07/05/2014 05:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's Time Kyiv Got It Right


Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best. "Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation," he said. "For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' ... this 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'"

Today Ukraine's capital Kyiv was to have seen its second March for Equality, organized by local LGBT and anti-discrimination activists. But predictably those of us planning to march were told now's not the right time, that it would be better to wait. The city's authorities refused to guarantee our safety and so yesterday the organizers were forced to call it off.

Yes, the new government has plenty on its plate, not least fighting a war in the east of the country, but denying the right to peaceful freedom of assembly is a serious setback for human rights in the country. Last year Kyiv managed to hold an equality march, with police protection, and organizers say last week they were assured by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the march could go ahead.

But yesterday they were told the police were unable to protect the march, even though it had somehow managed to mount a huge security operation last month for 20 heads of state visiting Kyiv for the inauguration of the new Ukrainian president.

New Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko's said, "This is not the right time for a celebration" -- as though he imagined it as some sort of party rather than an important public claiming of rights. Olena Shevchenko, co-chair of the organizing committee of Kyiv 2014 Pride, told me that Klitschko "should have a better understanding of what a demand for equality is... It seems like it's never really the right time for LGBT rights."

In February of this year, the Maidan revolution in Ukraine removed government of President Yanukovych after protests began against him last November, and in May President Poroshenko was elected as his replacement.

Activists had hoped that the new administration would be more open to protecting equality as Ukrainian politics tilted towards the west and away from the influence of the Putin government and its attacks on the rights of LGBT people. But for all of its talk about sharing European values the new government has failed today's test on guaranteeing the freedom of assembly. It's a setback.

Working with local LGBT activists from Mozaika in Latvia, I was lucky enough to be part of the early Riga Pride marches there from 2006, and in the first pride march in Lithuanian capital Vilnius in 2010. They too were told to wait, that the time wasn't right, that it was too soon after independence, that the country still had a Soviet mindset and wasn't ready for the marches, that there were other priorities. But they were right to push to claim their rights, despite the need for heavy security, the initial reluctance of local police to provide it, despite the violent threats and attacks, and despite thousands of counter-demonstrators.

Those Baltic Pride events have proved a huge success. Next year's EuroPride will be in Riga, bringing a lucrative wave of tourism worth an estimated several million dollars to the city.

Kyiv's badly-hit economy could do with that sort of commerce and without the negative publicity the cancellation of today's march will mean across western Europe and the United States. It was clearly a bad decision all round. As Dr. King also said, "The time is always right to do what is right".