Authorities in Kemerovo, Siberia side with Ultra Nationalists Bringing an End and Violence to the III Side by Side by Side LGBT Film Festival.
On 1 June, 2012 human rights Side by Side LGBT film festival, was scheduled to open in the Siberian town of Kemerovo. The third time the festival was to take place in the city, over the course of three days, through to 3rd June screenings and discussions on a range of LGBT issues were planned for. In the run up to the start of the festival, however, organizers began to receive threats of physical violence and attack from a far-right group, the Russian Patriot Club, who are based in a nearby town Novokuznetsk. The group, having already threatened festival visitors at a Side by Side event in March earlier in the year, were reported and made known to the police. The police however failed to act on the information given, taking no measures at all against the group following the March incident.
In the days before the start of the festival, fresh threats were sent by the group and organizers lodged new complaints with the police. Organizers met with both law enforcement agencies and the city administration. The authorities indicated their unwillingness to provide protection for festival visitors and did everything in their power to make it impossible for the festival to take place. At the meeting a letter from the city’s Mayor Vladimir Mikhailov was handed to Side by Side’s local coordinator. It reads: "This event causes a negative reaction from residents and community organizations. In their letters of address they state that the opening of the festival would violate their rights and lawful interests. With this in mind, we believe that the organization of the Side by Side Film Festival in the city of Kemerovo is undesirable." Shortly after venues received letters and telephone calls from the administration “recommending” them not to hold the festival on their premises. Fear of the repercussions both venues pulled out two days prior to the festival start.
Only then, once the possibility of holding the festival had been brought to a halt, did the administration and police begin to show interest in the safety of the visitors and organizers. Telephone calls were received from a certain inspector A. A Balmaeva responsible for public order at the Office of Ministry of Internal Affairs affirming that: "We will ensure order during your festival so that no one is injured", coupled with heated enquiries as to if we had found an alternative. An alternative venue had been found, however, once made known to the authorities within a matter of hours the new venue pulled out.
The authorities have taken no action against the Russian Patriot Club instead choosing to target peaceful and law abiding citizens. The inaction of the police and the administration has only but emboldened far-right elements giving them free reign to terrorize, making death threats and inciting hatred towards both festival organizers and visitors.
In an attempt not to succumb to these forces Side by Side in these extreme conditions managed to hold on Sunday 3rd June a day of screenings and discussions. This however did not go without incident as local Side by Side coordinator was physically attacked by two members of the Russian Patriot Club in the city centre. The attack took place outside the local theatre where people had gathered in order to be taken by bus to an undisclosed location where screenings had been planned. Complaint of the attack was lodged with the police.
In the five years of Side by Side’s existence the festival has often come up against opposition however the degree of physical violence and threat to life being openly expressed by nationalist and orthodox extremist groups and the impotence of the authorities to act on complaints is unprecedented. Action will be pursued in the Russian courts and if justice is not found then to the European Court of Human Rights.
In the next coming days the fortunes of the festival are uncertain. Two more festivals are set to take place in neighbouring Siberian cities of Novosibirsk, 5-7 June and finally Tomsk, 8 – 10 June, 2012. Already there are promises of protests from nationalists and orthodox extremists.