“… look at page 78…”
In mid-1983 it was suggested that we write to the embassies of the Socialist countries asking them about Gay, women’s and general sexual liberation — and how the various governments saw these things fitting into their on-going social and political revolutions.
After a bit of palaver it was decided to write off to the representatives of the Socialist states / Soviet and Chinese empires / Red dictatorships. Our wee editorial collective is very broad-based.
The Czechs sent a booklet emphatically entitled The Family in Socialist Czech-oslovakia which if you struggled through it contained the usual genuflection to women’s rights. It also contained lots of pretty coloured photos of, már shampla, children in nursery and primary schools. The wee boys were playing with toy cars- the wee girls were cooking and playing with dolls.
The Mongolians sent 50 Years of Socialist Mongolia a real thriller. A note scrib-bled on the complimentary slip suggested – in the manner of a slightly degenerate librarian – “… look at page 78…”
Page 78 only told us that the lot of women had improved enormously since the revolution, sorry RRRevolution. These days presumably the men shout orders on the erecting of the yurt from the ground instead of from the saddle. (This Euro-cent-ric racism is brought to you courtesy of SMcG). We could not help noticing that this opus was actually printed in Moscow.
The Bulgarians, – the Cultural Attaché replied for some cryptic reason – told us to write to the Sofia Press Agency, which lives in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital interestingly enough. This we did many moons ago. We await the arrival of a Slavonic-looking chap with a brolly…
On a more serious note we contacted the Slavonic Studies people at Queen’s (University, Belfast). They put us in touch with ‘experts’ at the University of Surrey, who sent our letter straight back with a slightly hysterical note scribbled on the end to the effect that they didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’.
A contact at Birmingham University, Ms Jenny Brine, Librarian of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, (and member of the Women in East Europe study group) was enormously helpful and encouraging, though the amount of stuff actually to do with homo-sexuality was quite meagre.
The Gay movement itself was the most productive in terms of solid info. Most of it came through HOSI (Homosexuelle Initiative) of Vienna, in its guise as the East European Information Pool of the IGA (International Lesbian and Gay men’s Ass-ociation). Some of this stuff was fascinating.
Some year’s ago, Albania rescinded all laws regulating homosexual conduct, after WW2 a Soviet-style law code was introduced. The Soviets, being obsessed by the USA, had put stringent anti-Gay laws into the code put together at the same time as 1937’s ‘Stalin Constitution’. Technically, Albania is the most liberal state in Europe so far as homosexuality is concerned. We would not, however, encourage armies of Irish homosexuals to descend on the place.
The German Democratic Republic has liberalised its laws on homosexuality. But is disturbed by the growth of a quite powerful Gay organisation. This was in-cubated by the youth wing of the Lutheran Church. Something similar is happen-ing in Poland, where a specifically Roman Catholic publishing house has pro-duced “out” Gay novels. The latter is a spin-off from the rise and apparent decline of the trade union ‘Solidarity’. The East German group is partly the offspring of the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements.
Hungary has the most laid-back atmosphere, while Romania has an appalling attitude to Gay men. It persecutes women who do not breed to the government’s satisfaction. Romania has abolished abortion.
Yugoslavia is an interesting case, it is in so far as its attitudes to sexuality are concerned, a genuinely federal state. Serbia is only a whisker away from Romania and Bulgaria psychologically as well as physically. Slovenia bordered by Italy and Austria (and Hungary) has lately been the venue, in its capital Ljubljana, of a major Gay arts festival. This has led to Zagreb Radio (Croatia: the next Republic down) introducing a two hour per week radio programme for Gay women and men. There are plans to set up a Gay Centre in Ljubljana.
Another sign of movement in the east is the setting-up of an open Gay group in Leningrad. It is made up of people who claim to be democratic socialists, Lenin-ists or libertarians. They argue that the present administration of the Soviet Union is out of step with the Founding Persons, who promulgated the – thus far – most enlightened laws on sexuality, any functioning state has ever had.
There appear to be two strains in the burgeoning Gay movement in the Comm-unist-ruled countries, what might be called the oppositionist (GDR, Poland) and the integrationist (Yugoslavia, USSR – though the latter are unrecognised and may become victims of a vigorous backlash).
There were no replies from (the People’s Republic of) China, or any other Asian state, we shudder to think what North Korea thinks of homosexuality. The African states were quiet too, presumably the deafening silence indicates that the position for specifically homosexual people is dire in Ethiopia and the Congo People’s Republic. Mozambique has put lesbians in camps for “corrective” training; but not Gay men, so far as we know.
In the Americas, Cuba did not reply unfortunately it did not need to though there are whispers that the ‘line’ is not as shrill as it was some years ago.
There are some small grounds for hoping that the whole Communist world is no longer the People’s (?) Republic of Homophobia.
[Of all the states mentioned above only Cuba and the PDR (People’s Democratic Republic) of [North] Korea still claim to be ‘Communist’. Cuba has sloughed off its machismo, and there is a well-attended annual Pride in Havana. The PDRK has just had a monarchical transfer of power at the top, though the Head of State is not the eldest offspring of the previous one. He was too effeminate and too addicted to the flesh-pots of Tokyo to take on the job…].