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  2. In Karelia, police came to the Agriculture Art Space during sex education lectures. The site’s director considers its closure possible

In Karelia, police came to the Agriculture Art Space during sex education lectures. The site’s director considers its closure possible

Elena Zholobova
Photo by Jay Alberg

In Petrozavodsk, the police came to the Agriculture Club Art Space, where the Smart Friday Lecture Course on sex education was being held at that time, in the evening of June 18. A "signal" about the violation of coronavirus restrictions was the reason for security forces to come there. Natalya Ermolina, the director of the Agriculture Club, reported this to 7x7. She said that if the pressure on the site continued, she would prefer to close it.

According to Natalya Ermolina, in general, the police's claims were justified: 55 people attended the lecture instead of the allowed 50.

"Of course, we knew about the restrictions. We sold 44 tickets, counted the lecturers, counted the employees, and it turned out that there were less than 50 people," Natalia explained in an interview with 7x7. "But I have a suspicion that the very first lecture was attended by undercovers. They did not buy tickets in advance, and no one watched how many of them had entered the hall. In addition, the police were also wearing masks and civilian clothes. Therefore, when we were counting the audience, it was impossible to understand who of them was a police officer and who was just a listener."

The head of the Agriculture Club noticed that the police were tactful and polite, only one security officer assumed the aggressive: he examined all the store rooms, asked tricky questions about the attitude to LGBT people and videotaped everyone without showing his papers. All entrances and exits were blocked, and a volunteer had a panic attack.

According to Natalya Ermolina, the police did not interrupt the event and all the planned lectures were held. On Tuesday, she must come to the police department for drawing up a report under Article 20.6.1 of the Administrative Code (Failure to Comply with the Rules of Conduct in Case of an Emergency or its Threat). The article provides for a fine from 100 thousand to 300 thousand rubles for legal entities.

Полицейские опрашивают Наталью Ермолину во время лекций по секспросвету

The police interrogate Natalya Ermolina during sex education lectures. Photo by Jay Alberg 

According to Natalya, the fact that the police came during the event is just a link in a chain of events that she described as an attack on the club.

"Agriculture Club has always been a point of freedom. And it is clear that you always expect something like this in a surveillance state. But nobody bothered us in six years, apparently, there was no order for this. We have quite a wide range of haters, including those who were not allowed to hold lectures on our site and who are now happy about what is happening. We see the pressure on us grow. Complaints against us were filed to the tax agency and the Ministry of Justice, and we are expecting unscheduled inspections. And two days ago, I explained to the children's officer that all our events were for adults only. Life has become so much ‘fun’," commented Natalya Ermolina.

She added that Agriculture Club was going to suspend its work due to increased anticoronavirus restrictions (it became known on June 19 that the authorities of Karelia had banned mass events of more than 30 people in the republic). But it will be closed for good if the pressure on the art space continues.

"If they keep cinching, I do not need such a fight. I will just close it. And then I will come up with something new at some stage. I am that kind of person. Nothing terrible happened, if you ask me," she concluded.

Agriculture Club opened in Petrozavodsk in 2015 and positions itself as a "hotbed of culture" and "a gathering point for intellectuals of Petrozavodsk". The site hosts lectures, trainings, poetry parties, house concerts, exhibitions, play readings of modern plays, debating clubs for men and women, language, children's, literary, and cinema clubs. The Agriculture Club also hosts meetings of the closed queer community of Petrozavodsk.


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