6 mins


Adam Long, Board Director of the NXF, spoke with Misha Tumasov, a prominent LGBTQ+ rights campaigner who was forced to flee his native Russia due to homophobic persecution. The pair met in Stephen’s Green, Dublin, to discuss the current situation between Russia and Ukraine and the state of LGBTQ+ rights across Europe.

Long: So Misha, as a Russian, could we get your reaction to what’s happening in Ukraine?

Tumasov: Well, I believe that my reaction is very clear towards all that's happened within the last three months-it's unacceptable from the Russian side. Russia tried to invade, to get some pieces of another country. and that is so primitive, so medieval.

Long: In your view, there’s no doubt that what’s happening is an invasion, and it’s a war against the Ukrainian people?

Tumasov: Absolutely. There are no other words to describe the situation, even if the Russian government is trying to avoid the word ‘war’. The word is prohibited by law, nowadays, in Russia and that is a severe ban.

Long: Of course, because it’s illegal in Russia itself, isn’t it, for any broadcaster or anyone publicly to call what’s happening an invasion or a war?

Tumasov: Absolutely. It’s absolutely illegal to talk about this situation as a war. State-sponsored mass media is lying to the Russian population, like the numbers of the Russian soldiers who were killed in Ukraine, for example.

Long: I remember meeting you when you came to Ireland back in 2014. And that was to talk about the passage of the very homophobic, so-called Propaganda Law. We’re now eight years on. I know you’re not currently based in Russia, of course, but can you tell us what the situation is like for LGBTQ+ people today?

Tumasov: Well, no better. Even worse. Especially with this situation in Ukraine. I should tell you that just a couple of weeks ago, there was a short piece of news on the socalled ‘First Channel’ that is very popular in Russia... And there was news about an LGBT Centre in Ukraine, in the city, which was invaded by Russian soldiers. And that was a very unpleasant video. Why? Because they showed a satanic…a picture of Satan, and they say that it’s an LGBT Centre in Ukraine and that it’s connected to the Russian LGBT community as well. And they say that is personally supervised by the President of America.

Long: Very extraordinary claims. LGBT people in Ukraine have spoken about feeling particularly at risk and you’ve had the organisers of Kyiv Pride, for example, talking about staying in the country and wanting to ensure that they fight the good fight. Do you think their fears are justified based on the experience of what’s happened in Russia?

Tumasov: I do believe that it is. Ukraine LGBT activists are just admirable persons, very brave ones who stayed in Ukraine and helped other people - doesn’t matter their orientation or whatever - they helped a lot of people to just to keep them safe in shelters somewhere, or just provide psychological assistance, which is very needed for them. Or even those who left Ukraine for a while. I know some of them and they’re suffering because of that, but at the same time, they’re still trying to support their communities in many, many ways. By money, by words, by actions, and many other things.

Long: And how can we in the West be particularly supportive of the LGBT Ukrainians who are fleeing? Because they really have multiple challenges, don’t they?

Tumasov: Yes, of course, as does any refugee. First of all, because they weren’t prepared to do such things. As I mentioned already, psychological systems are very important, and everyone needs money. Probably make some state regulations move smoothly, especially because of the condition of the refugees because of the war. And of course, you can support by sending money to Ukraine LGBT organisations, which are still active. You can support their activities there to support people who still need it, because I should say that many people just lost their homes. Literally. They were bombed by the Russian Army.…The attack of Putin on Ukraine is not just an attack on Ukraine, it’s, as many said, an attack on democracy, it’s an attack on the situation that we had after the Second World War. And the situation is broken.

Long: Coming back to that point about how it’s a broader attack on Europe, we see here in Ireland as a member of the European Union that Putin has his apologists and propagandists on the continent. People like Marine LePen in France, Salvini in Italy. Now, both of them, thankfully, have been challenged very strongly, and they’ve been brought to book, you could say, but in Hungary, it’s a very serious situation, because the Prime Minister of the country is really a Putin propagandist.

Tumasov: Yes, it is. That is a big problem. And actually, a problem which some activists in Western Europe were talking about for a long time. It’s not just about Hungary, it’s also about Poland, it’s also about Romania and Serbia as well - Serbia is led by an openly lesbian leader, I wouldn’t say that she did a lot of things for the LGBT community - it’s a network and the target is European democracy. Because Putin doesn’t like it. As we used to say, he’s trying to create a new monarchy where there are no places for others, just for one leader, one idea, one faith, one thought, and that’s all.

Long: Do you think that the EU has been, under the national governments in Europe, has been a little bit too hesitant to call that out and to call for a much stronger line within the European Union against those who would seek to copy what Putin has been doing in Russia?

Tumasov: I believe it’s a huge challenge to European democracy and our leaders to find a way to respond to these attacks. And it is a big issue because it’s something new. Post-World War, we found a way to develop our countries as democratic ones, and we thought we were very happy with democratic values. And now we see that not everyone is happy about it. My strong opinion is that these people just don’t understand what democracy is about. Democracy is about protection. Because when you are in countries like Russia where you have one leader, one thought, one face, you’re not protected. There is no one who can be protected because we have one person who decides everything for everyone.

Long: So then it’s not so much how we’ve traditionally seen politics in the West anyway, which was, you know, liberal / conservative, left versus right. Is it more fundamental than that? Now, it’s more about democracy as we know it versus authoritarianism?

Tumasov: Absolutely. It’s a question not about liberal values or conservative values, it’s more about the way we as a society want to live, to be free.

Long: LGBT rights is a fundamental part of that, isn’t it? We see it in Hungary and Romania, we see it in America - the states passing really dreadful legislation against the LGBT community, particularly the Trans members of our community. We really can’t be complacent, can we? We can’t assume to be safe in the gains that we’ve made around human rights and equal rights for LGBT people. We have to continuously work at that, don’t we?

Tumasov: Absolutely. You can’t stop. You can never say that we reached democracy because it’s a process, an ever-growing process. Every day, you have to choose the right side.

Long: Finally, what would be your message, to the Irish LGBT+ community?

Tumasov: Do for your country, and what you do for your country you do for other communities all over the world. Try to make your society democratic, more acceptable of other people - that helps other people to survive… What Ireland did with the referendum is just an amazing example of how it could be. And that is thanks to all who were involved in that. Knocking on the doors, talking to the people, to say that it’s not something strange, the LGBT community is not coming from outside, it’s not from space- it’s your sons, your brothers, your moms, dads, grandparents.

Long: It’s winning hearts and minds, isn’t it?

Tumasov: Absolutely.

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