A couple of months ago, a resident of Pyatigorsk Artem Shituhin moved to the Netherlands. This was preceded by attempts to carry out actions against homophobia in the city, including against the persecution of gays in Chechnya, the creation of a human rights organization, numerous threats, psychological pressure, quarrels with parents, conversation with employees of the E center, expulsion from the university. Emigration seemed to Artem the only possible way out in the current situation.
There is a widespread view among ordinary people that LGBT activism in Russia is a way to obtain political asylum in the West. What can you say to such people?
Artem Shitukhin: Probably for some activists and activists this is so. However, the majority does not engage in activism because of this, in my opinion. People just want to change things for the better and help others. In addition, activism helps you to become open yourself, get out of the closet, throw off the shackles of traditional upbringing and stop being afraid of every shadow. However, it is also important to understand that an activist or activist is not a suicide, many activists and activists do it for free and in their free time from work / study. Therefore, I believe that if an activist or activist becomes in real danger, then they have every right to leave the Russian Federation and seek asylum in any civilized country in this regard.
Why did you organize actions against the gay propaganda law and against the gay genocide in Chechnya?
We worked with rallies for several reasons. Firstly, these topics are always relevant and important for us, it is impossible to leave them unattended. Secondly, in this way we raised the visibility of the LGBT community in the North Caucasus Federal District – and raised! Thirdly, we developed practical work, learned to draw up official documents and work according to the law.
I know that you tried to hold a rally against the Mizulina law. On yourself, your life, he somehow influenced?
This law, without exaggeration, influenced the life of every LGBT person in Russia. Personally, he affected me primarily by the fact that many relatives, friends and people from the environment against the background of this law began to show their homophobia. I had to clean my social circle as much as possible. In addition, as we know, our group is now stubbornly checking the police for propaganda there. Also because of this law, we were denied approval of public actions.
Do you know any of the gay people who suffered in Chechnya from persecution (except for Maxim Lapunov )?
Yes, I know personally, I communicate with these people.
Do you admit that the story of the persecution is invented or seriously exaggerated?
No, I do not admit that the genocide of LGBT people in Chechnya was invented or exaggerated. I personally know people who have suffered from this and were forced to leave the Chechen Republic.
Why, then, have they not yet come into contact with the Western press?
I can not imagine. Probably because they fear or it is simply not interesting.
You tried to dissuade from holding rallies in defense of the rights of LGBT employees of the center “E” in Pyatigorsk. What do you think, why? Is it the case of the LGBT theme or the mass action as such?
The Russian authorities are in principle intolerant of any manifestations of civic activism – opposition, LGBT and so on. The local municipal authorities of Pyatigorsk, of course, also could not allow any LGBT activists to come out in the city, and therefore they simply forwarded the notification to the center “E” and ordered pressure. Operatives from the center “E” came to my institute and tried to do it. And the thing is both in the LGBT topic and in a mass event.
Deduction from the Pyatigorsk Medical and Pharmaceutical Institute occurred under pressure from the security forces, in your opinion? The administration did not like the fact that you are an activist? And if you were just open gay?
Yes, of course, they expelled me under pressure. This was stated, among other things, by the director of the institute. The same deduction threatened from the center of “E”. The administration of the university insistently asked me to stop my activity, to leave myself or to take a sabbatical. I suppose that even if I were just openly gay, the problems would have been all the same, since there are homophobes among the teachers and the institute’s management, including the ardent homophobes.
How did your fellow students, friends, acquaintances, relatives treat your orientation and social activity?
As for friends, I am not friends with homophobes. This is a principle. Fellow students for the most part did not care, although among them were a couple of homophobes, but they showed their homophobia quite rarely, and in general we even talked about studying. Almost all relatives were extremely negative.
Your region belongs to the North Caucasus Federal District. Near Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia. Gays from these regions write in thematic groups that the orientation should be hidden for the sake of family honor and their own security, many are looking for girls to imitate relationships. Do you think they would support you in your advocacy work?
