The World Pride festival in Malmö just celebrated its finale. Pride celebrations are powerful. They bring together a social and political movement to fight for inclusion and respect for human rights. Such movements are fundamental in building inclusive societies and respect for our diverse communities. The fight for our right to love whom we want must go on.
On the 18th of August, we – the Swedish Human Rights Film Festival – presented the film Welcome To Chechnya and a subsequent panel discussion.
The film turns to LGBTQI+ activists in the constituent republic of Russia, Chechnya. They risk their lives to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ persecution in the repressive and closed Russian republic of Chechnya. With unfettered access and a commitment to protecting anonymity, the documentary exposes Chechnya’s underreported atrocities while highlighting a group of people confronting brutality head on. The film follows these activists as they work undercover to rescue victims and provide them with safe houses and visa assistance to escape persecution.
One of these activists is Olga Baranova.
It so happened that Olga participated in the panel, in Malmö, after the film screening, together with Inna Bukshtynovich from Civil Rights Defenders and Stefan Ingvarsson and moderator Zuzana Zalanova the RWI Director of the Europe office.
“How Olga came to be at the cinema together with us (Kino+Panora+Raoul Wallenberg Institute) was a mere coincidence. Inna Bukshtynovich ran into Olga as she was passing on her way to Copenhagen. It was pure chance.
The audience got a chance to talk to Olga about her and her team’s extremely dangerous and hard work of getting homosexuals out of the country. You meet Maxim Lapunov, one of the more than 100 persecuted and tortured young men.
Levanov was the only one who decided to go public to fight for justice. When a court in North Caucasus ruled not to open any investigation on his behalf, he filed a complaint with the Strasburg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“Since then, only ‘one more person has come forward to witness on the brutality in Chechnya’” says Olga Baranova.
When we ask about what has happened to the men who managed to flee, Olga says she cannot, naturally talk about “specific cases”.
“They are refugees”. We hope that they got on to a new start in other countries. Many seeked and got asylum in Canada. More about Olga.
Stefan Ingvarsson, is, as a Swede, ashamed to share that “Sweden did not accept anyone”. However, the Rainbow Foundation in Sweden financially aided Olga’s team.
Olga fights on; but not in Chechnya. It has become too dangerous for her.
To our questions “How did you find the courage to fight?” and “what kept you going?” she said “In a situation like this, when you know people, friends and others, risk being killed – you just act.”
The harassment and abuse of LGBTQI+ people occurs all over the world.
Discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is contrary to the basic principle of equal value and rights of all people. No one should have to hide their identity or be forced live under threat and in fear of what would happen if it became known.
The UNHCR believes that any person who is subjected to assault, inhuman treatment or serious discrimination on the grounds of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity – and whose government is unable or unwilling to protect the person – should be recognised as a refugee. Read about how UNHCR helps LGBTQ refugees. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/LGBTI/Pages/AboutLGBTIandHR.aspx
Since 2015, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and Kino Cinema hosts the Swedish Human Rights film festival. The film festival unites movies with critical discussions and knowledge transfer on human rights issues – through workshops, screenings and panel discussions with international experts.
This August, we collaborated with the Malmö Queer Film Festival WorldPride Edition.
Photo: Steve Johnson, Unsplash