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Saint Petersburg State University Redirected Responsibility for Maxim Drozhzhin’s Case to Ministry of Internal Affairs
"What did the university say in response to Maxim’s complaint? That, for some reason, they will not be looking into it themselves and it will now be a matter for the Ministry of Internal Affairs..."
01 December 2021
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In late September of this year Maxim Drozhzhin, Master’s student at Saint Petersburg State University, was told to stop attending choir practice on the basis of his sexual orientation. Despite the discriminatory nature of the incident, the university’s administration has not taken any action till this moment and has not made a clear stand against discrimination of LGBTQ+ students. When Maxim complained to the dean, he received a written response saying his complaint was forwarded to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

 

As reported earlier, Maxim was forbidden further participation in Saint Petersburg State University’s choir practice by the head of the choir herself, Ekaterina Golovkina, via a text message where the latter referred to the content of the student’s social media, indirectly hinting at finding out about his sexual orientation (‘Things about which it is impossible to speak or write about for me…’) as well as asking that he cut communication with other choir members. In the beginning of October, the university held an Ethics commission hearing, during which Ms. Golovkina never addressed the subject of Maxim’s professional abilities, emphasizing that he went against moral and ethical norms; members of the commission never reached a unanimous decision on the discriminatory nature of the professor’s behavior, and the additional hearing – which was promised to Maxim – never took place.

On October 14 Maxim filed a complaint with the dean’s office along with the deputy dean’s office responsible for legal matters in which he asked the administration to apologize officially and recognize the conduct of the head of the folklore ensemble as unlawful and discriminatory.

On October 27 Maxim filed two complaints: one to the Сommissioner for Human Rights in Saint Petersburg and one to the Prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg. In both complaints he requested the authorities investigate the presence of discriminatory basis in the words and actions of the choir’s head.

On November 8 Maxim was called into the police station following a complaint from a woman who ‘wished to remain anonymous’. In the complaint he was accused of LGBT propaganda. Earlier the representatives of police also looked for Maxim in his student dorm, ─ it can be assumed that it had to do with the anonymous complaint as well ─ but Maxim was not home at the moment. Ultimately the student was asked to give a written explanation and has not been further contacted regarding the matter so far.

In addition, in November Maxim’s student pass got blocked: he was blacklisted by the security bureau on an unknown basis, ─ later on he had to address the Student Affairs Department which also found the incident strange, and the pass was unblocked.

Finally, by the end of November Maxim received a response from the university’s administration concerning his complaint, yet it was not from the dean or deputy dean responsible for legal matters, but from acting deputy dean on the matters of security, a Mr. Penov, who answered in a written form stating that the student’s complain was forwarded to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ office in Saint Petersburg. A response indicating the involvement of law enforcement agency does not appear well-grounded as neither of Maxim’s requests, including the necessity of university’s clear assessment of the choir head’s conduct, can be realized by any other body other than Saint Petersburg State University itself.

Maxim is intent on continuing to fight the discrimination despite the university’s attempts to shake off taking responsibility for the incident in any form, same as other obstacles in his way. On November 29 he sent another request to the university dean, Nikolay Kropachev, asking to provide him with a response of substance on the matter of the incident.

Ekaterina Dikovskaya, lawyer at Charitable Foundation Sphere* (operating organization for Russian LGBT Network) that represents Maxim, shared her opinion on the situation: ‘In this case we are dealing with the fact that neither the university’s administration nor the Commissioner for Human Rights’ office in Saint Petersburg are not willing to admit the reality of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and talk about it openly. On the contrary, everyone is keen on sweeping this inconvenient issue under the rug and denying responsibility. What did the university say in response to Maxim’s complaint? That, for some reason, they will not be looking into it themselves and it will now be a matter for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. What was the response from the office of Commissioner for Human Rights? That currently there is no elected Human Rights Commissioner in Saint Petersburg. Perhaps that is the reason enough to forego Maxim’s complaint and leave the fact of discrimination by the university’s employee without attention.

Certainly, we are intent on keeping this case going, and we are hoping this situation can be resolved quickly by the Saint Petersburg State University. I do not believe that the university is ready to take a risk of hurting its reputation in the eyes of Russian and foreign colleagues, partners and students, by its inaction worsening the fact of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its walls’.

*According to the decision of the Russian Justice Ministry, Charitable Foundation Sphere is recognized under the ‘foreign agent’ law.

According to the decision of the Russian Justice Ministry, Russian LGBT Network is recognized as a foreign agent organization without legal entity.

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