Gay rights is getting caught up in the geopolitics of eastern Europe

The World
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The battle over gay rights in Russia is getting a lot of attention because of its recently-passed law banning so-called "gay propaganda" and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.

But Russia isn't the only country in the region where homosexuality has become the focus of intense debate. 

"What we are seeing in Ukraine and in a lot of other countries is an intense interest in propaganda laws that were passed in Russia," says J. Lester Feder, a foreign correspondent for Buzzfeed in Ukraine.

"We see throughout that part of the world a lot of homophobia on a cultural level. It's not like that was invented now, but it's become a very useful political issue," Feder says. "When Russia passed its propaganda law, it was using that in part to define itself in opposition to the West."

Feder says the anxiety over the relationship with the West is something that is playing out throughout Eastern Europe. And as the EU continues to expand towards Russia, Russia is trying very hard to hold on to its influence in this part of the world. 

Ukraine is one of the countries moving towards an agreement to formalize its relationship with the EU. And groups opposed to affiliation with the EU feel they can use popular opposition to gay marriage and rights as a way to rally people against the EU.

Feder says one organization, Ukrainian Choice, is funded by a wealthy businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, who is said to have close ties to Vladimir Putin. According to Feder, that group has put up billboards saying that the European Union means gay marriage.

Feder says, in the Ukraine, LGBT people still suffer from violence, hate crimes and suppression of political rights. And he notes that organizations that have been operating in Russia, like Occupy Pedophilia, have moved into Ukraine. Occupy Pedophilia is known to entrap gay men and humiliate them through sting videos.

For LGBT people, "[Ukraine] is not a comfortable place to be," Feder says. "It's not by any stretch as bad as Russia has become, in part because of the countervailing pressure from the European Union to ensure some level of gay rights. But on a cultural and political level, there is still a lot of suppression."

Feder says you really can't talk about LGBT rights in Ukraine in isolation.

"There is a much bigger geo-political debate happening," he says. "You have real competition between two very large economic and political powers in the region and this debate … will be heavily shaped by those actors — by Russia and the EU — [and] not primarily by activists whose primary concerns are LGBT rights."

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