|Why are the Baltic states of the former Soviet Union so homophobic? Latvia is a particularly ghastly example, having banned same-sex marriage (2006) and Pride marches in Riga, its capital.
Latvia: Efforts to march for LGBT equality have lead to clashes with authorities
In a recent Gay Times, Latvian LGBT activist Kristine Gavina explained that Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia and Moldova all have one unifying characteristic- before World War I, they were members of the Tsarist Russian or Austro-Hungarian Empires, and never had a chance to develop stable democratic institutions before being engulfed by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact during and after the Second World War.
As a result, these states lacked the exposure to the sexual revolution and cultural liberalisation that Hungary, the Czech Republic, East Germany and Slovenia experienced by default, as well as missing out on the enrichment of civil society and cultural and political diversity that occurred in the context of New Left social movements like independent feminism, and LGBT rights. Western Europe, Canada and Australasia underwent those experiences over the last forty years, leading to progressive social change in areas like violence against women, reproductive freedom, and LGBT rights.
Added to this, few of their dominant religious institutions experienced anything like the outgrowth of religious pluralism and secularisation that occurred in the west, which permeated to adjacent Eastern European states, but then petered out. In far Eastern Europe, Catholicism and Orthodoxy never experienced the eighteenth and nineteenth century Enlightenment or gradual, unforced secularisation, leaving them prey to right-wing and nationalist influences. Because of all of these cultural, religious and political influences, it isn't surprising that many far Eastern European states have decriminalised male homosexuality but have gone no further. As Garina notes in her report on Latvia, it is not uncommon to hear talk of "homosexual propaganda."
This betrays a certain vintage, and is reminiscent of the abandoned UK Clause 28 of the late eighties and nineties, which talked similarly about "promoting homosexuality" as if it weren't "hardwired" into place by either genetic causes and/or early infantile child development already. Regardless of scientific rationalism, the right-wing nationalist governments and social movements of "Little Europe" noted above refer to LGBT rights as if it were a menacing external concept attacking their conservative states, which is convenient, because it provides a handle for resistance to European Community reform initiatives and exploits ignorance about LGBT history and social movements within far Eastern Europe.
We can only provide solidarity to the above, perhaps by insuring that these countries never get to enjoy free trade access to the markets of the developed world unless they undertake necessary human rights andcivil liberties reforms. Granted, the aforementioned guilty parties aren't the only bastions of global homophobia- one thinks of Iran, Iraq and Malaysia in the Islamic world- but they are prominent offenders.
Kristine Garina: "East is East" Gay Times 355 (April 2008): 98-100. Craig Young - 3rd June 2008