising, and the next, you have to admit yourself into a psychiatric hospital. These hospitals have their own regimes. In some of them there are metal bars everywhere, and you can’t just leave or go somewhere. For example, you can’t just pop to the shops to buy a chocolate bar or whatever else you might want. It’s no sanatorium. You’re conscious of everything that’s happening, but you need to stay put inside this nightmare.’</span></p><p><span>Though some ‘patients’ may wind up under the care of more knowledgeable and caring doctors, and others are able to work the system so as to avoid the very harshest conditions (this is dependent upon the social skills, connections, and financial situation of individuals), it is impossible to avoid hospitalisation completely. This means that, no matter who you are, you will have to communicate with insensitive medical staff, undergo psychological and psychiatric examination, and receive a final diagnosis, which substantially affects and restricts your social opportunities in the future.</span></p><h2>The contra-indications</h2><p><span>After receiving the diagnosis of transsexuality, from doctors at the psychiatric hospital, transgender people next have to undergo an examination by the commission of doctors, working under the auspices of Decree No.60, which will then confirm (or not) the diagnosis, and provide (or not) the authorisation for medical and/or surgical interventions. To confirm the diagnosis the commission is guided by the terms of the decree, which stipulates a list of ‘medico-biological and socio-psychological’ contra-indications that must be determined before a ‘sex change’ can be allowed. The list of contra-indications is long, and some of the points give rise to legal complications: for example, being a parent of children under the age of 18 and being married at the time of application. How does one describe a transgender parent on the birth certificate of a child – as the father or the mother? And how is one to understand ‘marriage,’ if in changing the sex of a transgender person, the commission of doctors also changes the marital status of the individual in question to ‘homosexual,’ given that Ukraine’s Family Code does not recognise same-sex unions? Instead of transforming the legal norms, however, the bureaucratic, legal, and ideological apparatus of the State opts for the less complicated route of simply excluding and brushing aside those individuals or minority groups that do not fit into the prevailing binary system and its normative thinking.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">The list of contra-indications is long, and some of the points give rise to legal complications.</p><p><span>Being in ‘violation of social adaptation’ (for example, being unemployed) is a further contra-indication. At the same time, however, demonstrating endocrine, morphological, neurophysiological, psychological, and physical signs of the desired (opposite) sex can speak strongly in the applicant’s favour at the commission hearing, that is to say that, if you want to have surgery to become medically female, you will have a higher chance if you look like a woman, and vice versa. This encourages many transgender people to begin taking hormones without consulting doctors, and before undergoing the commission tests so that their physical appearance is more in keeping with their desired gender. This was the case with the aforementioned Anton who selected his dosage of testosterone based solely upon information he found online and received from his transgender friends. According to Anton, 90% of transgender people in Ukraine do this in order to increase their chances of passing the commission tests. But whilst changes to their physical appearance may help their chances at the commission hearings, they also create other problems for transgender people, as they begin to look less and less like the photos in their passport and other documents. As such, it becomes more difficult for transgender people to find or hold on to a job or to secure housing, all of which falls into the category of ‘violations of social adaptation,’ which, according to Decree No.60, is grounds for refusing a medical and legal ‘sex change.’</span></p><h2>Policing transgender bodies</h2><p><span>The double standards and dictatorial logic of the decree becomes even more apparent when you take into account the final point in the list of contra-indications, which is ‘the refusal to agree to the diagnostic and therapeutic measures recommended by the commission.’ This is a common reason for refusing transgender people the right to medical procedures and alterations to legal documents. What constitutes the recommended measures, however, is not made clear in the decree, and is determined arbitrarily by the commission, which does not take into account the desires or needs of transgender people. In response to a request from<em> Insight </em>for more information on these recommendations, the commission gave the unequivocal answer that ‘all reproductive organs must be removed from the transgender person’s body.’ This response reveals that forced sterilisation is still being practised upon transgender people in Ukraine today.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Forced sterilisation is still being practised upon transgender people in Ukraine today.