Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Opinion

One year after Euromaidan: What's changed for gay rights?

  • Euromaidan in 2014: LGBT revolutionaries hid their identity (Photo: Christiaan Triebert)

It’s been over a year since the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine, so it’s high time to sum up: How has the human rights situation changed?

It’s worth recalling that the Euromaidan began because the former regime declined to sign an association treaty with the EU and was about to somersault Ukraine into the Russian world.

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The government tried to steal people’s hope of a “European” future. The first wave of demonstrators were young people, the intelligentsia, students. The Euromaidan, or European Square, wasn’t just a place of demonstrations against the authorities – it was a call for European values in Ukraine: human rights, freedom, democracy, fair trials, and personal security.

What did it mean for the the LGBT community?

It was a chance for a “European Ukraine” - for the right to be yourself, to diversity, civil equality, and prohibition of discrimination.

Despite all this, the LGBT community wasn’t able to take part in events openly, with its own slogans and banners. Despite our strong numbers and despite the ideals of the Maidan, we were afraid of homophobic violence, so we remained behind the scenes.

Today, Ukrainian politicians are still more likely to use the issue of homosexual orientation to provoke each other than to debate, in a professional way, on LGBT rights.

In May 2014, when the new government prepared a package of amendments to Ukraine’s anti-discrimination legislation, it again ignored the requirements of the EU visa liberalisation roadmap by failing to include prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

The EU endorsed its approach by allowing Kiev to move to the second phase of visa liberalisation anyway.

Both Kiev and Brussels used the war in eastern Ukraine as an amnesty from commitments to defend LGBT rights, despite pressure from activists.

Meanwhile, the number of known far-right groups in the country who prey on LGBT people has increased from 30 to 74.

In November 2014, during a showing of a pro-LGBT film as part of the “Youth” festival, right-wing radicals burned down the Zhovten cinema in Kiev.

The LGBT festival has been held for over 10 years, but last year’s opposition rally against "unconventional cinema" was hotter than ever before.

Police caught the arsonists, who confessed they did out of hostility to gay people, but they prosecuted them for hooliganism because there is no article in the criminal code on hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation.

In October 2014, president Petro Poroshenko ordered the ministry of justice to draft a comprehensive National Strategy for Human Rights.

But the ministry blocked the inclusion of a clear commitment to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and the creation of relevant hate crime laws.

Preliminary signs indicate that Ukraine’s new strategic document on human rights will be approved with no mention of the human rights of LGBT citizens.

Spotlight

This summer, the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga and an interim report by the UN human rights commissioner will be a new opportunity for Ukraine’s friends in the international arena to take stock.

Back in 2013, UN states filed 14 recommendations on LGBT rights out of their total 140 ideas on how to improve the civil liberties climate in my country.

Most of the 14 related to implementation of non-discrimination laws.

The Euromaidan gave the LGBT community hope that the Soviet-era prejudices in the society will finally be defeated.

During the revolution, the LGBT community behaved courageously, but also pragmatically: It didn’t champion the rights of the gay minority in order not to split Maidan into liberal and illiberal factions.

The LGBT community was almost the only revolutionary group which, in the aftermath, did not insist on converting their participation in the events into new positions of power.

We believed that we first needed to ensure the victory of basic democratic forces and that, after a democratic government came to power, we could start a nationwide debate, based on logic, science, and European values, about Ukraine’s history of intolerance.

Words not enough

Instead, the new government is encapsulated in the person of our new prime minister, Arseniy Yastenyuk: symbolic flights in economy class, good English, fancy speeches for the cameras, but little change.

We have the same old corruption and "rotten democracy" as before.

The government's policy on LGBT is no different.

Our leaders, when visiting the EU or US, speak brightly of the need to tackle discrimination against minorities. But when they sit down, in Ukraine, to draft the National Strategy on Human Rights they redact the language on LGBT.

The sell big promises in the West but there is no product at home.

The question remains: How long will it take EU or US officials to see that the Ukrainian government’s commitment to the ideals of the Euromaidan is selective at best, or, perhaps, simply dishonest.

Bogdan Globa is director of the All-Ukrainian Charitable Organisation Fulcrum, a Kiev-based NGO

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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