Eastern Europe’s Deepening Darkness

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Fear and loathing of homosexuals is on the rise in Eastern Europe, according to a biannual survey (pdf) of European social attitudes. In Ukraine, which held its first gay pride march in May, just 34 percent of people believe that “Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish,” down from 37 percent in 2005. Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia are also less tolerant today than they were eight years ago. Sociologist Richard Mole thinks Eastern Europe’s political history is part of the problem:

The one factor that applies to the region as a whole is the legacy of communism. In the communist era, citizens were expected to adhere to the psychology of the collective. This meant that “alternative” sexualities were considered a dangerous sign of individualism. Homosexuality was further seen as contrary to the public good, in that it failed to produce children.

When communism collapsed, the ideological vacuum this created was quickly filled by religion and nationalism, both of which have fueled intolerance towards homosexuals due to their supposed threat to traditional values and the continued existence of the nation. Tapping into this pre-existing antipathy towards homosexuality, politicians have been able to use LGBT rights as a lightning rod to divert attention from corruption and economic downturns.

It was ever thus, from the early Middle Ages onward. The survey did not measure attitudes in Russia, where four Dutch nationals were recently arrested for violating the country’s law against “gay propaganda.”

(Photo: A Russian gay rights activist stands in front of Russian State Duma building on January 22, 2013 after being punched during a protest in Moscow. By Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images)