“President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, widely criticized for harassing reporters, nurturing a culture of corruption, and using the justice system to persecute political opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko, has a chance to show the European Union he can do something right. He needs to support the event and protect demonstrators in favor of and opposed to civil and human rights for LGBTQ Ukrainians. He needs to show support, not for the message, but for freedom of expression.”
Last year, organizers cancelled a gay pride march in Kyiv, Ukraine fearing violence. This May, however, plans are proceeding despite threats, moral condemnation by religious authorities, and government indifference to protect LGBTQ activists.
Although most Ukrainians in this religiously conservative country oppose any form of LGBTQ expression or the guarantee of rights for sexual minorities, they do so at the expense of their long-term personal, political, and economic wellbeing.
Amnesty International released a report this month noting, in part, “If the government of Ukraine is to succeed in its ambition to achieve association and visa liberalisation with the European Union (EU) it must ensure that its legislation is in line with European human rights standards.”
In addition, according to Amnesty it “must implement international and regional human rights agreements including by upholding the principle of non-discrimination and ensuring that all individuals, including LGBTI people, are treated equally in both law and fact.”
Ukrainians opposed to this week’s march should think carefully whether it is worth it not to obtain beneficial visa privileges in the European Union. These privileges can open up many personal and economic opportunities for them. Is Ukraine willing to cut off its nose to spite its face?
How Ukrainian officials handle the event will also affect Ukraine’s relationship with the United States. John Tefft, US Ambassador to Ukraine, said in a statement, “I am proud to extend my support to all of those who plan to participate in the second annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Equality March in Kyiv on May 25, 2013.” He noted, “By embracing diversity, promoting tolerance, and fighting prejudice and discrimination, we strive to build a world where everyone can enjoy equal human rights.”
The ambassador observed, “This concept is enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution which explicitly protects freedom of speech and assembly, and stipulates that the main duty of the state is to ‘ensure human rights and freedoms.’ I would like to convey my appreciation to the organizers of the Kyiv Equality March, and I hope that many people, both gay and straight, will join us in this cause. I wish everyone a successful and peaceful celebration in which no one gets hurt.”
So far, sixty-one members of parliament (MPs) signed a petition urging Kyiv’s mayor to ban this Saturday’s planned gay pride parade. If officials stop the event or fail to protect LGBTQ demonstrators then US-Ukrainian relations will suffer.
MPs, Kyiv’s mayor, and Ukraine’s president should ask, “Is it worth it?” Ukraine, a fledgling democracy at best, risks sliding back into Eurasia strengthening Russia’s ability to exploit it politically and economically. Ukraine, despite Russia’s oppressive influence, is a European, not Eurasian nation and needs to take its rightful place in the European community. It cannot do so, if its civil and legal standards are primitive.
There is an invaluable lesson in civics by allowing the event. It will benefit all Ukrainians regardless of politics or religion. It can help teach them to disagree agreeably enabling everyone an opportunity to share opinions eventually without fear.
President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, widely criticized for harassing reporters, nurturing a culture of corruption, and using the justice system to persecute political opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko, has a chance to show the European Union he can do something right. He needs to support the event and protect demonstrators in favor of and opposed to civil and human rights for LGBTQ Ukrainians. He needs to show support, not for the message, but for freedom of expression.
There is also a duty by Tymoshenko, Vitali Klitschko, and other leaders to support the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully. In light of Tymoshenko’s treatment and Klitschko’s presidential ambitions as a member of the harassed opposition, they should be especially responsive to supporting freedom for a minority group on May 25.
Let not the persecuted become the persecutor or the complacent. If Tymoshenko and Klitschko support the march, it does not mean they believe in the message, but do support the right of self-expression for all Ukrainians. It is about principle.
The world, particularly the European Union, will be watching. If Ukraine’s city or national government opposes peaceful assembly or does nothing to prevent violence, it will be another strike against the country trying to strengthen economic ties with its European family. Again, this is not about gay pride. It is about the ability to develop as a democratic nation reflecting a mature approach regarding civil, social, and political freedom.
*Paul Peter Jesep, JD, MPS, MA, is a bishop in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. He is the appointed U.S. spokesperson of Metropolitan Myfodii of the UAOC. He is also a policy analyst, New York attorney, and author of Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis. The views expressed here are personal and in no way reflect the positions of his church. Contact Jesep at: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Paul Peter Jesep
Source – Ukraine Business Online