Statement on collaboration with Russian institutions

UPDATED 09 September 2015. After going back and forth on this ever since the day I posted it some two years ago — and especially after taking to heart the expressed views of activist friends who remain in Russia — I’ve decided that engagement is preferable to isolation.

I think it’s best to leave the original post intact, both for the record (whatever that means) and as a reminder to myself that views and positions can and should evolve. I feel just as strongly as ever, if not more so, that the assaults, the harassment and the organized attacks on Pride parades and other public affirmations of queer identity that are officially tolerated in Russia are disgraceful, and ought not to be countenanced in any society. But then, I think much the same thing about police murders of black people in the US, or the brutal suppression of Tibetan identity by the Chinese government, and I continue to visit and accept paid work in both of those countries.

I’m still not entirely comfortable with my decision, to be frank. But the comment originally left on this post in the fall of 2013 has haunted me ever since, and deciding to visit Russia again will allow me to act upon the suggestion bound up in it. Please, as always, let me know if you have strong feelings about this either way; in the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’m doing right by everyone in Russia that doesn’t enjoy the luxury of choice. Thanks.

Like many people in (what for lack of a better term I’ll call) the contemporary Western urban design space, I’m intrigued by recent developments in Russia, and very much flattered by your invitations to visit, to speak and to collaborate.

Unfortunately, I am not able to accept such invitations at present. Although I myself am not gay, many people I care deeply about do happen to be, and given the present climate of violence and intolerance toward gay and lesbian people in Russia I cannot in good conscience visit the country while such people are not safe in their own homes or persons.

Obviously a decision like mine forecloses the possibility of direct engagement and dialogue, and may have the effect of isolating LGBT activists. I profoundly regret these unlooked-for consequences, as well as the missed opportunity to strengthen the various connections I made on my previous trip to Russia, for which I remain grateful.

As the volume of requests to visit Russia has picked up significantly recently, I figure I might save us all some time and trouble by making this public statement. I apologize for any inconvenience or regret my position may occasion, thank you for your gracious understanding, and look forward to the day I can revisit this decision in the light of a changed climate.

2 responses to “Statement on collaboration with Russian institutions”

  1. Xenia Lotus says :

    Hello, Adam. I am deeply touched by your statement, beeing at the same time Russian and a PhD-candidate making a research on civic mobile apps in Russia, using your works as sources of inspiration. I understand your decision, as I am myself an LGBT activist. I have to live in Europe, as Russia seems not to be able to support research on social technologies. At the same time, I think that in Russia there are more and more young scholars who need to hear and to know about the recent discoveries in the field of ICT-research. These people are not members of political parties or institutions, but they suffer twice – firstly, from the dictatorship of our authorities, adopting the stupidest laws ever, and secondly, from the informational blocade that is created by spontaneous decisions of numbers of intellectuals and cultural activists who refuse going to Russia with lectures, expositions, concerts, workshops…
    This seems to have no impact on Russian powers, but this DOES have an impact on the intellectual ambiance of Russia, as we are feeling cut away from the rest of the world. As if the iron curtain’s been back.

    • AG says :

      See, that’s exactly what I’m afraid of, and it breaks my heart to hear that. I don’t want *anyone* to feel cut off, whether they’re queer or not, whether they’re an activist or entirely apolitical, whether they’re a researcher on cutting-edge technologies or merely a high-school kid trying to get through the day.

      I struggle with the consequences of a decision like this, please believe me that I do. But I can’t think of another way to demonstrate the seriousness of my outrage and despair at the organized thuggery that’s prevailed recently.

      When I was in high school myself, I was the kind of kid that wrote that Martin Niemöller quote on all my notebooks — you know the one, the one that starts, “First they came for the Communists, and I was not a Communist…”

      I always wondered if I would pass the implicit test of solidarity Niemöller sets up when push came to shove — and to be honest, I still don’t know. In many ways, I acknowledge that it’s cheap talk for me to take a stance like this, since all I give up by doing so is some doubtlessly very comfortable trips to Russia and the opportunity to meet some lovely people. It’s not as if my own health or comfort are on the line. But I do think it’s the least I can do, the absolute minimum step anybody could take to avoid failing the Niemöller test at a time like this.

      At any rate, thanks for your comment. As a Russian friend said to me in a mail last night, we’re all looking forward to the day that sense of isolation is permanently a thing of the past.

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