The EU’s fundamental values no longer apply to all Europeans. On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, sexual minorities across the continent stand united as Europe’s self-proclaimed respect for human dignity proves to be a case of cherry-picking. And in the eyes of some European leaders, we’re well aware, gay citizens are nothing but rotten fruit. 

When it comes to equal treatment of LGBTQ people, Europe has been standing on a crossroads for years. While some EU member states slowly but steadily build more inclusive societies, others have produced political incumbents who have grown strong by scapegoating minorities, the gay community being a prominent one. On March 31 2020 –Trans Day of Visibility– Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén proposed a bill[1] to end legal recognition of trans people. It was one of the Hungarian government’s first actions after having won the vote to rule by decree in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Just over a month later, on May 14, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency published the results of a survey [2] among nearly 140 thousand Europeans from across the continent, showing that nearly 43% of LGBTQ people in Europe had been discriminated against in the preceding year, while six out of 10 LGBTQ Europeans claim to be afraid to hold their partner’s hand in public out of fear of harassment. And while the attack on the freedom of sexual minorities nearly exclusively takes place in central and eastern European member states, it’s the almost apathetic response from Europe’s more progressive leaders that underlines our worst fears: all across the EU, the protection of LGBTQ rights is still not considered an issue worth fighting for.

Europe Day – not for everyone 

Between these moments in time lies another significant date for the continent: May 9th, Europe Day. And while this day marks decades of peace, freedom and the common recognition of democratic values in the EU, it may not feel so celebratory to the 140 thousand Europeans participating in the survey mentioned above, or anyone from the larger population that they represent. Living in a Union that self-identifies as a defender of human rights, how do you celebrate peace knowing that authorities in that same Europe, right here and now, endorse nazi-like LGBT-free zones[3]? Personally, I just have one answer to that: you don’t, really. That’s not to say that I’m ungrateful for the wealth and the countless number of rights and freedoms I enjoy thanks to the EU. If I had lived in Europe at really any random moment in history, I’m well aware, some famine, infection or ambitious leader’s family quarrels would already have put an end to me. I’m not ungrateful, but just no longer in the mood to celebrate. We’ve been taking our European temple for granted, and a toxic mould has grown all over it. If LGBTQ people are to feel part of the European Union of the future, European values will have to be made more explicitly inclusive, and this inclusivity more binding.

But Europe Day 2020 cannot have felt unreal only to minority-citizens. For this year’s edition, EU leaders released a collective video expressing their commitment to European cooperation. It shows Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán filming himself[4]  with a mobile device (yes, someone is literally filming how he films himself), sharing the inspiring words: “there has never been greater need for cooperation among European countries than there is today.”  He finishes his video with a dubious “Good luck, Europe!”. Good luck? Why does the prime minister believe we need luck? Is it, perhaps, because he’s been actively undermining European cooperation ever since he gained and sought to maintain a supermajority in parliament? Is it a sinister hint to Europe’s minorities, virtually all of which have become demonized by his party’s propaganda campaigns? Or does the prime minister warn us for the possibility of other states following his example in dismantling the rule of law and democratic institutions, without any real repercussions coming from other member states or supranational institutions? Whichever it is, we’ve all been warned

Watch the video and you’ll hear Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki remind us that “Europe is a promise of the future in which the fundamental rule of action is solidarity.” We may wonder what definition of solidarity the prime minister has in mind. His party’s domestic policies certainly seem to indicate that solidarity only comes within clearly defined, subjective and discriminatory boundaries. Under his government’s rule, critical judges have been silenced, judicial reforms are threatening the rule of law, and minorities have become increasingly marginalized. Those regions and municipalities that have officially adopted anti-LGBT measures together cover about a third of the country’s surface. At this very moment, in our EU of solidarity, Polish authorities target already marginalized groups of citizens, limiting their freedom, destructing their sense of belonging, and instigating public hostility towards them. And although I do feel a sense of solidarity towards those groups, for me, there’s little solidarity to be found in the Union that Morawiecki envisions.

This is a video of leaders who are bound together by the fragile threads of newborn institutions, hiding their divergent takes on even the most fundamental issues. It shows us the leader who steadily and publicly built the first undemocratic system[5,6] in the EU, encouraging us to believe in the spirit of cooperation. This video is not an invitation to celebrate peace and unity. It’s nothing but a sad illustration that terms such as ‘cooperation’ and ‘solidarity’ are empty words that you can use to cover up even the greatest divisions.

What can I do? 

If this video doesn’t fill you with gratitude or hope for the future either, there are ways in which you can express your concerns about Europe. And that communication does not always have to take the form of interaction with European institutions or MEPs (but it sure can). You can let your own MPs know that you care about what happens elsewhere in this Union. There are so many ways to reach out nowadays. Encourage your national parliament to hold your government accountable for what happens elsewhere in the European sphere. You may wonder: if fellow Union citizens are being marginalized by undemocratically behaving governments, why doesn’t my government take a stronger stance against this? If you live in a partner city of a Polish LGBT-free municipality, you could ask your local authorities what their stances on this issue are. It may also be worthwhile to check with which parties your national party forms an alliance in the European Parliament, and, if you have questions about this cooperation, hold your representatives accountable by reaching out to them or even by adjusting your voting behavior. You are allowed to question the policies of another member state and so are your representatives. By sharing your opinion, you do not breach the concept of sovereignty. 

At a more personal level, I believe everyone could contribute to breaking down the taboo against political conversations among friends and family. Many of us have opinions that we’d sometimes like to share, or questions to ask, but we don’t, because we don’t want to be that friend. Naturally, nobody likes to kill the mood. And we’re all a bit scared of opening topics we don’t think we have enough expertise on. But knowledge is gained by sharing, and opinions become more nuanced through conversation. What is the purpose of all our contact, our friendly smiles, our joyful parties, when our self-imposed indifference allows the foundations upon which that happy life is built to crumble? We’d be dancing on a volcano, ignoring the first signs of a massive eruption.

Mateusz Morawiecki says Europe is all about solidarity. Maybe he’s right after all. In the spirit of Europe Day, I would like to ask anyone reading this blog post to send me a short letter of support, addressing an unknown fellow European citizen from the LGBT+ community living in one of Poland’s LGBT-free zones. Write about some hardship you’ve had to face in your life, how it got better at some point, or your ideas for a brighter future. I’ll post some letters on my blog, but will also do my best to reach out to activists or progressive politicians in the targeted areas to see if they can share your letters of support among the right audiences. Europe Day may not be a time to party, but it could be a great reminder that in our very imperfect society, there’s always someone, somewhere, who could use some support.

Notes

  1. More information and personal stories related to this bill: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/26/hungary-prepares-to-end-legal-recognition-of-trans-people
  2. The survey report can be found here: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2020-lgbti-equality_en.pdf
  3. For a quick overview of what LGBT Ideology free zones precisely mean and where they are: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_ideology-free_zone
  4. Video of EU leaders on Europe Day 2020: https://www.euronews.com/2020/05/09/long-live-europe-our-home-european-leaders-celebrate-europe-day-in-renovated-cooperation
  5. In Freedom House’s 2020 report on nations in transit, Hungary dropped from being a semi-consolidated democracy to a transitional/hybrid regime, while Poland dropped from being a consolidated democracy to being a semi-consolidated democracy:   https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2020/dropping-democratic-facade
  6. Already in 2015, Orbán openly defended the idea of an illiberal state: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/hello-dictator-hungary-orban-viktor-119125