Volker Beck, a gay German parliamentarian who was injured when he participated in Russia's first-ever gay rights rally over the weekend, has sparked debate in Germany about to deal with Russia.
Images of Beck's bloodied face have sparked strong reaction in Germany
Volker Beck, a leader of the German Green party and a prominent gay rights activist, had traveled to Russia to show his support for the country’s gay rights movement. The parade to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia took place on Saturday even though authorities had banned the march.
The gay activists, led by 28-year-old Nikolai Alexeyev, had planned to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- a symbol of the World War II struggle against fascism, and one of Russia's most sacred places. But they were soon surrounded by dozens of militant Orthodox Christians and skinheads who chanted anti-gay slogans and tried to break up the gathering.
In the ensuing scuffles, Beck was punched in the face and slightly injured.
"I was attacked," Beck told German television. "It was a stone and a fist. It shows we're not safe in this country. The security forces did not protect us but instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any protection."
Following the confusion, the German politician was detained and only released after authorities recognized his parliamentary credentials.
Moscow events spark heated debate in Germany
Pictures of a bloodied Beck surrounded by Moscow police have triggered strong reactions in Germany.
Homosexuals are far from accepted in Russia
Andreas Schockenhoff, Russia expert of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has accused Beck of violating the "rules of the game" in Russia, saying that one had to obey the political norms of the host country and that Beck was only seeking to profile himself by participating in the demonstration.
The attack is "naturally outrageous," said Schockenhoff in a newspaper interview. But by taking part in a banned demonstration, Beck had "irresponsibly and willing put himself in danger," Schockenhoff added.
Schockenhoff's comments have sparked anger among Germany's Greens as well as members of the CDU.
"If one is attacked by another person, then he's not to blame," Jürgen Rüttgers, the conservative premier of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia told news channel N24. What happened in Moscow "isn't worthy of a democracy," Rüttgers added.
Ruprecht Polenz, another member of the CDU, also slammed the bloody turn of events in Moscow. "In Russia too, peaceful demonstrations, even if they're banned, have to be protected by the state from attacks," Polenz told Spiegel Online.
Germany urged to take tougher line
Others have urged the German government to lodge a strongly-worded protest in Moscow.
"It can't be that a state assumes that such matters are decided by the rule of force," Arnold Vaatz, another CDU member said, adding that Berlin had to complain.
Neo-fascism is a growing problem in Russia
Volker Beck this week urged the German government to do more internationally to champion the rights of homosexuals. Beck pointed out that another gay-rights parade planned in Warsaw on June 10 had been banned. It's a bit "annoying" that the German government "wasn't really interested" about the repression of homosexuals in Russia, Beck added.
In Paris, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe "condemned in the strongest terms the unacceptable incidents which disturbed the gay pride march in Moscow." Delanoe called them "grave attacks on respect for human rights and for individual identity, contrary to the basic principles of a democratic nation."
Clementine Autain, one of Delanoe's aides said: "At the moment when Russia is taking over the presidency of the Council of Europe we are concerned because the Russian authorities haven't shown the will to respect human rights, in particular the rights of minorities and freedom of expression."
Homophobia part of a bigger problem in Russia?
Others, however, have pointed out that homophobia is a deeply-entrenched problem in Russia.
"Homophobia is part of the larger problem of xenophobia" in Russia today, Nikolai Alekseyev, the organizer of the protest, said at a news conference. "This country defeated fascism and today it is again on the rise," he said.
Public displays of affection among gay couples are taboo in Russia
Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzkhov had warned that the event would "provoke outrage in society“ because homosexuality is not natural. He also claimed that 99 percent of the people in Moscow were supportive of the ban.
Homosexuality was considered a crime in Russia until 1993, and a mental illness up to 1999. Even today same-sex couples almost never make a public display of their affection. According to activists, discrimination is still a major problem in Russian society, with gays and lesbians facing widespread public intolerance.