</p><p><span>But state control over transgender bodies does not end here. The legal diagnosis of ‘transsexualism,’ which paves the way for potential gender reassignment surgery, and changes to documentation, in turn is a contra-indication preventing both adoption and assisted reproductive technologies (including surrogacy and the cryopreservation of sperm, ova, embryos, and other biological material). Thus, the State seeks to maintain a status quo, in which transgender people are deprived of reproductive and parental rights, and left without any ability to overcome these limitations. Unless they agree to sterilisation, transgender people are not permitted to undergo transformative surgery or to have their documents legally changed; and without changes to these documents it is difficult for transgender people to lead a ‘normal’ life.</span></p><h2>But what is ‘normal’</h2><p><span>Anton is waiting for me in a café. Summer is in full swing and the heat is unbearable but Anton is wearing a fleece, and he is slouched so far down in his chair that he is hardly noticeable. I am familiar with this posture from my other transgender friends. I sit down, take out my notebook, and we start talking.</span></p><p><span> </span><span>‘Yes, I take hormones but I don’t think that's what defines me. Hormones are necessary for my bodily transformation – to feel more comfortable and at ease. I’m lucky, right now I can afford not to go before the commission because I have a job where I am accepted as a transperson. And I still hold on to the hope – perhaps foolishly – that there will come a time when the law will change so that we don’t have to go to the nuthouse or go through all these operations. And, let me tell you, if we lived in a society where people responded normally to men who have both a beard and breasts, then I wouldn’t even have the operation. Not ever.’</span></p><p><span>As Olena Shevchenko of <em>Insight</em> points out, many (but not all) transgender people just want to move quietly from one box to another, to transition from one gender to another, and start living a new and ‘normal’ life. Those who strive for this should undeniably have the right to do so. However, as a society perhaps we should also be placing the concept of ‘normality’ under the microscope. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we want to make space in Ukraine for variation, diversity, and for alternative ways of life. If the answer is yes, then we must find ways to challenge the state systems and institutions, which so zealously monitor and preserve what is ‘normal.’</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nadzeya Husakouskaya Queer Russia Rights for all Ukraine Politics NGOs Human rights Health Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:57:47 +0000 Nadzeya Husakouskaya 87070 at https://www.opendemocracy.net LGBT in Samara – pederasts and paedophiles https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-pavlukevich/lgbt-in-samara-%E2%80%93-pederasts-and-paedophiles <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/oae7B1a5RTwQN5rDRTx9Aj551zVV-iyH2ALHMYjkVdE/mtime:1401873812/files/Samara_Avers_Foto%20Valeria%20Pavlukevicha.jpg" alt="" width="160" />In Samara, LGBT people are seen as paedophiles. They face aggressive homophobia, harassment, and public incomprehension.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Aggressive homophobia, harassment and public incomprehension – these are the conditions under which members of Samara’s LGBT community live. In this city of 1.5m, homosexual, bisexual and transgender people are trying to unite to confront the problems they face in today’s Russia.</p><h2>Pederasts and paedophiles</h2><p class="pullquote-right">For the general public, the words ‘pederast’ and ‘paedophile’ mean exactly the same thing.</p><p>The main issue mentioned by representatives of Samara’s LGBT community is a complete lack of tolerance towards homosexuals – typical for provincial towns in Russia ‘Many Samaran residents are ignorant of what it means to be homosexual, bisexual and transgender, believing that members of the LGBT community are all paedophiles. Official propaganda is much to blame for that – state television channels often show documentary films in which it is said that homosexuality is a perversion alien to Russians, which was invented by the West. Homosexuals in these films are called ‘pederasts.’ For the general public, the words ‘pederast’ and ‘paedophile’ mean exactly the same thing,’ says 22-year-old Vladimir Solovyov. He has been in a stable relationship with his partner – whom he calls his boyfriend – for five years. Now that Vladimir has finished his university studies it is easier for him to demonstrate his right to love a man.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Action Avers 11 april_Foto Valeria Pavlukevicha sized.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Action Avers 11 april_Foto Valeria Pavlukevicha sized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On the 11th of April, on the initiative of Avers, a picket and flashmob took place in Samara, the ‘Day of Silence.’ </span></span></span></p><p>‘When I was a student, my parents supported me financially. I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment and live together with my boyfriend as a family. Now I am independent. I took a job working as a programmer in one of the major IT firms. My colleagues know of my sexual orientation but do not judge me for it; and my heterosexual friends also respect my choice. At the start of my relationship with Igor, several people tried to judge and criticise me, and I broke off my relations with them, as I do not want anything to do with intolerant people. Age makes no difference, 20 year olds and 60 year olds can be intolerant towards LGBT people; the issue is a lack of education. People perceive gays and lesbians as perverts, just as they did 30 years ago under Soviet rule. Many say that LGBT people need to be treated in psychiatric hospitals. That’s awful. That is a violation of the human right to a free choice of sexual orientation. But what can be done, if Russia returns to a Stalinist model of society? Igor and I are now trying to improve our knowledge of English so that we can emigrate,’ says Solovyov.</p><p class="pullquote-right">My parents are people with a Soviet upbringing. For them, gays may as well be aliens.</p><h2>Aliens</h2><p>My other interviewee is Viktor. He is the same age as Vladimir and is also gay. His parents, like so many, did not approve of his sexual orientation. ‘When I was 19, I opened up to my mother. I told her that I was gay and that I was seeing a guy. My mother and I used to get along well, but after she found out that I was gay she raised a scandal. She told my father everything. My parents began to follow my every move. I was forbidden from going to nightclubs. My older brother is 25 and married, though they live separately and he brings up his daughter. A month after my coming out, he ceased all contact with me. I suspect that my parents had told him about my orientation. Several times there were noisy rows with my parents at home. They tried to break my computer. They wouldn’t even let me walk in the courtyard. In their opinion, I became gay because I spend a lot of time behind a computer, on the internet. My parents are people with a Soviet upbringing. For them, gays may as well be aliens. I tried to show my parents the film <em>Prayers for Bobby</em>. I had hoped that they would understand that I cannot become a homosexual. I suggested to them that we visit a psychologist together. My parents said that they did not need a psychologist, and that they would take me to a psychiatrist. According to them, gays are mentally ill people who need treatment. My father provoked me into conflict several times and tried to beat me so that I would stop thinking about guys. My disgust towards my parents increased, and when I finished my studies at university, I left them to stay with my boyfriend. I left for my parents my university diploma and a note explaining that I have no obligations to them, and that it is my right to live my life how I want. I cannot go home – my parents do not allow me – and have also told my relatives not to communicate with me. I studied to be an economist, but do not work in my field. However I live with the man I love, and I am happy.’&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Action Avers 11 april_Foto 2 Valeria Pavlukevicha sized.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Action Avers 11 april_Foto 2 Valeria Pavlukevicha sized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Activists taped their mouths shut to portray the silence around problems faced by the LGBT community.</span></span></span></p><h2>Assaults</h2><p>According to the sociology section of the <em>Open Society</em> human rights organisation, members of Samara’s LGBT community are attacked every month. One attack took place on the evening of the 19th of June, 2013. Two young men were assaulted by homophobes near the <em>Aeroplane</em> shopping centre. One of them was Artyom Fokin, at the time, leader of the Samara branch of the Libertarian Party of Russia. 21 year old Artyom and his friend arrived to meet an acquaintance. This man – a friend of Artyom’s – had earlier expressed his dislike of him. Arriving at the meeting place, they saw two men of strong physique who pushed them to the ground and began to kick them. In the scuffle, one of them received concussion, multiple bruises and soft tissue injuries to the head and body; another – a fractured arm with bone displacement and numerous bruises to the head and body. One of them was hospitalised.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Last year, when several members of Samara’s LGBT community went missing, the police did nothing to search for them.</p><p>In numerous cases, gays and lesbians fall into the hands of homophobes who have specially created profiles on dating sites, set up as traps. LGBT teenagers are often persecuted by their classmates at school. Last year, when several members of Samara’s LGBT community went missing, the police did nothing to search for them.</p><p>Few victims of homophobic attacks make statements to the police. People do not believe that the police can defend them from homophobes. ‘I was robbed during a meeting with a guy whom I got to know on a dating site – he took my mobile phone and money,’ wrote Danny on Samara’s LGBT community website. ‘He threatened me, saying that if I made a statement to the police, he would tell everybody that I was gay. When I went to the police, they advised me to withdraw my statement, saying that they ‘did not have time to deal with gay issues.”’