Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Politics. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 08 December 2021

Russian and Eastern European LGBT Movements and Interest Groupslocked

Russian and Eastern European LGBT Movements and Interest Groupslocked

  • Conor O'DwyerConor O'DwyerDepartment of Political Science, University of Florida

Summary

The development of LGBT movements and interest groups in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union reflects the region’s unique political development with respect to the experience of communism, the transition to democracy in the 1990s, the expanding influence of international institutions like the European Union (EU), and, most recently, trends of democratic backsliding and even reversion to outright authoritarian rule in some countries. Each of these aspects of the region’s political development has engendered debate among scholars and activists. There is consensus that the experience of communism strongly circumscribed not only the possibilities for activism but also, in some instances, even the possibilities for articulating LGBT identities. Nevertheless, a survey of the scholarship on postcommunist LGBT politics indicates divergent trajectories between countries of the former Soviet Union, where LGBT identities are less established and activism is less organized, and the former satellite states of Eastern Europe, whose experience under communism was shorter and, arguably, less intense. Without ignoring the evident deficits of Eastern Europe’s LGBT activism in the 1990s, its LGBT people benefited relative to counterparts in the former Soviet Union from a generally more successful transition to democracy and a greater degree of exposure to West European institutions, in particular the EU. The process of applying for EU membership, many scholars argue, advantaged these countries’ LGBT movements vis-à-vis their counterparts in the former Soviet Union by pressuring national governments to be more accommodating and by socializing elites and publics to Western Europe’s comparatively tolerant values and LGBT rights norms. Adjusting to these norms was sometimes contentious, but several scholars argue that, where conservative backlash against LGBT rights occurred during the EU’s first round of expansion in 2004 to 2007, it generally helped domestic activism by increasing its visibility and level of organization.

Not all are so optimistic about the EU’s impact on LGBT activism, however, particularly those studying Yugoslavia’s successor states, for whom the EU accession process occurred later or is still ongoing. These scholars emphasize the difficulties of squaring EU norms about LGBT rights with national identity, particularly given the EU’s sometimes colonial-like relations with postcommunist societies. Others note that transnational rights advocacy supported by the EU has been matched by the rise of transnational antigay activism, and that the clash of transnational activism stalemates domestic progress on LGBT-friendly policies. Such critiques appear increasingly relevant as trends of democratic backsliding have emerged since the 2010 world financial crisis in former “success cases” of postcommunist transition and EU integration, notably Hungary and Poland. The latter’s democratic backsliding occurs within the larger context of Russia’s reversion to authoritarianism after the brief political opening of the 1990s. Across these three countries, governing elites have shown a readiness to make use of LGBT issues to define their illiberal ideologies and to mobilize voters. Whether these developments portend a narrowing of differences among LGBT movements in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is a key question for future scholars.

Subjects

  • Contentious Politics and Political Violence
  • Governance/Political Change
  • Groups and Identities

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription