Gedimino Prospektas lies in Vilnius, Lithuania, running past Lukiškės Square to Cathedral Square, connecting a potent symbol of Lithuanian national identity to its religious roots in the Roman Catholic Church. On the 18th of June 2016, the third ever pride march was held in Vilnius, using Gedimino Prospektas as its main route on the way to the closing speeches at the Bernardinai Garden, situated beneath the iconic Gediminas Tower. As the march passed down the avenue, the Baltic Pride slogan, “Mes esame žmonės – ne propaganda!” (“We are people – not propaganda”) was shouted by participants and emblazoned on placards they held. The symbolism of holding a gay pride march on one of the major thoroughfares in what has been labelled as one of the most homophobic countries in Europe can hardly be ignored.
My PhD dissertation research will look at the cultural programming of gay pride across the Baltic States, Belarus, and Ukraine. I am particularly interested in how local LGBT communities have forged relationships with cultural workers, embassy staff, and foreign diplomats from Western Europe and North America in order to curate and hold art exhibitions and film festivals as part of the programming of local pride celebrations. It is my contention that larger western nations such as Canada have a vested interest in positioning themselves as proponents of LGBT rights across Eastern Europe – particularly in opposition to the homophobic policies of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. The explicit reference to, and rebuke of, the notion of gay propaganda by activists in Baltic Pride this past summer illustrates the power that Russian political policies have on its neighbouring nations.
This project will focus primarily on Baltic Pride, which rotates between the Baltic States each year, Belarussian activists groups involved in attempting to hold pride in Minsk (and has not successfully occurred since 2012), and Kyiv Pride in Ukraine, to look at the types of cultural events they organise, the artists and films they exhibit, the performances they hold, and the social and cultural networks they produce. My research takes 2005 as its starting point as this was the first time that pride marches were successfully held in Tallinn, Estonia, and Rīga, Latvia. I will also address the role of the European Union on political policy towards LGBT communities, in particular through the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, as well as foreign NGOs such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign. In particular, I will examine the impact that western governments and NGOs have upon cultural production and LGBT activism in this region. I believe that these types of cultural performances can be viewed through the globalised LGBT movement, based on gay and lesbian identities as diffused through the dynamics of globalisation and in the “making local” of those identities (Oswin, 2006) in ways that challenge and question simplistic narratives of cultural imperialism and homonationalism.