Gay rights still taboofor some Slovaks
THE COLOURS of the rainbow were due to shine over Bratis-lava on June 4 in the form of the Pride march, but the world had become slightlygreyer for Slovakia’s non-het-erosexuals a few weeks earli-er.Itwasthenthatgaypeopleliving in Slovakia came veryclose to getting an official body, working under the aus-pices of the government, tolook after their interests – butthe initiative to set up a com-mittee to do that ultimatelyfailed. And while politicianstend to use the unprepared-ness of Slovak society as a jus-tification for their timidity,the lesbian, gay, bisexual andtransgender (LGBT) com-munity insists that society is,in fact, ready for somechanges
.In March 2011, the cabinetdissolved several of its advis-orybodies–thecouncilforna-tional minorities and ethnicgroups, the council for NGOs,for seniors, for disabledpeople, for gender equalityand the committee of minis-ters of children. The agenda of these bodies was transferredtoanewly-establishedCouncilfor Human Rights, NationalMinorities and Gender Equal-ity. The new council then pro-posed that seven committees be created under its auspices,among them a committee ontherightsofnon-heterosexualpeople. But while the cabinetagreed to establish the othercommittees, it baulked at theideaofoneforgayrights.The decision, which someLGBT activists called an act of homophobia, was made onMay11,lessthanaweekbeforethe International Day AgainstHomophobia was markedaroundtheworld.
“We perceive it as a polit-ical decision,” said RomanaSchlesinger, an LGBT rightsactivist from the non-gov-ernmental Queer Leaders For-um and a Rainbow Pride or-ganiser,addingthattheChris-tian Democratic Movement(KDH) made clear to all theparticipantsinthedebatethateither the statute of the newcouncil would be passed without the LGBT committeeoritwouldnotbepassedatall
.“We regard this commit-tee as being redundant, sincethe human rights issues of allcitizens are dealt with by theGovernment Council for Hu-manRights,NationalMinorit-iesandGenderEquality,”KDHspokesperson Matej KováčtoldTheSlovakSpectator.Rudolf Chmel, the DeputyPrime Minister for HumanRights and National Minorit-ies,whoproposedthecreationof the committee, arguedalongwithothersupportersof the idea that the committee would bring together repres-entatives of the communityand representatives of all theministries and be a platformfor experts to discuss issues,including related legislation, but also anti-discriminationpractices, educational pro-grammesanddatagathering.“I am convinced that it would be an advantage for allthose concerned to create aspace for the formulation of concrete solutions to improvethe life of the LGBTcommunity,” Martin Poliačik,an MP for the Freedom andSolidarity (SaS) party, told TheSlovak Spectator. His partypresented registered partner-ships as part of its electioncampaign for the 2010 parlia-mentaryelection,butfailedtoget them adopted as part of the coalition government’sprogramme.Most-Híd, the party of Deputy Prime MinisterChmel, considers the non-ex-istence of the committeeto beadeviationfromtheEuropeanstandard, “but not an insur-mountable problem that would fatally divide the cur-rent ruling coalition”, theparty’s spokesperson NoraCzuczorovásaid.Július Kolenič, a boardmember of the Inakosť (Oth-erness) initiative, remarkedthat such a platform wouldcost the state no money, butcould have helped signific-antlytoimprovethequalityof life of the LGBT community, which constitutes a consider-ableportionofthepopulation.“We regard this to be ahomophobic act by IvetaRadičová’s government, sinceother proposed committeeshad been created,” Koleničsaid, hinting that the LGBTcommunityistheonlyminor-ity (based on grounds for dis-crimination as defined by theSlovakia's Anti-Discrimina-tionAct)nottoberepresented withinthecouncil.
“We do not believe thatSlo
vak citizens are discrimin-ated against in any way basedon their sexual orientation,”KDH’s Kováč said. “If thesepeople suffer violation of their basic human rights,they have the possibility toturn to the existinginstitutions.”Most-Híd spokespersonCzuczorová, however, saidthattheinstituteofregisteredpartnerships, for instance,remains taboo in Slovak soci-ety despite the fact that inneighbouring countries likethe Czech Republic and Hun-gary it has existed for several yearsnow.“We are lagging behindour neighbours in Europeconcerning many legislativesolutions,” SaS MP Poliačikadmitted, listing issues likeinheritance, common owner-shipofproperty,andaccesstohealth records in the event of illness or injury. “All thesethings concern the everydaylife of equal citizens of Slov-akia and we shouldbe dealing withthem.”
