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Equality Activists in Belarus Carry Out Hassle-Free Demonstration

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 21, 2011
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In what may be a sign of progress for GLBTs living in the former Soviet bloc nation Belarus, a group of gay equality advocates mounted a peaceful demonstration that went off without interference either from police or from anti-gay counter-demonstrators, reported ukgaynews.org.uk on Feb. 14.

As recently as last summer, GLBT activists in Belarus were compelled to dodge the police, using stealth tactics such as concealing Pride flags and then suddenly hoisting the banners and chanting pro-equality slogans. The mini-demonstrations only lasted a few minutes at a time before demonstrators were forced to flee police, who chased and detained the activists.

The St. Valentine’s Day demonstration took place in Minsk, the capital city. Activists had obtained official permission beforehand. "For the first time the only thing that we feared was neither the police nor the homophobe hooligans but the cold," said organizer Sergey Praded, the head of G:LBT equality organization IDAHO Belarus.

Praded indicated that the successful, and legal, demonstration was the result of patience and footwork. "In the last six months, we have submitted dozens of applications to hold a rally," stated Praded. "We appealed to the court. But it seems that the dialogue that we also started to initiate with the authorities paid off."

The fact that neither police nor anti-gay protesters assailed the small group of about 12 demonstrators was taken as a sign that despite its tiny size, the event was significant. Said Praded, "This is a very good first step for all of us and I hope that it will help us collect more participants to future actions."

Russian GLBT equality advocate Nikolai Alexeyev, the head of Moscow Pride, told the Russian press that the demonstration was "historic." Alexeyev himself has participated in a number of unauthorized--and therefore illegal--demonstrations. In 2010, Pride organizers in Moscow were denied permission for the annual event for the fifth consecutive year. Said Alexeyev at the time, "Similar parades were prohibited by the Moscow mayor in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009."

Alexeyev added, "Despite the requirements of the relevant legislation the Moscow government has not offered the organizers any alternatives for holding the planned event." Even so, when determined gay equality advocates put on a pair of Pride marches May 29, Russian authorities did not hinder them--a first, reported the Associated Press.

Bulgaria enjoyed a similarly peaceful Pride event last summer, an event that stood in marked contrast to the violence that characterized 2010 Pride events in other former Eastern Bloc nations. In Lithuania, a permit for a Pride parade was alternately issued and revoked, before the courts intervened and allowed the event to take place. And in Slovakia, during what the nation’s press called "a day of shame," neo-Nazi Groups attacked demonstrators with eggs, tear gas, and their fists, breaking up that nation’s first Pride march. In the wake of the attack, the full-scale Pride parade, which had been scheduled to take place subsequent to the rally and march, was cancelled due to security concerns.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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