Sunday

16th May 2021

Opinion

Europe failing to protect LGBTI citizens

  • Rémy Bonny (c) speaking at a solidarity event in Budapest (Photo: Rémy Bonny)

Last weekend, LGBTI activists in Poland were brutally beaten up by the police.

Almost 50 peaceful activists were arrested and many wounded were reported.

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The European Commission is staying silent about the increasing violence against the LGBTI community in the EU.

A Europe without values is no longer worthy to be called a 'Union'.

The LGBTI community feels abandoned by the European Union. Over the last two decades many big statements were made, but there's still no EU-legislation.

The strategic silence of European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen about the events in Poland leads to a lot of frustration.

The LGBTI community is disappointed and furious.

Polish Stonewall

It was around 4:30 pm on 7 August when an employee of the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH, Poland's largest LGBTI organisation) sent me a message.

Activist Margot would be in pre-trial detained for two months. Earlier that week, the same Margot was already held for 48 hours.

According to the attorney general, she was detained on grounds of blasphemy after holding a rainbow flag in front of a statue of Jesus Christ.

She was also briefly arrested a few weeks ago after pulling a poster from a campaign truck depicting LGBTI people as paedophiles.

Immediately, I informed all international press contacts.

Meanwhile, KPH had already shared the news via social media. What happened next was revolutionary.

Hundreds of LGBTI activists sporadically came to the offices of KPH, where Margot was located.

They formed a human shield to prevent the police from taking her into custody.

The police arrived on the scene completely unprepared. Margot presented herself, but the police refused to take her into custody with so many protesters.

Margot then moved with 300 allies towards the Jesus Christ statue, for which she was previously arrested.

When they got there, hundreds of police officers were waiting for them.

Upon arrival, the kind scene we more normally see in Russia occurred.

Margot was pushed into a police car, while activists threw themselves in front of the car to prevent it from leaving.

Police handcuffed all activists in front of the car. But they didn't stop there. People watching, journalists, opposition MPs all received beatings from the police.

Many were taken into custody for no reason.

When the opposition demanded information about where the detainees were being taken, the police initially refused to provide it.

The Polish Ombudsman noted in a first report that serious mistakes had been made in the arrest of the activists.

There are even several witnesses of sexual violence by police officers.

A Europe without values

The day after the events, a wave of solidarity with Margot and the 47 other arrested activists spread across Poland and the European Union.

Thousands of LGBTI people and supporters took to the streets to show their envy of the Polish authorities.

My phone was ringing all day long with questions from journalists all over the world. And yet there was no response from the top of the European Union.

Neither von der Leyen nor the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, spoke out about the events.

Earlier this week, when I gave a speech at a solidarity protest in front of the Polish embassy in Hungary, the disappointment in the European Union was huge.

Hungarian LGBTI people have also felt abandoned by the EU for years. Now, just like in Poland, they fear that they will be arrested and beaten by the state.

Nevertheless, the EU has made many big statements about LGBTI rights in recent years.

For example, in 2008 the EU commission proposed a directive that would introduce anti-discrimination legislation in all EU member states.

Twelve years after its presentation, the directive has still not been adopted by the European Council.

This summer, the cabinet of EU commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli is working on a new LGBTI Strategy for the next five years.

At first sight it seems like a very good strategy. But the strategy will have little effect if there is no broader structural strategy within the commission on how to avert democratic decline in Central and Eastern Europe.

No feeling for reality

When I contacted a number of acquaintances within Von Der Leyen's cabinet on Monday, I was in disbelief over their reaction.

My contacts, against their own will, stated that they did not want to make a statement because Poland threatened to vote down the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) of the EU if they do something about anti-LGBTI violence.

However, at the request of Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, von der Leyen had already condemned the violence against demonstrators by the authorities in Belarus that same day. Pure hypocrisy.

While Europe tries to be pragmatic, it is making a crucial mistake.

It puts the short-term economy of the EU before the long-term rights of EU citizens.

They fail to see that a Europe that has looked away to excessive police violence against its own citizens is no longer a project of peace.

They fail to see that a Europe will fail without democracy or the rule of law. A Europe without values is no longer worthy of the name "Union"!

That is why I call for an extraordinary session of the European Council to be convened on authoritarian developments in the Central and Eastern European Member States of the EU.

If the European Commission does not take the initiative to protect its citizens, then the member states should do so.

Author bio

Rémy Bonny is a European LGBTI activist from Belgium.

Disclaimer

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

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