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No shame in protesting against pro-Putin conductor, Valery Gergiev

12 November 2013

For a moment I thought someone had spiked my tea with LSD. With escalating levels of disbelief, I read Melanie McDonagh’s bizarre account of last Thursday’s protest at the Barbican against the pro-Putin Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. Then, as her article became ever-more divorced from reality, I wondered if perhaps she had been the victim of an acid prankster.

Melanie is usually a fine writer. What prompted her to scribble such tosh? She lambasts the ‘barracking’ and ‘bullying’ of Gergiev, describing him as a ‘Russian composer’. Actually, he’s a conductor and he was nowhere in sight that evening. We were on the pavement outside, not in the ‘concert hall’.

It was a small, good-natured, peaceful protest. We held placards and waved sparklers. Hardly a menacing mob. True, we shouted ‘Shame’ and ‘Gergiev! Stop supporting Putin. Stop supporting tyranny.’ But does this really amount to ‘bullying’ the maestro? It was certainly not the ‘sustained and disruptive harassment’ alleged by Melanie. No concert was interrupted and no audience members were prevented from accessing the Barbican.

It is true that a week earlier I walked on the stage on the opening night of the new London Symphony Orchestra Berlioz season. I made my entrance before the performance had started and Gergiev wasn’t there. After a polite 60 second critique of his pro-Putin stance, I left — mostly to applause. Some of the audience may have been applauding my departure but others seemed genuinely supportive of what I had said.

Melanie says Gergiev has ‘made clear that he is not prejudiced about gay people’. I agree and commended him for saying this. But I also pointed out that although he doesn’t discriminate, he supports a Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whose regime does discriminate against gays and lesbians.

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We are told by Melanie that it is his own business if Gergiev backs Putin. The implication being that it is none of our business. This is tantamount to saying that supporters of tyrants should get a free ride; a bit like saying people should have not protested against the defenders of the Soviet and apartheid regimes.

In a further leap towards the realm of fantasy, Melanie insinuates that we were trying to stop Gergiev performing freely in the UK. Not true. We have not called for him to be banned or interrupted his performances. Melanie queries why I have attacked the new Russian anti-gay law when, she claims, homophobic ‘Arab states’ have never got the ‘Tatchell treatment’. This is plain daft. For three decades, I’ve campaigned against all human rights abuses (not just anti-gay abuses) by Arab leaders, including by those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Algeria.

Melanie comes close to defending the new Russian anti-gay law, misleadingly describing it as being about ‘child protection’. She seems to echo Gergiev’s false claim that it is solely concerned with stopping child sex abuse. In September, the Dutch newspaper, Volkskrant, quoted him as stating: ‘In Russia we do everything we can to protect children from paedophiles. This law is not about homosexuality, it targets paedophilia.’

Such a claim is blatantly untrue. The new law criminalises actions or words that make homosexuality sound ‘interesting’ or ‘attractive’, or that suggest homosexuality and heterosexuality are equally valid — in circumstances where this may be witnessed by a person under 18. Why shouldn’t young Russians know the facts about same-sex love and Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality? Moreover, this law prevents gay Russians under 18 from receiving affirmative counselling and safer sex advice, which puts them at greater risk of suicide and HIV.

Already, the new law has been cited to sack teachers for no other reason than because they are gay. It’s also been used to convict people for saying homosexuality is ‘normal’, even where there is no evidence that someone under 18 witnessed it.

Our protest was not about ‘officious Englishmen’ telling Russians they must reform their laws. It was in defence of the Russian constitution against a law that violates its guarantees of equal treatment and freedom of expression. We were protesting in solidarity with gay and straight Russians who have asked for global protests against Gergiev, Putin and the anti-gay law. We were supporting them, in the same way that many of us supported persecuted dissidents during the Soviet era.

I defend the right to protest, including the right of others to protest against me. I’ve defended anti-gay Christians against prosecution and given over my podium to disruptive critics to let them have their say. I’m saddened that Melanie McDonagh doesn’t seem to understand that the right to protest is also for those we disagree with. Even sadder, she’s chosen to make more of a fuss about our brief peaceful protest than about the sustained assault on democracy and human rights by the Russian regime. A case of misplaced moral priorities, in my view.

Peter Tatchell is the Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

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Show comments
  • Reiner Torheit


    Tatchell is an illiterate DISGRACE of a man.

  • scottrose

    Sign and RT this petition to DEMAND
    that #Regnerus stop attacking April DeBoer and her family

  • Joanna M

    P.S. Why don’t you organise protest opposite to Saudi embassy?