I believe that many gay people from the NCFD in principle do not even realize that they are part of the LGBT community and do not realize their own needs, something that they should be pursuing for themselves. They used to live like this, they were intimidated, they sit in the closet and want the rest to be like that. Some supported, some did not. However, we offered our support and help to everyone and worked with everyone.
After your picket in support of Chechen gays, were there any threats?
Yes, there were threats. At first, the center “E” was threatened, then a certain “Saw”, Timur Bulatov. They wrote to the post office, published on the Internet my personal information calling for me to be killed, broke into the mailbox (the real one, at the door which), called my parents, burned the doorway. I applied to law enforcement agencies and the media about these threats.
Why did you decide to leave? The story with a homophobic insult from Chelyabinsk and subsequent threats became the last straw (Artem complained about the homophobic insult on the Internet to the prosecutor’s office, she started the test, but in the end it didn’t bring RFI)?
Together. Deduction, threats, plus homophobia in the family, the threat to receive a large fine for propaganda and so on. Coincidentally, it all came over at once, and it was already dangerous and pointless to stay in Russia. The police refused to do anything according to my statements, although the threats were serious and real. Instead, they also wanted to fine.
How did you leave and why did you choose Holland?
I do not have the right to publicly disclose information about which way I left, and to tell the details of the procedure itself. The Netherlands chose spontaneously, bought a ticket 10 days before departure and for a long time could not choose a country. But, as far as I understood, the Netherlands is one of the most progressive and tolerant LGBT countries. So I flew there.
According to your feelings, what is the level of homophobia in Holland and is it possible to imagine that Russia will ever achieve this? What should happen for this, and what needs to be done?
Strangely enough, but being here, I began to sympathize with the right (in politics, I mean) in their desire to restrict the flow of refugees from disadvantaged countries, since homophobia is manifested, according to my personal observations, only refugees from Africa and the Middle East. In the Netherlands, homophobia is unacceptable, the Dutch themselves are rather tolerant people. At least, from their side I did not come across any homophobia. But the Netherlands also did not immediately become progressive and tolerant. In the Middle Ages, “sodomites” were burned at the stake, and in the twentieth century they considered homosexuality as pathology and kept homosexual files, as they were considered potentially dangerous (although the punishment for same-sex relationships was canceled in 1811). I think that if LGBT activists in Russia will fight for equality and pursue the same things as in the Netherlands, then Russia has chances.
But are Russian activists doing this? We see only formal attempts to hold gay parades and appeal bans to the ECHR with an incomprehensible purpose, because the Russian authorities do not actually respond to these appeals. And are activists able to overcome the everyday homophobia of Russian society? After all, many are annoyed by the “window dressing”, as they say.
Yes, they do. Attempts of parades fall into the media, and daily work – providing psychological and legal assistance, seminars, lectures, working with foundations, etc. – remains behind the scenes. And no, I am sure that parades are being made not only for the sake of compensations, the decisions of the ECHR regarding Russia are extremely important. Some activists cannot overcome all homophobia. It is possible to overcome homophobia only if the authorities also listen to the activists, issue the necessary laws, and the police and other state bodies will execute these laws.
Do you think the authorities are interested in the society to remain homophobic?
The current authoritarian government is interested in holding out and strangling all those who disagree, create enemies inside and outside the country.
How are your relationships with parents now?
Now I do not maintain contact with parents.
Do you want to return to Russia?
No, I don’t want to return to Russia, and I will never come there again.
In the latest annual index of the rainbow, published recently, Russia was in 46th place out of 49. This European rating, which is composed of experts from the international organization ILGA-Europe, reflects the situation with respect for the rights of LGBT people. Below Russia in this list only Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. By the way, this year in Turkey, the court lifted the ban on holding gay parades, which has been in effect since 2017. In Russia, attempts to hold a peaceful LGBT human rights action invariably face prohibitions and opposition from the authorities.