Wednesday

27th Oct 2021

Column

Fake civilisational conflict: How authoritarians abuse LGBT+ rights

There is something perplexing these days. Wherever one goes, nationalist governments attacking the LGBT+ community.

A week ago Polish police detained almost 50 people who demonstrated in favour of LGBT+ rights and may press criminal charges against them.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • "One may think that nationalism and anti-gay sentiment are natural ingredients of far right-policies, but they don't have to be"

At the end of March, at the height of the Corona-pandemic, the Hungarian government prohibited the change of sex on official documents.

In Russia, government propaganda has for many years portrayed gay rights as an indication of Western decadence.

One may think that nationalism and anti-gay sentiment are natural ingredients of far right-policies, but they don't have to be.

The man who established the modern Dutch far right, Pim Fortuyn, was gay and railed against Islam's rejection of personal liberties such as gay rights.

After he was assassinated in 2002, Geert Wilders followed the same script.

In the 2017 French presidential debates, Marine Le Pen said that her policies were all that stood between gay people and Islam's "hatred of homosexuals".

Libertarians, who we sometimes find on the right, make a case for personal freedoms while social conservatives can also make the case for equal treatment on issues like marriage (and some do).

After all, they see marriage and family as the most natural basic and stable form of human organisation, so why should this idea not apply to gay couples?

And yet, virulent anti-LGTB+ rhetoric and actions have become part and parcel of nationalist and extreme right-wing groups and parties around the world. Why?

I have no doubt that many people still feel that a gay relationship or different sexual identity are not 'normal' and should not be treated as such.

But I doubt that these sentiments are so wide-spread and virulent to naturally take the political centre-stage in so many different countries.

Sometimes, it is obvious.

In 2018, the Romanian government scheduled a referendum to enshrine that marriage can only be between a man and a woman as a provision in the constitution.

But despite many efforts to mobilise voters, only 20 percent of them turned out, making the poll invalid. Romanians simply did not care enough.

Political calculation

I think the best explanation for the prominence of widespread anti-LGTB+ rhetoric is a political calculation, especially in non-democracies. Many authoritarian regimes know that they are not popular.

They know that public participation and honest elections are their Achilles' heel. So they want to change the conversation. And they have been quite successful in doing so.

Of course, authoritarians continue to claim that they are actually democrats. But now they add: "Even if not, it does not matter that much, because we better protect our way of life."

They have transformed the all-important division between democratic and authoritarian regimes into a different opposition: Traditional-conservative versus progressive-liberal policies.

Who cares about the details of democracy if you are in a civilisational struggle?

Wherever you go these days, authoritarian projects will be magically connected to such social-conservative agendas.

Russian president Vladimir Putin changed the constitution to be able to rule with no end - the set of amendments also included a ban of gay marriage.

Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orbán wrote a letter to the European People's Party (EPP) to defend his parties many changes to Hungary`s democratic institutions. What did he talk about? Christianity and gay marriage.

And this is how I interpret Warsaw's police crackdown on demonstrators last weekend. Emboldened by the victory of Andrzej Duda in the recent presidential elections, the PiS government will continue to attack democracy's institutions, such as independent courts.

It already hinted that private media will be their next battlefield.

By notching up the attack against LGTB+ people, the government creates the fog of a cultural war behind which it keeps changing democracy's playing field in its favour.

How should pro-democracy actors respond?

They should refuse the traditional-versus-progressive framing that only serves authoritarian governments. They should instead expose the fake culture war scenario.

The Polish government is free to adopt conservative policies and to promote family values.

Neither the EU nor the European Convention on Human Rights have a position on gay marriage.

It is left to member states to decide on that, enjoying discretion for identifying alternative means of recognition of same-sex relationships.

But being socially conservative is different from being authoritarian. Courts must continue to be independent to judge whether policies are in line with the constitution and human rights protections.

Discrimination

Clearly, public authorities cannot advocate for discriminatory policies, as is the case with the infamous "LGBT-free zones" declared by many Polish municipalities.

Instead of exposing the instrumentalisation of vulnerable communities for authoritarian projects, we accept the framing of a civilisational struggle.

Now many people and well-meaning analysts juxtapose 'illiberal democracy' and 'liberal democracy', which implies that there are different forms of democracy, one more conservative, the other more progressive.

This is exactly what authoritarians want us to believe.

But there is only one democracy. It protects basic rights and freedoms within which freely elected governments can implement their policies, conservative or progressive.

Governments can adopt policies that are particularly family-friendly or particularly supportive of LGBT+ rights - they can even do both as long as they respect democracy's rulebook.

Whatever our own political positions, neither conservative nor liberal policies are a problem for democracy: authoritarian projects are.

Author bio

Michael Meyer-Resende is the executive director of Democracy Reporting International, a non-partisan NGO in Berlin that supports political participation.

Disclaimer

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

Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?

The European Centre-Right LGBT+ Alliance demands Germany give up its resistance to the Anti-Discrimination Directive and suggest the commission and centre-right parties exert further pressure on Polish and Hungarian authorities to improve conditions for the LGBT+ community and people.

Europe's deadly border policies

EU institutions and states abdicated their responsibilities for search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, deputising Libya to take their place, withdrawing naval assets from high-seas corridors, and obstructing, even criminalising, NGO groups, writes the European director of Human Rights Watch.

Column

'Brussels So White' needs action, not magical thinking

A commitment to fighting racism cannot go hand in hand with 'Fortress Europe' policies which demonise black, brown and Muslim refugees and migrants or with rights violations linked to Frontex pushbacks.

News in Brief

  1. US to add last three EU states to visa-waiver list
  2. German ministry gives thumbs up to Russian pipeline
  3. EU regulator foresees endless battles with Facebook
  4. UK fears three migrants drowned in Channel
  5. Israel joins EU science scheme, despite Palestine clause
  6. Upcoming flu season 'could be severe', EU agency warns
  7. Ukraine wins Dutch case on Crimea gold
  8. Most Poles want Warsaw to back down in EU dispute

Column

Nothing as destructive as radical change

With Poland throwing the legal order of Europe in disarray, Russia rationing Europe's gas supply and the UK reneging on its Brexit commitments, perhaps the moment has come again to read a few essays by French philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

EU Green Deal is too dependent on private finance

What we call for is another approach to the financing of the European Grean Deal. While a lot of attention is being paid to decarbonisation, the other two aspects - de-financialisation and democratisation - are largely ignored.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Environment ministers continue dogfight on energy price hike
  2. Most lawmakers unhappy with lead MEP's asylum bill
  3. More transparency on EU media owners planned for 2022
  4. Europe's deadly border policies
  5. 'Brussels So White' needs action, not magical thinking
  6. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  7. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  8. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us