Ukraine, The Peace Process, and LGBTQ Rights
While the link between the peace process in Ukraine and LGBTQ rights may not be immediately clear, this article will put forward two arguments to support the claim that for peace to be sustainable it must be inclusive. In practical terms, this may imply a variety of things, but the focus will be on minority rights protections, specifically, explicit protections for LGBTQ rights. In countries that are deeply conservative, patriarchal, nationalistic, and heteronormative, conflicts provide an opportunity to reinforce idealized identities (e.g. male, white, majority religion, heterosexuality) whilst demonizing others (e.g. female, non-conforming gender identity and/or sexuality, minority religion). Likewise, the violence may not only be physical but also structural including institutionalized discrimination and persecution.
So far, the main aim of the peace process in the Ukraine has been to end immediate hostilities and fighting between pro-Russian separatists and pro-EU groups. This has been the framework that both Minsk I (2014) and Minsk II (2015) have taken, with the second agreement significantly reducing hostilities albeit with frequent skirmishes and exchanges of artillery fire continuing throughout 2016. Hence, thus far, ‘peace’ has only be understood in realpolitik terms – to end the fighting.
However, there will come a time when the final peace settlement will need to address not just the cessation of violence, but also the creation of a new framework for society that will promote development, social cohesion, social justice, tolerance, and equality between all segments of society. Likewise, for peace to be sustainable, it must be owned by the population. In other words, it requires input from the people and must be representative of the many different perspectives in society of what peace should entail. This includes marginalized groups like LGBTQ, whose rights and interests are usually ignored in favor of dominant patriarchal and heteronormative norms.
There is gaining consensus amongst both academics and policymakers that including more women in peace processes increases the likelihood of creating sustainable peace. The United Nation’s Security Council published in 2000 Resolution 1325 – the first of its many documents in relation to Women, Peace and Security – which made the direct link between greater inclusivity and sustainable peace. Yet, more than 17 years later, women as key decision makers during conflict mediation and resolution are few and far between. In the cases where women are included their presence is usually more of a symbolic gesture rather than a genuine attempt to redress the gender ratio imbalances apparent in peace processes across the world.
As such, it is no surprise that the inclusion of LGBTQ perspectives in peace processes is almost non-existent. Due to the predominant use of binary definitions of gender (i.e. men and women), this has led to the exclusion and marginalization of individuals who do not conform to monolithic understandings of gender and heteronormative traditions. However, despite increased recognition of the need to ensure that peace processes are more inclusive and representative of the total population, LGBTQ rights and needs are largely ignored. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in 2013 that the struggle for the protection of LGBTQ rights is “one of the greatest, neglected challenges of our time”. Ensuring protection of these rights is critical in the field of conflict resolution.
Since ‘peace’ can be understood in a myriad of ways, including negatively as the cessation of violence or positively as the promotion of development, the following definition will be used: sustainable peace is more than just the absence of war, but violence more generally, both physical and structural. It requires the participation of all individuals in society, including minorities, be they sexual, ethnic, religious, cultural and so on. Sustainable peace also requires social justice, social cohesion, access to socioeconomic opportunities, acceptance of diversity and a promotion of tolerance within society.
By excluding the rights, interests, and needs of certain segments of the population from the peace process, it is questionable the extent to which the peace process will be able to deliver sustainable peace. This line of reasoning follows the minority rights argument, which suggests that peace processes attempting to resolve identity-based conflicts that fail to incorporate comprehensive and effectual protections for minority rights, including LGBTQ, are merely ceasefires.
Ukraine is a deeply traditionalist society that holds patriarchal views of family and marriage. Subsequently, attitudes towards and status of LGBTQ individuals in Ukraine are deeply homophobic and intolerant. More than 70% of Ukrainians still consider homosexuality a disease, likewise believing that LGBTQ people are not only ‘repulsive’ but also “…secretly manipulating society and pushing it towards its hidden goal of ‘homo-dictatorship’”. Although homosexuality has been decriminalized since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and several progressive policies supporting LGBTQ rights have been introduced, anti-LGBTQ sentiment within the country remains strong.
