LGBTQ rights in Eastern Europe

Moscow, 2017 — Support for the Chechnyan LGBTQ community. PHOTO: WZabi / YouTube
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Renewed attacks on LGBTQ community in Chechnya

A resurgence of anti-gay persecution in Chechnya is alarming human rights activists. Reports of a new wave of government-led detentions, torture and murders surfaced in December 2018, despite a massive campaign of international outrage following horrific atrocities in Spring 2017.

It is difficult to learn the true scale of the violence since Chechnya is a closed-off, semi-independent republic in Southern Russia. Following two brutal wars ending in 2009, the region has been ruled by a ruthless rightwing dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov, a close pal of Russian President Putin. Kadyrov told HBO that gays should be removed from his country to “cleanse our blood.”

LGBTQ men and women are being arrested in large numbers, raped, and tortured to force them to name others. There are claims that the government has called on families to perform ‘dignity killings’ of their gay members. While most of those detained are men, those most often killed by relatives are women, seen as less valuable in Chechnya’s Islamic society.

Chechen authorities are destroying passports of those rounded up so they cannot flee. Victims are afraid to speak out. Entire families are threatened with elimination. Many remain silent because they dread facing condemnation by a deeply homophobic society.

Persecution persists despite international intervention. Victims of the 2017 purge described vicious torture leading to U.S. sanctions being levelled against Kadyrov for supporting ‘extrajudicial killings’ and an ‘anti-gay purge.’

Fifteen countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) investigated and their report was issued in 2018. It documents massive abuses against LGBTQ folks, as well as human right defenders, lawyers and independent media. It calls on the Russian Federation to intervene in Chechnya.

Chechen police, known for vigilante violence against various groupings, are not held accountable, leaving them free to flagrantly carry out the Kadyrov regime purges. Appeals to the governmental Russian Federal Investigation Committee have had little effect.

The activist Russian LGBT Network warned of the dangers in 2017 and helped evacuate many to countries outside Russia, but sadly, LGBTQ refugees are frequently denied asylum. Now, the Russian LGBT Network is preparing to bring cases to the UN Committee on Torture, while also rescuing as many threatened people as possible.

Chechnya’s state-sponsored bigotry has inspired a growing trend in the region. Nearby Azerbaijan has started mass arrests, and Tajikistan began collecting names for a registry of LGBTQ people. Homophobic violence is surging in Russia.

Targeting gays is part of the far-right agenda that also scapegoats immigrants, people of color, trans folks, Jews, radicals and others.

But vital cross-border resistance is growing. Hopefully it will blossom into an international united front against the right.

Gay MP confronts the Polish right

In Poland, opposition to the powerful Catholic Church and the ruling right-wing party is coming from a rare source: an openly gay atheist member of Parliament. This February, Robert Bierdoń launched a new party called Wiosna (Spring) to challenge Polish arch-conservative nationalism.

Robert Bierdoń. PHOTO: Zboralski

Voted into Parliament in 2011, Bierdoń has been an LGBTQ activist since the 1990’s. In 2001 he founded “Campaign Against Homophobia,” a bold move in a country where 95 percent identify as Catholic. He successfully went on to be elected mayor of the city of Słupsk (population 93,000) in 2014. His 63 percent approval rating could easily have seen him re-elected mayor, but a shocking tragedy steered him into national politics.

In January, as millions of Poles watched on television, the popular left-leaning mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, was stabbed to death on the stage of a charity function. Adamowicz was a human rights advocate who led Gdańsk to welcome immigrants and LGBTQ people. His murder, undoubtedly spurred by the widespread atmosphere of vile far-right bigotry, galvanized the country and led to a denunciation of ultra-right propaganda and violence.

What Bierdoń stands for. Bierdoń’s social-democratic platform seeks a separation of church and state. He calls for access to contraception and the right to an abortion, allowing same-sex marriage, ending tax breaks for the Catholic Church and no religious teaching in schools.

Wiosna clearly contrasts with the two dominant parties. The ruling ultra-right authoritarian Law and Justice Party (PiS) refuses to allow immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa into Poland; Bierdoń’s new leftist party pushes for welcoming immigrants. It also calls for phasing out coal production in favor of green energy, challenging the main pro-business Civic Platform Party (PO). Wiosna also advocates an increase in the minimalist pension and in childcare slots.

Even before Wiosna had a name, Bierdoń gained support for a party to represent the voices of urban youth and social liberals drowned out in a sea of arch-conservatism. The first tests of the new party will be the EU Parliament elections in May followed by the Polish general elections this Fall.

With the rise of anti-immigrant bigotry and fascist ideology in Poland, and across Europe, the Wiosna party faces a rough road ahead. Critics accuse Bierdoń of splitting the opposition vote to Law and Justice and being a spoiler, a charge frequently levelled against third party candidates. But, Bierdoń is standing firm against the two established parties and Catholic control of society. He bravely calls for an end to the rise of nationalist and neo-Nazi politics in Poland.

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