How a local politician took up the fight for LGBT rights in Russia’s northern capital
“You’re coming with the LGBT issue again? What’s that got to do with local residents?” This is what Sergey Troshin, a Petersburg district council member, usually hears during council meetings.
At practically every meeting of the Liteiny district council, where Troshin is a member, normal business is accompanied by declarations in support of gender equality and anti-discrimination festivals. Controversial remarks can be heard on other issues as well, such as support for Russian political prisoners or opposition to the planned move of St Petersburg State University to the outskirts of the city. The Liteiny councillors have also decided to dispense with the traditional portraits of President Vladimir Putin and regional governor Alexander Beglov. In response, a group of local residents intend on holding a referendum to dismiss them from their council posts.
For his active support of LGBT issues, Troshin has faced harassment from the city’s popular press. Residents who come to listen to the councillors are often outspoken in their criticism: the councillors, they say, are discussing topics which have nothing to do with their lives. They are used to every issue being decided by the “tough administrators” of the ruling United Russia Party, supported in turn by other council members – local headteachers and healthcare directors. But at last September’s elections, Petersburg’s Liteiny district voted soundly for the liberal Yabloko party.
The city’s municipal councillors enjoy very few powers. The main areas under their control are ratification of local budgets, maintaining built areas and organising local festivals.
Yabloko won 11 out of 20 councillor spots in Liteiny and the former council head, long-time United Russia member Pavel Daynyak, found himself on the losing side. Critics of the new, liberal council put Yabloko’s success down to the “smart voting” scheme run by Alexey Navalny, in which voters were encouraged to vote for any candidates capable of defeating United Russia. “Without the ‘Smart Voting’ scheme and pensioners visiting their allotments on election day, the results would have been different. Yabloko wouldn’t have won,” says Ilona Khanina, a theatre director who also ran as a candidate last autumn.
In St Petersburg, the “smart voting” scheme worked wonders, allowing formerly unknown candidates the chance of a council seat. Of the new Liteiny district councillors from Yabloko, the only one with experience in city politics is Sergey Troshin, who was in 2009-2014 a member of his local council in a neighbourhood in the east of the city.
But back then, Troshin says, he was a completely different person.