Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell organises protest against conductor’s support for anti-gay laws.
Leading gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is organising the latest in a recent line of protests against the conductor Valery Gergiev. The veteran human rights campaigner will protest Gergiev’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s draconian laws against the promotion of homosexuality. The Chief Conductor of the London Syphony Orchestra is due to lead a performance of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust at the Barbican Centre in London.
“Putin represses, we sparkle,” Tatchell says, urging supporters to bring sparklers along to the event. “This protest takes place on the anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution,” Tatchell writes on his website. “Some people argue that Russia needs a new, non-violent democratic revolution. Putin is taking the country backward. As well as escalating repression against the LGBT community, civil liberties and dissidents are also under attack. His regime has incarcerated political prisoners in jails that resemble gulags. Gergiev endorses Putin, despite this shameful repression. That’s why we need to protest.”
“Gergiev has been listed a celebrity supporter of the autocratic Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whose regime harasses journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and LGBT campaigners. Peaceful protesters and opposition leaders are being arrested, often on trumped up charges, in a bid to silence and intimidate critics,” Tatchell goes on. “Valery has defended the homophobic law that persecutes gay Russians; reportedly falsely claiming that it is a law against paedophilia. He condemned and sneered at Pussy Riot. His loyalty to Putin has been rewarded with personal honours and massive state grants for his pet projects. Gergiev is a great conductor but he colludes with a tyrant and shows little respect for freedom and equality.”
The protest will be Tatchell’s second attempt in a week to make his views known. Last week he disrupted the opening of night of Gergiev’s new London Symphony Orchestra concert season with a solo protest.
Shortly after the orchestra assembled on the stage, and before Gergiev made his entrance, Tatchell strode on to the stage, dressed in a tuxedo, which led some in the audience to initially assume he was a Barbican spokesperson making an official announcement.
Tatchell told the concert audience: “Valery Gergiev is a friend, ally and supporter of the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, whose regime is arresting peaceful protesters and opposition leaders. Gergiev defends the new homophobic law that persecutes gay Russians. He sided with Putin against Pussy Riot. I ask you to oppose tyranny and show your support for the Russian people.”
He was manhandled off the stage by security staff and then voluntarily left the concert hall to some slow hand claps but mostly to applause. After he exited the concert hall, Tatchell added: “I may have annoyed some concert-goers but others seemed supportive. It was all over in two minutes. Gergiev’s performance was only briefly delayed. I never intended to disrupt the concert; only to make a short, symbolic statement.”
Tatchell’s stand against Gergiev is the latest in a line following previous protests at Carnegie Hall and at the Metropolitan Opera. Gergiev is under fire because for many, support for Putin means support, tacit or otherwise, for the regime's anti-gay laws. Writing in last week’s New Yorker, influential classical music writer Alex Ross said: “No one should be surprised that gay people, for whom concert halls and opera houses have long been safe havens, are turning away from Gergiev and other pro-Putin musicians.”
Gergiev has rarely publically responded but in September he spoke to the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant saying “In Russia we do everything we can to protect children from paedophiles. This law is not about homosexuality, it targets paedophilia. But I have too busy a schedule to explore this matter in detail.”
In an interview in Washington last month he added: “I came here to work as a conductor, not as a person who will talk from early morning until late evening about other things than music. If you start to think every minute of people who are not necessarily involved in what you do, then your concentration is gone.”