There is still a long way to go when it comes to the march for LGBT equality. There are a number of battles that need to be fought around the world from the embryonic struggle to end the criminalisation of homosexual activity to more complex areas like systemic homophobia in public institutions. In the case of the latter the ultimate symbol of progress is the choice of an LGBT person to become the leader of a country. However it is important to stress that this symbolism has a different significance in different political cultures.
The first round of the French presidential election took place a number of weeks ago and the result was that neither candidate from the two main political parties of France- the Socialist Party and Les Républicains- made it into the second round of voting. Instead, former Socialist Party minister and self-declared centrist Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National made it into the second round vote. Left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon narrowly finished fourth with nearly 20% of the vote. Mélenchon was the candidate that I wished to see elected as the French President and but because of the result there have been many questions about who these voters should support. I’m going to argue against some of the nonsense that has been proposed in recent weeks before revealing what I would do.
In Western media there has been justifiable outrage over the reports of concentration camps being established in Chechnya. Naturally such a move should be condemned and pressure need to be put on the Russian government to either stop the persecution or permit the safe passage of those under threat out of Chechnya. However, this doesn’t require any substantive political analysis as even those who do not especially care about LGBT rights would oppose the establishment of concentration camps. The subject of this piece is concerning the discourse around this news story, particularly the view that seeks to link this new development with Chechnya’s status as a Muslim-majority area.
Scotland’s place in the EU was one of the key issues in the 2014 referendum campaign and at the time there was much talk of Spain vetoing Scotland’s potential membership of the EU in order to quell secessionist feeling in Catalonia. However now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the Spanish government appear to have acknowledged the situation has changed and have now said that Spain wouldn’t block an independent Scotland from joining the EU post-Brexit. Although the political dynamics of this situation would appear to favour the pro-independence camp, it would be foolish to think that independence was now the pre-determined course of Scotland.
In the last few months there has been much talk of the rise of right-wing populism, but in the first test of 2017 these forces have failed. The far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders has not only failed to win enough seats to become the next Dutch Prime Minister, his party finished second overall. The polling going into the final days of the campaign had shown the PVV dropping off in support and so this result shouldn’t have been overly surprising. However, the other noteworthy thing about the vote is the fragmentation of politics that has implications for future elections.
The far-right Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban is what can be described as a hard-liner when it comes to the refugee crisis. He is a leader who believes that the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East are a threat to tradition European culture. Indeed, Orban has previously described refugees as looking like an invading army, and as such Europe needs to firmly act to keep out these people. Orban is not alone in Hungary when it comes to intolerant approaches to refugees, and this is most evident by a recent piece of legislation that will mandate that new refugee camps will be built out of shipping containers.
In some European countries the idea of legal same-sex marriage is largely uncontroversial. For instance the Netherlands has had equal marriage since 2001, it being the first nation in the world to act. However the more eastward one travels, the more socially conservative countries appear to be on LGBT rights. I contend that 2017 will be an important year because it could be a watershed moment in the history of the European gay liberation movement. Evidently I may have been proven correct already as there has been progress in some parts of Europe in this very area. But even more can be made this year given the changes in public opinion in some European countries.