Despite the odds, Koleničsaid, support for the LGBTcommunity from the Office of the DeputyPrimeMinisterforHuman Rights and NationalMinoritiesisnowgreaterthanit was in the past. He citedconferences organised by theoffice and brochures that theyareplanningtoissue.
“But it’s still too little,” hesaid, adding that the com-munity is less than satisfied with the current position of the non-heterosexual minor-ity in society, the main fail-ure being the fact that onlyNGOs are keeping alive publicdiscussion on related topicsthrough events such as theRainbow Pride march or theInakosťFilmFestival.
Politicians tend to excusetheir lack of action in thesphere of LGBT rights withthe argument that society isnot yet ready to accept somelegislative steps that wouldimprove the rights of non-heterosexual people in Slov-akia. But the LGBT com-munity itself dismisses thisas a false argument, sayingthatsocietyisbecomingmoreand more open and acceptingof people with other-than-heterosexualorientations. According to Schlesinger,there has been limited re-cognition by all govern-ments, regardless of theirideological basis, that thereis no room in terms of publicdebate about registered part-nerships of same-sexcouples, for instance, andthat expert discussion needstobelaunchedfirst.“Politicians keep talkingabout the need for public andexpert discussion, but theirdeeds are the exact oppositeof that – as seen from theirrecent decision to not estab-lish the LGBT committee within the government’scouncil,” Kolenič agreed,adding that there are partiesin the government unable tofree themselves from the“unjustified, panicked fear of losingvoters”.Paradoxically, Koleničsaid, most people in Slovakialong ago understood thathuman rights are no threat toanyone and that all people,including LGBT people, havetherighttoadignifiedlife.Schlesinger also said thatthecommunityfeelsachangein the perception of LGBTpeople among the majority,and added that research thatthe Queer Leaders Forumconducted a couple of yearsago showed that more thanhalf of Slovakia’s populationhas nothing against re-gistered partnerships, al-though there were still somenegative sentiments when itcame to the adoption of chil-dren.Sheputthisdowntothefact that this issue has beendiscussed for a much shortertimeinthepublicarena.“Theonlythingpeoplearemissing is information,”Schlesinger said. “And if theyget the information, their view of things changes. Ourfeeling is that society is chan-ging and becoming muchmore open not only towardsotherness in sexual orienta-tionbutalsotowardsanyoth-erdifferences.”
LGBT: Policereadied for march
umanRights.”Theprogrammepreced-ingthemarchincludedsev-eralconcerts,headlinedbythewell-knownandopenlylesbianCzechsinger-song- writerAnetaLangerová.Despitefearsinspiredby violenceatlastyear’smarch,whenanti-gayex-tremistsattemptedtodis-rupttheparade,RomanaSchlesinger,oneoftheor-ganisers,toldTheSlovakSpectatorpriortothemarchthattheyexpectedabiggercrowdthanlastyear,whenanestimated1,000peopletookpart.
“Threealternativerouteshavebeenplannedandthedecisiononwhichtotake willbemaderightthereonthespot,”ĽubomírAn-drassy,thespokespersonof BratislavaMayorMilanFtáčnik,toldtheSmedaily.
Unlikelastyear,the re-cently-electedmayoristak-ingaleadinthesecuritymeasuressurroundingthePridemarch.Andrassysaidseveralothereventshave beencancelledinBratislavaonthatdaytomakesuretherewillbeenoughpoliceofficersonhandtomaintainpublicorderinthestreets.
ThefirstRainbowPridegatheringtookplaceinBrat-islavaonMay22lastyear. Whenseveralhundredsup-portersoftheeventgatheredinHviezdoslavovoSquare,around100anti-gayprotest-ersattackedthegatheringbythrowingtear-gascanisters,rocksandeggsattheaudi-enceaswellasthespeakersonthestage.Inresponsetotheat-tacks,thePrideorganisersmodifiedtheirplans,includ-ingtherouteoftheirmarch.Thoughtheoriginalplan wastoparadethroughthestreetsofBratislava’sOldTown,thePrideparticipants woundupmarchingonlyfromthedowntownsquareacrosstheNewBridgethatspanstheDanubeRivertoashipanchoredonthesouth-ernbankwheretheystagedanafter-marchcelebration.
June 6 – 12, 2011