At the very time that Moscow was the centre of the world's attention, with the silly but amusing Eurovision Song Contest, it managed to tarnish its image by banning a gay pride march, then arresting the 30 or so individuals who decided to demonstrate anyway, at a different location. Among those individuals was prominent Australian/British activist Peter Tatchell, who is perhaps most celebrated for his past attempts to make citizens' arrests of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. (As previously announced, he is also a contributor to 50 Voices of Disbelief.)
From all reports, the Moscow police used roughhouse tactics in arresting a group of peaceful, non-resisting demonstrators, while the mayor of the city has denounced the demonstrators as "Satanists" and purveyors of "moral degradation". Prior to the event, he rebuffed all attempts to meet with representatives of the marchers and try to achieve some kind of accommodation with them.
It's nice to know how far Russia has come towards being a liberal democracy since the collapse of the USSR and the system of totalitarian communism. Seriously, what were they thinking? This is making headlines all over the world, making Russia look like it's still a grim dictatorship, run by a political class of hard-nosed thugs with a fine taste for police brutality. The political thugs concerned went of their way to make this ugly incident happen on the very day when Russia was trying to present itself as a modern, sophisticated, fun-loving, place, fully integrated into Europe.
According to this story, Tatchell was subsequently released without charge. It seems, however, from current reports that the local participants in the march are not being treated so lightly.
But perhaps the most shocking thing about this is not the moralistic and authoritarian attitude of the Moscow mayor and police. Let's face it, we already knew that Russia has a long way to go before we can welcome it to the twenty-first century, notwithstanding its (thin) democratic and liberal facade. No, I am even more disgusted by some of the comments we've been treated to by anonymous, apparently British, readers at The Independent's site. The UK is supposed to be a modern, liberal, secular nation, but you wouldn't think it to see the hateful sentences scribed by "borderreiver1", "fastrob", and others. Have a look for yourself. Fortunately, quite a few readers display a different viewpoint, but the bigoted comments from these anonymous cowards can make you despair. Tatchell puts his body on the line for his causes, when that's what it means to stand up to authority in the name of human rights, and he's worth more than the whole damn pack of them.
There's not a lot we can do, perhaps. We don't all have money, resources, or access to the media - or the admirable courage of somebody like Peter Tatchell, who was hurt seriously last time something like this happened in Russia. But we can at least exercise our freedom of speech in small ways. By commenting about this on our blogs, for example.
Do what you can today to support gay rights.