Two members of the German band Rammstein staged a full-on kiss on stage at one of the largest concert venues in Moscow, flouting the law in a country that imposes restrictive, anti-LGBTQ policies on its population. Rammstein shared footage of the man-to-man smooch on social media, captioning the photos simply: “Russia, we love you.” Russian authorities have not yet commented on the kiss shared by guitarists Paul Landers and Richard Kruspe; it’s unclear if the band will face any repercussions before they hit St. Petersburg on Friday for their final stop in the country.
While homosexuality is in itself no longer a criminal act in Russia, a 2013 law forbids people from disseminating what authorities there characterize as “gay propaganda.” Essentially, anything that asserts equal rights and humanity to LGBTQ members of society falls under the category of propaganda. The Washington Post cited this piece of legislation as having a detrimental effect on the health of LGBTQ youth in particular, since educational or mental health resources about non-conforming gender identities and sexual orientations is considered propaganda. Moscow has a ban on pride parades, as well, suggesting that open acts of celebration are considered taboo.
In this context, the kiss between the two men was a deliberate act of solidarity with the LGBTQ community; at another concert on this tour, a band member crowd surfed on an inflatable raft, waving pride flags over the audience. These incidents bring to light several violent incidents waged against LGBTQ persons in the region over the past week or so. In late July, Yelena Grigoryeva was murdered in St. Petersburg after being targeted for her work as an LGBTQ activist. Shortly before her murder, Grigoryeva’s name was listed on a website that urged its followers to commit acts of violence against LGBTQ figureheads.
Rammstein’s act of public protest also follows the violence surrounding the recent pride parade in Bialystok, Poland, in which dozens of its attendees were injured by homophobic protestors. While a little over half of the Polish population have expressed tolerance of LGBTQ people, nearly a quarter feel strongly opposed to accepting homosexuality according to data cited by Reuters. The ruling party in the country has run on anti-LGBTQ legislation and has fomented anti-LGBTQ sentiment with fear-mongering and misinformation that equates homosexuality with pedophilia. One official explained to the publication, “We’re against the affirmation of LGBT ideology and the aggressiveness of this ideology which attacks our basic national and Catholic family values.” Same-sex marriage is illegal in the country.
One observation that several of the Bialystok pride parade participants have made in their firsthand accounts is that the violent protestors were not just who they imagined or expected to be there, angry men not unlike the ones that we saw here at the Charlottesville protests. Some of the anti-LGBTQ protestors were old ladies from the neighborhood, parents with their young children in strollers, the local doctor, “ordinary” people. Novelist Jacek Dehnel wrote a piece for The Guardian in which he managed to find some hope in his community and its allies, perhaps in small acts of solidarity enacted by people like the Rammstein guitarists. “The same sort of ordinary people are marching beside us: there’s a touching old couple, holding hands, and two couples with pushchairs. There are lots of straight people, marching either for friends or relatives or out of basic human decency, to be on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressors.”