8th Dec 2021

Anti-gay bigotry spans European cultures

In front of the parliament in Stockholm - the city hosting the 10-day EuroPride 2008 festival for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the rainbow flag could be seen fluttering from buses, theatres and public buildings under the near-tropical sun which has blessed the Swedish capital this summer.

Swedes pride themselves on being the most gay-friendly society in Europe, while politicians and businesses compete to cash in on gay goodwill credit. Pink money is as good as any money, and the LGBT-crowds from near and far are not fussy about their patrons.

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  • There are no homophobia-free zones in Europe: Police guard the EuroPride 2008 march through Stockholm (Photo: Stockholm Pride, Kari Lind)

Sponsors for the festival - which ended on 3 August - ranged from the Stockholm taxi company and city theatres to a cigarette brand and a multi-international oil company. The Swedish Lutheran church hosted a kindergarden for children of gay parents. Volvo and IBM held seminars on how to prevent homophobia at work.

"For one little week of the year, homosexuality seems mainstream, almost dull. I come out from the grocery store and I see gay couples holding hands everywhere," Anna, a lesbian writer and mother of two, told Euobserver.

Anna said she is lucky: her two boys have never been teased at school, something which she thinks is still unusual, even in Sweden. But not everyone is so lucky.

The launch of Europride 2008 was marked by the attempted murder of a homosexual couple strolling peacefully in a quiet Stockholm street on the night of 28 July. The assailants grunted homophobic insults, drew out knives and stabbed one of the couple in the stomach several times. Police later arrested three teenagers.

From countries all over Europe there are frequent reports of violent, homophobic attacks and, in many cases, of the police ignoring or silently encouraging abuse.

Moldovan police

"We know that there were 15 police cars parked next to the square where we were attacked by a lynch mob of hundreds, but they never came to our rescue," Moldovan group GenderDoc-M activist Dana Cotici said at a rights seminar in the Swedish parliament, still trembling as she recounted an incident in Chisinau in May.

Some sixty members and sympathizers of GenderDoc-M, the only support group for gay rights in Moldova, had set out to march in support of fresh anti-discrimination legislation, handing out leaflets, EU-flags and rainbow balloons.

Their bus was suddenly surrounded by groups of masked men, many wearing military-type outfits, in the style of the country's neo-fascist movement the New Right. Others belonged to extremist religious groups, slamming the bus windows and shouting "Let's get them out and beat them up!"

"I have never been so scared in my whole life," Ms Cotici said. When she called the police emergency line, they said "Yes, we know you are [being]attacked, what do you want us to do about it?"

"The Moldovan government is eager to come closer to European standards, and EU officials in our country push the issue again and again and again. Thank you Europe."

Gay Turkey in court

"The best thing that ever happened to us was when they closed us down," Emrezan Ozen from the Turkish LGBT-rights group Lambda-Istanbul, said at the Stockholm seminar.

Last year an Istanbul court prosecuted Lambda-Istanbul on the grounds that the objective of the organisation is "against law and morality." The courts declined to define "morality" or address the issue that homosexuality is legal in Turkey, but the final verdict said Lambda-Istanbul threatened children's rights.

"They basically said we would come and take children and turn them into gays," Mr Ozen explained, with the incident bringing worldwide publicity for his group.

"We have received support from everywhere, from Europe, from international human rights groups. And we now have a pilot case to take to the Turkish constitutional court. They know that Brussels is watching," he said.

Mr Ozen underlined that the court decision has nothing to with Turkey's predominantly Muslim society. "The state of Turkey, its institutions and judicial system, is secular, secular to the point of being ridiculous."

Pride and prejudice in Lithuania

In Lithuania, bus drivers arriving to work in May last year refused to drive vehicles carrying LGBT posters with rainbow flags, while the Mayor of Vilnius refused to let a European Year of Equal Opportunities for All campaign truck tour the city.

"In order to understand why Lithuania is the most homophobic country in the European Union, you must remember that during the 50 years of Russian invasion, citizens of the Soviet Union lived according to certain dogmas: there were no criminals, no disabled people and no homosexuals in the Soviet Union," said Marija Ausrine Pavilioniene, an MP in Vilnius.

"To understand and to accept are two different things," she added, noting that Lithuania has not lived up to human rights promises made when joining the EU in 2004.

Lithuanian religious figures, journalists and politicians freely make homophobic comments in the media, while police are notorious for standing by when hate groups attack gay rights gatherings.

According to gay rights supporters, authorities frequently cite "security" concerns to create obstacles for demonstrations.

European diet

"Negotiating with the new EU member states was like the first time I had dinner with my wife's parents. You tip-toe around issues, you are nervous and afraid to step on any sore toes, said Hakan Jonsson, the Swedish state secretary for European affairs, who negotiated the 2004 enlargement round for Sweden.

"Only, this dinner lasted for five years."

According to Mr Jonsson, civil servants and politicians were reluctant to open the "Pandora's box" of what actually constitutes "human rights," as mentioned in the EU treaties and directives.

Religious feelings, public opinion and the unwillingness to point fingers at problems in the EU candidate countries - problems often mirrored in the 15 ‘old' member states - discouraged frank debate.

But Mr Jonsson praised progress since 2004, highlighting a recently proposed EU directive that would put discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation on an equal footing with race, gender and disability.

The European Commission last month also proposed a bill to ensure equal treatment in public services such as health care, social security and education, when buying products or making use of commercial services.

The proposal would, for instance, permit a tenant to sue a landlord for refusing to rent an apartment because she was black, or gay.

The French EU presidency has said the discrimination directive is a priority, with Paris keen to rubber stamp a deal at the European summit in December.

Stockholm party time

Back at EuroPride 2008 in Stockholm, a colourful crowd lined the protest parade in the city centre. Nearly half a million onlookers craned their necks to see the passing floats draped in rainbow flags and pumping out loud music.

This year, the Stockholm fire brigade - portrayed by comedians as the last bastion for Swedish men suffering from chronic masculinity hubris – made its Pride debut.

A fire engine and a smiling, fully uniformed fire brigade phalanx appeared next to police, ambulance drivers and coastguard crews in the "112 section" - the emergency phone number section - of the parade.

"We are bad at pluralism in the fire brigade," fire chief Jan Wisen said, encouraging people among his 400-strong team to come out of the closet.

"Statistically, it is not plausible that none of them are gay. Sadly, the fact that none has come out signals that they feel the fire brigade environment is not accommodating to gays, and we have to change that."

Brussels overlooks gay marriage in new rights bill

New European Commission proposals to put an end to discrimination on the basis of age, disability, sexual orientation or creed have been given a lukewarm welcome by civil liberties groups, who say prejudice against same-sex couples who wish to get married is not adequately covered.

EU launches campaign for intercultural dialogue

To foster better understanding and communication between the diverse crowd that makes up European citizens, Brussels has launched a media campaign about its forthcoming "Year of intercultural Dialogue."

Intoleranz gegenüber Homosexuellen in allen europäischen Kulturen

Aktivisten für die Rechte von Homosexuellen in Ländern mit EU-Bestrebungen - etwa der Türkei oder der Republik Moldau - hoffen, dass Brüssel für mehr Gleichberechtigung sorgt und bei Beitrittsgesprächen auch das Thema Antidiskriminierung im Blick hat. Allerdings sind auch in der EU Homosexuelle oft mit Ablehnung und Intoleranz konfrontiert – und das gilt für alle mitgliedstaaten.

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Slovenia's anti-corruption commissioner Robert Šumi said the country misses out on €3.5bn a year due to corruption, while the EU chief corruption prosecutor Laura Kövesi visited the country.

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