&nbsp;</p><h2>Avers</h2><p>Samara’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are trying to unite to confront the problems they face. The community organisation <em>Avers</em> unites Samara’s LGBT people. It has a membership of over 200 people, and its community page on the <em>VKontakte</em> social network has 924 subscribers. Mikhail Tumasov, the leader of <em>Avers</em>, says that the movement’s chief task is to defend the rights and freedoms of LGBT people. <em>Avers</em> conducts educational and human rights advocacy seminars, holds discussions on topics of LGBT interest, and offers legal counsel. <em>Avers</em> has its own security service as well, which publishes information about aggressive homophobes on the organisation’s website and VKontakte page.</p><p>On the 11th of April, on the initiative of <em>Avers</em>, a picket and flashmob took place in Samara, the ‘Day of Silence.’ The event was held in the framework of the ‘month against homophobia and transphobia in Samara and Tolyatti.’ On the 8th of April, Oksana Berezovskaya, one of the leaders of <em>Avers</em>, sent prior notice of the picket to the authorities. The following day, the police telephoned to inform her that the picket was not permitted. Berezovskaya decided to hold it anyway – the Russian Constitution permits public events of up to a hundred people to be held without prior notification to the authorities.</p><p>On Samara’s Pushkin Square, on the 11th of April, five representatives of the LGBT movement, Alina Alieva, Denis Badov, Vera Bochkareva, Aleksandra Korneyeva and Anastasiya Ostapenko held the picket against persecution of LGBT people in Russia. All five participants’ mouths were taped shut. This was how the youths portrayed the silence around problems for the LGBT community. At the end of the event they removed the tape, showing that they no longer wanted to keep quiet about the situation of LGBT activists in Russia.</p><h2>The official reaction</h2><p>The picket lasted about an hour, and was observed by 15 uniformed officers, and seven plainclothes. The police expressed an interest in the protesters, and the reasons for their picket. They then recorded the passport details of the activists. It was a deceptive calm.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Denis Badov was summoned to the district military office, for immediate conscription.</p><p>On the 18th of April, a district police officer arrived at the home of Aleksandra Korneyeva, one of the participants of the picket, and asked her to come to the police station for questioning. There she was asked to provide a written explanation for her participation in the events of the 11th of April. Denis Badov was summoned to the district military office, for immediate conscription. When police arrived at the home of the third participant, they had an educational talk with the parents, declaring that their child was wanted for participating in an unsanctioned rally. At the end of April, the police issued administrative proceedings against Aleksandra Korneyeva. She was accused of participating in an unsanctioned event (article 20.2, part 5 of the Administrative Offences Code of Russia) with the use of masks (as the police termed the sticking tape over the mouths of the LGBT activists). Korneyeva was also accused of distributing propaganda materials and failing to comply with repeated police requests to terminate the public event.</p><p>The Leninsky District court in Samara held a hearing on the administrative case against Aleksandra Korneyeva on the 5th of May. The trial lasted about an hour. Independent observers noted several violations of the judicial process. No mention of the case against Korneyeva was made in the official lists of proceedings being held, which should have been publically available at the courthouse’s information stand. Representatives of the press, observers and spectators were not permitted to attend, though the case was to be held in public. Korneyeva’s public advocate was not admitted to the proceedings.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Director Avers Michael Tumasov and Oxana Berezovskaya_Foto Valery Pavlukevich sized.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/Samara_Director Avers Michael Tumasov and Oxana Berezovskaya_Foto Valery Pavlukevich sized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The original founder of the organisation, Mikhail Tumasov, moved to Samara to live with his boyfriend.</span></span></span></p><p class="pullquote-right">In an anonymous survey, 70% of members of Samara’s LGBT community expressed a desire to emigrate from Russia.</p><p><em>The case was ajdourned.&nbsp;</em><em>Avers</em> intends to lodge a formal complaint to the prosecutor’s office against the illegal actions of police officers and the military recruiting office. In the opinion of <em>Avers</em>, the police are attempting to put pressure on civic activists. LGBT activists have appealed to Irina Skupova, the Samara Region Commissioner for Human Rights, with a request to investigate pressure from the police, and to take measures to protect their rights.</p><p>Members of Samara’s LGBT community do not consider themselves people of a ‘non-traditional orientation.’ They say that they are just the same as anybody else. Yet Samara, unfortunately, is not Moscow and not St Petersburg, and its residents are still a long way from the tolerance of the capital and cultural capital. Perhaps that is why, in an anonymous survey, 70% of members of Samara’s LGBT community expressed a desire to emigrate from Russia.