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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Annals of Liberty: Ukrainian Edition

Ukrainian legislators are considering a law which would, among other things, make it a crime to screen Brokeback Mountain.

The bill, which has sailed through its first reading in parliament and -- despite considerable criticism -- stands a good chance of passing, prohibits any "pro-homosexual propaganda," including "positive depictions" of gay people.  So those reruns of Will & Grace you've been enjoying in Kiev?  Kiss 'em goodbye.

Likewise, and more seriously, a gay rights parade or even, we suppose, a gay bar.

This is the sort of heavy-handed, human-rights-violating legislation we have come to associate with Archbishop Peter Akinola's Nigeria, or in the openly theocratic nations of the Middle East; it is a bit shocking to see it in Europe.  The case deserves a moment's consideration.

As the BBC notes, they Ukraine was the first post-Soviet republic nation to decriminalize homosexual activity.   And yet, in recent years, there has been an upsurge in violent assaults on gay people, and the the current bill unites the major political parties and a large swath of public opinion.  So what's going on?

There are a couple of possibilities.  One is that Ukrainians, having had a taste of Western-style liberty, are growing uncomfortable with it.  We have seen Romanians, both young and old, who are able in one breath to describe the genuine awfulness of their lives under Communism, and in another to grow nostalgic for its comforting predictability.

Another possibility is that this is connected to the rise of the extreme right which has been taking place all over Europe, from Finland to Greece, from Hungary to France.  This (it seems to us) is less about discontent with modernity and its libertine excesses, and more about economic uncertainty and the perceived danger posed by Muslim immigrants.

Heaven knows that both antimodernism and nationalism could be at work together.  And speaking of Heaven, there is also the role of religion to consider.

The Beeb story launches into an interview with one Valery Reshetinsky, pastor of a church in Kiev called Christian Hope, which the story describes as "evangelical."  Apparently, Christian Hope helped to promote the bill.  Reshetinsky offers two rationales.  The first is stolen directly from the Western anti-gay playbook, as represented by Dinesh D'Souza and the Manhattan Abomination Declaration:

In his opinion, freedom of speech for sexual minorities is a violation of what he considers his inalienable right not to have to hear something he finds offensive. 
"You can't do everything that you want to do, because there are people who have the exact same rights as you do," he insists.

In other words, recognizing the civil rights of people I disagree with is a de facto violation of my own civil rights.  (Actually, Herbert Marcuse wrote something similar, which is why we never read another word by Herbert Marcuse.)

The second rationale is a classic example of the paranoid mythology endemic to Eastern Europe:
The pastor goes on to accuse a worldwide conspiracy of Masons, New-Agers, postmodernists and financiers of various nationalities, of imposing ideas that are not "characteristic for Ukraine" on the nation's children.
Right.  Somebody should really round all those "international financiers" up and put them in a prison camp somewhere.

The BBC report, however, makes it sound as if this wretched bill were simply the product of the Ukraine's "evangelicals," making it fit the familiar American narrative of a Religious Right railing against modernity.  (Unspoken but implicit is the idea that the "rights groups" opposing the bill are made up of modern-thinking secularists.) We don't know much about the Ukraine, but numbers alone make us believe this explanation must be wrong.

Simply put, there aren't many Protestants in the Ukraine -- about 2% of the population, according to Wikipedia.  That two percent consists largely of Baptists and Pentecostals (who aren't really Protestants, much less 'evangelicals," but let it go for now).  The real religious power belongs to the three competing Orthodox communities (+/- 30%), with the combined Roman and Greek Catholic community a distant second.  So if religious groups are shaping public opinion -- and legislative agendas -- it is almost certainly the Orthodox who are the prime movers.

However -- and this is the key point -- a 2006 study concluded that 62.5% of Ukrainians consider themselves "atheist or not members of any church."  (That, mind you, is versus the 15% of Americans that everybody is making such a fuss about this week).  Now, 62.5% is a massive portion of the population.  It is, bluntly put, the number sufficiently large to give the "atheists and unaffiliated" an undisputed political and cultural hegemony, at least if they work together.

So the real question is not whether a Protestant minister thinks Brokeback Mountain violates his civil rights, but why so many of the supposedly progressive secularists do.

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