What drives a respected gay activist over the edge into madness?
That is the question posed by the bizarre anti-Semitic ravings that, in the last two weeks, have been broadcast on social media by Nikolai Alexeyev.
He’s the brilliant and charismatic young lawyer who in 2006 led the effort by a few dozen courageous Russian queers to hold a Moscow Pride event, which was immediately banned by Russian authorities. Those activists have bravely continued their efforts every year since — with the same result.
Alexeyev again and again put his body on the line, getting arrested some 40 times in civil disobedience to Russian bans on gay demonstrations. And he filed dozens of lawsuits in the Russian courts using the that nation’s constitutional guarantees to proclaim the right of gays to organize and speak.
His two-pronged strategy — militant street activism combined with legal challenges — won a great victory when the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg ruled unanimously, in the case of Alexeyev v. Russia, that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was guilty of violating three sections of the European Convention on Human Rights in banning Moscow Pride. The court ordered Russia to pay a fine of 12,000 Euros to Alexeyev plus his legal costs.
Alexeyev and his activist colleagues also founded the Russian LGBT Human Rights Project gayrussia.ru, a human rights news website that became the catalyst for Russian queers seeking to affirm their right to love and desire and was the megaphone for raising the visibility of homosexuality in Russia, where it had hardly ever been discussed and then only in bigoted terms.
The courageous young women of the agitprop punk band Pussy Riot, now serving a two-year prison sentence (their lyrics include explicit calls for gays to organize and demand their rights) and the equally brave female Russian Olympic athletes who staged a same-sex kiss in front of the cameras to signify their opposition to Putin’s anti-gay repressions in a photo seen around the world, are both linear descendants of the Moscow Pride street activism, which no doubt inspired them.
Putin’s brutal and violent repression of the Moscow Pride demonstrations, in collusion with fascist and ultra-religious Russian Orthodox thugs, brought global condemnation, especially when foreign activists — like the openly gay German member of parliament Volker Beck, the British gay and human rights activist Peter Tatchell, and gay elected officials from other European countries — were badly beaten after journeying to Moscow to join the demonstrations.
Because we at Gay City News have as a bedrock principle that queers everywhere, but especially in countries like ours where we have more freedom than elsewhere, have a duty of international solidarity with queers in the 83 countries in which same-sex love and desire is criminalized, as well as those in which it is technically legal but culturally repressed, we’ve devoted more space and energy to covering the plight of gay people and their brave organizing efforts in dozens of countries than have other US gay newspapers.
And as part of our coverage, we reported in dozens of articles over the years on the liberation struggles of Russian queers and on Alexeyev’s key role in organizing those combating for the love that dared to speak its name.
We have interviewed other activists in Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet Union countries who told us of the considerable help Alexeyev gave to them in organizing in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities and in founding Slavic Pride to unite queer activists from Russia and other former Soviet bloc nations.
Because we so admired the courage and effectiveness of the hardy band of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists led by Alexeyev in raising the visibility of homosexuality in Russia and in asserting their right to love, we were all the more shocked by Alexeyev’s diatribes in recent weeks (see our September 4-17 report, “The Anti-Semitic Meltdown of One Russian Gay Activist” at gaycitynews.com).
On Facebook and Twitter, Alexeyev poured forth a stream of invective against “the Jewish mafia trying to overtake the world and now LGBT fight in Russia,” claimed that “America is ruled by Jewish mafia,” and proclaimed himself the successor to the late neo-fascist politicians Jörg Haider of Austria and Pim Fortuyn of the Netherlands, two queers whose racism or anti-Semitism motored their electoral successes.
Recalling how Alexeyev had been kidnapped and drugged by Putin’s security forces in an attempt to pressure him to drop his lawsuit against Russia before the European Court of Human Rights — while Putin-controlled news media put out a phony story that Alexeyev had sought political asylum in, of all places, the homophobic dictatorship of Ukraine! — we thought it was not entirely impossible that the anti-Semitic garbage being attributed to Alexeyev was the work of hackers from Putin’s sophisticated Internet control operation working to discredit Russian gay activists. But on two separate occasions in these last weeks, this reporter offered Alexeyev the opportunity to deny or to recant these stomach-turning appeals to race prejudice. And we were met with his firm refusal to do so, thus confirming that the anti-Semitism was indeed his own.
