On occasion of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Serbia on January 17 2019, as civil society organizations and citizens, we have signed this letter in protest of the glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, a trend that is prominent in Serbia.
Accompanied by extensive media coverage, Putin’s visit further damages the already corroded democratic institutions, rights and freedoms of the citizens of Serbia, all under the guise of Serbo-Russian friendship.
On this occasion, we wish to stand in solidarity with all the victims of political repression in Russia, and especially with the human rights activists and members of the LGBT+ community, who are exposed to systemic discrimination and various forms of torture and violence.
What’s most terrifying of all is the discovery made last year, of the existence of so called “anti-gay purges” in Chechnya, which have led to the formation of the first concentration camp for gay and bi men. Although such allegations, mostly coming from opposition media, have been denied by Russian authorities, OSCE confirmed in 2018 that there is persecution of LGBT+ persons in Chechnya and that the authorities are doing nothing to prevent it. The testimonies of survivors are horrifying: prisoners were tortured with electroshocks, held captive in prison cells for months on end without trial, brutally beaten and humiliated, and some have stated that they were released only once their families vowed that they would kill them.
The Russian organization LGBT+ Network states that at the start of this year, a new purge has begun in Chechnya, in which over 40 LGBT+ persons have been imprisoned, out of which two have died as a result of torture. Since 2013, the controversial “gay propaganda” law has been active in Russia, a law which attempts to silence any form of struggle for a more inclusive and open society by LGBT+ activists, even though the European Court for Human Rights has deemed this law a breach of the freedom of expression and as a tool to encourage homophobia.
Aside from horrific persecution in Chechnya, extreme human rights breaches occur throughout Russia under the regime of Putin’s party: Russian Duma has decriminalized domestic violence that does not result in serious injury, authority officials brutally oppose any form of freedom of assembly, while opposition is threatened in various ways.
The fact that 58 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992 gives a preview of what lies ahead for freedom od media in Serbia, should Putin’s Russia continue to be a role model. Ever since 2012, human rights organizations have been labeled as “foreign agents” in Russia, a reputation that has been extended to foreign funded media ever since 2017 as well. Such measures are widely supported by Serbian nationalist and populist movements, who regularly call on government authorities to undertake similar measures in Serbia. Labeling and practically banning human rights organizations serves to further promote the idea that democracy and human rights are concepts which are “violently” imported from the Western world, and that they are neither natural nor necessary in our society.
Despite the fact that Serbian authorities deny that this visit means giving up on reforms and Euro Atlantic integrations, Putin’s visit comes at a significant political moment, which indicates that Serbian authorities are willing to sacrifice human rights and a higher social standard to continue idolizing Putin’s regime.
There is no room for the development and freedom of Serbian citizens if a regime that stifles freedom and upholds the principle “might over right” remains its paragon.
- Da se zna!
- Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR Serbia)
- Autonomous Women’s Center
- forumZFD Belgrade
- Women in black
- Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
- Human Rights and Democracy House consisting of:
- Civic Initiatives
- Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
- Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM
- Belgrade Center for Human Rights
- Policy Center
- NGO Consultation for lesbians
- Network of the Human Rights Committee in Serbia- CHRIS
- Association of Roma-Serb Friendship “Tree”, Kragujevac
- NGO LGBT Serbia
- Institute for European Affairs (IEA)