Sunday, 8 November 2015

Ukraine eschews visa-free EU travel by refusing to protect gay people in workplace

Ukraine’s parliament has scuppered the country’s chances of visa-free travel to most EU nations by blocking legislation that would have banned discrimination against gay people in the workplace.

The pro-EU leadership that replaced the Moscow-backed president last year has made it a priority to join the Schengen zone – a club of EU countries that allows visa and passport-free travel. But the European Union said in 2010 that Ukrainians being allowed free travel depended in part on Kiev adding a clause to its Soviet-era labour code that would ban all forms of discrimination against gay people.
Homosexuality was a criminal offence that landed people in jail throughout the duration of the Soviet Union and survived the superpower’s 1991 collapse. Ukraine decriminalised it in 1992 – a year before neighbouring Russia. But anti-gay prejudice remains high in large swathes of the overwhelmingly religious and conservative eastern European state.
A gay pride parade held on the outskirts of Kiev in June lasted just minutes before a far-right group attacked it without any apparent intervention from the police.
President Petro Poroshenko said in a nationally televised address late on Wednesday that his crisis-torn nation – its economy battered and the pro-Russian separatist east out of Kiev’s control – faced “an extremely important day”. A yes vote would allow “Ukrainian citizens to visit EU countries without visas as early as next year”, the 50-year-old leader promised.
But the chamber, controlled by a loose pro-government coalition that has seen members break away to join nationalist or populist groups, gave the change a resounding “no” in the first of two votes. Only 117 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament supported the changes demanded by Brussels. Such a minority reflects not only public opinion, but also the slim chance the legislation has of collecting the required 226 votes in a second ballot, whose precise date has yet to be set.
Poroshenko’s government was dealt another blow when a member of prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s own party denounced the proposed legislation in a passionate backbench address. “As a country with a thousand-year-old Christian history, we simply cannot allow this,” lawmaker Pavlo Unguryan said. “Today, a special status for sexual minorities is simply unacceptable.”
His remarks mirror Russia’s ban of “gay propaganda” aimed at minors that prompted travel boycotts by prominent western artists and condemnation by human rights groups.



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