Online discussion “Contexts of Gender and Queerness in the Recent Past and Present in the Baltics”, August 4, 6PM (UTC+3)

On August 4, 6PM (UTC+3) we were hosting a discussion on the contexts of gender and queerness in the recent past and present in Baltics.

The discussion was held online on Facebook

Participants: Yevgeniy Fiks (RU/USA), Agnė Jokšė (LT), Redi Koobak (EE), Matīss Gricmanis (LV), Rita Ruduša (LV), Airi Triisberg (EE). 

Moderator: Andra Silapētere

The discussion focused on issues of gender, sexuality, queerness, and feminism, analysing these issues in the Baltic states and within the larger context of post-socialist region, as well as their reflection in the contemporary culture. The participants include representatives of various cultural fields, artists, and researchers who have been rethinking the relationships of present and past in the Baltics through the discourses of gender and queerness. The focus of the conversation will regard questions on how contemporary culture practices can enhance the understanding of various aspects of equality, as well as how to consider the entanglement of past in the present through the perspective of queer studies.

In the Baltics and Eastern Europe, themes linked to LGBTQIA+ community are still sensitive and politicized, entering the agenda of both for the conservative and liberal wing political powers. In the USSR, homosexuality was criminalized, and could even become a cause for incarceration. After the restoration of independence, Latvia and Estonia decriminalized homosexuality in year 1992, but Lithuania in year 1993. However, in so-called “Rainbow Map” of 2021, reflecting the respect for sexual minorities rights in Europe, Estonia placed 21 among 49 countries, Lithuania had 33rd place, while Latvia was 41st. This situation and political discussion around it have been heavily influenced by the dominant nationalist position in Baltics: maintaining the understanding of the heroic and traumatic past of our region, it consciously excludes diverse groups of society both from the historical narrative and contemporary processes. Paradoxically, the rhetoric of homosexuality being a "Western thing" that is alien to this region continues the silencing and denial that was characteristic of attitudes towards homosexuality in the Soviet Union.

Recognizing the difficult relationships between the present and the past, the goal of the discussion is to rethink the ways we can create a diverse and inclusive society, considering it within the context of Baltic countries while regarding the multiple identities within the LGBTQIA+ community.

The discussion was a part of LCCA project “Reflecting Post-Socialism through Post-Colonialism in the Baltics”, dedicated to considering the imprints of post-socialism and post-colonialism, as well as their historical echoes in Latvia and Baltics through the lens of current socio-political issues and nationalism.

Participants and presentations:

Yevgeny Fiks (RU/USA)

In July 1991, a group of over seventy Western gay rights activists, majority of whom came from the US, arrived in Moscow and Leningrad for the first-ever gay and lesbian conference in the history of the Soviet Union. The conference coincided with President George Bush's summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow just a few weeks before the fall of the Soviet Union. The video footage of this conference, which was branded as the "Soviet Stone Wall" and the "July Revolution” is a point of departure for Fiks’ ongoing project “Soviet Union, July 1991.”

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Lenin for Your Library?” in which he mailed V.I. Lenin’s text "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” to one hundred global corporations as a donation for their corporate libraries and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement.

Airi Triisberg (EE)

During her presentation Airi Triisberg will reflect on the recent development of lesbian, queer, and feminist counter-publics in Estonia. On the example of the reading group Virginia Woolf Is Not Afraid of You! and the festival Ladyfest Tallinn, she will discuss the role of queer and lesbian feminist initiatives within the feminist public sphere and their interrelated dynamics.

Airi Triisberg is an independent curator, writer, and educator based in Tallinn. Her practice is often located at the intersection of political education, self-organisation, and knowledge production. She works on issues such as gender and sexualities, illness/health and dis/abilities, social movement politics, self-organisation, and collective care practices, struggles against precarious working conditions in the art field and beyond.

Matīs Gricmanis (LV)

Matīs Gricmanis is a Latvian writer, playwright, scriptwriter, and theatre maker. In 2014 graduated from the Department of Film, TV and Theatre Art at the Latvian Academy of Culture. He has revealed his personal experience of being a member of the far-right political party in Latvia in the Dirty Deal Teatro performance To Be a Nationalist (Būt nacionālistam, dir. Valters Sīlis, 2017), also wrote a script for the feature film The Mover (Tēvs Nakts, 2018) by director Dāvis Sīmanis about Žanis Lipke, a Latvian who rescued a number of Jews during the WWII. For his plays, text adaptations for children shows, and film scripts Gricmanis has been nominated and received awards, including Latvian national theatre award Spēlmaņu nakts.

In 2018, Matiss introduced the diaries of Kaspars Irbe (1906-1996) to Lithuanian audience in his play "The Normal Life of a Soviet Citizen Kaspars Irbe" which was presented in the festival for new plays "Versmė". The diaries have been a curious topic since their first publication in magazine "Rīgas Laiks" by the historian Ineta Lipše and since then have been acknowledged as a unique historical document and first-hand sources for the stealth life of soviet homosexuals. They show the secret and public aspects of daily routine of Irbe and how he and his ‘colleagues’ – gays and prostitutes of Riga – used uncommon spaces to meet each other. Matiss will present his relationship with his fictional version of Kaspars Irbe and how they both travelled from Jūrmala to Vilnius.

Agnė Jokšė (LT)

During the talk Jokšė will elaborate from a queer perspective on few questions she came up to while rethinking the relationship between multiple audiences and the various layers of an artwork; Why this relationship is curious to consider? How important has it been to foresee the audiences? What communication ways I had a chance to touch and try so far, what are the impressions? The thoughts will be connected to a video work “Dear Friend” (2019) which explores platonic love and friendship among lesbians.

Agnė Jokšė is an artist currently based in Copenhagen. In her work, she investigates questions surrounding experience, parallel history, entangled relations, queerness, and language; uses writing, video, and performance as primary mediums. Her works have been shown at the Baltic Triennial 14 (LT), Whitechapel Gallery (UK), Istanbul Modern (TR), Fundación Proa (AR), PUBLICS (FI), Mimosa House (UK), Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, Swallow (LT), Contemporary Art Centre (LT).

Redi Koobak is a feminist cultural studies scholar whose work focuses on discourses of gender, race, and sexuality in Eastern Europe, particularly Estonia. She is currently Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (SKOK), University of Bergen, Norway. She has worked as Assistant Professor in Gender Studies at Linköping University, Sweden and as Lecturer in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, USA. She is the editor, with Madina Tlostanova and Suruchi Thapar-Björkert, of the volume Postcolonial and Postsocialist Dialogues: Intersections, Opacities, Challenges in Feminist Theorizing and Practice (2021, Routledge).

Rita Ruduša is a veteran Latvian journalist, editor and public media executive. She entered journalism in the early nineties, a time of tectonic shifts in European history, and was one of the first foreign correspondents of the newly independent Latvia, working for Diena, the flagship daily and reporting from Moscow. Rita Ruduša has also spent several years in Prague working as a broadcaster at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and in London as a media researcher at the Open Society Foundations. She has held several executive positions in Latvian media, and has been the head of two media non-profits, the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence and the Latvian Journalist Association. Rita Ruduša is currently representing Latvia in the UNESCO International Programme of the Development of Communication, tasked with contributing to development of international standards aimed at strengthening free media and journalist safety in developing countries. She regularly contributes columns to Latvian press on media issues, women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ and is the author of Forced Underground, a book documenting the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in Soviet Latvia, one of the first works on the topic published in a post-communist country.

Project is supported by State Culture Capital Foundation.

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