Take the Romanian Skinheads Bowling
Video by Ana Maria Bunea.
On the 20th of February, a group of nationalists barged into a screening of Lisa Cholodenko's Oscar-winning film The Kids Are All Right that was taking place in Bucharest's Rural History Museum. The movie was showing as part of LGBT month – for those of you who haven't seen it, its plot centres around a lesbian couple who adopt and raise a boy and a girl. This didn't go down well with the nationalists, especially as the screening was taking place on the grounds of a museum "dedicated to the values of the Christian cross and of the holy Romanian farmer”.
The demonstrators, who were mostly men, ranged from teenagers clad in paramilitary garb to grandpas with canes. To pass the time in the museum, they waved the national flag and covered the projector with a piece of paper that had the words “You are not welcome here” written on it. They sang the national anthem and performed the Nazi salute, but best of all were their chants, which were mostly delivered in pathetic English. My favourites were: “Does the law say you can be gay?” and “Go to Holland where you can take drugs and spread diseases.”
No one was physically injured, but it doesn't do much for your movie-going experience when a bunch of men corner you and shout racist abuse in your face.
The assistant director of the museum, Mihai Gheorghiu (in the white-striped shirt), sits with three of the demonstrators. (photo by Miliția Spirituală)
According to my friend Ana Maria Bunea, who was there at the time, some of the people involved with the protest were part of the museum staff: "I know that they were staff because they were crying: 'We’ve been working here for 15 years and never saw a gay person.' When I told them that I was straight and supporting the LGBT cause, they said I was just as sick as the gays and that they hoped my children will turn gay.”
The director of the museum, Ștefan Niculescu, told me that three staff members took part in the event and that only two were actually vocal against the screening. “The projectionist called and told me he was bothered by it, so I fired him. The assistant director, Mihai Gheorghiu, was also there, though he wasn’t supposed to be. He has been very vocal against the film from the beginning, even in board meetings. I’ll discuss his behaviour with the board and see how we’re going to sanction him.” He also added that he wouldn’t let himself be intimidated by nationalists. “I asked the Minister of Culture, Daniel Barbu, and he was surprised I was even bothered by the protest. He said I should screen the film no matter what.”
Eventually, the police, who had been in the room from the beginning, were called to help settle the conflict, but to no avail. “At first, a man stopped the demonstrators at the door," Ana Maria told me. "There were two cops in front, clearly bothered that they had to just stand there doing nothing – I think they had at least expected people to be carrying baseball bats. Then there were other cops outside but they weren't doing anything either. When I asked them why they weren't doing anything, they told me they were waiting for orders but after I left, I heard that they'd ID'd the people who wanted to see the film, not the aggressors.”
Local police spokesman Alexandru Niculae and riot police spokesman Georgian Enache
I called up the local police and riot police offices to ask why better action hadn't been taken, but they did nothing but pass the blame back and forth like a particularly heavy joint. Riot police spokesman, Georgian Enache, said that his section only interferes “if the police ask us to. We were called there to guard the garden area, but the police went into the room. Don’t ask me why there were no measures taken.” Local police spokesman Alexandru Niculae, on the other hand, replied that they only interfere when riot police ask them too: “My dear lady, Georgian Enache is my colleague, but he is unaware of the fact that that public order is ensured by the county police. On our side, we faced no problems, penal or otherwise.” I guess going around public spaces wearing Nazi symbols and shouting anti-gay slogans isn’t classed as a problem.
I phoned the riot police offices one more time and Enache asked me to hold on while he called the police to agree on a statement. Niculae didn't answer the phone.
The banner reads: “Can you imagine your son being gay? Can you imagine your daughter being a lesbian?” Several such banners have popped up around Bucharest and some gay groups have vandalised them.
Irina Nistor, representing Accept – the NGO that is in charge of the LGBT Month – added: "The actions of the demonstrators are criminal. Police would have interfered if it wasn't a gay event. We ask for an investigation and that the assistant director of the museum is fired.”
Girls joking around with riot police at a flash mob. (photo by Dan Oara)
For their part, the LGBT community (or at least the part of it that didn’t have to work in the morning) staged a mini-protest with flowers and LGBT banners outside the museum the next day. The whole thing only lasted ten minutes, but it wasn’t completely uneventful: the host of a popular Romanian TV programme swung by to shout: “You’re not normal!” and: “You’re the ones taking it up the ass!” at the protesters. Soon thereafter, the police showed up.
This isn’t the first time anti-gay sentiments are publicly displayed in Romania. Only last year, a group of masked men attacked and beat up a group of people who had organised a debate titled: “From the Archives of Gay History”. According to a 2009 NCAD survey, homosexuals are the most discriminated against minority in Romania, after gypsies and people with HIV. Imagine being a gay gypsy who has HIV.
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