Starting as an economic project, the European Union has undergone a transformation beyond that of any other international organization, slowly becoming not only an economic, but also a political union. Human rights and democratic principles thereby became essential pillars of the EU’s identity. And yet there are significant disparities among the Member States when it comes to upholding the rule of law and democratic values. The EU seems to lack capacity to ensure equal rights, treatment and protections to all of its citizens, irrespective of place of birth.
A group of people that has faced more discrimination and threats than many others are members of the LGBTIQ community across the EU. While statistics show that overall the EU is heading towards equality, a closer look shows a different story. One of stagnation and a widening divide between West and East.
Fueled by the growing populism, distrust in democracy, authoritarian leaders and ignorance displayed by those in power, LGBTIQ people have become subject of scapegoating and outright hate by politicians across the EU. The situation is particularly critical in Poland and Hungary. The so-called “LGBT FREE Zones” designated in municipalities and cities across the two countries are a blatant instance of how cruel and inhumane the politics of scapegoating can be.
These started in Poland, as mayors and regional representatives passed resolutions banning “LGBT ideology” and with it, any sort of display of love, affection, pride parades, and any other events that would contribute to the “spread of LGBT ideology.” While the resolutions were not of binding legal nature, they have significantly affected the safety of LGBTIQ persons in the parts of Poland and Hungary that have joined this despicable action. Many in the media have branded what is happening under the direct approval of Orban and Mackieviecki, as a culture war, between Brussels, and the liberals in their countries, and the traditionalist establishment. I strongly contend that message. It is a gross violation of individual rights and liberties of LGBTIQ persons, for the purposes of political gains and as such, it cannot be tolerated in the EU.
As a member of the LBGTI Intergroup in the European Parliament, I often get notified of horrifying reports on what is happening to LGBTIQ persons in Poland and Hungary. Their basic rights are being increasingly restricted, whether that is halting gender recognition, freedom of assembly or even the right to be protected from violence. One of the most dangerous trends I have been noticing is how law enforcement ignores violence against them based on the “LGBT free” resolutions, with some cities even presenting awards to officials “opposing LGBT ideology.” This is truly dangerous, as it can create a further rift in Polish institutions and regions, beyond repairable by a simple general election. Moreover, around Poland, the offices of Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia, an LGBT rights group) have gone almost routinely under attack from fascists groups, often including violence and breaking of property and without quick intervention from the law enforcement. It is truly outrageous that the Polish government has failed to act and gave up on so many citizens for the purposes of political gains and spreading hateful messages.
Orban, on the other hand, has chosen a more direct involvement in restricting LGBTIQ rights. Not only he has abused the emergency powers to send transgender rights in the country years back, defining one’s gender as “biological sex based on primary sexual characteristics and chromosomes” and ruling that people’s “sex at birth” shall not be amendable and is set in the registry. But mainly, he has taken more steps to shut down pro-liberal media, ignored increased attacks against the LGBTIQ minority and finally in November he introduced the changes to Constitution, establishing “Christian values” as central to Hungary’s family politics and restricting same-sex couples right to have a family.
The issue at hand is that European Union, albeit based on economic integration, cannot function without the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as rule of law, all across the Union. My honorable colleagues understood that already in 1989, when the European Parliament passed a Resolution adopting the Declaration of fundamental rights and freedoms. Where MEPs underscored, that the respect for fundamental rights is indispensable for the legitimacy and functioning of the Community, as well as for the existence of the European citizenship. In the list of rights, protection of individual freedoms and liberties, protection from discrimination and right to one’s own identity have been and continue to play a central role.
Yet, Orban and Kaczyński continue to undermine this message.
That is why, many of my colleagues and I are pressing on the European Commission to urgently start applying the rule of law conditionality mechanism. That way, the European Commission will be able to stop funding governments that continue to bend rule of law and those that continue to restrict individual rights and rally against the LGBTIQ community.
But we need it now. The Commission must not be held hostage to the Council. Everyday that we wait, LGBTIQ people in Poland and Hungary suffer. Only strong push and will can have an impact.
Written by Radka Maxová MEP and Kryštof Stupka.
Radka Maxová is a Member of the European Parliament | Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (Czechia).
Kryštof Stupka is a trainee for MEP Radka Maxová.