Pin It
russian youth festival
The MERAK Activist Theatre flyervia Balagan/VKontakte

Russian police use gay propaganda law to shut down festival

The youth art event was felled because of a play exploring gender stereotypes

The so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law has been utilised by authorities in Russia to crack down on LGBTQ culture, activism and ephemera – recent reports found that Russian police have used it to target and shut down a youth festival in the eastern region of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

According to Hyperallergic and local Russian media, the theatre festival was banned for promoting “hatred against men and non-traditional family relations”, specifically about a play that was meant to run, and “attempting to illegally hold an LGBT event”. Festival organisers of Tsvet Shafrana (which translates as ‘The Colour of Saffron’) told local media that they were questioned by officers from the anti-extremism unit, along with a collective of teen actors aged between 13 and 15.

Merak, a teen activist theatre troupe, were part of the plan to stage four plays across the festival – one titled Blue and Pink, which explores gender stereotypes, was flagged and investigated by authorities.

Festival organiser and teacher Yulia Tsvetkova told local Russia media that police interrogated them about the use of the words ‘blue’ and ‘pink’, known in Russia to reflect the LGBTQ community. Tsvetkova asserted that the name was suggested by an 11-year-old actor. She denies any police claims of breaking the ‘Family Code’ law with regards to influening minors. In interviews with police, she was handed print-outs of her posts on social media about feminism, LGBTQ rights, and sex education in schools. Amid the ongoing investigation, Tsvetkova claims to have received multiple death threats.

The ‘gay propaganda’ law has been in place since 2013, aiming to “prevent children from forming non-traditional sexual predispositions” and keep “traditional family values” – it is used, according to critics, as a pretext to criminalise homosexuality. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law was discriminatory and affected Russian citizen’s free speech back in 2017. It has been widely criticised by human rights organisations worldwide.

Tsvetkova wrote on VK (a prominent Russian social media platform) to claim that authorities had taken action because of three anonymous complaint letters.

“I haven’t eaten or slept in three days – I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” she wrote in a post. “I have only one question, why is someone so intent on sabotaging our small and peaceful youth festival. Can it be that youth activism so frightens our authorities?” 

Back in August 2018, a Russian teenager became the first minor prosecuted under the country’s ‘gay propaganda’ laws. 16-year-old Maxim Neverov, from Biysk, was taken to court and fined 50,000 rubles (£580), according to campaign organisation the Russian LGBT Network. Maxim spoke defiantly about LGBTQ life and censorship on his social media, and is also one of the main organisers for the tongue-in-cheek ‘Gays for Putin’ rallies.

Since the news of the festival shutdown, local Russian directors have signed an open letter of solidarity that is currently circulating on VK

“Our director Yulia is accused of living in Europe and bringing out corruption and propaganda from abroad,” they write.

“We will look for how to show our productions as widely as possible – in Russia and in the world,” the directors said in the open letter.

“We ask to spread information as widely as possible. Because Russia is the bottom, and the city of Komsomolsk is the bottom of the bottom – a place where people have not heard about human rights and where the names of colors are considered propaganda.” 

Despite the police crackdown, a smaller version of Blue and Pink was performed in a Komsomolsk-on-Amur school in protest.

h/t Hyperallergic