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Homophobia as a culture war

The debates on gender issues, homophobia and LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer) are currently boiling up all over Europe – in different intensity and in different fields. In Switzerland, this is currently taking place in the usual direct democratic framework: On 26 September 2021, a vote will be taken on the “Marriage for All” proposal, against which a non-party committee with representatives, especially from the Federal Democratic Union (EDU) and the SVP, successfully took the referendum. In the already highly emotional football world, a short but violent conflict recently raged because the European Football Association UEFA stated that the Munich stadium should not shine in rainbow colors, the symbol of diversity and sexual self-determination, during the match between Germany and Hungary. The rainbow protest against the homophobic law enacted by the Orban government then made itself felt in other ways, with armbands, flags and buildings illuminated in rainbow colors.

Sharp words from Western Europe

The recent summit of the European Union was also extremely rough. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban to either withdraw the law or leave the EU. French President Emmanuel Macron sees the fundamental values of the EU in danger, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced legal action against Hungary, calling the law a “disgrace”. The law prohibits the media representation of homo - and transsexuality towards adolescents. Thus, for example, educational brochures and educational offers on homosexuality are no longer permitted. Orban and his ruling party Fidesz have been taking action against the rights of minorities for years, especially the LGBTIQ community.

There used to be more tolerance in the East

The homophobic attitude of some governments in Eastern Europe – especially in Hungary and Poland-is a young phenomenon from a historical point of view. “When it comes to sexual orientation, there has traditionally been more tolerance in Eastern Europe than, for example, in Germany or Great Britain, “writes Norbert Mappes-Niediek in his book"Europas geteilter Himmel”. The great historical scandals about “fornication among men” were staged in the West. Examples include the affair of the British writer Oscar Wilde, or in imperial Germany the dispute over the Prince of Eulenburg and, in 1980, the Bundeswehr General Kiessling. In Eastern Europe, the whole thing was never taken so seriously in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Poland, for example, after the country’s independence in 1918, there were never any punishments for homosexuality.

in 1957, sex between adult men in the GDR went unpunished, Hungary followed in 1961, and almost simultaneously Czechoslovakia. The West was late: Great Britain repealed such laws only in 1967, the Federal Republic of Germany in 1969 and Austria in 1971. In Switzerland, however, homosexuality was already largely decriminalized in 1942. Further discrimination has been gradually reduced since the 1970s.

Homosexuality was never a hot topic during the Communist period in Eastern Europe. “In the 1960s, it was easier for gay couples to get a hotel room in Budapest or Warsaw than in Lyon or Munich,” Mappes-Niediek writes. Even after the collapse of communism and the Great Change, Eastern Europe dealt with the issue calmly.

The mood tipped

But gradually the mood tilted. The dispute over equality between gays and lesbians, registered partnership and gay marriage became “an East-Western cultural struggle with high mobilization potential”. At first, the gay pride parades in Warsaw, for example, were noted even more or less indifferently. But then they were banned.

“In Eastern Europe, the issue of gay marriage and LGBT rights combined the political right-left opposition with the continental east-West opposition and, as clearly as no other question, separated the liberals from the nationalists, the Westerners from the identitarians. Within a short period of time, homosexuality became an indicator of Western decadence in the public debate,” Mappes-Niediek notes. Homosexuality even became a dominant campaign issue in Poland and helped the now ruling Law and Justice party to victory.

A theme to close the ranks

Homosexuality remained predominantly a topic of politicians. It is excellent for creating and using mood. In terms of domestic policy, this is the first time a clear line can be drawn between the national and the pro-Western. The Hungarian-born Austrian journalist Paul Lendvai recently said on Radio SRF’s Echo der Zeit that Orban’s gender and homophobia agenda also pursues a cynical political tactic: he is concerned with the division of the currently forming, broad opposition united front from left to right, which could be dangerous for him in the elections next year.

Broad population sees it more relaxed

In the population of Eastern Europe, the picture looks more differentiated. Most Poles, for example, are against gay marriage in surveys, writes Norbert Mappes-Niediek, but 60 percent are in favor of a registered partnership. The anti-gay agitation changed little in everyday life in Eastern Europe. In the Czech public sphere, for example, homosexuality has never been a major public issue; acceptance, as in the West in general, has even increased in recent years and is significantly higher than in the USA, for example.