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The Equality Festival in Lviv: Some First-Hand Accounts - Interview by Krytyka Polityczna

The Equality Festival in Lviv: Some First-Hand Accounts - Interview by Krytyka Polityczna

The story of the response to the disrupted Equality Festival in Lviv is a story of a city which made a very typical logical error.Halyna Gerasym

The attempt to hold the Equality Festival in Lviv sparked heated debate and confrontation. The opponents of the festival made all kinds of arguments: they said that it was inappropriate when war is ongoing within the country; that it would offend the feelings of religious people, since the event would coincide with the beginning of Lent. In conservative Galicia, the reminder that minority rights must also be respected was interpreted as a provocation, and quick analysts as well as the conspiracy theorists immediately saw the omnipresent “hand of Moscow” on all sides of the scandal.

In fact, this case is related to another significant violation which happened a couple of years ago. In March, 2012, Oksana Makar, who was raped and then tortured, died in hospital. Even though this case led to serious protests demanding the punishment of those responsible for the crime, accusations along the lines of “nothing would have happened if she did not have the habit of going out with male strangers” poured upon Oksana from all directions.

What is similar about these two seemingly completely different cases?

Half a century ago, the social psychologist Melvin J. Lerner held a series of experiments, the results of which described a cognitive bias which Lerner later called the “just world hypothesis”. In general, the scientist claimed, people are so inclined to believe that others get what they deserve that they often subordinate their lives to this belief, even if it sometimes goes against their own interests. The bias can often be observed in situations where something bad happens to people, such as persecution, rape, or even illness. Researchers of the just world fallacy claim that the belief can even have beneficial effects on a person’s psychological condition, since it creates the illusion that the world is not chaotic, and you have control over your own life.

Every day, people encounter a lot of injustice. It is unjust that, say, after the overthrow of an authoritarian regime, a foreign country managed to seize a piece of land. It is unjust that peaceful protesters trying to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are attacked by aggressive members of radical organizations. The result is that people have to deal with their own bias and reconcile it with reality.

The reconciliation can be carried out in many ways. For example, you can try to fix the injustice. Or you can look for the reasons behind what happened in the victim’s behaviour. Such reasons can always be found post factum, since the great majority of people do not spend their time sitting in closed bunkers where neither attackers nor viruses can reach them. Blaming the victim, however, as in the case of Oksana Makar, is usually completely absurd: any kind of pastime with strangers or “immoral behavior” are no reason to commit murder. And quitting all behaviours that might “seduce” or “provoke” a criminal means living in a bunker, as described above.

Taking into account the extent to which Ukrainian society is used to deceptions about a “fascist state” and “criminal junta,” there is a significant temptation to assume that there is no radical right in Ukraine, and that the youths that perform Nazi salutes and attack other citizens are innocent patriots with Yarosh’s business cards, who are simply reacting to provocation. Given that the stereotypical radical right that crucifies young boys, as well as the fascist junta, apparently doesn’t exist in Ukraine, it looks like there has been a misunderstanding, and a natural desire emerges to conclude that those who were attacked are to be blamed for it.

The position of openly homophobic right-wing radical organizations regarding the Equality Festival is outrageous, but not surprising. However, the response from that part of society that presents itself as tolerant and LGBT-friendly, the response by some analysts and intellectuals is, at the very least, confusing. The public, who are much more progressive than the young men from Misanthropic Division, Sokil and other similar organizations, naturally condemned the violence. However, they also unfortunately demonstrated almost the same set of biases as more conservative citizens and organizations, such as the official representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Both local and national media contained accusations by writers, editors, journalists, and professors, addressed to the Festival’s organizers. For example, they were accused of insufficient explanation as to what the event would be about; of ruining the fragile social consensus for the sake of “adrenalin;” of not waiting until the negotiations about the visa-free border crossing regime began. Opinion makers also repeated the city government’s mantra that “it seems that it’s a well-planned Russian information attack.”

The attempt to equate an event filled with discussions, literature readings, film screenings and an urban quest with the gathering of people who threw stones through windows and cars looks bizarre and illogical, if not plainly grotesque. I don’t want to accuse the respectable public, who express similar opinions, of homophobia or of consciously turning a blind eye to discrimination, so I must assume that it is simply a misunderstanding and a destructive implementation of their belief in the just world.

Such equivalencies move the discussion from the field of law, whose purpose is to moderate the way various social groups exercise their rights, to the field of moral judgement, which are relative, unstable and hard to regulate. There is nothing harmful about discussions of morality, but comparing explicitly illegal and violent actions to legal and non-violent ones undermines the universality of law. If the law is not mandatory for certain groups because they have moral justification, then how can we speak of any kind of constitutional state?

Overwhelmed by the illusion of a just world, the public, who equate the two sides of the conflict, are in fact supporting those who promote closed-mindedness, xenophobia, and discrimination, along with those who ignore the law.

Regardless of their views on homosexuality, it seems that it is time for the progressive public to choose which side they are on.

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