Russia warns of clampdown on Eurovision gay protest

16th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Previous attempts to hold a gay rights parade in Moscow were banned by the city, and activists who defied the bans and showed up were violently harassed by ultra-nationalists.

Moscow -- Russia on Friday warned it would clamp down on an unsanctioned gay rights parade in Moscow that coincides with the Eurovision Song Contest final, but organisers vowed to press on with the demonstration.

Russia is proudly trumpeting the annual pop extravaganza in Moscow on Saturday as the latest example of its ability to hold large-scale international events.

But away from the lights and laser beams at the mammoth 80,000-capacity Olympiysky Arena, police, homosexual activists and extreme-right wingers risk clashing at the "Slavic Gay Pride" parade in central Moscow.

Previous attempts to hold a gay rights parade in Moscow were banned by the city, and activists who defied the bans and showed up were violently harassed by ultra-nationalists.

"In case any sort of unsanctioned actions are carried out, whether it be the gay parade or some other event, the police will act strictly in adherence with the law," said Leonid Vedenov, a police major general.

"We will act in the way that we would act in relation to any unsanctioned event," Vedenov, who heads the public safety department of the Russian interior ministry, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Organisers of the parade said they would still hold the event in Moscow's Pushkin Square. "We have decided to stand up for our right to freedom of assembly," they said in a statement.

Russia considered homosexuality a crime until 1993 and only ceased to classify it as mental illness in 1999.

Emphasising the hurdles still faced by homosexuals in Russia, the Moscow city government on Tuesday blocked an attempt by two lesbians to get married on the eve of the Song Contest.

Prominent British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who plans to attend the parade, said in a statement this week: "Although I am determined to support our Russian comrades, like them I am anxious about what may happen to us."

The Interfax agency quoted a security source as saying that police Friday had detained three left wing activists who rallied outside the complex against the song contest which they denounced as "Cardboard Art".

Eurovision is the latest mega-event to be held in Russia under strongman leader Vladimir Putin. The 2008 Champions League football final was in Moscow and the 2014 Winter Olympics will be in Sochi.

Moscow has been festooned with Eurovision banners in the white, blue and red of the Russian flag and pictures of Miss World 2008, Ksenya Sukhinova, voluptuously dressed in the national colours of all the entrants.

Norway is the bookies' favourite to win the contest from the 25 acts, with an entry that appears aimed at breaking recent Eastern European domination of the contest by beating them at their own game.

The song, "Fairytale," is sung by Belarus-born Alexander Rybak and features an Eastern European-style rhythm and even Cossack dancing.

Also high in the running are the oriental rhythms and belly dancing of "Dum Tek Tek" from Turkey's Hadise and the disco beat of "This is Our Night" from heart-throb Greek superstar Sakis Rouvas.

Russia, Serbia and Ukraine have all won in recent years, helped by a tendency for viewers in ex-Communist states to vote as an Eastern bloc in the televoting that decided the contest.

However this time organisers have responded to criticism of bloc voting by introducing a new system that gives professional juries half of the vote and viewers from across Europe the other half.

Western European countries have also brought out some heavy weaponry to break the Eastern and Scandinavian dominance of the contest.

Britain's entry "It's My Time" has been penned by musical maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber, while France's "Et S'il Fallait Le Faire" will be performed by pop diva Patricia Kaas.


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