Documentary

Welcome to Chechnya

The documentary follows the harrowing efforts of activists running what is essentially a modern underground railroad to help at-risk gay citizens flee the country.

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In Russia's Chechen Republic, gay people face violence not just from strangers on the street but from their own family members, encouraged by a culture that scapegoats and victimizes them. Welcome to Chechnya documents the sometimes harrowing efforts of activists running essentially a modern underground railroad to help at-risk gay citizens flee the predominantly Muslim country.

Chechnian leader Ramzan Kadyrov famously said in a 2017 interview that there were no gay men in his country. Welcome to Chechnya reveals the purges that seek to make this absurd claim true. Dozens have been imprisoned and reportedly tortured. Some, like singer Zelim Bakaev, disappear and are simply never seen again.

A young woman is blackmailed by her uncle in an effort to make her have sex with him. One man's entire family has to go into hiding and flee with him, because they've all been threatened with harm. The man tries to get the Russian government to intervene, but given Kadyrov's cozy ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his appeals fall on apathetic ears.

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  1. “Welcome to Chechnya” (2020 release; 107 min.) is a documentary about the LGBT-bashing/LGBT-hunting that goes on in the Russian republic of Chechnya (and condoned by the Kremlin). As the movie opens, we are reminded that for people appearing in the film who are fearing for their lives, their faces have been “digitally disguised”. We then meet David Isteev, the director of the Russian LGBT Network. He is on the phone with Anya, a 21 yr. old in Chechnya who informs him (and us) that her uncle has figured out she is lesbian, and now threatens to disclose this to her father, unless she agrees to have sex with him. David agrees to set up an intervention to get her out of Chechnya and Russia. We then step back and come to understand that rumors of mass detentions of gays started in 2017 when during a drug raid, the Chechnyan cops happen to stumble on gay materials on some guy’s cell phone, and how the gay-hunting spread from there. At this point we are 10 tense minutes into the movie…

    Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from award-winning writer-director David France. Here he and his production team go clandestine in Chechnya and other places in Russia (mostly Moscow) to witness first hand what is going on in the LGTB community there, and how the Russian LGTB Network tries, against all odds and risking life and limb (literally) under unimaginable pressure, to help the prosecuted. The documentary follows in particular the fate of the aforementioned Anya, as well as the fate of 30 yr. old Grisha, whose life of not only himself but also his entire family, is at stake (in the real sense of the word). PLEASE NOTE: the documentary includes video footage that the Russian LGTB activists have intercepted, showing various LGTB men and women being beaten, kicked, assaulted, and worse. It is almost too much to watch, but of course drives the point home that the LGTB bashing and hunting in Chechnya is very real and ongoing. My heart goes out to the LGTB community there, of course. The real heroes (for me anyway) are the people manning the Russian LGTB Network, doing miracle work, even as they know and understand that indeed the entire might of the Russian state is working against them. It makes for riveting, shocking, and yes, heartbreaking, watching. The documentary also dryly notes that Canada has accepted a number of Chechnyan LGTB refugees on humanitarian grounds, whereas the Trump administration has not accepted a single one. Not one! For shame.

    “Welcome to Chechnya” premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival (ah yes, the pre-COVID-19 days!) to immediate acclaim, and earlier this week it premiered on HBO, where I saw this. There is good reason why this film is currently rated 100% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If you have any interest in understanding what is going on in Chechnya and Russia for the LGTB community, or simply love a profound human interest story, I’d readily suggest you check this out on HBO On Demand or other streaming services, and draw your own conclusion.

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  3. Why is this article on a website for American politics from a libertarian perspective?

    1. There’s nothing wrong with chronicling the oppression of various peoples in foreign lands who don’t have the same protections we have in the US. You just need to be very, very careful to not turn it into a statement on American Exceptionalism.

      1. When will Justin Trudeau accept Ramzan Kadyrov offer and invited all of Chechnya’s homosexuals to emigrate to Canada?

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