</p><p><em>The cases against Alieva, Badov and Ostapenko have been postponed until 18 June.</em></p><p><em>All photos: c&nbsp;Valery Pavlukevich</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-khazov/rainbow-russia">Rainbow Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Valery Pavlukevich Rights for all Russia Regions Politics NGOs Human rights Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:34:14 +0000 Valery Pavlukevich 83401 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The EU says no to gay rights in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bogdan-globa/eu-says-no-to-gay-rights-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/C_qN1kRQBHMKFy48tSXJBqPxQv6Qxj-2Nccu2NPWbdE/mtime:1400580702/files/facebook%202.jpg" alt="" width="160" />The EU has renewed talks with the Kyiv government on closer ties, but in its zeal to promote visa-free travel it has dropped gay rights from the agenda.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>After former President Yanukovych’s U-turn on an Association Agreement with the EU last autumn, the new Ukrainian government is on course again to tighten its links with Europe, and the cabinet has submitted to the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] a package of bills to be passed before the first phase of an EU visa-free travel system can be implemented.&nbsp;</p><p><span>The Ukrainian state faces numerous challenges today. After the pro-Russian era of Yanukovych, the government has a whole series of issues to deal with: no money in the treasury, economic knock-down, demoralised state apparatus, no stable majority in parliament, and most importantly – Russian troops massed across the border.</span></p><p><span>In this difficult situation, a month ago the government headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced a raft of objectives: urgent political reform of the country, successful presidential elections in late May, movement to visa-free travel for Ukrainians, the signing of an economic association agreement with the EU, and the maintenance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity (or at least, of its mainland).&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>On 26 March, representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament arrived in Kyiv to conduct a series of meetings and consultations with government officials, political elites and the public sector. During the meetings, EC Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle and Yatsenyuk discussed a plan for implementing visa liberalisation for Ukraine.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/facebook_sized_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/facebook_sized_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svyatoslav Sheremet (on the right), a Ukrainian gay activist, was brutally beaten following a press conference in 2012. </span></span></span><br /></span></p><p class="pullquote-right">The EC announced that one previous requirement - legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation - had been dropped.</p><p><span>We are not aware of all the agreements made between the government and the European officials, but at a meeting with representatives of LGBT organisations, the EC announced that one previous requirement for transition to Phase II - legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace - had been dropped. Instead, the government has promised a few concessions, including a recognition that the Ukrainian constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation, and an increase in the powers of the Ombudsman.</span></p><p><span>In pursuance of this plan, on 27 March the government submitted to Parliament Bill 4581 – ‘Draft Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (concerning prevention and combating discrimination)’, which amends existing law in terms of burden of proof and other technical issues, but does not include amendments to the Labour Code to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. This bill was adopted in the first reading on April 15, 2014. Now it is being prepared for the second reading.</span></p><h2>Gay rights as a political tool</h2><p><span>The agreements have caused fierce disagreement among the public. The LGBT organisation Fulcrum has published an official statement, that: ‘human rights cannot be a matter of political bargaining. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be banned without any negotiations.’ This stance has been shared by the Coalition for Combating Discrimination (an association of civil and human rights organisations with more than 40 member organisations), which published a statement expressing similar views on its website.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">‘The EU runs the risks of undermining its key human rights principles.’</p><p><span>This official denial of human rights was so unexpected and out of the blue that it triggered an expression of deep concern from the European Association of LGBT organisations ILGA-Europe, whose Executive Director Evelyne Paradis said that, ‘the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is an important measure to ensure that free travel truly applies to all citizens equally. Postponing only the implementation of anti-discrimination measures on grounds of sexual orientation from a basketful of criteria creates the impression that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are less important than others’, and that ‘the EU runs the risks of undermining its key human rights principles.’