Russia's largest gay club asks Putin for protection
In the past eight months, there have been eight tear-gas attacks at Central Station, the largest gay club in Moscow and all of Russia. Patrons of the club have been attacked violently on several occasions. In one such instance, three men wielding firearms showed up at the club. The security repealed them, but the attack left bullet holes in the door.
Someone has written "Gay Club" in large letters on the wall of the building, and a song by a well-known Russian gay singer is played loudly in the street. These "adverts" are the doing of the landlord who, the club owners claim, has staged most of the attacks over the past year.
"We could treat this as a typical argument between the landlord and the tenant if our opponents were not using extremist methods against our gay patrons," said Andrey Lishchinsky, the chief executive officer of the company Spectrum, which owns the gay club.
"Attacks happen during our busiest hours. Last time gas was sprayed, we had 500 clients in the club. Some of them required medical assistance. Why harm people's health?"
Central Station has had its power and water supply cut, forcing the managers to connect to independent sources. On Dec. 14, maintenance men accessed the building's attic, sealed the ventilation shafts, and started dismantling the roof. The club administrators attempted to stop them. A shootout ensued. The police arrived and arrested 40 people.
Having had enough of the violence against his club, Lishchinsky wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for help.
"Taking into account your public statements about the rights of gay people in Russia, we are asking you to instruct the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch an investigation, identify the culprits, and take measures to ensure safety of the gay club patrons," his plea stated.
"This is a comeback of the gangster period of the 1990s, when any arguments would be settled in shootouts rather than in courtrooms," he said, describing the situation as a hostile takeover – a term popular in the 1990s, when property would change hands with the use of machinations, threats, violence, extortion, and even murders.
From the legal standpoint, the club has found itself in a complicated situation. Its management signed a five-and-a-half-year rent contract, which ends 2017, with the building's owner Transpechat. The owner is a printing house which itself was owned by the state property agency Rosimushchestvo at the time.
Shortly afterward the lease agreement was signed, Transpechat was sold to a foreign firm, which is controlled by a Russian company, Lishchinsky said. The new owners asked all the tenants to leave. The gay club refused, filed a suit with a court of arbitration, and won the case.
"If the owner of the building manages to prove in court that we have to leave, we will leave immediately," he said.
Lawyers asked about the situation, however, said no business in Russia is guaranteed against a hostile takeover, and suggest that the dispute has nothing to do with the landlord’s view on homosexuality.
"The gay club situation is most likely caused by a conflict of interests between the landlord and the club owners, and has nothing to do with the landlord's negative attitude towards gays," said Nikita Aygistov of the financial company AForex.
"Unfortunately, such things happen. Even major tenants sometimes suffer through the landlords' rowdiness. If the landlord has no legitimate grounds for evicting the tenant, he may create conditions in which it will be impossible to work normally."
Aygistov said the most widespread manifestations of such unfriendly behavior include the cutting of electricity and heating, as well as the cluttering of entrances to the rented premises.
"Courts are inundated with lawsuits against landlords. A rent contract itself, irrespective of its duration, does not protect the tenant against such situations. The law does take the tenant's side, but in reality the landlord can find a way to prevent your business from operating normally."