A Silent Dissonance: LGBT Rights & Geopolitics in Maidan and Post-Maidan Ukraine

By Jesse Sanchez
Cornell International Affairs Review
2016, Vol. 9 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

Protests and parades often experience forceful and even violent interruptions.

Protests and parades often experience forceful and even violent interruptions.

Eastern Europe ‘Comes Out': LGBT+, ECE, the EU and PostMaidan

Ayoub argues that "individuals in groups less wedded to nation and tradition, will be more likely to incorporate [the] ‘"framed"' or ‘"grafted"' international norm [of LGBT+ rights]."47 Conversely, individuals embedded in tradition are "more likely to reject"48 international efforts to redefine national norms. In a Ukrainian context this would mean that Ukrainians closely linked to traditional nationalist Orthodoxy are more likely to reject international LGBT+ efforts. Similarly, Ukrainians less committed to traditional nationalist character are more likely to accept LGBT+ rights as an internal norm compatible with nationalist characteristics.

As a result, eastern Ukraine and Crimea have been more resistant to the post-Euromaidan government citing traditional Slavic Orthodoxy as inherently mutually exclusive to a gay Ukraine. Ayoub would attribute this to the fact that if "LGBT+ right norms are portrayed as an inherently external, then the degrees to which individuals are socialized in their national identities and traditional values [Slavic Orthodoxy] will influence reactions to the norm [homophobic retaliation]."49 Only by resisting the branding of LGBT+ as an external threat to society and promoting an understanding and awareness of LGBT+ within a Ukrainian context can the LGBT+ rights movement in the region make headway.

What prompted the governments of such traditional and historically homophobic nations to make such radical efforts? The European Union.

Serbia, a traditionally homophobic nation, launched its "first successful gay pride parade in Belgrade"50 in 2013, despite a sizeable number of homophobe protestors at the ready. Serbian riot police were required to attend the event to ensure violence did not break out against the 500 participants in the parade. That same year another triumph for LGBT+ rights occurred in equally conservative Moldova when the government "repealed an anti-gay law modeled on Russia's [2013 legislation]."51 What prompted the governments of such traditional and historically homophobic nations to make such radical efforts? The European Union. Serbia, desperate to show its liberalizing efforts to a reluctant EU, used the event as a gesture of good will.

Similarly, Moldova repealed its discriminatory law only when "it became clear that it was standing in the way of further integration with [the European Union]."52 Even in Ukraine, desire for European integration resulted in some success for LGBT+ rights. When Ukrainian parliament members "proposed a bill to ‘prohibit promotion of homosexuality,'"53 there emerged "pressure from human rights organizations and foreign diplomats"54 in predominately Western countries arguing that it mirrored the 2012 Russian anti-gay propoganda laws. Thus, it can be argued that Ayoub's theory of coordinated international solidarity efforts and "incentivization" of promoting LGBT+ rights has proven effective in the cases of these three countries. Yet as the aforementioned geopolitical realities have noted, Euromaidan, Russia, and the European Union have placed each other in a gridlock so as to deter any semblance of LGBT+ triumph. With nowhere to turn, LGBT+ refugees are pouring into Kiev from throughout the country only to find they are unwelcome in their own state.

As recently as January 2015, Kiev has received an influx of immigrants from eastern Ukraine and Crimea seeking refuge from "both war and rising levels of homophobia."55 Yet the Ukrainian government remains opposed towards its supposedly decadent and unorthodox population of gays and lesbians. Yuriy Syrotyuk, a Ukrainian parliament member of the conservative Svoboda party, claimed "LGBT+ legislation will blow up [Ukraine]…and not only Crimea will secede, but Ukrainian provinces will also start to leave the country."56 Although not the sole reason for conflict in Ukraine, LGBT+ rights remain an explosive issue in the nation, leaving many politicians indifferent if not outright hostile towards LGBT+ Ukrainians. The same month of the Ukrainian LGBT+ diaspora, "participants of [a gay march] in downtown Kyiv were brutally beaten by Euromaidan activists [after trying]…to join a pro-EU demonstration."57

Euromaidan hostility towards pro-EU LGBT+ activists is so well-known throughout the Ukrainian gay community that leaders of Ukrainian LGBT+ organizations swiftly condemned the march in Kiev, accusing Russian propagandists of orchestrating the "fake march." No evidence supports these claims. Ukrainian journalist Dimiter Kenarov argues LGBT+ groups actively and aggressively condemned gay Euromaidan activists "because [of] an understanding that talking about gay rights in Ukraine in the current political situation [is] a huge liability."58 Ironically, this self-closeting is stagnatin LGBT+ rights in Ukraine. In essence, LGBT+ Ukrainian leaders are willingly digging the graves of their own, aiding the rest of the world in shadowing the visibility key to regaining a lost hope of a free Ukraine for all.

