Ukraine’s political establishment has reacted with dismay to comments made Friday by the leader of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party, Oleh Tyahnybok, who targeted the sexuality of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Westerwelle was in Kiev for a round of meetings with President Viktor Yanukovych and Opposition parties. He also met with Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and UDAR founder, the former boxer Vitaly Klitschko.
But when Tyagnibok was asked by a reporter why he had not been invited to meet Westerwelle, he reportedly said: “I would go, but I was not invited. The Mіnіster is a well-known person, who has, let’s put it this way, a non-traditional sexual orientation.”
The backlash in Kiev has been swift, with Tyahnybok criticised not just because he has made an issue of Westerwelle’s openly gay sexuality, but because of the discourtesy and breach of diplomatic protocols.
“Westerwelle was here, in Kiev, as a guest of Ukraine representing his nation Germany,” a Ukraine Government spokesman said.
“His sexuality is irrelevant – that’s not how we speak of visiting politicians,” he added.
Svoboda’s openly homophobic and anti-semitic rhetoric is not new. Last month one of its lawmakers, Igor Miroshnichenko, wrote on Facebook that Ukraine-born American actress Mila Kunis was “not Ukrainian but a Jewess.” He also used the offensive term “zhydovka”, which has painful echoes of Ukraine’s Nazi occupation.
And in April, Svoboda led opposition to a resolution introduced within the Ukraine Rada (parliament) to prohibit “hate speech and degrading expressions”. Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and UDAR also opposed that bill.
Gay issues have proven divisive for Batkivshchyna this year, with Yatsenyuk disappointing the party’s liberal supporters at a rally in April by publicly condemning gay marriage.
But despite staunch opposition to social reforms, the Government has forged ahead with a legislative campaign aimed at bringing Ukraine’s laws into line with European Union norms and practices. Earlier this year it introduced a landmark bill prohibiting discrimination against gays, which was also attacked by Svoboda.
Westerwelle was in Kiev to discuss Ukraine’s signing of an Association Agreement with the EU later this year, of which these reforms are a prerequisite.
Praising Ukraine’s progress Friday he said: “I see Ukraine as an integral part of Europe, as a bridge between East and West.”
SOURCE: KYIV, Ukraine, June 24, 2013 /PRNewswire