Background Briefing

V. Background: Hatred Encouraged, Silence Enforced

Homosexual conduct between men was a criminal act in Russia for over 50 years, beginning in 1934.28  Nikolay Krylenko, Stalin’s chief prosecutor in the then Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, said the law was introduced to eliminate “classless hoodlums” who “take to pederasty,” explaining further, “Under this excuse, in stinky secretive little bordellos, another kind of activity takes place as well—counter-revolutionary work.”29

In 1992 Russia’s then-President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree repealing the “sodomy law” inherited from the Soviet era. Today, however, the rights of Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are jeopardized by encroaching restrictions on civic freedoms. With civil society hampered by law in its ability to function, the media censored, and dissenters harassed, the space for open discussion of homosexuality has similarly shrunk.  The attacks on Moscow Pride in 2007 were a symptom of both the rise in hatred and the rollback of human rights.

Multiple forms of hate, including anti-Semitism and racism, are prevalent in Russian politics.30

Nationalist politicians and state officials include homosexuality regularly when inveighing against domestic and foreign abominations—underpinning animosity and undermining protections.  In 2005 parliamentary deputy Alexander Chuev proposed a bill denying teaching positions or other rights in public life to anyone engaging in “propaganda for homosexuality,” whether through “a public speech, work displayed in public, or mass media, in particular including public demonstrations.” Although the bill ultimately failed, it gained the support of over one-fifth of the 450-member Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament). Chuev explained that “At the present time propaganda for homosexuality in Russia has developed in full range.… It is necessary to protect the nation.”31  In early 2007 Duma deputy Nikolay Kurianovich, who had recently been expelled from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-right Liberal Democratic Party, introduced a bill to re-criminalize homosexual conduct, with penalties similar to those of the Stalin era.  Kurianovich had harangued nationalist demonstrators and encouraged them to violence at Moscow Pride in 2006, leading crowds in shouting, “Gays and lesbians to Kolyma”—the Stalin-era Gulag camp.

Reflecting on these developments, a network of Russian LGBT groups and other human rights activists declared in 2007 that “the concept of ‘propaganda for homosexuality’ has not only entered the daily vocabulary of right-wing politicians but is applied in practice in violation of existing laws.”  It noted that under bills proposed both nationally and regionally,

…[P]ublication of Oscar Wilde’s works, Plato’s dialogues, some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, etc. could be considered a crime. Moreover, it would be impossible to circulate any information that is necessary for the full life activities of male and female homosexuals. We consider that the attempted prohibition of the free expression of homosexual beliefs, and the relevant administrative practice, threatens civil security, rights and liberties, contrary to the Constitution and international obligations of the Russian Federation.32

Local authorities have also cracked down on LGBT people’s freedoms.  In May 2006 the regional Duma of Ryazan passed a law making “[p]ublic actions aimed at propaganda for homosexuality (male or female) among minor children” illegal.33 In March 2006, the regional public prosecutor of Rostov issued a warning to two television stations for mentioning homosexuality, stating that “propaganda for homosexuality is prohibited in Russia.”34 

In March 2007 an amendment to the electoral code was introduced in the Saratov regional Duma to require prospective candidates to announce their sexual orientation as well as whether they were transgender. One legislator declared, “When they come to power, these pederasts don't work; they look for a partner.”35

In December 2006 Russian Federation Ministry of Justice officials denied registration to an LGBT group in Tyumen called “Rainbow House.”  The rejection letter explained, “The objectives of the organization are aimed at protecting personal rights and liberties, including persons of non-traditional sexual orientation.”  It held that these objectives “can undermine the security of the Russian community and state,” because “they undermine spiritual public values” and “undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation due to reduction of the population.”36 Nearly all nongovernmental organizations in Russia find their work subject to greater state interference in the wake of the NGO law adopted in 2006. Those that work on sensitive or unpopular issues, such as Chechnya or the case of imprisoned Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have faced harassment or rejection of registration.37 In a regime of prejudice as well as pretexts, LGBT organizations also risk harassment.

Amid such hatred, it is ironic that on May 11, 2007, the openly racist politician Alexey Mitrofanov, a parliamentary deputy, became the only national political leader to endorse lesbians and gays’ right to hold a p ride parade.  Mitrofanov is deputy leader of the ultra-nationalist and xenophobic Liberal Democrat Party. 

Mitrofanov had belittled violence against other minorities in the past, mocking claims that prejudice underlay attacks on foreigners and saying that “if [the victim is] a foreigner, then [they say] it’s based on nationality. If a Russian professor in [Petersburg] gets knocked on the head, it’s ordinary hooliganism. That’s not right.”38  He had also dismissed “attacks on blacks” as “mere hooliganism.”39 Mitrofanov’s party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is notorious for his vocal anti-Semitism and racism.  In 2004, he called for the death penalty for homosexual conduct, saying, “We can put an end to this perversion, this influence of the Western civilization.”40

Moscow Pride gave Mitrofanov (and, through him, his party) a unique moment of respectability, the chance to appear onstage with European politicians. At the same time, his prominent role—which many supporters of LGBT human rights rejected—did not prevent nationalist violence or police arrests.41 Meanwhile, other Russian political figures with a contrasting record of supporting rather than slandering minorities nonetheless remained silent on Moscow Pride. 

