Dublin Protests Chechnya's Queer Concentration Camps

Date:

On April 20th, a crowd gathered from 4-7pm outside the Russian Embassy in Rathgar, Dublin, to protest the recent campaign of violence against queer men in Chechnya and show solidarity with those under attack and all queer people across the planet (#chechnya100ireland). Gardaí reported that it was the largest ever protest outside the embassy.

Several placards included the (downwards) pink triangle, a reference to queer men being condemned to Nazi concentration camps. Others read ‘LGBT People Exist Everywhere’, ‘You Can’t Imprison My Sexuality’, and ‘Queer Solidarity Means Migrant Rights’. Demonstrations have also taken place in Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, and Vienna. The demo was called by a couple concerned queer women who decided something had to be done - a lesson to us that we don't need to wait for 'Someone Else', a tendency we all have in this passive society.
 


Yes Duplicity: Irish State, Give Queer Chechens Asylum Now


 

Shockingly it has emerged over the past few weeks that at the behest of the Chechen state, gay and bisexual men are being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Here they are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, whose journalists have received death threats, reported that police were ordered to do a ‘prophylactic sweep’ (‘prophylaxis’ is disease prevention). It seems the arrests began after LGBT campaign group GayRussia.ru applied to hold Pride parades (and were rejected). The Russian LGBT Network have set up a hotline to help the afraid.

At least 100 queer men have been captured but the exact figures are uncertain and likely higher. At least 3 men have been confirmed murdered, but again the true figure is likely much higher (and rising). Torture has included electrocution and severe beatings combined with homophobic insults, and even ordering prisoners to beat each other. Queer men have been outed to their families under the presumption that they will then be killed. This is because Chechnya - similar to the theocratic Ireland we have been shaking off for the past decades - is an intensely bigoted society where overt hostility to queer people is normal and a badge of righteousness. Queer people are forced to live in the strictest secrecy, with great shame brought on themselves and their family being the minor fear and being executed by family or others being the major fear.

Spokesperson for Ramzan Kadyrov the Head of the Chechen Republic has baldly lied and denied the possibility of this campaign on the grounds that queer people don’t exist in Chechnya: ‘you cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic’. Just yesterday the press secretary for Russian president Putin announced an official cover up by saying there was no reason to doubt Kadyrov. The Chechen Republic is formally semi-independent but is part of the Russian Federation. After Russia quelled 2 Chechen insurrections in the 1990’s, Kadyrov is a loyal tyrant.

The perpetrators have tried to obtain the names and numbers of other queer men from their captives. Several were captured by assailants setting up fake profiles and pretending to be gay men wanting to meet. State repression of queer men is not new to Chechnya. For instance, police have been blackmailing queer men for money under pain of being outed or to lure others into the state’s grip in a cruel act of betrayal. Nor is it new to Russia more generally, which famously passed a law in 2013 banning ‘gay propaganda’, i.e. acknowledging that people who aren’t straight or cisgender exist and that’s fine, reminiscent of Section 28 passed under Thatcher in 1987.

Because this pertains to Russia and because Chechnya is an overwhelmingly conservative Sunni Muslim society, various groups are keen to calculatedly use these atrocities to suit their ulterior agendas. This includes the Trump administration seizing on the opportunity to take the moral high ground denounce both their imperialist opponent and the Muslim bogey man in one swoop. But also supposedly liberal states across the globe, and the jackals of the far right more broadly.

It is not a matter of defending the viciousness of reactionary political Islam. It is a matter of keeping our heads screwed on, being aware of important differences within Islam as a broad tent and between Muslims as an enormous group of people, importantly not overlooking crimes closer to home, and translating this horror into fuel for a campaign of oppression. The irony of course being that the people who want to put Muslims in concentration camps (for example, this has been addressed to a huge Pegida rally) are using Muslims putting queer men in concentration camps as further justification of their own prejudice. Of course the freedom-hating far-right have much more in common with the Chechen Islamist tyranny than they have in difference. And true to form they are already saying out of one corner of their mouths that this is real oppression and queer people in the West should stop whinging while saying out of the other corner that those Muslims are scum for doing this and Muslims generally need to be taken to task. And the Russian far-right will surely be confused about which side to come down on here, being both anti-Muslim and anti-queer.

It’s worth noting also that in a majority Muslim society these gay and bi men are mostly Muslim also. Just as in a majority Catholic society the inmates of the Magdalene laundries (or concentration camps for unmarried mothers) were predominantly Catholic. It’s likely that those with anti-Muslim prejudice wouldn’t treat the Muslim victims of this attack too kindly if they crossed paths in another situation, but are happy to pinkwash when convenient. Everyone from neoliberals to Israeli imperialists are glad to use us as colourful pawns to gild their credentials in glitter. But anyway, it will not help those subjugated by Islamist stricture to spread prejudice on the basis of how awful ‘those Muslims’ are, just as it didn’t help when Irish people were stigmatised as those backwards Catholic savages.

International solidarity is important. It shows those far away that the world is watching, that we are with the oppressed and that the forces of injustice face a global resistance. It also presents an opportunity for us to be honest and apply the same principles we are brandishing to condemn those abroad to our own homelands. In the case of Ireland, and other countries which glibly pose as ‘modern’ and ‘forward-thinking’, these dark days must focus us on the discrimination and hardship we tolerate around us. Not just for queer people, but for all people. Oppressors worldwide may have different names and speak in different tongues but all have a common doctrine: to quash the human spirit for the power and profit of others. They may wear different clothes and fly different flags, but they all have common institutions: the state, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. All oppressed and exploited people the world over must stand together.

As a queer Irish man I will not let this tragedy be used to persecute Muslim friends, nor will I let the domestic establishment off the hook while trans people are degraded, left to be humiliated, attacked, and to take their own lives. Nor any queer person at all because, marriage equality or not, unless we can be ourselves without a hint of fear, we have a serious bone to pick. Free the #chechnya100.
 


Credit to Jen for the photographs.
 

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