Fearing scandal for being different, politicians keep themselves, nation in closet

Oct. 14, 2010, 11:34 p.m. | Svitlana Tuchynska

Svitlana Tuchynska

Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko made headlines last week, but not because of his strong political agenda. The sensation centered on the private life of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko parliamentarian: A video was released on the Internet in which he talked about sexual relations with another man.

Shot back in 1993, the footage showed a young Lyashko, then chief editor of a small newspaper, revealing to a police officer the truth about his intimate relations with an undisclosed male politician, Borys.

Lyashko had been rumored to be gay for a long time before the video appeared. However, the day after the video was leaked, he disappointed me and many other people when he issued a statement accusing political opponents of doctoring the video using “modern technologies.”

I picked up the phone to talk to Lyashko and asked him if he thinks there is a problem with gay people coming out of the closet in Ukraine.

“I cannot speak for my colleagues, if there are any gay people among them. I was never interested in that matter,” Lyashko said. “Personally, I have a traditional sexual orientation. If you want to know about other public people, ask doctors.”

I am not a specialist in video-doctoring techniques, but something tells me that the chances are, in fact, that the video is genuine.

I don’t know anything about Lyashko’s sexual life, but the fact is Ukraine has yet to see a politician come out of the closet about his or her homosexual orientation. I do believe they have reasons to be scared. In this generally conservative country, people are afraid of admitting that they are different from what they think the majority of people are. And this tendency stretches way beyond sexual orientation.
Ukraine has yet to see a politician come out of the closet about his or her homosexual orientation.

Take religion for example. The majority of Ukraine’s politicians rush to appear in Orthodox churches in front of the cameras, hoping to score political points with Orthodox citizens who follow the nation’s dominant faith. They do this even though many of them are atheists, while others privately belong to other religions.

For some reason, they think that that revealing to the public what their beliefs or behavior really is will cost them so many votes that their career in politics will be over. Their strategy is a simple, yet backward one, like the train of thought from the Middle Ages: Go with the flow.

It’s a big shame, manipulative, backward and a sign of how deep Ukraine’s problems are.

Many different, eccentric and off-the-beaten path type of people occupy high posts in other countries. Some of them are openly gay. Some attend tiny churches with silly names. Some wear crazy outfit or ride bikes to work. They do so because – at the end of the day and despite personal prejudices and phobias – what voters are really concerned with is the professionalism of their politicians and their ability to deliver on reforms, to improve the lives of citizens, businesses, etc.

Johanna Sigurdardottir, a married lesbian, is the prime minister of Iceland, while Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany Guido Westerwelle dared to come to Angela Merkel’s 50th birthday party with his gay partner, and proceeded to marry him years later.

I am pretty sure there are people in Iceland and Germany who do not approve of gay relations and even hate gay people. But it’s a small portion of their populations. But in Ukraine, if a politician is gay or a member of the “wrong” church, more extremist voters would have one more reason to hate their politicians.

Still, this would not change the overall result. These extremists would simply join in with the millions of voters who already have more than enough reasons to hate politicians, the majority of reasons being that they have repeatedly robbed the country of its riches and failed to deliver any reforms for a struggling population.

Having said this, there have been some public figures in Ukraine who decided not to hide their sexual orientation. Of course, they did not publicly boast about it either. But at least they weren’t cowardly, pretending to be “normal.”
Even if the video is forged and Lyashko is as heterosexual as could be, he had the chance to make history by saying he sees nothing wrong with being gay in this country.

The first person who comes to mind is former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty. He has never denied being gay. Yes, he might have heard rude jokes behind his back, but that did not prevent him from occupying one of the most influential ministerial positions in the government.

For a moment, when I heard of Lyashko`s video, I thought he just might become the first Ukrainian politician to publicly come out of the closet and speak up about gay rights in this country. If he really is gay but keeps furiously denying it, then he is just another “normal” and spineless Ukrainian politician.

Even if the video is forged and Lyashko is as heterosexual as could be, he had the chance to make history by saying he sees nothing wrong with being gay in this country. But apparently, it takes much more courage than the “normal” politician this country boasts.

Kyiv Post staff writer Svitlana Tuchynska can be reached at tuchynska@kyivpost.com

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