E. Europe Still Anti-Gay Bloc

Grim reports out of Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, despite some political change

By: DOUG IRELAND | New reports out of three former Soviet bloc countries point to the continued hurdles facing the LGBT community as well as those living there with HIV. In Hungary, where the controversial Socialist prime minister has enacted a partial civil unions measure, a new survey by a gender equality group shows that discrimination remains an everyday fact of life. In Poland, where the recently ascendant extremist nationalists and Catholic parties lost significant ground in fall elections, the new government is nonetheless rightist as well and committed to maintaining the official anti-gay status quo on social questions.

And a recently-released poll of the European Union shows that Bulgaria is the most anti-gay country on the continent.

The poll, released three weeks ago by the Skala Agency, shows that 80 percent of Bulgarian respondents expressed a negative view of gays and lesbians, with 53 percent voicing an “extremely negative” view.

Only 17 percent of Bulgarians said they would be able to carry on a conversation with someone who is gay. The survey also found that almost half would refuse to work with someone they believed to be gay. Nearly 70 percent of Bulgarians said they would take their children out of school if they found one of the teachers was gay. And half of those polled said they would disown a child who came out. The figure was higher if a child were transgendered.

Bulgaria did not decriminalize homosexuality until 2002, to conform to European Union norms as it pressed its candidacy for membership, finally granted only last year.

Polish gays this past fall celebrated the defeat of the homophobic Kaczynskis – President Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski – in October elections that gave 209 seats in the Sjem, the Polish parliament, to Donald Tusk's right-wing Civic Platform party and only 166 seats to the Kaczynskis' nationalist Law and Justice Party. The Kaczynski government's homophobia and gay-baiting had been resoundingly condemned last year by both the European Parliament and by the European Union's Commissioner for Human Rights.

Those Polish elections also saw a sharp drop in the tally for the incessantly gay-baiting, Catholic extremist League of Polish Families party, which gained only 1.53 percent of the vote, far below the 5 percent threshold needed to obtain seats in the parliament – another cause for LGBT rejoicing.

But the conservative Tusk, who became prime minister in November, has promised that on leading social issues, as well as in the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church, the status quo will be maintained. That means no positive advances in rights for Polish sexual minorities.

And a report on discrimination submitted by Amnesty International to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review at the end of December noted that in Poland, “Reports continue of attacks against demonstrators from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and other activists by private individuals, including in the context of counter-demonstrators. There are further allegations that the police failed to ensure that the LGBT demonstrators were able to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.”

The Amnesty report went on to say that in Poland, “Members of sexual minorities continue to face discrimination and restrictions on their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Openly homophobic statements by prominent politicians and public officials, including encouraging violence against peaceful LGBT rights demonstrators, have worsened the climate of discrimination and intolerance. There has been no action against such public statements inciting intolerance against sexual minorities.”

Meanwhile, in Hungary, where the current Socialist government is attempting progress on gay rights, a new survey released by a gender equality group there reports that discrimination against LGBT people and the HIV-positive remains widespread.

The Hungarian survey, based on case studies over the last seven years, was conducted by PATENT, the Hungarian acronym for the Association of People Challenging Patriarchy in Hungary, a group founded by social workers concerned with gender-based violence. PATENT works to achieve equality for women and sexual minorities.

The PATENT report condemned the government's response to assaults on the Budapest Gay Pride March this past July 7. Hundreds of counter-demonstrators armed with Molotov cocktails, bottles, eggs, and nylon-stocking coshes filled with sand went after the gay crowd.

PATENT specifically “criticized police inaction, saying the police failed to adequately protect the marchers against a 'neo-Nazi' mob, and also fell down on the job in responding to several emergency calls during the night of the parade, when LGBT persons were physically assaulted,” reported UK Gay News. (Gay City News, July 12-18, 2007; “Fascists Attack Budapest Pride” By Doug Ireland).

Also highlighted in the PATENT report is a pattern of horrific discrimination against the HIV-positive. Hungary has only one hospital that specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment. PATENT revealed that patients' rights to information and self-determination are routinely violated. Some patients are even denied treatment, while others are treated in “an inhumane and cruel way” in this hospital.

“In one especially serious case, a doctor refused treatment to a patient with advanced AIDS because he had no medical insurance, although Hungarian law provides for free medical care to anyone with a condition that is a threat to life,” UK Gay News quoted the survey as reporting. The fact that this is the nation's lone AIDS treatment facility means “patients have nowhere to escape.”

The PATENT report called for the creation of alternative HIV/AIDS centers.

This survey cited as typical “the case of a gay couple who were asked to leave a concert, because they were kissing, or the story of a secondary school student who was assaulted by one of his teachers because he is transsexual,” according to UK Gay News' reporting.

Also cited was the case of a bisexual woman who was harassed by a colleague following accusations that she placed a lesbian personal advertisement. The woman was finally forced to quit work.

Hungary's politics are currently unsettled, with the coalition government of Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany facing stiff opposition. The prime minister nonetheless succeeded in pushing through the parliament a civil unions bill, known as the Registered Partnership Act, that affords many of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples, but fails to grant the right to adopt, access to fertility treatment, and the right to take a partner's surname. This civil unions law takes effect in 2009.

But public opinion polls indicated that passage of the civil unions measure was opposed by a majority of Hungarians, and the Gyurcsany government faces a voter referendum on several key policies this coming spring. The prime minister is widely expected to lose that confidence vote, raising the specter of deepening political instability.

Violent protests ravaged Budapest in 2006 after Gyurcsany's admission that he had lied about the state of the economy to secure his re-election. Hungary's next general election is scheduled for 2010.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/ . A full copy of the PATENT report on discrimination, in Hungarian, is available on the group's website at http://www.patent.org.hu/ .