Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Opinion

Pride 2016: Let's not turn back time

  • Events in Gdansk showed how fragility of EU progress on gay rights (Photo: Maria Komarova)

The Pride march itself was surrounded by a heavy police presence. At first, the counter-protests were not disruptive; but later in the march a small group found their way down a side street and attempted to run towards us. Then the riot police intervened, arrested counter-protestors and fired tear gas …

In ILGA-Europe’s 20th anniversary year, you would imagine that this is an extract from our archive. During the past two decades, we have made a lot of progress in making sure that people can enjoy basic rights in Europe. In many countries, activists’ agendas have shifted and they are now working to advance other legal and social issues.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Pride marches, as in Amsterdam, should be cherished by European cities (Photo: Bob Lefevere)

But this is not a clip from an LGBTI activist talking about their experiences two decades ago.

This is part of a discussion I had with my colleagues after returning from Poland very recently. It is a glimpse of what the participants in Gdansk’s second-ever Pride march experienced on Saturday 21 May.

Prior to the march, ILGA-Europe had received reports from the Pride organisers that up to 14 counter-protests had been allowed. The local organisers kept us well-informed of the situation on the ground and worked with the city council and law enforcement officials to make sure the event could go ahead.

The local authorities cooperated, although this meant that the counter-protestors were also allowed to protest on the very same square as where the march started. Dozens of heavily equipped police officers separated both groups. It also meant that the march was rerouted and ended in an empty park outside the city centre, to the frustration of local activists.

Shock was not the overwhelming reaction I had. I went home inspired by the courage of our activist friends in Poland, but suffering from an acute sense of deja vu. Why do I get the feeling that we have been here before?

LGBTI organisations have had this conversation with politicians already. Why, in 2016, are we still asking political leaders to take steps to protect basic fundamental rights like the right to peacefully assemble?

The experience of activists in Gdansk is not an isolated incident. The following day, in Chisinau, Moldova, the Fara Frica solidarity march was interrupted by a counter-protest and an emergency evacuation of all participants. My colleague who was in attendance told me: “I never saw such fear in the eyes of police men. They protected us well. But the authorities failed to let us finish the march.”

Still, the march’s duration was longer than ever before and it ended up being Moldova’s most well-attended Pride march. This is testament to the amazing work being carried out by committed LGBTI activists in Moldova, dedication that is replicated all over our continent.

2016 season

The 2016 European Pride season is just warming up. ILGA-Europe has already been working with activists in Istanbul, Kiev and Budapest as well as a few Italian cities to discuss concerns around their marches. In some cases, we even had to provide security training.

Recently, we saw successful Pride marches in Albania, Kosovo and northern Cyprus. We have to give praise to the local politicians who marched with activists; they demonstrated what is possible when there is political will. But, as if from a Cher Pride classic, some politicians seem to wonder: “If I could turn back time…”.

Human rights gains made in the past do not offer guarantees for the future. With populist politicians winning votes across the continent, LGBTI activists need to be more vigilant than ever.

In many places, political support is fleeting. There is a real danger that politicians and institutions are shifting their focus to other issues and are staying away from Prides and other pro-equality events. It feels frustrating. It feels repetitive. Above all, it feels outdated.

In 2016, Europe’s political leaders should be attuned to the fact that peaceful assembly must be protected.

Come to Pride

This is why ILGA-Europe would like to send a reminder to Europe’s political representatives. Their participation in Pride is a symbol of their solidarity, their commitment to protecting fundamental rights, upholding the rule of law and a defence of democracy. We need politicians to march with us. We need institutions to speak out.

The right to freedom of assembly is a vital element of functioning democracies. Freedom of expression is an important element of pluralist societies. For this reason, many politicians have labelled Pride marches as a litmus test for a healthy democracy.

For governments and NGOs in some countries, safe and successful Prides are a part of the general public’s consciousness. They are part of a city’s appeal and a key date in everyone’s social calendar.

In other parts of Europe, policing of the event is not always guaranteed. Some local administrations are openly opposed to public LGBTI events and put logistical hurdles in the way of LGBTI community organisers. These concerns need to be addressed.

ILGA-Europe are hopeful that the 2016 Pride season will be respected in a growing number of countries, both inside and outside the EU’s borders. That is why we are speaking out now, at the beginning of the summer.

The experiences of our friends in Poland, Moldova, Turkey and Italy should remind Europe’s institutions and national governments of their responsibility to uphold and respect fundamental human rights.

If we have to go back to basics to make sure that the next generation of LGBTI activists can enjoy safe Pride events, so be it. But turning back time is not an option.

Bjoern van Roozendaal is programmes director with ILGA-Europe - the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

Disclaimer

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

Focus

Italy changes EU gay rights map

Decision to allow same-sex unions deleted last zone of anti-gay intolerance in western Europe. Lack of adoption rights left "bitter taste".

Does EU have role in stopping backsliding in Georgia?

The EU's eastern neighbourhood is in flux. The collapse of the pro-reform government in Moldova and the stagnation of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine was recently followed yet by another political crisis in Georgia.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us