Peter Tatchell: A tribute to Nikolai Alekseev

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev has announced that he is standing down as chief organiser of Moscow Pride and of the LGBT human rights project GayRussia.Ru – two major initiatives that he pioneered.

Nikolai’s resignation is sad news and a big loss for the Russian and international LGBT movement. But I understand and respect his decision.

Huge thanks to Nikolai for his amazing, ground-breaking work over many years.

His efforts and those of his Moscow Pride colleagues put the human rights of LGBT Russians in the media and public consciousness worldwide. They ensured that LGBT rights were on the news and political agenda in Russia, to a degree that had never happened before. An extraordinary achievement for a small number of volunteer activists with no funding, apart from their own pockets.

Over the years, Nikolai said and did a few things that were in my opinion mistaken (but haven’t we all made errors?). I disagreed with his decision to collaborate with the right-wing politician Aleksey Mitrofanov in 2007 and I refused to appear at the Moscow Pride news conference where Mitrofanov spoke. With little success, I urged Nikolai to build closer links with other LGBT groups and the mainstream human rights and democratic/left movements in Russia. I disapproved of Nikolai’s remarks which appeared to be anti-Semitic (although I personally doubt that he is prejudiced against Jewish people).

These criticisms do not, however, negate the overall hugely positive contribution that Nikolai has made to the Russian LGBT human rights struggle.

He fearlessly took on the big guns of Russian politics, from the Moscow mayor to the city’s police chief and the Russian president. Bravo!

Nikolai’s activism put him in great personal danger from bashings – even assassination – by ultra nationalists and neo-Nazis. Even his harshest critics cannot deny Nikolai’s immense dedication and courage. Few others would have walked boldly into a crowd of neo-Nazis waiting to ambush Moscow Pride, knowing they may be armed with knives and iron bars.

Not many people would have dared continue to put themselves in the frontline and take on the power of the ruthless tyrannical Russian state, having seen so many human rights defenders beaten, framed on trumped up charges and even murdered. But Nikolai did. Not once but dozens of times.

He was under constant immense mental stress and strain, which caused great difficulties for himself – and to his family and partner. Few others could have endured what Nikolai did. Pushed to the edge of a breakdown, he paid a very heavy personal price, which few people have acknowledged – or seem to care about. This is probably part of the reason for his decision to resign his campaign posts.

If we don’t care about our fellow human rights defenders like Nikolai, what does this say about our ethics and morality?

Nikolai was sometimes subjected to poisonous smears and sectarian attacks by other LGBT activists, which caused him great hurt, as they were mostly without any truth and delivered with the venom you’d expect from the far right, not from fellow LGBT campaigners. Sadly, too many people were ready to believe some of the malicious things said against him.

Those of us who champion LGBT human rights surely have a duty treat others in ways that are consistent with human rights values?

I knew Nikolai very well for over six years. I am fully aware of his many strengths and few weakness. Putting everything in perspective, I salute Nikolai and his contribution to LGBT freedom.

I wish him and his equally courageous Russian LGBT colleagues success in carrying forward the pioneering work he began. Special good wishes to his successors at Moscow Pride and GayRussia.Ru, respectively Alexander Naumchik and Nicholas Baev.

I also pay tribute to Nikolai’s partner Pierre for his loyal personal support and unsung backroom work for the Russian LGBT campaigns. Pierre is an extraordinary activist in his own right, although he never sought or received public recognition.

Best wishes to Nikolai, Pierre and the heroic Russian LGBT activists – those who worked with Nikolai and those who did not.

All the many activists and organisations that fight for LGBT freedom in Russia deserve our respect and admiration.