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From Russia to love

Anna Peters / ecs November 8, 2013

Germany has granted a young doctor asylum due to his sexual orientation, after he faced persecution and social exclusion in Russia. Thanks to a recent EU ruling, other gays and lesbians will likely to follow.

Police detain demonstrators during a gay pride parade in St Petersburg's Marsovo Pole park. (Photo: Ruslan Shamukov / ITAR-TASS)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Pavel is gay. He is open about his sexuality, a fact which used to continuously cause outrage in Russia. "It is very unpleasant to be living in a society that thinks you are sick and backward, and where you can be fired from work just for being gay," he said.

"At any moment, someone can chop your head off," that's how he described the fear many homosexuals in Russia have to cope with on a daily basis.

The 26-year-old trained doctor came to Germany as an as asylum seeker in April 2013. He turned to Quarteera when he arrived. Quarteera, an organization for Russian-speaking homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals in Germany, didn't give him much hope of staying. They told him that Germany had yet to grant asylum status to a Russian attempting to escape the homophobic atmosphere in Russia. But Pavel decided to try and has been allowed to stay in Germany.

"Homosexuals in Russia have never had it easy"

Discrimination against homosexuals is openly accepted in Russia. In June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a nationallaw against "homosexual propaganda," which caused outrage in Germany and in other EU states. The law has made it illegal to portray homosexuality in a positive light in the presence of minors or in the media. The crime is punishable by imprisonment or monetary fines.

"Homosexuals in Russia have never had it easy," said Quarteera's Regina Elsner, adding that the biggest problem with the new regulation is "that it encourages the homophobic mood." According to Elsner, Russian society has always been very conservative and Putin's law has simply spurred on existing homophobia.

Ewald Böhlke, head of the Berthold Beitz Center for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia within the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), warned of an escalation of the already tense situation in Russia.

Ewald Böhlke of the Berthold Beitz Center of the DGAP (Photo: Dirk Enters / DGAP
Ewald Böhlke: The situation of Russian homosexuals is a burden on Russo-German relationsImage: Dirk Enters/DGAP

"When the state leads one-sided debates about minorities, the situation becomes even more difficult, because that constructs an imagined, everyday enemy, an image that is hard to control," he said, adding that the situation in Russia is an additional burden on the difficult relationship between Berlin and Moscow.

More and more turning to Quarteera

Pavel had to wait for four months for his case to be approved by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. He is now one of the first Russians to be granted asylum in Germany due to his sexual orientation.

In his home country, his story spread quickly. The reaction of gays and lesbians has been understandably positive, while the media has turned to old homophobic tropes, which stretch from statements like "Let them all leave, and we'll finally have our peace and quiet" to violent threats.

Meanwhile, other homosexuals in Russia are considering the idea of following in Pavel's footsteps and going to Germany. In the past weeks, Quarteera has received an increasing number of e-mails and Facebook messages from people asking how they can travel to Germany. Homosexual asylum seekers not only have to prove they are being persecuted due to their sexual orientation in their home country, but also that the government is either not able or not willing to protect them.

At Quarteera, Regina Elsner provides support for Russian-speaking homosexuals and transsexuals in Germany (Photo: Quarteera)
Regina Elsner: Putin's anti-gay laws have encouraged the existing homophobic mood in RussiaImage: Quarteera

European Court of Justice ruling

"Rulings about the status of refugees are made on an individual basis," the Quarteera website explains. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is closely observing the situation in Russia, but the Russian law currently does not allow blanket protection for homosexuals, according to the office's website.

The number of people from other countries currently seeking asylum in Germany because of their sexual orientation is unknown. The German human rights organization Pro Asyl estimates that there are around 100 cases from various countries every year.

But that number could soon rise, since the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday (07.11.29013) that homosexuals must be granted asylum in the EU if homosexual practices are punishable by law in their home country.

Now that he is in Germany, Pavel said he just wants to forget Russia. Germany is his new home now. He still has to learn German before he can find a job as a doctor. And then, he said, all he wants is a quiet life.