News (World)

Pope Francis urges Slovakia to vote ‘yes’ on referendum to restrict gay rights

A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: “Come to referendum 7.2.2015”, “Vote 3xYES” and ” ´Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family´ (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome”. Koller Jano, AP

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With more than 60 percent of the nation’s 5.4 million people identifying themselves as Roman Catholics, the “yes” camp is expected to win big. But to be legally binding, turnout in the ballot must be more than 50 percent. In the previous seven referendums since Slovakia gained independence in 1993 – after the split of Czechoslovakia – only the referendum on the country’s entry into the European Union met that condition.

Human rights activists have condemned the referendum as an attempt to force religion upon others.

“We’re talking about the questions on values and that can’t be solved by a majority vote,” said Kalman Petocz of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. “It’s not about whether to organize the Olympics. It’s an attempt to impose the religious view of the world on all others even if they don’t belong to the church.”

Experts say the cultural chasm in the EU has roots in the Soviet era that kept eastern countries in isolation – allowing conservative attitudes to harden. Attitudes in nearby Russia also contribute to the rise of anti-gay sentiment in eastern Europe, said Grigorij Meseznikov, a respected Slovak analyst and president of Institute for Public Affairs.

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“The social conservatism that is promoted in today’s Russia, that nourishment of homophobic discourse, encourages some of the conservative activists,” said Meseznikov.

Gays in Slovakia express alarm that the nation’s anti-gay movement goes against the spirit of Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

“Much still has to be done in my country to gain freedom, the freedom to love,” said Brano Ondrasik, who traveled to Scotland last year to register his same-sex partnership on Nov. 17 – the anniversary of the pro-democracy revolt.

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