Ukraine: Celebrating Diversity Or Conformity?
14 May, 2017

The Eurovision Song Contest has finished in Ukraine. This year it has been exceptionally political. Ukraine used the opportunity to distance itself from the Kremlin's conservative and homophobic values with progressive and liberal messages of inclusion and diversity. But in the end, some civil rights fighters found the Ukrainian strategy a bit shallow. Does Eurovision help civil rights progress in developing European countries in any way?

Hromadske special guests Maxim Eristavi and Gulliver Cragg spoke to Zorian Kis, Board Member at Kyiv Pride during The Sunday Show on May 14th, 2017 in Kyiv.

Some activists say that this whole campaign behind Eurovision and diversity was a bit shallow. Would you agree with that?

Zorian Kis: I think that the arch of diversity, unfinished and already starting to peel off, and it’s only the front side. It’s the perfect metaphor for how changes and reform are going on in Ukraine. It’s usually something to cover up the actual thing, the actual situation in Ukraine. And the whole slogan of Eurovision—Celebrate Diversity—is also very illustrative to me, because ‘celebrate’ or ‘celebration’ is a short period of time, when people are happy and they perform some sort of ritual they may not understand. After the celebration you come back to the real life, which is not that happy, which still has the issues you were trying to forget while celebrating.

It was a bit of a mixed message if you look into the campaign, ‘Celebrate Diversity’. It was my impression that a lot of people shared as well, that celebrating the diversity of male, white….and it’s fine to be gay as long as you don’t showcase it, which was probably the most cringing moment of the campaign. Would you agree that the whole Eurovision helped in any way the civil rights battle inside Ukraine, by even showcasing the problem and allowing us to go on air and talk about it, by allowing you to reach out to your allies abroad?

Zorian Kis: Absolutely. It helped us to start the discussion in the society, which we probably wouldn’t have been able to start without the slogan and Eurovision. The Arch of Diversity, as an art project, actually started two weeks before Eurovision. And the discussion was great. Many people were involved and at the end of the day, at the end of the discussion, the far-right people really looked stupid, looked silly, because most of the people actually supported the idea of diversity and equality. And they were laughing at the far-right who were so scared of a rainbow. They were so scared of probably turning gay. And we even had a joke that is the arch is at some point finished, there is a magic explosion and everyone in Kyiv becomes gay.

I know that you’re also an active participant and part of the board for Kyiv Pride. And I saw that you guys launched a crowd-funding campaign tied to Eurovision. Was it successful for you to reach out to foreign allies, to Eurovision guests, trying to involve a really local matter of civil rights in Ukraine?

Zorian Kis: That was what is actually striking me and what is upsetting me because our fundraising campaign wasn’t as successful as we expected it to be. There were thousands of gay people in the city, and no one would deny it, but for some reason, there was not so much connection between the celebration again, between the Eurovision gay crowd and local issues. Our target was to raise $10,000, which is not huge money for thousands of people traveling to Kyiv. And even if each of them donated the cost of one drink to the campaign, we would raise much more than what the target was. We were only able to raise less than $3,000 within eleven days which is not bad.

Is it an online campaign? Is it still ongoing?

Zorian Kis: Yes. It is ongoing. The Pride March this year is taking place on June 18th, so we still have some time—not much.

I know some activists shared concerned that because the Pride event is so close, there was lack of communication between you and authorities. Last year by this time, there was already statements from police, that there was going to be protected statements from some important members of the government and parliament. Why are there no talks at the moment about the security situation?

Zorian Kis: We’ve been trying to schedule a meeting with the police multiple times since January this year. It’s been a good five months since we are talking to the police and trying to schedule the meeting. I hope the only reason why we haven’t met yet is because of Eurovision, and you know, there was an enormous amount of police in Kyiv—some 10,000 policemen. And then coordination with the National Guard and so on. It’s a huge operation. I hope that’s the only reason why we haven’t met yet. We are hoping to meet the police early next week, and we do want to discuss some organization matters with the police such as the length of the march. Because according to participants from last year, the march was too short. It ended basically right after it started. And we are not aiming big. Last year’s march was 750 meters. We hope to double the distance this year. And also to more than double the number of participants. It was 2,000 participants last year. We hope for 5,000 participants this year. I can only remain optimistic with the situation in Ukraine.

Read more: Backstage: First Eurovision-2017 Party In Kyiv