Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe” by Conor D’Owyer—LGBT Political Rights in Post-Communist Europe

O’Dwyer, Conor. ‘Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe”, NYU Press, 2018.

LGBT Political Rights in Post-Communist Europe

Amos Lassen

While LGBT activism has increased worldwide, there has been strong backlash against LGBT people in Eastern Europe. While Russia is the most prominent anti-gay regime in the region, LGBT individuals in other post-communist countries suffer from discriminatory laws and prejudiced social institutions. Conor O’Dwyer combines an historical overview with interviews and case studies in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. He analyzes the development and impact of LGBT movements in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe.  

 O’Dwyer states that “the backlash against LGBT individuals has had the paradoxical effect of encouraging stronger and more organized activism, significantly impacting the social movement landscape in the region.” As these Eastern and Central European countries try for inclusion or at least recognition in the increasingly LGBT-friendly European Union, activist groups and organizations have become even more emboldened to push for change. Often it takes antagonism to create pressure. Via fieldwork in five countries and interviews with activists, organizers, and public officials, O’Dwyer looks the intricacies of these LGBT social movements and their structures, functions, and impact. This is a unique exploration of LGBT rights groups in Eastern and Central Europe and their ability to serve as models for future movements attempting to resist backlash.  

This is an important and significant work in the study of LGBT politics, European politics, and social movements and looks at why LGBT rights activism have flourished in some post-communist states and floundered in others following the accession to the European Union.

For some, joining the EU was accompanied by increasingly intolerant public attitudes toward sexual minorities. O’Dwyer stresses the role of homophobic backlash in provoking stronger organizing for LGBT rights in the region. We see how backlash can paradoxically benefit the domestic organizing capacity of LGBT rights advocates.

O’Dwyer has meticulously documented contention around those rights in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. He shows us the great potential that the often-ignored study of LGBT politics offers for understanding many theoretical debates.

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