How can I get foreign gay friends?

How Berlin gay activists mistakenly visited the USSR

Deutsche Welle: Ms. Beltser-Lisyutkina, sexual acts between men in the Soviet Union were punished with up to five years in prison or forced labor. But in 1978 you didaccompanied a German group of homosexuals on their visit to Moscow. How did that happen?

Larisa Beltser-Lisyutkina: At that time I was working at the Institute of the International Labor Movement in Moscow. Since we, the employees, had a good command of many foreign languages, the Central Committee of the CPSU commissioned us from time to time to look after foreign guests. Then one day I was called to the Central Committee too. The curator then told me that a couple of young communists from an organization called HAW would come to visit to make contact with Soviet youth. The Central Committee Secretary Ivan Kapitonov met her in West Berlin and invited her to Moscow.

What surprised me was that I couldn't find the name of the organization in any directory. Only acquaintances from West Germany enlightened me and said that HAW means "Homosexual Action West Berlin". But by then I had already received vouchers with which I could pay any amount in any restaurant, hotel or cinema.

At the airport I saw a strange group arriving: two young, slim, hippie-like men, a woman who turned out to be English and a bulldog. We drove to the "Metropol" hotel in a limousine. And the boys immediately asked: "Where are there youth clubs here?" I said: "We have youth clubs in the communist youth organization Komsomol and at universities." "No, such clubs where young people meet on their own initiative. Discos, for example," they said, and I replied: "Of course the Komsomol also has discos."

The very next day they asked further: "Where are gay clubs here?" I said, "There are no special gay clubs. Homosexuals mingle evenly with young people." After I had shown them Moscow, the opera and restaurants for three days, they put the gun to my chest, so I said, and then I took them to a quiet café and explained that there were no gay clubs and why: " Nobody can openly come out as gay without being punished. I know people who are in jail for this. " Then they said, "We have to find people from the gay community and ask what's going on."

Did you really have gay friends?

Yes, but nobody would have dared contact. It was very dangerous. I explained this to them, but they persisted: "Where do gays get to know each other?" "They meet in public toilets. Sometimes there are notes on the walls with phone numbers," I told them, and they wanted me to lead them to the nearest public toilet. Moscow's public toilets were in a near-life-threatening condition. But I remembered one that was more or less clean. I promised to take them there and that my husband would go with them.

A Moscow restaurant in the late 1960s

The next day we went. The English woman was waiting with the bulldog on a bench because I had warned her: "Don't take the dog with you, you won't be able to clean it later." I went to the ladies room. I photographed erotic graffiti and noted what was written there. I heard laughter from next door. My gay guests were really charming.

Wasn't the Central Committee's curator uncomfortable that you were accompanying homosexuals?

When I explained to him what kind of guests we had, he grabbed his head. I asked: "Perhaps we should inform Comrade Kapitonov?" The curator said: "We'll go through with this, put her on the plane, wave and then we'll get a bonus. From that moment he accompanied us to lunch at the" Metropol ". When we said goodbye at the airport, we hugged and kissed and cried. I did actually got a bonus. And when the curator of the Central Committee of the CPSU saw me later, he asked quietly: "How are you, have you recovered? What good we did! "

Was he from the Soviet secret service KGB?

Clear. But by the end of the 1970s everything was already corrupt, including the KGB. His employees were more interested in clothes, currency and all sorts of things. But the German gays didn't quite trust him. They asked me, "Are you sure this man really has sympathy for the gay movement?" I said, "If he were against it, he would have betrayed us all long ago, but he doesn't."

So the superiors didn't know anything?

I don't know whether the curator passed the information on to Comrade Kapitonov. It is clear that we should not tell the secretary of the CPSU Central Committee that he had invited gays to Moscow. Everything happened the Soviet way. From top to bottom, it was common practice to hold onto two opposing beliefs at the same time.

The cultural scientist Larisa Beltser-Lisyutkina is a former professor at the Free University of Berlin.

Interview conducted by Dmitry Vachedin.