On Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, Dr. Max Biddulph launched the University of Nottingham’s LGBT+ History Month with a public lecture. This lecture explored the persecution of gay/bi men under the Nazi regime of the Third Reich, specifically focusing on their imprisonment in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. In ‘Citizens of the Third Reich: Everyday Betrayals and the Pink Triangle Prisoners of Sachsenhausen’, Dr. Biddulph discussed the extent to which citizens of the German town were complicit in and knowledgeable of the fates of these gay/bi men. In the lecture, Dr. Biddulph described a regime of intrusive surveillance, secret informers, imprisonment, torture and systematized murder, carried out as part of the operationalization of a violent ideology.
These same processes of persecution are now being enacted in Chechnya. In April, reports written by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta exposed the imprisonment of and use of violent force against Chechnya’s LGBT+ citizens by local authorities. Commenting on these recent atrocities in a statement to us, Dr. Biddulph states, ‘Never for one minute did I think that I would hear the same processes reported a mere four months later in 2017 in Chechnya: surveillance, betrayal, rounding up, imprisonment, torture and murder.’ Following the exposure of these crimes, a number of journalists involved in the reporting of these events have also been sent death threats.
The news reports of these atrocities are disturbing. During the past months, over a hundred men have been blackmailed, interrogated, imprisoned, tortured and abused by the Chechen authorities. In April, it was reported that detainees are held in locations where they are beaten and electrocuted for their sexual orientation or associations with the LGBT+ community.
In an attempt to force the use of violence against their relatives, the authorities have also outed some men in the community to their families: ‘a subtle nuance in this instance is the invitation for families to do the murdering, (or the militias will)’, Dr. Biddulph writes in his statement, comparing these crimes to those of the Nazis’. The families of these Chechen men perpetrate these ‘honour killings’ under duress or in order to avoid the perceived shame of association. The discrimination and dehumanization of the LGBT+ community in Chechnya by local governance, exacerbated through the state omission of action to prevent such atrocities, is allowing this violence to be inflicted with impunity from state legal structures. As such, the Russian state is implicated in these crimes.
On the 28th April, members of Nottingham’s LGBT+ community protested against these atrocities in the city centre. This protest was organised by Damian Darby, and it featured several speakers addressing a group of activists off Market Square. With over 200 people registering their interest in the event on Facebook, it was well attended by those voicing their opposition to these crimes. At the protest, Damian and the speakers urged listeners to do what they could to support the victims: make donations, sign petitions, urge MPs to put pressure on the government to change discriminatory asylum laws. In a written statement to us following the protest, Damian states, ‘It’s important that people get involved and support this cause because they should never live in fear of being tortured and killed because of who they love!’,
In his statement, Dr. Biddulph urges UoN students to take action: ‘don’t be a bystander: sign the petitions, donate to the support funds, out these atrocities at every turn. We have tools at our disposal not available in 1945 . . . the Nazis functioned by deceit and with the arrogance of power, thought they could cover up their crimes. 21st century social media makes this less feasible’. Dr. Biddulph also states that writing about these events in Chechnya ‘cuts me to the core’ after having relayed a ‘very powerful message […] from history earlier this year’.
We also contacted Chris Smith, UoN’s incoming LGBT+ officer. He emphasised the developments made in LGBT+ rights over the past decades and the need for their defence internationally. Along with Dr. Biddulph and Damian, he urges the Nottingham and UoN community to respond, using all of the resources available for taking action in the twenty-first century. In his comment, he notes that, ‘extreme homophobia is still rampant across the world’: ‘We cannot risk becoming complacent when people in Chechnya still have to fight for their lives every day’. Chris encourages any students worried about the situation in Chechnya, or any other LGBT+ issues, ‘to contact our welfare support at LGBT+Welfare@nottingham.ac.uk or via Facebook’.
The ‘extreme homophobia […] still rampant across the world’ that Chris emphasises is pervasive in Russia. The political apparatus operating in Chechnya is among the most conservative and virulently homophobic of this region. The local leader of this constitutive entity of Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov, took power after the Second Chechen War, when Russia re-established power after Chechnya’s short period of independence. Tanya Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch, likens his governance to the ruling of a ‘private fiefdom’, with the human rights of LGBT+ citizens omitted by the authorities.
Kadyrov’s allegiance to Vladimir Putin has led to Moscow turning a blind eye to the operationalization of the oppressive ideology that has been reported in recent weeks. Although Putin has recently stated that the Russian Government will investigate the reports, the comments from state authorities and failure of the state to protect the rights of the LGBT+ community is reprehensible. The exclusion of LGBT+ people from the framework of citizenship through discrimination has perpetuated a violent regime of oppression.
In Chechnya, Kadyrov’s spokesman, Alvi Karimov, has propagated an exclusionary rhetoric to this effect: ‘You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic’, he told Interfax news agency. This rhetoric of denial and omission of LGBT+ rights is pervasive in the governmental structure of Russian power: the state has not denounced or acted to stop the violence being inflicted upon the bodies and minds of Chechnya’s gay/bi citizens and individuals associated with the LGBT+ community.
On Wednesday 17th May, the international community will stand in solidarity to mark the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The University of Nottingham will fly the rainbow flag on The Trent Building to stand alongside the LGBT+ community in condemning these discriminations. Dr. Biddulph told us that he invites UoN students to look up at the rainbow flag and ‘pause for reflection on exactly what diversity within our university means and to consider the progress we have made in this society and the diverse experiences of LGBTQ people around the world’.
‘Our thoughts go out our brothers in Chechnya’, he states.
The following links are to organizations that have started petitions in order to put pressure on governments to take action against these atrocities and protect those involved in exposing such crimes. Donations are also being received to help evacuate LGBT+ community members in danger. As Dr. Biddulph states, let us ‘out these atrocities at every turn’.
All Out want to put pressure on the Federal Russian Authorities: https://go.allout.org/en/a/chechen-100/
Amnesty International want Chechnya to stop abducting and killing individuals associated with the LGBT+ community and to protect the journalists who have been reporting on the events: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/stop-abducting-and-killing-gay-men-chechnya
Pink News, an LGBT+ news website, are campaigning for the Russian authorities to stop the persecution: http://petitions.pinknews.co.uk/russian-authorities-stop-the-persecution-of-gay-men-in-chechnya
Donate to help the safe evacuation of gay/bi men at risk:
Researched and written by Alexandra Farzad and Jonathan McAllister.
Our thanks to Dr. Max Biddulph, who commented on the piece before publication.