Editor’s Letter – We must fight to keep Chechnya in the public eye

Despite its reputation for stiff-upper-lip haughtiness and uncaring cynicism, something that London actually does do very well, is solidarity. Granted, that’s not always been the case. We used to bomb the shit out of people and steal their obelisks. We’ve given most of them back now though (actually there’s still one down on the South Bank that seems to have been conveniently forgotten about, soz Egypt).

But now, contrary to the increasingly bizarre actions of our unhinged and unelected Prime Minister, London as a city, as an entity, is leading the world in charges against prejudice, discrimination and questionable morality.  

Back in 2003, we broke records when almost a million took to the streets of the capital to protest the upcoming war with Iraq. It was the UK’s biggest demonstration ever, and showed the world that not all Brits are flag-waving, war-mongering obelisk stealers.

More recently, in June last year, London held the largest vigil outside of the US, commemorating victims of the terrorist attack on Orlando gay club, Pulse. Thousands of people descended on Soho, bringing the city to a standstill and forcing the public to contemplate an atrocity that some said was egregiously underreported by the mainstream media. Especially considering the fact that it was the worst terrorist attack to hit the US since 9/11.

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We showed our support to Americans again this January, when close to 100,000 people marched on Trafalgar Square to stand for women’s rights both in the US and across the world. It also symbolised a devastated acknowledgement of the fact that a mysoginist psychopath is now the most powerful man in the world and that the way things work has irrevocably changed.

Now, the time has come again. At the start of this month, the New York Times reported the disappearance of several gay men from the streets of Chechnya, Russia. It then emerged that these men were allegedly being detained and sent to concentration camp-style compounds, where they were being tortured, abused and in some cases, murdered. There are thought to be over a hundred men detained, with at least three dead.

The men were reportedly captured in an insidious and calculated way, via entrapment through dating apps. One user claimed that a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped, and returned days later in a sack, starving, close to death.

This information initially emerged from Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. They have since apparently received threats and have fallen silent on the issue.

But they’re not the only ones being silent. It took the BBC News over a week to even touch on the story, and even then, it was a negligibly small, vague piece buried in the bowels of their website. They only posted it to their socials once (news outlets usually post their stories on socials at least three or four times a day.) Whether this is due to the sensitive – and as yet unconfirmed – nature of the story, is unclear.

But the fact remains that, while Left Wing and LGBT news outlets have been defiantly vocal and outspoken, the Right Wing and neutral press have done close to nothing. Politicians have also been uncharacteristically silent. It’s worth remembering, these are allegedly concentration camps, of the like that haven’t been seen since the holocaust.

And the question in the back of our minds, is one that none of us really want to ask, because we’re afraid of the answer – would it be different if it weren’t gay men? How would the world react if, say, it were women being rounded up and tortured? Or children? It’s fairly likely that immediate, aggressive action would have been taken. But we’re almost three weeks in, and nothing is being done.

On the evening of Wednesday 12th, we became the first country in the world to protest Chechnya’s treatment of gay men, as hundreds gathered outside the Russian Embassy. The gates were festooned with rainbow flags, pink flowers, and signs with slogans like “Defend LGBT+ Rights.” It grabbed the attention of the national press, and some reported on the alleged Chechnya atrocities for the first time.

It shows that protesting, and speaking out makes a difference. And ‘speaking out’ doesn’t mean writing an essay-long Facebook status that will only been seen by people with the same views as you. You might as well write it on a bit of paper and kick it into the Thames.

No, speaking out means getting off your arse and making a protest sign. It’s fun! Pop down to WHSmiths and get some smelly gel pens. Steal some cardboard boxes from round the back of Manor House Sainsburys. Now to an extent, this is preaching to the converted, because we know QX readers are a very protest-weathered lot. But this is a message for those of you who haven’t protested yet, because you think it’s a bit preachy or because you think it doesn’t make a difference.

Well it doesn’t have to be preachy, not if it’s about basic human rights. And it DOES make a difference. So get off social media, and get out into the world! TOP UP YOUR OYSTER CARDS, and get on the tube with a protest sign and a pair of army boots and a gin and tonic in a can. We’re way past the point of sitting on our phones, fighting over whether or not chopsticks should be banned. Our world has changed. This is real life, people are dying, and we need to fight to stop that.

So while our country’s leader frets over whether chocolate has the word “Easter” written on it, we need to take up the mantle and be the ones to lead our country. Take a leaf out of the books of the protestors on Wednesday! They organised a peaceful, constructive event, that made people think and GOT. SHIT. DONE. And that, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about.

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