Reaching out … Elton John. Photograph: Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Despite recent rumours of cancellation, both of Elton John's Russian concerts went ahead on 6 and 7 December, with the singer speaking out against "inhumane and isolating" anti-gay legislation during the show.
In Moscow, John dedicated his concert to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old man who was tortured and murdered after supposedly telling hisfriends he was gay. "You've always welcomed me with warmth and open arms every time I visited [here]," he told the sold-out Crocus City Hall crowd.. "You have always embraced me and you have never judged me. So I am deeply saddened and shocked over the current legislation that is now in place against the LGBT community here in Russia."
Acknowledging that many westerners called for him to boycott Russia over these laws, John said that he doesn't "believe in isolating people. Music is a very powerful thing. It brings people together irrespective of their age, their race, their sexuality, or their religion ... The spirit we share tonight is what builds a future of equality, love and compassion for my children and for your children. Please don't leave it behind when you leave tonight."
Elton John was one of the first western musicians to cross the iron curtain, performing in Moscow and St Petersburg in 1979. He has repeatedly returned, most recently in 2011. But John is also visiting a region where institutionalised homophobia has had a 21st century resurgence: In 2009, neighbouring Ukraine declined an adoption requestfrom John and his civil partner, David Furnish. Last month, a St Petersburg court fined Lady Gaga's Russian concert promoter, finding that by advocating for LGBT rights (and encouraging fans to drink alcohol), she had harmed the "health and/or development" of a 13-year-old girl.
John's Moscow speech did not directly criticise president Vladimir Putin, nor call for the dissolution of Russia's ban on "homosexual propaganda". In Kazan on 7 December, John seems to have omitted LGBT-related remarks entirely: reports in the Evening Kazan and Komsomolskaya Pravda indicate that he made no political comments. Complaining that he wasn't feeling well, the 66-year-old closed the show by telling his audience, "God bless you all".
In October, one of Kazan's most important imams threatened "divine retribution" for John and any fans who attended his 7 December gig. "The only thing we can do as believers is to call the people not to give into the temptations of the devil and not attend [these] concerts," Seidzhagfar Lutfullin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.