Who’s Killing Gay Journalists in Russia?
With two journalists dead at the hands of strange men—including a Hitler-loving ultranationalist—Russia’s LGBT community is alleging hate crimes.
Alexander Rubtsov was hip, talented, and handsome—a charismatic radio presenter and journalist well known around Moscow. Over the past two years, 1.5 million Russian radio listeners could hear his voice daily, presenting news on NASHI radio, Rock FM, Best FM, and Radio JAZZ.
The 35-year-old was supposed to host his mother at his home during Russia’s May holidays last week. But when she arrived at his apartment, she found the door curiously unlocked—and Rubtsov on the floor inside, dead in a puddle of his own blood. His body was covered in at least seven stab wounds, mainly on his back.
In the wake of the murder, Russia’s LGBT community has actively floated the theory that Rubtsov was the victim of a hate crime. “It looks like we have the second homophobic murder in recent times,” Igor Yesin, an LGBT activist, wrote in a Facebook post. “Four of his and my friends have confirmed that he [Rubtsov] was dating men but was hiding that from public circles (although some say he was not hiding it too hard).”
Tragically, Rubtsov’s murder is almost identical to another recent killing: A month ago, the well-known journalist Dmitriy Tsilikin was stabbed to death in St. Petersburg. His alleged murderer, a 21-year-old student named Sergey Kosyrev, was an ultra-nationalist; the attacker stabbed the 54-year-old Tsilikin at least 10 times in the back with a knife. Police detained Kosyrev on the night of April 6.
Ominous details about Tsilikin’s murder were released by Human Rights Watch, which noted that “the attacker reportedly told the police he had met Tsilikin online and planned to blackmail the journalist about his homosexuality, but killed him after an argument.” Before the alleged murder, Kosyrev posted images of swastikas and Adolf Hitler on his social media accounts, according to a Fontanka.ru report.
Tsilikin and Rubtsov are just the latest in a long line of fatal attacks on journalists inside Russia—many of which remain unsolved. “Neither Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, nor the attack on Oleg Kashin, have been investigated, although everybody understands everything [about what happened to them]. But we still do not see public resistance in reaction to these attacks,” Stanislav Belkovskiy, a Moscow-based analyst, told The Daily Beast. “People have got used to journalists’ murders.”
Earlier this spring, Russia was listed 148th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Boarders ranking of world press freedom. Russian journalists are frequently abused, attacked and beaten; at least 17 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2012. Reporters outside of Russia are often shocked to hear that these murders rarely cause a public outcry. “A gay reported stabbed to death would be all over the news for weeks—everybody would talk about it, it would be shocking [if it happened in the West],” noted Brad McEwan, a well-known sports presenter at Australia’s Channel Ten.
Yet many Russian journalists remain convinced that Rubtsov’s murder is not a big story. “The story is about what makes young men come from Ukraine or Central Asia to sell themselves for 2,000 rubles,” said Anton Krasovskiy, an openly gay activist and reporter. “The market of commercial sex has never looked as hellish as now—I have seen dozens of murders similar to Rubtsov.”
“There is nothing to investigate,” added Alexander Raskin, a reporter at Lifenews. “Police have already investigated Rubtsov’s murder and arrested the suspect.”
Longtime Moscow radio presenter Sergey Dorenko believed that the motive for Rubtsov’s murder was a personal relationship gone sour. “These [gay] guys are insufficient girls,” he said. “Whereas girls would cry into their pillows, these [guys] jump around with knives.” Another radio presenter for Radio Echo of Moscow, Ksenia Larina, echoed this belief that Rubtsov was not assassinated for his journalism. “Judging by the modest information we have, the murder was connected to [Rubtsov’s] untraditional sexual orientation, not about our profession, so there is not much to say,” Larina told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, Rubtsov’s former boss at the National News Service, managing editor Sergei Gorbachev, told Sobesednik.ru that reports connecting Rubtsov’s murder to his alleged sexual orientation were “insulting.” “Both my colleagues and I receive view such hints in a negative light,” he said.