Saturday, May 08, 2010

Gay Pride Parade In Vilnius Amid Riot Police

East Europe aired some of its homophobic laundry on Saturday.  More police that paraders were on the streets of Vilnius, the capital of the Baltic state of Lithuania.  But this was no ordinary march, but the country's, and for that matter one of Eastern Europe's, first gay pride parade, where attitudes towards homosexuals remain far from friendly, unlike Western Europe.  Anti-gay protesters had vowed to disrupt the parade, and authorities had eagerly used that threat to cancel the event, before having a rethink after an appeal.  
Reports say about 500 marcher took part in the march, under the gaze of some 600 police, many on horseback and others decked out in riot gear, complete with batons and tear gas.

The gas was used when anti-gay protesters tried to break through police barricades. 

That incident, however, happened after the main march, which went off without incident.

Given the symbolism of the event, a few top-shelf Euro bureaucrats were on hand to add a pithy phrase or two. 

"Today we are marching for freedom, today we are marching for equality, today we are marching for Europe ... that we would never accept homophobia taking over our streets," Swedish Minister for European Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson told the marchers.

She was the highest profile foreign attendee. Some foreign ambassadors, including those of France and Britain, also took part, as well as five members of the European Parliament.  Anmesty International sent a delegation, too.

But what about Lithuania's political elite?  Only two Lithuanian lawmakers bothered to show up. 

That indifference, sadly, is in line with what most Lithuanians think.

Opinion polls have shown that more than two-thirds of Lithuanians are opposed to the gay pride event in the ex-Soviet republic of 3.4 million people, where the Roman Catholic church, which regards homosexuality as a grave sin, has a dominant role.

"Homophobia is a big problem in Lithuania ... I think this is because homophobia here is institutionalized," Roma Pinkeviciene, 50, a secondary school teacher, told Reuters.

She took part in the march to support human rights.

The parade was the second joint in the Baltic states, which included gay activists from Latvia and Estonia, as well as other EU countries.

The Baltic pride event was held for the first time in Latvia last year, and is planned in Estonia in 2011. Latvia and Estonia had separate gay pride events before.

This is still uncharted territory for the former Communist states, and many of the locals don't like it as illustrated.

In 2008, a gay pride march in the Hungarian capital, Budapest got down right violent when far-right never-do-wells started causing trouble. 

In Russia, the city's pasha, Yuri Luzhkov, once referred to gay rights parades as "satanic."

The city has banned gays from marching in the Russian capital, and last year police roughed up then locked up about 20 activists who tried to parade despite the ban. 

Deutche Welle points out the large divide between East and West Europe when it comes to homosexuals.  

While homosexual acts have been decriminalized across eastern Europe, broad societal acceptance of same-sex relationships is often still a long way off. Same-sex marriage is not legal anywhere in eastern Europe; three countries there have instituted constitutional bans. Only Hungary and the Czech Republic have passed legislation giving legal recognition to same-sex couples.

With the Catholic church so dominant, Poland is country where tolerance is a foreign word.  Abortions are outlawed, and gays are routinely targeted.

In 2007, the Education Ministry introduced legislation that would outlaw "homosexual culture" from being taught in the classroom, as the Informant reported.

What exactly homosexual culture is was never spelled out, but it seems to mean any information about AIDS and lessons telling kids to be tolerant of homosexuals.

Deputy Education Minister Miroslaw Orzechowski, sounding ever so reasonable, said "there is no place for the promotion of homosexual culture" in Polish schools.

Roman Giertych, his boss and leader of the right-wing League of Polish Families offered the following wisdom" "one must limit homosexual propaganda so that children won't have an improper vew of family."

At the time, Human Rights Watch noted:

The proposed homophobic legislation follows a series of recent threats and abuses against lesbian and gay Poles by state officials. In June, the State Prosecutor’s office issued a letter to prosecutors in the municipalities of Legnica, Wroclaw, Walbryzch, Opole and Jelenia Gora ordering in sweeping terms investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unspecified allegations of “pedophilia.”

Not easy being gay in Eastern Europe.
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