As a journalist who over the years has done more reporting on Alexeyev’s activism and interviewed him more frequently than any other, I want to make it clear — both personally and on behalf of Gay City News — that we believe Alexeyev has crossed the line into a dark, nasty, dangerous, and repugnant miasma of prejudice that has absolutely no place in the gay liberation struggle.
Homosexuals have for too long been the targets of stereotyping and bigotry of the worst sort to want to see others similarly targeted. Human rights are indivisible, and must include opposition to racism and anti-Semitism wherever this prejudice raises its ugly head, everywhere in the world. It’s all our business as liberationists to oppose it with all our vigor. With sadness and dismay, we can only condemn in the strongest possible terms Alexeyev’s recent statements. He has dishonored not only himself but also the courageous activists whose leader he continues to proclaim himself (just the other day he claimed to this reporter that “the entire Russian gay movement now depends only on me!”). But his anti-Semitism means he has forfeited his claim to be a leader of gay liberation.
So we are left with this question: what drove him to this madness?
In Russia, anti-Semitism has a long and bloody history and its roots are deep. Under the czars, the despotic monarchy had the Black Hundreds, the gangs of anti-Semitic thugs who carried out violent pogroms against Russia’s Jews. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a phony tract that is a bible of anti-Semites deployed by Hitler’s Nazis and is still in circulation among bigots today, was a forgery by the czarist secret police. Under Stalin, anti-Semitism was used as a weapon of repression of political opponents of Jewish descent (like Leon Trotsky), and there were regular anti-Semitic purges, culminating in the 1948 campaign against “rootless cosmopolitanism” that killed or jailed Yiddish-speaking writers, poets, and intellectuals and in a Stalinist fantasy of a Doctors’ Plot by Jewish doctors to kill the Russian dictator.
In today’s Russia, anti-Semitism is a major current in resurgent, reactionary Russian nationalism and the growing native Russian fascist movements — with which Putin has an ill-concealed collaboration. It finds fertile ground in the Russian Orthodox Church, long a fetid sewer of anti-Semitism. And all these Jew-hating forces are also leading the horrific waves of anti-gay prejudice now engulfing Putin’s Russia. Russian anti-Semitic fascists and xenophobes have videotaped their violent attacks on queers, using the Internet to disseminate real-life images of gay people being beaten and forced to drink urine with their heads in toilets, accompanied by calls to exterminate gay people as “un-Russian.”
It is doubly tragic to see a leading gay activist like Alexeyev ally himself with these virulently anti-gay and anti-Semitic forces — and, indeed, to proclaim himself a leader of them as the Russian successor to Haider and Fortuyn — because this distracts attention from the draconian new anti-gay laws passed by Putin’s stooges in the Russian Parliament that have attracted worldwide condemnation.
Unfortunately, history records many examples of activists, especially those operating under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, who have cracked under the pressure of their dissident roles. Not a few moved to the far right, including anti-Semitism of the worst sort (the French left is littered with a number of such characters).One has to be something of an illuminé, to use the French term, to put oneself forward as a leader in such a repressive context of unending police and cultural repression. The line separating brilliance and madness has always been a thin one, and the danger of megalomania is always present.
But whatever the reasons for Alexeyev’s anti-Semitism, there can be no excuses for it. None. Homophobia is a form of racial prejudice too. And stereotypical fantasies about Jews have no place in gay liberation anywhere on this planet. Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, queers — we all have bigotry as our common enemy. And we at Gay City News believe that a united front of unblemished opposition to all of it is our common duty. It’s an obligation of conscience.
To be even more precise: Nikolai Alexeyev has now consigned himself to the trash bin of history along with all the other legions of racist zealots. We can only hope that our queer Russian brothers and sisters, who are under the most dire attack, will not be further undermined or tarnished by the unspeakable calumnies he is now broadcasting in their name or demoralized by Alexeyev’s defection to the camp of bigotry.