Wanderlust: Gay rights faltering in liberal Czech Republic?

Illustration by Antler.
Credit: Sharron Lovell

PRAGUE, Czech Rep. — For months, it looked like Prague Pride, the very first LGBT festival hosted here, would barely raise an eyebrow.

Religious resistance in the Czech Republic, where as much as 70 percent of the population claims to be atheist or agnostic, is close to non-existent.

Registered partnerships of same-sex couples have been legal here since 2006. To top it off, it’s a well-known — even advertised — fact that Prague has a vibrant gay nightlife, not to mention a robust gay porn industry.

So hosting Prague Pride in a city dubbed "the Amsterdam of the East” seemed about as controversial as Santa Claus.

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But that all changed this week when the president’s office decided to intervene in the morality of the nation.

Just a few days before the start of the festival, Petr Hajek, the deputy head of the Czech Presidential Office, issued a statement criticizing the “homosexual carnival” and calling Czech gays “deviant fellow citizens.”

“We expected some negative reactions but to receive them from the [President] was really surprising,” said Prague Pride spokesperson Kamila Fröhlichová.

At first, this was considered to be another in a string of outrageous statement by Hajek to attract attention, stimulate discussion and exercise the full spectrum of “freedom of speech,” minus the perils of political correctness. (Earlier this year, for example, Hajek disputed the existence of Osama bin Laden, suggesting the U.S. might have simply invented his life, and, naturally, death, for political and economic reasons).

Hajek’s insensitive choice of words, however, generated huge media and NGO outrage domestically and abroad. Thirteen foreign embassies, including the U.S. embassy, immediately issued official statements supporting Prague Pride as a celebration of diversity, which angered the head of state’s office further.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus issued his own statement and defended Hajek, and especially freedom of speech, wondering why anyone would be offended by the word deviant.

“I consider deviation to be a value-neutral term,” Klaus wrote on his website. “Either way, homosexuality is a question of minority and as such it deserves our support, not necessarily glorification.”

Klaus, who is well-known for his controversial opinions, also explained that Prague Pride is not an expression of homosexuality, but “homosexualism,” which he finds — like other fashionable ‘isms’ — to be extremely worrisome because they pose a threat to democracy.

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“We may respect homosexuality, but not homosexualism,” he wrote. Whereas homosexuality is an inherent condition, “homosexualism” is, according to Klaus, an ideology. And a dangerous one.

Among other "isms" representing fashionable ideologies that petrify the Czech president are feminism or environmentalism, and those whose names he has coined over the years such as: NGO-ism (putting the interests of NGOs ahead of democratically elected institutions), Europeism (a meta-ideology responsible for all of the EU’s problems) or Havelism (ex-President Havel’s naïve "love and truth" view of the world) and now also homosexualism.

Even with the media and political turmoil dedicated to “deviation," it doesn’t seem that the Czech public is overly concerned about the dangers of “homosexualism.”

Only 10-12 percent of Czechs view homosexuality negatively, according to the last survey by the agency Factum Invenio.

Still, several conservative parties and organizations, headed by the United Social Workers Party, are planning their own “anti-tolerance” demonstrations during the parade Saturday.

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Before the media attention and the announcement of counter-demonstrations, Prague Pride organizers were expecting the festival to be quite provincial — about 1,500 people participating in the parade and another 5,000 attending the rest of the five-day smattering of sporting and cultural events.

With the unexpected “help” of the presidential office, however, they now expect these numbers to be much higher.

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