Screening „And Then We Danced“ & Talk: Being LGBTQI in Eastern Europe

With Regina Elsner (Centre for East European and International Studies, ZOiS), Javid Nabiyev (Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance) and Andreas Schmiedecker (Network for LGBT Journalists from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, n-ost)

20 January 2020, 19-21.30h, Kino Krokodil (Berlin)

Event report

At our screening and discussion on 20 January we discussed the state of LGTBQI rights in Eastern Europe with our guests Regina Elsner, Javid Nabiyev and Andreas Schmiedecker. Central topics were the construction of LGBTQI-people as “the other” in the discourse on tradition and nationalism, the role of the media and the joint forces between the state and the (orthodox) church regarding anti-LGTBQI-rhetoric.

Before embarking on the discussion, we watched the movie “And Then We Danced”, set to be released in German theaters in March. The movie tells the story of Merab, a dancer at the Georgian National Ensemble. His world turns upside down when Irakli joins the Ensemble and becomes his strongest rival and desire. Director Levan Akin, a Swedish national with Georgian heritage, describes the film as a piece “about owning your identity in a culture that doesn’t want to accept you. […] It’s a film about not allowing anybody to tell you what tradition is, not allowing anybody to define your tradition.” While the movie has received wide critical acclaim, it sparked a heated controversy in Georgia. In fact, movie theatres had to be protected by the police when it premiered in the country. Ultra-conservative actors, deeming homosexuality a “threat to Georgian traditions,” threatened to use violence in order to prevent the screening. Hundreds came to protest against the movie in Tbilisi and the police detained 11, including one for assaulting a journalist. 

Following the screening, the three panellists shared their impressions of the movie with the audience. Whereas Regina Elsner was impressed by how the movie managed to display the contrast between so-called “traditional values” and emerging diversity, Andreas Schmiedecker saw the film’s strength in its way to question constructions of masculinity and cultural identity. Javid Nabiyev, however, stressed the empowering moments of “And Then We Danced” as the film shows alternative gender or cultural identities.  

The evolving discussion focused on the social and political situation of LGBTQI-people in Eastern Europe. Although LGTBQI-people across the countries of the region are facing very different legal and political situations, according to Javid Nabiyev, social acceptance, including access to justice and being recognised as equal citizens, is the crucial point. 

Furthermore, the issue of human rights was brought up. Especially in Eastern Europe, orthodox churches are increasingly criticised by civic actors for their often intolerant and homophobic positions supposed to protect alleged “traditional values.” After the demise of communism in 1991 a quest for identity evolved. In the following (re)-construction of national ideas a securitization of gender identity could be witnessed as well. Particularly in Eastern Europe where the alliance between state and churches is historical and traditionally strong, the church became a key player in the public discourse. Nevertheless, within recent years churches were more and more challenged by an emerging civic society questioning the role and discursive dominance of religion. Approaches of queer orthodoxy contribute to the emerging debate about gender and sex. 

Moreover, we discussed how LGTBQI-rights are portrayed in the (mainstream) media. Again, Andreas Schmiedecker pointed to the “unholy” alliance of orthodox churches and the media in the so-called post-Soviet space – both tend to emotionalize identity questions. Thus, raising awareness for LGTBQI and other minorities is crucial in the region. For instance, during the events following Tbilisi pride on March 17, 2013 when thousands of church representatives and activists attacked a few LGBTIQ activists in Tbilisi, ”being gay” was used as a synonym for “being different” in the press and media covering the events exploited common stereotypes of LGTBQI persons.  In order to pluralise the public discourse, it is necessary to facilitate a productive discussion on the rights of LGBTQ-people in post-Soviet states. Therefore, trainings for both journalists and civic society are useful instruments for sensitizing regional agents to the topic of LGTBQI-rights. 

As a Grassroots Think Tank for Foreign and European Affairs, we at Polis180 seek to continue analyzing and working on the politics of gender and sexual identity in Europe and beyond. Interested in joining the debate? Visit the next meeting of our Program Area Gender and International Politics on 3 February!

Trailer "And Then We Danced"

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