While the Iron Curtain may have fallen some 25 years or so ago, many people in this region of the world continue to be subjected by the legacies of its architects and engineers.


As Europe continues further into the 21st century it continues to evolve both in structure and meaning. In the past 100 years alone the continent has gone from the center of global imperial power to the wasteland of declining converging forces. As of today, the idea of Europe acts as a symbol of modernity and liberalism. And yet, despite its reputation as a force of change, its people continue to live under the specter of the Cold War which brought the whole of Europe to its knees and created stark polarization within the very heart of Europe. While the Iron Curtain may have fallen some 25 years or so ago, many people in this region of the world continue to be subjected by the legacies of its architects and engineers. The fall of communism and the Soviet Union may have marked the end of "postwar parenthesis"59 in the historical development of the whole of Europe, but by no means did it destroy its legacy on the hearts and minds of many Eastern European peoples.

Ukraine's LGBT+ population faces an uncertain future...even with its revolutionary intensity and ferocity, Euromaidan has failed and continues to fail to include some of its most significant initiators.

Ukraine—the historical heart of Russia— in its attempt to embrace Europe, left Russia scorned and in shock. The "special relationship" between Ukraine and Russia, unlike its Western counterpart, suffered the wrath of Euromaidan in 2014 from which it has yet to recover. Many view the events in Ukraine not as a revolution but as the final confrontation, the definitive battle of East meets West. As the former Eastern bloc turns its head toward the direction of the setting sun, Russia is left to confront itself for the first time in 25 years. While abstractly the grandest geopolitical encounter takes place on Ukrainian territory, on the ground a battle older than Russia and Ukraine takes place: the battle for acceptance. Bearing the brunt and beatings of not one but two frontiers (internationally via Russia and domestically in Ukraine), and with empty promises from its "ally," the European Union, Ukraine's LGBT+ population faces an uncertain future.

Even with its revolutionary intensity and ferocity, Euromaidan has failed and continues to fail to include some of its most significant initiators. Some, like Maidan Amazon member Olena Shevchenko, ask "what gay rights would [Ukrainians] be talking about [in the case of a pro-Russian government]"60 not overthrown by Euromaidan (despite its not so friendly pro-LGBT+ stance). Others, such as Ukrainian gay activist Zoryan Kis argue the "new Ukrainian government uses the chaotic, post-revolution situation as a pretext for not letting any kind of gay rights legislation to pass through parliament [it's]…a sellout."61 Another LGBT+ activist, Olena Semenova, claimed LGBT+ Ukrainians "are between two evils: Russian homophobic culture and Ukrainian homophobic intolerance."62 The task is difficult, but, without an international effort, LGBT+ Ukrainians will continue to be subjected to discrimination, terror, and fear of death.

"There are some people who just want to join ‘Europe' without changing their values and without understanding what it all means. But if people really want to change [Ukraine], the change has to start within them and their relationship to others." - Anonymous LGBT+ Ukrainian63


Ayoub, Phillip Mansour. 2013. "When States ‘Come out': The Politics of Visibility and the Diffusion of Sexual Minority Rights in Europe." http://hdl.handle.net/1813/34332.

Barshay, Jill J. 1993. "Russia's Gay Men Step Out of Soviet-Era Shadows." The New York Times, February 10, sec. World. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/10/world/russia-s-gay-men-step-out-of-soviet-era-shadows.html.

Chertok, Paula. 2015. "Timothy Snyder: Ukraine Is but One Aspect of a Much Larger Strategy That Threatens European Order." Euromaidan Press, March 18. http://euromaidanpress.com/2015/03/18/timothy-snyder-ukraine-is-butoneaspect-of-a-much-larger-strategy-that-threatens-european-order/.

Eristavi, Maxim. 2014. "The New Ukrainian Government Is Poised to Abandon the LGBT Activists Who Were on the Front Lines." The New Republic, March 31. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117170/lgbt-rights-sidelined-afterukrainian-revolution.