  • Joanna M

    Peter, your protest against Gergiev and all these articles are really annoying. The main reason why is because you’ve suddenly woke up. Gergiev has been supporting
    Putin for a quite long time and it seems that no one noticed it. Now (after
    certain political events) you realized that Gergiev supports his president.
    You write: “We were protesting in solidarity with gay and straight
    Russians” but none of these Russians jumped on the stage in Barbican! I
    have not seen many Russians among your protestors. You know why? because many
    Russians support this law! Therefore it is funny to criticize Gergiev.

  • Daniel Fitzgerald

    Colonel Mustard, what a bore you are….a little sad too.

    Very we’ll said Peter, fully agree though I’d argue that Gregiev comments about gays do justify another protest.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I can’t promise I’m not a bore – that is mainly subjective – but I’m not sad at all, old chap. I’m very cheerful and for my age live a full and productive life, still working and creating. Whenever rather smug and supercilious people like you accuse others of being sad, presumably to reinforce your own feelings of superiority, I tend to think “How sad’.

      Because what is sad is feeling the need to strike out with nothing more than an abusive ad hominem because you dislike my questions (questions! Never mind opinion!). That makes you tedious and sad and does nothing for your credibility.

      • Daniel Fitzgerald

        Colonel Mustard, ‘productive life’, your never off here spewing your turgid prose… bitter bigotted old fool….Perhaps a hobby would help?

    • Reiner Torheit

      You gutless little neocon wаnker.

  • McClane

    I think Russia, Putin, and most Russians don’t give a to$$ about what Tatchell thinks. He isn’t even a blip on their radar (gaydar?). His blogpost here was a waste of bandwidth.

  • Alexandrovich

    Well, we may as well wrap this up then. We’ve all been very civilised, treading very ‘gingerly’, sticking to the ‘point in hand’ and exercising (untypical) restraint.
    Unless of course, we’re just examples of unreconstructed but cowed, modern men.

  • TRAV1S

    The disgraceful tactics you use are exactly the same as those used by Anjem Chouldary and his band of Islamic fanatics. Your’e like two peas in a pod. Disgusting and shameful.

  • Tom Tom

    How do we protest against Peter Tatchell ? Do we blockade his residence ? Do we obstruct him when he rants in public ? Do we spray him with green dye or effluent ? How does someome protest against peter Tatchell ?

  • Mr Grumpy

    “We are told by Melanie that it is his own business if Gergiev backs Putin.”
    Not true, Peter. She said that it is none of your business if he is a “friend or associate” of Putin. Which it isn’t. Or do you only have friends who agree with you about everything?

    You accept Gergiev’s statement that he isn’t homophobic, which is jolly nice of you. But in that case it would seem on the evidence of the photo that some people at your “small, good-natured, peaceful protest” were waving libellous placards. How do you feel about that?

    Finally, I look forward to seeing you storm the platform when Tariq Ramadan delivers the Orwell Lecture.

    • David Nice

      Actually what impressed me was that the placarding DIDN’T misrepresent: I imagined someone would be proclaiming ‘Gergiev is homophobic’, and I don’t think he is; I believe his statement. But the presumably libellous placard you refer to says ‘Gergiev speak out against homophobia’, which he still needs to do. All that’s left is a retraction of the statement equating the laws with protection against paedophilia.

      • Mr Grumpy

        Why does he “need to” speak out against homophobia? Whilst Peter Tatchell comes quite close to claiming that he’s spoken out against every bad thing that’s happened ever, I’m not convinced that even he is capable of doing so. If you want to campaign against Putin. how about campaigning against Putin and not against people who have simply failed to say what you want them to say about Putin?

        • David Nice

          How much do you need it spelled out? Gergiev wouldn’t have had to speak out against homophobia any more than he did in his statement had it not been for the iniquitous licence-to-beat-up equation of homosexuality with paedophilia, which for whatever reason – possibly not having bothered/made time to find out what the laws really were, despite supporting Putin’s re-election campaign – he seems to have endorsed (and has done nothing to explain).

          • Mr Grumpy

            I need to have spelled out to me when Gergiev ever said that homosexuality is the same as paedophilia.

            • David Nice

              See above: to the Volkskrant reporter: ‘In Russia we do everything we can to protect children from paedophiles.
              This law is not about homosexuality, it targets paedophilia.’ Which is not saying ‘the same’ but remains a blatant endorsement of fallacious laws.

              • Mr Grumpy

                First you agree that he isn’t homophobic. Then you accuse him of endorsing the equation of homosexuality with paedophilia. Now you quote him explicitly differentiating the two. I’m thoroughly confused.

