Taking Swan Lake to the Russian Embassy

It rained and rained and then it rained some more. Of course, that’s not news in London. But when out of that rain, against a threatening grey sky and across a main road with two lanes of traffic tearing along in each direction, appear four serene, poised ballet dancers dressed in feathery wings and shiny white leggings, things change. Then you have news.

With a week to go until the Winter Olympics start in Sochi, these four ballet dancers made the pavement opposite the Russian Embassy in London’s Notting Hill their stage. Joined by Amnesty activists waving placards, they performed a scene from one of Russia’s best loved ballets, Swan Lake, by one of its best-loved composers Tchaikovsky, who was gay (this is relevant, read on). Together, soaked in solidarity, they called on President Putin to stop his crackdown on human rights.

It’s all very well holding a protest, but how will people know about it if the media doesn’t show up to record it and tell the world, you might ask youself (we did)? But it turned out we needn’t have worried. The Times, Telegraph, Press Association, AP, AFP, EFE, Getty, ITN, BBC World Service and World Service Russia, CBS and Gay Star News – to name but a few – all came to see what was going on.

By the time we got back to the office, the Guardian had included one of the pictures in its photo highlights of the day, the Financial Times had one in its Photo Diary, Gay Star News had called it the ‘classiest gay protest ever’ and then the Evening Standard came out (no pun intended) and there were our dancers on page eight.

Here's that page from @standardnews with the pic of @AmnestyUK's fantastic protest ballet dancers #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/w4AbNwa3Io

— Naomi Westland (@NaomiWestland) January 29, 2014

But what’s it all about? Well, you’d have to have been living in a cave for the last few months to have missed all the pre-Sochi coverage of human rights in Russia.
It comes down to this. After the London Olympics in 2012, the Russian government signed an agreement promising to promote human rights during the Winter Olympics and beyond.
But a number of laws brought in by Putin’s government since then do exactly the opposite. Gay rights are being trampled (see the Tchaikovsky link?), NGOs silenced and people arrested and imprisoned simply because they disagree with the authorities. It’s all here, in numbers
And not only do these laws break that post-London Olympics promise, they are also inconsistent with other international human rights agreements Russia has made, and even its own constitution.

After the ballet, we handed in a petition of over 15,000 signatures from the British public calling for an end to human rights abuses in Russia. Tomorrow in Moscow, Amnesty UK’s director Kate Allen join other Amnesty directors to deliver a global petition of an incredible 330,000 signatures. The message to President Putin is simple. Stop the crackdown.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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