Russian Teacher Briefly Fired for Defending LGBT Rights

As if Russia's liberals were not already outraged enough about a proposed federal law banning “homosexual propaganda” [GV], the fate of an activist protesting this law has sparked a fresh wave of online indignation.

Kolmanovsky's bio page on his school's website. Screenshot. January 31, 2013.

Kolmanovsky's bio page on his school's website. Screenshot. January 31, 2013.

On January 28, 2013 Ilya Kolmanovsky [ru], a high school teacher and science journalist, updated his Facebook account to say that he was fired from the school where he had worked for the last seven years. The cause was an argument Kolmanovsky got into with anti-homosexual law supporters while attending a pro-LGBT rights rally on January 25:

В ходе полемики я упомянул, что я ученый, и учитель; а потом в репортажах журналисты называли мое имя. Мои оппоненты быстро вычислили меня и мою школу, послали жалобы администрации, и уже в понедельник директор сообщил мне, что увольняет меня ради спасения школы.

In the midst of arguing I mentioned that I am a scientist and a teacher; later in their reporting journalists cited my name. My opponents quickly found me and my school, sent complaints to the administration, and come Monday the school principal told me that he is firing me to save the school.

Kolmanovsky's post was shared by several hundred people, all of them reacting with disbelief and outrage to the news that one could be fired for simply voicing their opinion and engaging in political activism. Echo Moskvy's Ksenia Larina blogged [ru] that Russia could now be considered a “fascist” country. Contemporary artist Dmitry Vrubel agreed [ru], as did journalist Alexander Ryklin, who wrote [ru]:

Еще вчера наше государство было просто смешное, дурацкое, нелепое, вороватое…А сегодня уже – мрачно-фашистское…

Just yesterday our country was simply laughable, foolish, ridiculous, thieving…And already today – its darkly-fascist…

Part of the outrage stems from the fact that Kolmanovsky's school, Moscow's Lyceum “School #2″ [ru], is a prestigious public school with a storied history. Considered for decades to be one of the best science and mathematics high schools in the country, with classes taught by university professors, during the 1970s some of its faculty was fired by the Soviet authorities for being too free-thinking. In fact, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, the man who allegedly told Kolmanovsky he was fired on Monday, was the school's original principal until 1971.

Furthermore, it appears that the complaints against Kolmanovsky were made through anonymous emails. One such email, published by [ru], claims to be from a concerned parent, accuses Kolmanovsky of “announcing himself to be a homosexual” and declares that “such persons should not be among children.” Of course Kolmanovsky happens to be married with two children, but the author of the complaint probably never bothered with due diligence.

To add insult to injury, one of the the Lyceum's assistant principals answered this anonymous accusation (the answer is published in the same article) in a strangely enabling way, saying that he talked to the teacher and ascertained that he was not gay, adding:

Я объяснил И.Колмановскому, насколько он неумно поступил и что всем нам будет очень плохо. […] Будем выбивать глупость из молодого человека, каким бы кандидатом наук он ни был”.

I explained to I. Kolmanovsky to what extent what he did wasn't smart and that it will be bad for all of us. […] We will try to knock the stupidity out of the young man, even if he has a PhD.

Fortunately it seems that public attention has averted the crisis — the very next day the school and Ovchinnikov announced that Kolmanovsky was in fact never fired, and that he continues to work there. It's not clear if the school administration reversed its original decision, or if there was some kind of misunderstanding which led Kolmanovsky to think he was being fired. Kolmanovsky himself used conciliatory language in a statement on Facebook [ru]:

Я виню в случившемся только систему, которая заставляет всех бояться и делает свободу слова непозволительной роскошью.

The only blame for what happened lies in the system which forces everyone to live in fear and makes freedom of speech a prohibitive luxury.

Of course, it also turned out [ru] that Kolmanovsky only works as a teacher one day a week, spending the rest of his time as a science journalist and editor for various publications including Radio Svoboda, where he published an article [ru] about what happened. This led journalist Oleg Kashin to note:

В формулировке “учитель” вместо “известный журналист, много лет работающий с Машей Гессен и подрабатывающий учителем” дохуя лукавства.

There is a f*ck-ton of guile in the wording of “teacher” instead of “well known journalist, who has for many years worked with Masha Gessen and who also works part time as a teacher.”

Portraying Kolmanovsky as a full time teacher made him appear to be much more vulnerable than he actually was. Indeed, it seems that Kolmanovsky has followed the controversial editor Maria Gessen to most of her projects, including Snob, and of course more recently Radio Svoboda. Kashin seems to be implying that Kolmanovsky himself, as well as other reporters, have been milking the story for its emotional impact, at a detriment to nuance. Given that it now seems that it was all a case of much ado about nothing, one of Kashin's commenters, journalist Natalia Osipova, went even further with the implications, writing [ru]:

Зато новость о том, что не уволили, снимает вопрос о том, кто Илья Колмановский – учитель или журналист.

At least the news that he wasn't actually fired removes the question of who Ilya Kolmanovsky really is – a teacher or a journalist.


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