</span></p><p><span>The softening of the European Commission’s position has significantly weakened human rights and LGBT organisations in their lobbying for anti-discrimination legislation. It is clear that in the run- up to the presidential election, the party of former PM Yulia Tymoshenko (which has a parliamentary majority) has already indicated it will not back a ban on discrimination in the workplace in case its rivals use this against them in the May presidential elections. Gay rights are far from a popular subject in Ukraine, so politicians see the issue only as a tool of political manipulation.</span></p><h2>The consequences of European weakness</h2><p><span>In fact, both the government and the LGBT community have become hostages to the situation. There is nothing ambiguous about the banning of discrimination (according to LGBT organisations in particular); it is a simple matter of international human rights standards. But Ukrainian politicians have been manipulating LGBT issues for a long time: former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, for instance, used to claim that the EU Association Agreement would require Ukraine to legalise gay marriage, which, of course, was completely untrue. And now a vote on this bill is highly unlikely in this parliament.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/cc toms norde sized.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/550568/cc toms norde sized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former prime minister Azarov used to claim that the EU Association Agreement would require Ukraine to legalise gay marriage. </span></span></span></p><p><span>This situation has a number of risks. First of all, if Bill 4581, which tinkers round the edges of the issue, is passed without specific reference to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, then a later vote on this alone is improbable, whereas if it were part of a package of measures it could be a reality. Secondly, the EC’s weak position enables the government to manipulate and avoid the implementation of the relevant provisions.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Homophobes can now claim that the EU will happily accept Ukraine as it is, homophobia and all.</p><p><span>The consequences of this policy are much deeper than they appear at first glance. Homophobes can now claim that the EU does not insist on the prohibition of discrimination against sexual minorities and will continue the process of admitting Ukraine into the EU as it is, homophobia and all.</span></p><p><span>In this situation, the government looks like embarrassed parents who don’t know how to explain to their child where he or she has come from and resort to fairy tales about storks and gooseberry bushes. The adoption of this bill is necessary for only one reason – the government must state plainly to all Ukrainians that in the 21st century discrimination based on sexual orientation cannot be legal. We must realise that post-Maidan Ukraine is different. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>But instead of an open conversation, we got backroom games, with the European Commission willing to exchange gay rights for rapid progress on the visa-free travel front. The Ukrainian LGBT community now knows the price of human rights. The EU's position has consolidated Ukrainian public opinion, but everyone should be asking themselves the question: ‘how much are human rights worth?’ Ukrainians who have been hardened on the Maidan know – human rights are priceless, and they are non-negotiable. Perhaps the LGBT community needs its own Maidan - this time in Brussels?</span></p><p><span><em>All photos cc: Facebook</em></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Bogdan Globa Rights for all Queer Russia Ukraine Russia Politics Human rights Cultural politics Wed, 21 May 2014 15:14:11 +0000 Bogdan Globa 82949 at https://www.opendemocracy.net IKEA and LGBT – falling between the flatpacks? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kathryn-dovey/ikea-and-lgbt-%E2%80%93-falling-between-flatpacks <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Ikea%20Stairs%20Tim%40sw2008.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>What does a multinational company do when a country where it operates has laws that run counter to international human rights norms? Kathryn Dovey suggests how IKEA could honour its rights commitments while protecting its Russian profits.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In June this year, Russia’s parliament passed a law prohibiting the 'promotion of&nbsp;<span>non-traditional sexual relationships'&nbsp;</span>among children and young people.&nbsp;<span>Which ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ are covered is unclear,</span><span>&nbsp;but they clearly include lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships (earlier drafts of the law and other regional variants refered explicitly to ‘homosexual propaganda’).</span></p> <p>In June this year, Russia’s parliament passed a law prohibiting the 'promotion of&nbsp;<span>non-traditional sexual relationships'&nbsp;</span>among children and young people.