As part of the RE:Barents project we invited an anonymous researcher from Russia, whom we know from extensive research collaboration with OsloMet, to visit and report from this year’s Barents Pride festival in Kirkenes. The festival took place 21-24 September.
The decision to keep the author’s identity anonymous stems from the current restrictive anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Russia. This legislation not only prohibits «LGBT propaganda» targeted at children, but now extends its reach to people of all ages.
Below are the researcher’s text and photos.
“We have more trans people than translators here. And it is great!”
From September 21 to 24, the annual Norwegian-Russian Pride took place in Kirkenes, which has been held on the initiative of the two parties since 2017. A large number of LGBTQ people came from different regions of Russia to take part in the Pride. Barents Pride is a platform where these people can freely express their voice, speak out about the problems of the LGBTQ community in modern Russia and celebrate diversity and love. This is the goal and key idea of this event.
On the first day of the Pride, an exhibition opened where the works of participants from Russia were presented. All exhibits are united by a common message of understanding homophobia and transphobia as modern rhetoric of the Russian government. For example, to express their attitude towards repressive laws, visitors were asked to write a message to Russian officials over newspapers with political analytics. The exhibition was accompanied by a musical performance by the Russian indie group “Aloe Vera”.
After the opening, an annual protest took place on the border of Norway and Russia, where not only LGBTQ activists, but also representatives of Sami people from Russia held a common picket.
The day ended with a continuation of the unity of minorities – with a concert of Sami folk music from Roman Iakovlev and a queer performance from Timimie Märak.
The second day of the Pride began with a Sami workshop, where participants were invited to weave ethnic jewelry with elements of LGBTQ symbols.
The local cinema hosted the premiere of a documentary film about the life of LGBTQ people in Russia, “L*** 404”, filmed by the “Gorgon” art group after the start of the war in Ukraine. The characters in the film described in detail the problems associated with everyday homophobia, violence and rejection that they face in everyday life, in their families and at work. The will to live and a strong belief in change are the qualities of the film’s characters that give the viewer hope for a better future for Russia and the entire European continent.
In the afternoon, the Samfundshuset library hosted a lecture by the popular Russian-speaking historian Tamara Eidelman, “How People learned to appreciate freedom,” in which the speaker showed the genealogy of the phenomenon of freedom in a geographical and historical dimension in Russia and the world.
The second day of the Pride ended with a rainbow mass in the local Kirkenes church, where everyone present united in prayer for freedom, love and peace in three languages: Norwegian, Russian and English.
Last but not the least day of the pride began with a workshop on self-care for activists. At the workshop, topics on safety precautions and column movement during the parade were discussed.
At 13:00 the parade column moved towards Samfundshuset in the center of Kirkenes. Music, bright posters and clothes, slogans and greetings from residents – the solidarity of the participants in the Norwegian-Russian initiative was felt in everything.
After the parade, all participants gathered in the Samfundshuset hall for a welcome speech and tea.
The evening Pride program was concluded with a series of cultural events on the theme of protecting the rights of the Kven people and an interactive performance from the Pikene på Broen collective.
At night, everyone could meet in the bar as part of Barents Pride Night.
What is the significance of the Barents Pride for its participants?
For many visitors to Barents Pride 2023, this event is very special. We were able to talk to some participants and get their opinion about this event (all quotes have been edited and anonymized for the safety reasons)
“For me, Pride in Kirkenes is a breath of freedom, a place where you can breathe and be charged by others. It seems to me that without this event, many here from Russia would have lost their hope.” (Pride participant from Russia).
“This is my second time coming here for the parade. I have never been at the parades before the Barents one. Many thanks to Norwegian society and government. Today, being LGBT in Russia is like committing a terrible crime, but here you don’t have to hide who you are. Isn’t this the coolest gift one person can give another?” (Pride participant from Russia).
“Kirkenes is in itself a special place for any activist and simply freedom-loving person from the Murmansk region. Even before the war [i.e. in Ukraine from February 24, 2022] it was perceived as a fortress of freedom, and now even more so… I’m very glad to be part of this parade today”. (Pride participant from Russia).
“I think it’s great that today our society supports LGBTQ people from Russia. Despite all the terrible things that are happening in the modern world – wars, violence, hunger, events such as Barents Pride help imbrace humanity and build a future for our neighborly relations». (Pride participant from Norway)