                • David Nice

                  I should have thought that was perfectly obvious. The laws do NOT target paedophilia, they target – Section 28-wise – the educating of ‘minors’, which of course includes teenagers vulnerable only inasmuch as if they are told their sexual orientation is unlawful, they may kill themselves. As one in four in Russia apparently does (and that doesn’t begin to account for the unknown effect). So Gergiev as much as the laws is guilty of promoting moral confusion and abetting death and despair.

                  This is the remaining reason why we bang on about it. The equation is something I find abhorrent and personally distressing. Once he’s made his statement, I imagine we leave him in peace and don’t insist he renounce Putin – which, given his compromised situation, is impossible.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  What? One in four gay Russian teenagers commits suicide? Where on earth do you get that one from?

                • David Nice

                  Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary. Which I should imagine checks its facts carefully. Though as with most statistics how this is verified might well be open to question. But still the point remains that the equation is simply ludicrous. Even more frightening to think that uneducated Russians will buy it.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  “Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary. Which I should imagine checks its facts carefully.”


                  There were 29,735 suicides in Russia last year according to Wikipedia, out of an estimated population of 143,500,000. You must think Russia has a very small gay population indeed.
                  It’s well known that far and away the biggest contributory factor in Russia is not homophobia but alcoholism. As you are so concerned about preventing suicides, why don’t you target your protests at vodka manufacturers?

                • David Nice

                  Monikered posters like yourself always sidestep when they can’t answer a riposte directly. I’ve no more time to waste arguing – and I don’t especially want The Spectator to have the benefit of my hitting. Bye-bye.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  Gergiev still guilty of causing mass suicides even if they only exist in Stephen Fry’s fertile imagination. Have a nice day.

                • Mr Grumpy

                  In all seriousness: I couldn’t care less whether you argue with me or not. However, you’ve accused the conductor Valeri Gergiev of having blood on his hands. As soon as I point out that the evidence you have offered is nonsensical you flounce off. I call that cowardly.

                • Ketil Næss

                  The law and the preparations of it is simply branding homosexuals as pedophiles. That is the official line of Putins party and supporters.

  • In2minds

    People who support some other people, but not if they support the ‘wrong’ people should be more tolerant. Even if they once supported the Labour Party which itself can be very intolerant but only because it supports people who need help and can’t support themselves. Yes it is complicated but then that’s why some people protest. By the way, what was the music like?

  • telemachus

    Look Tatchell

    Do you not read the Moscow Times

    ‘Russia’s top gay rights activist has rejected the Dutch offer to grant asylum to harassed Russian gays, saying there is no mass discrimination against them in the country.

    “Of course, there are cases when somebody needs to be granted asylum, but these cases are so isolated that it has no relation whatsoever to the overall picture,” Nikolai Alexeyev, the head organizer of unauthorized gay pride parades in Moscow since 2006, told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio on Wednesday.

    Alexeyev was reacting to the letter Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans sent to his country’s parliament on Tuesday, in which he said that violations of the rights of Russian gays “would lead to the issuing of an asylum permit” for them in the Netherlands.

    Alexeyev accused other Russian gays, without referring to anyone in particular, of “creating an appearance” that the federal law that in July introduced fines for propaganda of gay relations to minors “affects them in some way.”

    “In reality, this law is not actually applied in practice, except for cases of limiting the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly,” Alexeyev said, adding, “People are simply taking advantage of the existing situation.”
    The Moscow Times

    • Neotelemachus

      Did you learn how to cut and paste at Oxford or on your milk round Idiot #1? You might try bringing something original to these discussions rather than your mindless outpourings of teenage homoeroticism. You really are the number one idiot.

      • telemachus

        I guess you and Tatchell have much in common

        • Neotelemachus

          I followed Peter Tatchell in the Bermondsey by-election as a minder for one of Fleet Street’s finest. The stories I could tell Idiot #1 would blow your tiny mind.

          • telemachus

            Challenge you to do so

            • Neotelemachus

              Idiot #1 challenges me? In your dreams numpty. I could also tell a few stories about the winner, Simon Hughes, but why waste them on an idiot like you?

              • telemachus

                You know all the nice boys

                • Neotelemachus

                  So you are homophobic as well as a racist. Extraordinary for a leftist numpty Idiot #1.

                • telemachus

                  Only for selected ones such as yourself

    • Tom Tom

      what does that great Labour icon Peter Mandelson think ? He is a big fan of Russian oligarchs

      • telemachus

        Mandy certainly would have no truck with Tatchell

  • monty61

    No-one (or few at least these days) could fault the sentiment, but the riposte to bullies everywhere – ‘Pick on someone your own size’ – is nowhere more appropriate than here.