Eristavi, Maxim. 2015. "Fake the Gay Away." April 14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKY3scPIMd8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Globa, Bogdon. 2015. "One Year after Euromaidan: What's Changed for Gay Rights?" EU Observer. March 13. https://euobserver.com/opinion/127984.

Gurley, Lisa Nicole, Claudia Leeb, and Anna Aloisia Moser. 2005. Feminists Contest Politics and Philosophy: Se13 54 CIAR 20 lected Papers of the 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference Celebrating International Women's Day. Peter Lang.

Judt, Tony. 2005. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. New York: Penguin Press.

Kenarov, Dimteter. 2015. "Dashed Hopes in Gay Ukraine." Foreign Policy. January 19. http://foreignpolicy. com/2015/01/19/dashed-hopes-in-gay-ukraine-maidan-russia/.

Kirchick, James. 2014. "The Closeted Revolution: Kiev's Gays Keep Quiet to Deny Putin a Propaganda Win." The Daily Beast. April 1. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/01/the-closeted-revolution-kiev-s-gays-keepquietto-deny-putin-a-propaganda-win.html?via=mobile&source=email.

Kuhar, Roman, and Judit Takács, eds. 2007. Beyond the Pink Curtain: Everyday Life of LGBT People in Eastern Europe. 1st ed. Politike Symposion. Ljubljana: Peace Institute. "London Evening Standard: The Celebration of a Nation in Art and Culture." 2015. KyivPost. Accessed May 14. http://www.kyivpost.com/content/lifestyle/london-evening-standard-the-celebration-of-a-nation-in-art-and-culture330581.html.

Loznitsa, Sergei. 2014. Maidan. Documentary.

Mankoff, Jeffrey. 2014. "Russia's Latest Land Grab." Foreign Affairs. June. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ russian-federation/2014-04-17/russias-latest-land-grab.

Marples, David R., and Frederick V. Mills, eds. 2015. Ukraine's Euromaidan: Analyses of a Civil Revolution. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, vol. 138. Stuttgard: Ibidem-Verlag.

Russia, Team of the Official Website of the President of. 2014. "Address by President of the Russian Federation." President of Russia. March 18. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603.

Snyder, Timothy, and Tim Judah. 2014. "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." NYRblog. March 1. http://www. nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/mar/01/ukraine-haze-propaganda/.

Unknown. 2013. "Ukraine Drops EU Plans and Looks to Russia." Al-Jazeera, November 21. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/11/ukraine-drops-eu-plans-looks-russia-20131121145417227621.html.

West, Donald J., and Richard Green. 1997. Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality: A Multi-Nation Comparison. Springer Science & Business Media.


  1. "London Evening Standard: The Celebration of a Nation in Art and Culture"
  2. Loznitsa
  3. Chertok
  4. Eristavi
  5. Globa
  6. Unknown
  7. Ibid.
  8. "Address by President of the Russian Federation"
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Snyder and Judah
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Eristavi
  18. Globa
  19. Ayoub
  20. Kirchick
  21. Marples and Mills
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Kirchick
  25. Globa
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ayoub
  28. Kirchick
  29. "Fake the Gay Away"
  30. Globa
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Kirchick
  35. Globa
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ayoub
  39. Ibid, 7
  40. Ibid, 8
  41. West and Green, 223
  42. Ibid, 223
  43. Kuhar, and Takacs, 261
  44. Barshay
  45. ibid.
  46. Kenarov
  47. Ayoub, 141
  48. Ibid, 142
  49. Ibid, 141
  50. Kirchick
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Kenarov
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Eristavi (2014)
  57. Eristavi (2015)
  58. Kenarov
  59. Judt
  60. Eristavi
  61. Ibid.
  62. Kenarov
  63. Ibid.

Image Attributions

By Chernov, Mstyslav/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com/ (Own work) Colective portrait of activists as the cashes stop. Euromaidan, Kyiv, UKraine. Eventts of February 22, 2014..jpg 2014 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colective_portrait_of_activists_as_the_cashes_stop._Euromaidan,_Kyiv,_UKraine._Eventts_of_February_22,_2014..jpg)], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Keete 37 (Own work) Gay Pride parade in St. Petersburg.jpg 2013 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gay_Pride_parade_in_St._Petersburg.jpg)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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