Did anyone else feel a bat-squeak of embarrassment, a ‘Not in My Name’ sort of feeling, at the barracking of a Russian composer at the Barbican last night? The only bit of the catcalls from the 60 or 70 protesters I could make out was ‘Shame!’ but it was vicarious shame I felt at the bullying of Valery Gergiev who was presumably here to direct the LSO at their invitation and who probably expected a courteous reception for his take on Berlioz, not sustained and disruptive harassment from Peter Tatchell and his acolytes. It was bullying; no more acceptable for being self-righteous, self-congratulatory bullying, and it has no place in a concert hall.
As it happens, Valery Gergiev has made clear that he is not prejudiced about gay people; ‘in all my work I upheld equal rights for all people’. Not enough for P. Tatchell though. In an (excellent) interview on yesterday’s edition of Radio 4’s The World Tonight, he declared that he was glad to hear it but would only get his boys off Mr Gergiev’s back (their phrase) if he made clear his opposition to Vladimir Putin’s human rights abuses and especially his approach to homosexuality. Mr Gergiev is said to be a friend or associate of Mr Putin. Which is his business.
Who does P. Tatchell think he is? By what right does he appoint himself the arbiter of British public morals to determine who shall and who shan’t be allowed to conduct their work freely here? In the interview he was asked whether he would be using the same criteria to campaign against other prominent Russians in London who didn’t dissociate themselves from the Russian president. I take it that meant people like Roman Abramovich the Chelsea football club owner…he’s meant to know Putin quite well too. Well, is every Chelsea match going to be taken over by the Tatchell boys screaming ‘Shame’ at the proprietor? Really?
Mr Tatchell is campaigning against a Russian version of Clause 28 whereby it is forbidden to promote homosexuality to children. In other words, a law that falls a good deal short of the legal treatment of gays in, say, a number of Arab states which have yet to be delighted by the Tatchell treatment. I’d say myself it’s none of our business if the Russian government doesn’t think that children should be educated about sex in a fashion approved by Nick Clegg. It’s certainly the case that gay people get a genuinely raw deal in Russia — many of them have been subjected to physical assault because they’re homosexual — but this is not a justification for attacking the Russian government for its approach to child protection. If I were Russian, practically the only thing that could make me anti-gay would be being told by officious Englishmen that I must reform my views.
Actually, the Establishment, or what passes for it, has a funny relationship with Mr Tatchell. On the one hand, the whole Outrage thing plainly got out of hand sometimes; on the other, he is undoubtedly sound, for them, on Robert Mugabe, which cancels out every other consideration.
Well, it doesn’t do it for me. I still think he’s a bully. Once, he and his friends in Outrage disrupted a Good Friday procession at Westminster Cathedral – took exception, didn’t he, to the church’s approach to gay issues – and from what I heard it was scary and upsetting for the churchgoers involved. Rather shameful, I’d say. But then Peter Tatchell doesn’t do shame; that’s for others.