Former mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen raises a half-staff rainbow flag. Source: screen shot from AT5 video.

Rainbow flags were flown at half-staff in the Netherlands on Sunday in protest of Russia’s draconian anti-gay policies.

The protest was prompted by the expected arrival on Monday of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be in the Netherlands to discuss trade and other issues with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.  The Netherlands is Russia’s most important bilateral trading partner after China.

While it is not illegal to be gay in Russia, the Russian government continues to foster repressive anti-gay policies and laws.  For example, ten local legislatures, including that of Saint Petersburg, have banned “homosexual propaganda”.  In 2012 the city of Moscow placed a 100-year ban on gay pride parades.

Russia’s mistreatment of gays is just one of several human rights issues overshadowing Putin’s visit.

“You can see that there are a lot of rainbow flags flying, and maybe it’s idealism, but I think it’s good that we show our solidarity with the Russians and their wish for diversity.  That’s for me the most important.  And what Putin does with it, I hope a lot but I’m not very optimistic about it,” alderman Carolien Gehrels told AT5 News at a rainbow flag protest event held today in Amsterdam.

Those sentiments were echoed by Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam who did the flag-raising honors in that city today:

We hope that what we did a while ago in the Netherlands will also happen in other countries, and then even more other countries: put gays and straights on equal footing. That’s the essence of the whole thing.

People say Putin won’t care.  Well, that might be, but I think that it also sends a very good message within our Dutch community for all gays that live and work here.  I realize very well that gays here in Amsterdam also sometimes don’t have it easy.  And so it’s good from my side to say what I think of that.

Ilya Ponomarev, “a prominent leader of the opposition in the Russian parliament,” according to AT5 News, plans to participate in a gay rights rally on Monday evening planned to happen outside of Mr. Putin’s dinner venue:

PONOMAREV: A lot of my friends are going to take part in this movement.  And actually our gay community is not that large.  We have, I think, a very rare phenomenon which is called “heterosexuals for the rights of gays” which are actually going to come to Holland and participate in the rally tomorrow.

AT5:  You think it’s going to make any difference to President Putin, the protest here in Amsterdam?

PONOMAREV:  I think that Putin ignores popular opinion.  I think that he really and genuinely believes that there is no such thing, and whatever protests [do occur], they have been inspired by somebody — that they’ve been paid [for] by somebody.

Of course I feel pressure, but I think it’s pretty much normal that if you are fighting against the regime, if you want to quite radically change it, that you feel pressure.  It protects itself.  But you should have the guts to stay for your position, and that’s what we do.