    This is a gentle musician known for his support for gay rights. Go and picket the Grand Mosque if you want a proper fight.

    • telemachus

      Well said Monty
      Much as I hate the revanchist baying at the Poster he has bullied and needs to be told

  • Colin

    You know what? Of all the people in UK public life today, the person I admire most is Peter Tatchell. You’re in the wrong job, mate.

    • Colin

      I voted up my own comment there. Not by mistake.

  • Fergus Pickering

    I always distrust people who are saddened by other people who disagree with them. And I’ve never liked the way you outed people who didn’t want to be outed. That strikes me as rather fascist. Weren’t you outed yourself or do I misremember? Did Melanie McDonagh make a fuss? I thought she wrote an article.

    • HookesLaw

      McDonagh is entitled to write articles, but not disingenuous ones. but don’t worry – with the press regulating itself we all will get adequate redress.

      • Hugh

        Actually, short of libel, she is entitled to write disingenuous articles. And, bearing in mind Mr Thatchell has been given space to write his fairly convincing response here, what further redress do think is necessary?

        Can you outline for us the form of press regulation you’d like to see implemented that would put a stop to “disingenuous” articles such as McDonagh’s, and explain how it leaves room for anything approaching free speech?

  • Wessex Man

    oh dear I’ll upset a lot of people that I normally agree with but I consider him to be a very brave man, who did not deserve to be attacked by Melanie McDongh, he never caused the problems that a lot of others have over the years.

    • HookesLaw

      Tatchell? Its hard to dislike someone who tried to arrest Mugabe. I’ll give him a bit of leeway following that.

      • CharlietheChump

        True, that always makes me smile

      • Tom Tom

        so why did he fail since Mugabe was in Brussels in 2001 ? Did he not apply for an EAW in London ? Will he have more luck in arresting Tony Blair ?

  • asalord

    Gergiev does too much,and the music suffers as a consequence.He’s still better than average,though.

    • post_x_it

      I don’t know what’s average. I think Gergiev’s standard of performance has become pretty poor of late because he can’t be bothered with rehearsals any more and doesn’t build a proper rapport with musicians or audience.
      However, this really isn’t the issue at stake here.

  • Radford_NG

    What is there not to like about Mr.Putin?He will get my write-in vote for leader of the Conservative Party in June 2015.

  • David Nice

    Respectful, logical – everything that Ms McDonagh’s piece was not. If anything, you are light on her for the fact that it seems she wasn’t there at all – journalists have lost their positions for less. But then I guess that’s for the Evening Standard, which has kept so surprisingly quiet about this issue, to decide.

    Colonel Mustard, I can’t disentangle what you’re saying here – is it me or does it just not make sense?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Hard for me to say because I don’t know what you are trying to read into it! Mr Tatchell wrote of his apparent comfort about people protesting against him. I’m just not sure that particular playing field is level in the UK.

  • zanzamander

    I’d have thought Putin (who will be gone soon anyway) and Gergiev would be the least of your problems – seeing that they have zero influence on our domestic attitude and policies towards gays. Think of the rising influence of Islam and Muslim population in this country who incidentally are not going anywhere and it doesn’t take rocket science to realise that your days are numbered. No amount your sucking up to the RoP (which you’ve been doing a lot) will save you. You are just a useful idiot.

    Melanie McDonagh is right about you.

    • CharlietheChump

      Not sure Putin will ever be “gone”.

      • Tom Tom

        He is the only world leader opposed to Sunni Extremism

  • Colonel Mustard

    “I defend the right to protest, including the right of others to protest against me.”

    Very commendable but why then is so much protest against what might loosely be described as the ‘gay movement’ suppressed by complaints of homophobia and bigotry as well as ultimately by prosecutions? I cannot imagine the large scale public protests against gay marriage seen in France taking place in the UK. When the bed and breakfast couple declined to host the gay couple was that not an expression of their protest? In fact is it even possible to protest against you with the criminalisation of causing offence and the ever looser definition of ‘hate speech’? This was debated at length elsewhere here but there seems to be an imbalanced blurring around this subject when it comes to the right to protest and counter-protest.

  • Matthew Blott

    Excellent response Mr Thatchell. Well said.

  • Austin Barry

    I believe that Putin has conceded that Tchaikovsky may have been gay, but surely that was the natural consequence of his disastrous, aversion therapy marriage to ghastly, lefty harridan Glenda Jackson to whom he dedicated The Nutcracker.

    • Makroon

      Witty. I like.

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