by Tamara Grigoreva and Ismail Djalilov
A wave of brutal crackdowns on LGBT communities in the post-Soviet space has exposed civil society’s shortcomings — and is destroying lives.
B+W illustrations: Anastasia Vikulova.
Every day, before leaving the house, Milan zips his jacket all the way up to his chin. He puts on his sunglasses, hat and earphones with the volume cranked up to the max and walks to a language class.
“People can barely see my face that way, and I can barely hear what is happening around me. I go to class, and then sometimes I meet with the social worker or go to the doctor. Then I have something to eat and set off to walk around the city until I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. Only then do I go home,” Milan says, adding that the thing he is most afraid of is closing his eyes and not being able to fall asleep.
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“This is why I prefer to come home so tired that I literally pass out. Otherwise, every time I close my eyes, I feel the cold concrete floor against my stomach, I can taste the blood on my tongue, hear the shouting of the guards and see those smeared walls.”
Almost a year after Russia’s Novaya Gazeta broke horrific accounts of the roundups and severe torture that gay men were subjected to in Chechnya (the exact number of deaths remains unknown), the crisis is far from over.
Though many gay men in Chechnya, like Milan, fled abroad with the help of Russian LGBT rights defenders, they still have to hide their real identities and locations to prevent possible harassment from the Chechen intelligence — just like in Chechnya.
Over the summer of 2017, reports of similar crimes across the North Caucasus increased, and in September, reports of similar roundups, humiliation and torture against LGBT people (who allegedly had STDs and were involved in sex work) emerged from Azerbaijan — and in October, Tajikistan created a registry of LGBT citizens after police conducted operations to identity them.
While each crisis had its specifics, they all were used by the authorities to demonstrate their ability to crush any vulnerable community in an atmosphere of impunity, as well as to divert attention from other issues and extort money from the victims.