Controversy over Prague’s first gay and lesbian pride parade escalates

08-08-2011

With two more days left to go before it begins, the gay and lesbian community’s Prague Pride festival has stirred up considerable controversy. The event, held under the auspices of Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, has come under fire from public figures such as the head of the ultra-conservative Civic Initiative D.O.S.T. Ladislav Bátora, the controversial presidential aide Petr Hájek, and even the president himself.

A heated public debate around the Czech capital’s first gay and lesbian parade, held as part of the five-day Prague Pride festival, is escalating two days ahead of the official start of the event. On Monday, Ladislav Bátora, the head of the ultra-conservative Civic Initiative D.O.S.T. who also runs the Education Ministry’s human resources department, sent a letter to Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, denouncing his support of the festival. Another copy went to US ambassador Norman Eisen, one of thirteen diplomats who pledged their encouragement of Prague Pride.

Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda and Boris Štastný, the head of the city’s Civic Democrats chapter, have made it clear that they will not withdraw their support. This is what Mr. Štastný had to say on the topic.

Boris ŠťastnýBoris Šťastný “In this matter, I feel it is my personal obligation to support the mayor, and his position on chauvinistic and xenophobic attitudes that are propagated by some groups of this society, and to say very clearly that Prague is an open city, a metropolis that I would like to see become even more similar to cities like Vienna, Paris, Munich or Berlin. We do not oppose such events taking place in our city, and I see no reason why the mayor should not support Prague Pride.”

Mr. Bátora’s protest of the pride and tolerance festival follows on the heels of a statement made by presidential aide Petr Hájek, who called the parade a “march of deviants.” His remarks were backed by none other than President Václav Klaus, who said that “deviant” was a neutral term – simply referring to a behavior that is different from the norm. These comments have drawn sharp responses: A number of NGOs and civic associations have addressed Prime Minister Petr Nečas, expressing their concern over homophobic attitudes amongst government officials. Meanwhile, the organizers of Prague Pride are refusing to get drawn into what they say is a purely political debate. Czeslaw Walek is the chairman of Prague Pride’s board.

Czeslaw WalekCzeslaw Walek “I have to stress that we do not want to get involved in this political discussion, because clearly, this is a political issue within one party, which we are not a part of and don’t want to get into. What I personally find more scary than the statements by Mr. Hájek and Mr. Bátora is the endorsement by the president, because the president said that deviant was a neutral word, and by this, he implies that homosexuals are deviant. But the fact remains that within society, it is a very pejorative word, so for me personally, this is more threatening than the statements by Mr. Hájek and Mr. Bátora.”

Mr. Walek added that thanks to the remarks of both Mr. Hájek and Mr. Bátora, everyone in the Czech Republic was now aware that Prague Pride 2011 was taking place, and he said he expected Saturday’s parade would be a great and entertaining event.

08-08-2011