In conversations with Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe, several Russian LGBT activists stressed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights can only advance in coalition with movements combating hatred, racism, and xenophobia.

28 Punishing “men lying with men,” the law was published as the “Law of March 7, 1934,” and was codified in 1960 as Article 121 of the Soviet Criminal Code. Although the law punished only men, sex between women was widely regarded as symptomatic of both moral corruption and disease, and reports were widespread of forced and abusive psychiatric “treatment” of lesbians.

29 Quoted in Vladimir Kozlovsky, Argo russkoy gomoseksualnoy subkultury: Source Materials (Benson, Vermont, 1986), p. 154; cited in Masha Gessen, The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men in the Russian Federation, a report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 1994, p. 9.

30  For instance, in 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, the newspaper Orthodox Rus published an open letter signed by 500 people, including 19 members of the Duma, accusing Jews of ritual murders. The letter has since attracted over 15,000 signatures. Politicians regularly engage in verbal attacks on Chechens, Russian Muslims, and foreigners living in Russia.   See Minorities Under Siege: Hate Crimes and Intolerance in the Russian Federation, Human Rights First, June 2006.

31 Proposed bill and explanation on file with Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe.

32 “Declaration on the violation of the right to freedom of expression in Russia,” March 26, 2007, signed by members and partners of the LGBT Network Russia with 29 individual signatories from Russia and five signatories from Belarus, Sweden, and Ukraine, March 26, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe.  Among the Russian signatories of the letter—indicating the diversity of LGBT rights supporters—were representatives of such groups as Internet Portal (Moscow), Rainbow Charitable Centre (Moscow), Russian National GLBT Center "Together" (Moscow), Internet Site, (St. Petersburg), Russia Nuntiare et Recreare Service of LGBT Christians (Saint Petersburg), Wings LGBT Centre (Saint Petersburg), as well as such groups as the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and the Youth Movement for Human Rights.

33 Draft bill included as an appendix to ibid. 

34 “Declaration on the violation of the right to freedom of expression in Russia,” March 26, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe.  The stations had included messages from lesbian and gay people in running lines of SMS text-messages shown on-screen. The prosecutor’s office stated that this “committed the most serious violations against current laws” by “propagandizing” for “unnatural sexual behavior.”

35  “Saratov deputies propose to make politicians’ sexual orientation public,", March 23, 2007, (accessed March 23, 2007).

36 Included as appendix to “Declaration on the violation of the right to freedom of expression in Russia,” signed by members and partners of the LGBT Network Russia, on file with Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe.

37 A “Law on Countering Extremism,” passed in 2002, has been used against organizations and individuals working on sensitive issues. Officials have labeled dissidents as “extremist” and threatened them under the law: see “Skinhead Law Being Applied to Liberals,” Moscow Times, June 8, 2007, (accessed June 8, 2007). In February 2006, a criminal court in Nizhny Novgorod handed Stanislav Dmitrievsky, the executive director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), a two-year suspended sentence on charges of “inciting racial hatred,” for including statements from Chechen separatists in articles he had published in the organization’s newspaper. In October, a court ordered the organization dissolved for failing to distance itself from Dmitrievsky within five days after his conviction. In January 2007, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the decision to liquidate RCFS. The European Union issued a public statement voicing concern about the “coercive closure,” saying that the NGO law and the law on extremism “can be implemented in an arbitrary manner.”  See “Statement of the European Union on the Closure of the Russian Chechen Friendship Society,” (accessed June 8, 2007).

                        At this writing the Moscow Bar Association is hearing disbarment proceedings against Karina Moskalenko, a Russian human rights lawyer. The proceedings were initiated by the office of the Russian Prosecutor General, and relate to her representation of imprisoned businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. See International Commission of Jurists, “Russian Federation: End Harassment of Leading Human Rights Lawyer,” June 7, 2007, (accessed June 7, 2007).

38 See (accessed May 28, 2007).

39 Ye.Dobryukha, M.Romanov, Ye.Deeva, “Skinhead factory,” Moskovsky Komsomolets, November 24, 2005, cited in  “Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and ethnic discrimination in  the Russian Federation in 2005,” Review of the Moscow Bureau forHuman Rights, (accessed May 28, 2007). Mitrofanov is best known, though, for his virulent verbal assaults on Chechens and Russian Muslims. In 2004 he ran for governor of the Pskov region under the slogan “Criminal southerners out!” See (accessed May 28, 2007).

40 “Criminal responsibility for homosexual activities likely to be introduced in Russia,” Pravda, October 5, 2004, at (accessed May 30, 2007).  Liberal Democrat Duma deputy Nikolay Kurianovich exhorted nationalist demonstrators at Tverskaya Square during Moscow Pride in

2006  while they physically attacked LGBT rights supporters.

41 Pride organizers publicized Mitrofanov’s endorsement, and prohibited his critics from attending the pre-Pride conference.  Despite criticizing Mitrofanov’s involvement, the Moscow Helsinki Group hosted a press conference on May 28 to review the violence and condemn the ban on Pride.  Members of  Green Alternative—although barred by Pride organizers from participating in the conference or demonstration because they opposed Mitrofanov’s central role—spent hours at police stations on May 27 getting information to and from arrested LGBT activists and supporters, as well as trying to secure legal help.