&nbsp;<span>Which ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ are covered is unclear,</span><span>&nbsp;but they clearly include lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships (earlier drafts of the law and other regional variants refered explicitly to ‘homosexual propaganda’). Supporters of the law argue this is about protecting children, but the reality is that it has provoked a backlash against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and forced people to keep quiet about their identities.</span></p> <p>The law is also so wide in its reach that it touches everything – rainbow flags (the global symbol of LGBT rights), for example, are now effectively banned. The penalty for individuals who break the law is a fine of up to 5,000 roubles (£100) and organisations can be fined 500,000 roubles (£10,000).</p><h2>The dilemma for business</h2> <p>Businesses, including multinationals, are also affected by the new law, and one company that is discovering the complications of operating in Russia is the Swedish giant IKEA, which is currently experiencing public criticism from LGBT rights groups in Sweden and elsewhere, including a recent kiss-in protest at one of their stores in New York. The reason - its decision to delete a story featuring a British family with lesbian parents from the Russian edition of its IKEA Family Live <a href="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579211533237694524">magazine</a>, which is produced by a UK-based communications agency and distributed to members of the IKEA loyalty scheme IKEA Family.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Ikea%20Stairs%20Tim%40sw2008.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">With 14 stores in 11 different cities, Russia represents a very important market for IKEA. Photo CC Tim@sw2008</span></p> <p>In an IKEA Group statement, the company set out its position: ‘This article is published in 25&nbsp;countries. Russia has a law that prevents this kind of promotion. It is a law that has been widely criticised&nbsp;but one that we have to comply with. We have therefore, after consulting Russian lawyers, made the decision not to publish this article in the Russian edition. In the long term, we believe that we&nbsp;can have a positive influence on societies in the&nbsp;countries where we operate by constantly working based on our values.’</p><p class="pullquote-right">IKEA has provoked international criticism for its decision to delete a story featuring a British family with lesbian parents from the Russian edition of its IKEA Family Live magazine.</p> <p>Matters of local law conflicting with international human rights norms are not easy areas for companies to navigate. The United Nations recognised in 2011 that all businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate and in situations where local laws are in conflict with international standards, businesses are expected to ‘respect the principles of internationally recognised human rights to the greatest extent possible in the circumstances, and to be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard.’</p> <p>The tough question is - are there times when some laws are so bad that they need to be challenged? And are there ways in which companies can stand up against practices that discriminate and undermine respect for human rights?&nbsp;</p> <p>The local context in Russia is relevant here. Russia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees, among others, rights to non-discrimination, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. In 2010 Russia was censured by the European Court of Human Rights for failing to respect the Convention in its refusal to allow LGBT pride events in Moscow in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The Court ruled that ‘it would be incompatible with the underlying values of the Convention if the exercise of Convention rights by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority.’ This judgment has not, however, altered officials’ conduct in the capital; in June 2012 courts in Moscow upheld a decision by City Hall to ban LGBT Pride parades in the city for the next 100 years.&nbsp;</p> <p>The pernicious anti-LGBT laws in Russia and the social hatred they have fuelled are extremely worrying. Russia legalised homosexuality in 1993 but there is no legal protection in the country against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. In recent months several examples of disturbing video content have been circulating, showing young men being forced to come out on camera following beatings. More recently, a state TV channel broadcast recordings of a private meeting of Russian and international LGBT activists in a bid to publicly shame them.</p><h2>How IKEA could have behaved differently</h2> <p>So how else might IKEA have chosen to tackle this situation? One option would have been to print the article and run the risk of a fine – challenging a bad law outright. This is of course highly problematic for companies operating in such a context, particularly as Russia is a very important market for the company. Yet, of course, it would have provided a very interesting test case against this vague and<span>&nbsp;wide-ranging law.</span></p> <p>Another option would be to work in cooperation with other companies operating within Russia. The ten main corporate <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/18/russia-olympic-sponsors-muted-sochi-abuses">sponsors</a> of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, which include Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa, are certainly feeling the heat, and have become understandable targets of campaigning NGOs. Challenging unjust laws collectively and calling for public debate on LGBT rights could be hugely effective in the long run.