A Ukrainian extremist nationalist party accused of homophobia has won a record number of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections.
Svoboda, whose name means ‘freedom’ and is linked to France’s National Front, the British National Party and Hungary’s Jobbik, had taken about 9% of the ballot, early polls showed.
The far-right party, which is accused of homophobia and anti-Semitism, is poised to take 33 out of 450 seats in parliament, having previously only ever held one seat.
Ukrainian activist Olena Shevchenko, of Insight organization, told Gay Star News that Svoboda will make the situation for minorities ‘very difficult’.
‘Svoboda are a really nationalist, fascist party and they are concentrated on the question of nationality, as well as LGBT issues. It’s a big threat for us,’ she said.
The party strongly emphasises Ukraine’s distinct cultural identity, regards the Soviet rule as an occupation of Ukrainian territory, scorns the Kremlin and plays up the importance of Ukrainian over Russian.
Shevchenko told GSN she believes their new found popularity is motivated by frustration at the country’s struggling economy and as a protest against ruling President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
She said: ‘Their surge in popularity is down to the Ukraine’s economical situation which has led to extremism in society.
‘Many people voted for Svoboda just to oppose Party of Regions. In the Ukraine there is a view that we don’t actually have a real opposition because the two main parties have business interests together.
‘Mostly the people voting for Svoboda are not homophobic but they just feel that it is the main party which can be against the Party of Regions.’
A law banning ‘gay propaganda’ is currently passing through parliament and campaigners say it will censor the media, civil society activists and human rights defenders.
A vote earlier this month saw a huge majority of politicians support the bill, which is similar to that passed in St Petersburg in Russia earlier this year.
Gay rights group Stonewall warned that whichever party is represented in parliament, they must respect the rights of LGBT citizens.
Stonewall’s international officer Jasmine O’Connor said: ‘Ukraine’s 2.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people routinely face public persecution and humiliation.
‘Regardless of who sits in parliament, it’s important that the government respects all citizens’ human rights and protects people from being attacked because of the way they were born.
‘We’re in contact with Ukrainian equality groups and will do everything we can to support them in their work.’