Gay rights groups in Belarus and Russia have agreed to hold an annual Slavic Pride event.

Organisers said there is good reason for Russian and Belarusian gays and lesbians to work together.

In 1996 Russia and Belarus entered into the Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus, with member nations retaining sovereignty.

The Union includes a joint Parliament, a rotating head of State, visa and custom free regime as well as other economic agreements on taxes and residence rights.

Activists from GayRussia.Ru and the Moscow Pride organising committee met for the first time with Belarusian groups Gay.by and Gayby.by, the Belarusian Initiative for Sexual and Gender Equality and the LGBT Rights Committee of the Belarusian Green Party last weekend.

“We were looking to cooperate with Belarusian gay activists this year, but until recently we believed that local activists were not yet ready for public events,” said Moscow Pride organiser Nicolas Alexeyev.

“The turning point was last month when 20 activists took the streets of Minsk to hold an informal –and unsanctioned – gay march. This was the signal for us.”

The agreement will mean that Moscow Pride, which has been banned every year since May 2006, will become the Slavic Gay Pride.

Belarusian activists will travel to Moscow next year to join the march on Saturday May 16th, the day of the Eurovision Song Contest final.

Russia won the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year for the first time.

“In 2010, we will attempt to organise the Pride in Minsk – it will be our turn to host the event,” said Sergey Androsenko, leader of the Belarusian Initiative for Sexual and Gender Equality.

Mr. Androsenko said that the Russian group had succeeded in raising attention towards gays and lesbians in Russia in the last three years.

“In general, we have a lot to learn from activists from other countries.

“No one ever come to Belarus. The destination is not appealing for foreigners.”

With Belarus currently expelled from the Council of Europe, gay men and women are not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sergei Ananov, the deputy head of the Moscow committee on tourism, said at a press briefing at the World Travel Market 2008 last week that gays visiting for Eurovision would be safe.

“Moscow is known for the respect of people of different religious beliefs as well as expressions of their nature,” he claimed.

“Until people respect public order and do not thrust their opinions on those who surround them in a manner that does not contradicts the law, such opinions will not be criticised.”

Gay rights marches have been repeatedly banned in Moscow.

Gay activists have already said that the fourth Gay Pride in the Russian capital will take place on the day of Eurovision final.

The Mayor of Moscow has called gay rights activists “Satanic” and banned Pride in 2006 and 2007.

This year Pride organisers applied for permission to hold five marches a day, every day of May.

All were rejected by Moscow municipal authorities on the grounds they would “endanger public order and cause negative reaction of the majority of the population.”

On June 1st a group of 30 gay activists managed to stage short protests in front of Moscow City Hall and a statue of Tchaikovsky without being arrested.