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Crimea in response to the severe restrictions on the freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in the annexed region. The resolution explicitly “expresses its grave concern regarding the situation of LGBTI people in Crimea” adding that this has substantially worsened” following the occupation. All LGBTQ organizations and facilities in Crimea have ceased their functions due to Russian federal law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ in addition to receiving threats from occupation authorities and paramilitary groups.
The main arguments for including LGBTQ rights in peace deals are twofold: firstly, dominant religious and nationalist narratives can promote the LGBTQ community’s sub-citizen status and the undermining of their rights. Under these narratives, LGBTQ individuals are branded the ‘Other’ as they are seen to represent an existential threat to the reproductive survival of the nation-state. These dominant narratives prevent sexual minorities from their equal right to participate in public life undermining their civil, political, and socio-economic rights.
For example, Gay Pride in these contexts is where the heterosexing of space is most obvious. In 2016, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) publicly stated in response to Gay Pride events taking place across the country, “today, we are forced to accept LGBT marches and festivals, and thus join the rank of sinners who cover them”. This was met by silence from Ukrainian authorities, a public petition to ban LGBTQ events, with some policemen protesting in front of the Kiev police office as they refused to protect Gay Pride participants. In 2017, the country saw signs of progress. Kiev Pride took place without any incidents. Flanked by helmeted police, the event attracted more than 2,000 participants, including Ukrainian politicians and foreign diplomats. Yet, anti-LGBT sentiments remained widespread. Approximately 200 people protested the event calling it an insult to traditional values: “God punishes for the sins of Sodom with damnation” one pastor said.
The relevance and significance of this to the wider conflict in the Ukraine are the underlying fundamental differences in Ukraine’s split identity. It has a history of flip-flopping between the West and Russia, pandering to each side’s requests to serve its own national interest. The Maiden protests in 2014 arguably marked the beginning of a ‘new Ukraine’. For some, it symbolized a desire to make fundamental changes to democracy and improvements to human rights legislation through a closer relationship with the European Union. As such, gay rights were at the heart of this. The failure to sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU under Viktor Yanukovych alarmed many, with one gay activist explaining, “for me Ukraine not signing the AA also meant it would become part of the so-called Russian world. One of the values of the so-called Russian world is state-sponsored homophobia”. Pro-Kremlin media, however, attempted to portray the pro-EU protests as a tantrum by LGBTQ people yearning to join ‘Gayropa’. Although the new government under Poroshenko went onto sign the AA leading to small improvements on the issue of LGBTQ rights (e.g. labor codes, 2015), the situation for greater protections for LGBTQ individuals remains precarious.
There is an additional argument that including minority rights and safeguards, including protection of LGBTQ rights, in peace deals can increase the likelihood of creating sustainable peace. Given the split in Ukrainian identity between the West and Russia, it is imperative that explicit rights for minority groups are incorporated in the final peace settlement.
This is not to suggest that only through the inclusion of minority and LGBTQ rights protections, the final peace settlement will provide the means to fully resolve the crisis in Ukraine. LGBTQ rights do not form the core issues concerned with the current peace process, as they are not part of the fundamental grievances that led to the initial conflict. However, they link to wider concerns, including democratization and human rights. Given that the sensitivity surrounding the core interests between the opposing parties already makes the ability to agree on a peace settlement immensely difficult, this situation undermines the urgency of including LGBTQ issues in the peace deal.
In the long-term, it will be essential for sustainable peace that the final peace settlement does include mechanisms that promote social cohesion, social justice, tolerance, and equality. Without these elements, the cessation of violence will always be temporary. This understanding can be applied to Ukraine by ensuring the explicit recognition of LGBTQ and other minority rights in the final peace deal, with input from civil society, reforms to the criminal justice system, and a greater focus on democratization and human rights.
Wiktoria Shulz is an MSc International Relations Graduate.