Belarusian President Lukashenko said something nice about gay people and particularly openly homosexual German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle today:
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko declared today that he didn’t like “fags” and said that he had advised German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is openly gay, to lead a “normal life”.
“Important people with a correct or incorrect [sexual] orientation came here and started to criticise me… But I don’t like fags, so I told them that”, Mr. Lukashenko said, according to his press service. “And, you see, certain foreign ministers resent me… but we live in a democratic society, and I am president. I have every right to state my position”, the Belarusian president, known for his controversial and dramatic statements, added.
“I told [Guido Westerwelle] honestly, eye-to-eye, that he had to lead a normal life”, the Belarusian president went on to say, without saying when exactly he made such a declaration… the German foreign policy chief was in Belarus in November.
It’d be easy to dismiss this as the idle prejudice of one idiot. However, it’s actually symptomatic of a more general ‘homophobia problem’ in Central and Eastern Europe. Former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov banned gay pride parades in his city, calling them “Satanic Act[s]”. The late Lech Kaczynski, former Polish president, banned gay pride marches twice while he was mayor of Warsaw, explaining to the LGBT community that “I respect your right to demonstrate as citizens. But not as homosexuals.” His brother, Jaroslaw, former Prime Minister, stated on more than one occasion his opposition to openly homosexual people teaching in schools.
And anecdotal evidence tells me that homophobia is a deep-seated problem across Central and Eastern Europe (and is generally worse the further one goes eastwards). I’ve met and got to know many people from that part of the world. I majored in Central and Eastern European Studies at an undergraduate level, where most of my classmates were from former communist countries. My girlfriend is Ukrainian. I lived in Prague for a year. And while most of my friends from that region are as tolerant as anyone else, I’ve heard more horrific overt anti-gay bigotry from Eastern Europeans than from any other group (though, granted, I have little first-hand knowledge of, say, the Middle East). It’s gradually changing, as younger people tend to be more tolerant than their parents. But it’s certainly a huge problem, which stems mainly from a complete ignorance of gay rights and the gay community during communist rule, and the inevitable negative reaction that came from the sudden coming out of the shadows of said community after 1989. And while progress has been made, declarations like this lazy expression of homophobia by Lukashenko certainly do not help.