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17th Feb 2019

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Gay rights vote undermines EU-Ukraine visa deal

  • Juncker promised Poroshenko the visa-free deal in August (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Ukrainian MPs have voted down a gay rights law in a decision likely to kill chances of EU visa-free travel by the end of the year.

Just 117 out of the 450 members of the Verkhovna Rada, on Thursday (5 November), voted Yes to amending the country’s labour code to ban workplace discrimination on grounds of sexual preference.

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The Rada is to hold a second vote on an as-yet unspecified date.

But opposition will be hard to overcome.

Thursday’s decision came despite a TV speech, on Wednesday, by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in which he said a Yes vote would let “Ukrainian citizens visit EU countries without visas as early as next year.”

Several MPs from his own parliamentary bloc abstained from the vote.

Some members of prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s pro-EU party also attacked the bill.

"As a country with a thousand-year old Christian history, we simply cannot allow this … today, a special status for sexual minorities is simply unacceptable,” Yatsenyuk MP Pavlo Unguryan said, according to the AFP news agency.

The Rada vote attracted criticism from Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO.

Evelyne Paradis, its director, told EUobserver on Friday: “The rejection of these urgently needed anti-discrimination provisions is disappointing and concerning in equal measure.”

She noted that, last year, Poroshenko promised to protect “equality between citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation”.

“This principle appears to have been forgotten now.”

For his part, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, in August, promised to recommend Ukraine visa-free travel to member states by the end of the year.

“Given the progress in Ukraine, I don’t doubt for a second the member states will approve [it],” he said.

The Commission and Ukraine started visa talks in 2008. But the EU made the deal conditional on anti-corruption and human rights reforms.

Juncker underlined the conditionality in a letter to Poroshenko, seen by the Reuters news agency, also on Thursday.

“Progress in reforms in the area of the fight against corruption remains a key priority for achieving visa-free travel to the EU,” he said.

The anti-corruption efforts have also stalled.

EU diplomats and leading NGOs, such as Transparency International, are saying that Ukraine’s prosecution service, for instance, operates like an organised crime syndicate.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s vote shows that Ukrainian society is closer to Russia in terms of social mores than to western Europe.

Both countries decriminalised homosexuality shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But a small gay pride march in Kiev in June saw right-wingers attack demonstrators and injure policemen.

Backwards

Meanwhile, Russia is going backwards: A new law, tabled last week by the Communist Party, proposes fines or 15-day detentions for “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.”

The New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, has denounced the bill.

Russia, in 2013, already banned what it calls “gay propaganda”, as well as adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples.

In a sign of the geopolitical import of the issue, Russian propaganda has tried to spook Ukrainians into thinking EU integration will force them to become gay-friendly.

According to one Ukrainian diplomat, Russian groups in 2013, in the run-up to Kiev's decision on whether to sign an EU association pact, sent leaflets to Ukrainian schools saying parents will be forced to give up children for adoption by gay couples in Europe if the treaty goes ahead.

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Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

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