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Corporate sponsors of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are feeling the heat as NGOs call on them to speak out against discrimination in Russia.</p> <p>Alternatively, the company could have looked for a way to avoid falling foul of the law but still send out the message that as a business it respects the rights of LGBT people globally. For instance, in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, campaigners have launched the <a href="http://www.athleteally.org/news/15-olympians-speak-out-support-equality-olympics-through-principle-6/">Principle 6 campaign</a>. This refers to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter which states that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ By using the P6 symbol, supporters of LGBT rights will not be breaking the law in Russia but they will send out a united message in support of Russia’s LGBT community. To have some pages in the Russian version of IKEA’s Family Life magazine carrying the P6 symbol would have been a brave but technically legal step by IKEA.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Petersburg%20Gay%20Protest%20Roma%20Yandolin.jpg" alt="" width="460" height="333" /><br /><span><span class="image-caption">A Russian protesting the 'gay propoganda' law is attacked by a member of the public. The law is widely seen as the legitimisation of homophobic behaviour by the state. Photo CC Roma Yandolin.</span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h2>It’s not too late to challenge the law&nbsp;</h2> <p>The challenge of respecting LGBT rights in Russia is not the responsibility of IKEA alone. Many multinational and local companies operate in the country and many promote equality in their hiring practices and benefits packages, but this often goes unseen. What is striking about the IKEA case, however, is that back in 1994 the company ran an advertisement in the USA that featured a gay couple. It was inundated with complaints in response but didn't bow to pressure until things turned violent, with a bomb threat against a US store. What IKEA did then was incredibly progressive, considering how strong homophobic views were in the US at the time. Today, several US states permit gay marriages and the Supreme Court has outlawed the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages legalised by individual states; but the advertisement would still be considered progressive today when only 3.3% of the scripted characters on US <a href="Gay%2520&amp;%2520Lesbian%2520Alliance%2520Against%2520Defamation%2520(GLAAD)%2520%2522Where%2520We%2520Are%2520on%2520TV%2522%25202013">primetime TV</a> programmes are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and inclusion in adverts is still rare. Back then, IKEA was on the right side of history in the US.</p><p class="pullquote-right">Last year the company was found to have airbrushed all women out of its catalogue for distribution in Saudi Arabia.&nbsp;</p> <p>This is also not the first time IKEA has been singled out for its editing of content to conform with local practices that discriminate. Around this time last year, the company was found to have airbrushed all women out of its catalogue for distribution in Saudi Arabia. The company later apologised for its decision, admitting the exclusion was in conflict with the IKEA Group values.&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, the reality is that many companies adapt their advertising and marketing strategies to appease local markets. The question is whether the decision as to what is considered ‘appropriate’ for local markets should be seen through a global human rights lens. Would this situation be different if tomorrow Russia passed laws making the promotion of interracial marriage illegal, for instance? It seems that issues of race would provoke a greater backlash and more solidarity between companies trying to respect rights globally but also maintain relations with host governments. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not too late for IKEA to be brave and publish the lesbian couple feature in its next Russian edition of IKEA Family Life. It's not too late for IKEA to work with other responsible companies to provide a creative response to the absence of the story. IKEA has a good history in driven change and understanding in other countries; indeed, were it not for the Russian episode, we would be praising<span>&nbsp;IKEA for publishing the feature in 25 European countries. Are we to hope that IKEA will once again decide to stand on the right side of history? If they do, they will deserve our praise once again.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-khazov/russias-anti-gay-own-goal">Russia&#039;s anti-gay own goal</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergei-khazovcassia/different-childhood">A Different Childhood</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kathryn Dovey Rights for all Russia Politics NGOs Human rights Economy Cultural politics Thu, 12 Dec 2013 15:51:13 +0000 Kathryn Dovey 77781 at https://www.opendemocracy.net