Gay Outlaws in Romania
Europe Online, August 10, 1999
By Catherine Lovatt
Romanias attitude to homosexuality is decidedly puritan. But not all is negative
nor everyone a bigot. Attitudes and lifestyles are changing, and Romania is forcing her
way toward tolerance.
Considerable pressure from international organisations such as the European Council on
Human Rights (ECHR) and Amnesty International have encouraged Romania to take a more
liberal approach to minority groups. Typically, the process has been long and arduous.
As a member of the Council of Europe and a prospective member of the European Union,
Romania is expected to adhere to the ECHRs commitment to the European Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In 1994, it was widely believed that the country was taking the first step toward
establishing a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, when the Constitutional Court
suspended the Communist-era legislation prohibiting homosexual acts and called for a more
liberal legislation to bring Romanian law in line with ECHR provisions.
However, in 1996, the Romanian Parliament adopted a new law which again made it a
criminal offence to engage in homosexual acts - even in private - and outlawed membership
of gay and lesbian movements. The stringent law sparked a wave of protests throughout
Europe and America.
In Holland the Romanian President, Emil Constantinescu, was jeered by gay and lesbian
protestors outside the University of Amsterdam, where he had just delivered a lecture. In
London protestors converged on the Albert Hall during a performance of Aida by
the government-sponsored Romanian National Opera.
Milan also witnessed protests. Two American activists made a high-profile visit to
Romania to encourage the legalisation of gay sex.
The international response to the Romanian legislation did not go unnoticed.
Constantinescu declared, in front of the protesting Dutch, that Penal Code Article 200
would be modified, and only homosexual acts associated with violence and robbery would be
punished. He also expressed his hope that the modification would be accepted by Parliament
in a relatively short period of time.
The accession of Radu Vasile to the position of prime minister furthered the cause of
the human rights in Romania. Through the introduction of a new reform programme, Vasile
hoped to improve the rights of ethnic, religious and other minorities, to bring Romanian
law in line with EU standards and, especially, to dispel criticism surrounding cases of
police violence and discrimination against the large Roma population and homosexuals.
One such case of police brutality and denial of human rights concerned Marian Cetiner.
Cetiner was the first person imprisoned for her sexual orientation under the 1996
legislation. Amnesty International picked up the human rights case and adopted Cetiner as
a prisoner of conscience. The involvement of Amnesty resulted in Cetiners release
after two years of police harassment and abuse in jail.
Willingness within the higher echelons of power to adopt more tolerant legislation now
seems more evident, and if they can provide legal boundaries that cater for all minority
groups, a context can be established within which society can develop a more tolerant
attitude. If homosexuality is at least tolerable to the elected representatives of a
nation, then the process of securing human rights for all is partially achieved.
Gaining the support of Parliament is still proving difficult, but some progress has
been made. Unfortunately, progress appears to have more to do with appeasing the EU and
ECHR than with and heartfelt desire to create a liberal and tolerant Romanian society.
Varying beliefs, varying backgrounds and varying lifestyles all determine the public
perception of what is and what is not socially acceptable. To most liberal Westerners, the
Romanian violation of human rights with regard to homosexuality is unacceptable. But one
should never forget that Romania is going through a period of radical change. The
transition from Communism is more than just a gargantuan economic project; it is a
restructuring of the populations entire belief system. Prejudices certainly do
remain, but, gradually, attitudes are changing.
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