State-Sponsored Homophobia and the Denial of the Right of Assembly in Central and Eastern Europe: The “Boomerang” and the “Ricochet” between European Organizations and Civil Society to Uphold Human Rights


  • Ronald Holzhacker

  • I express my sincere gratitude to Columbia University, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, for the opportunity to be a visiting scholar during spring semester 2010 during a research sabbatical.

Address correspondence to Ronald Holzhacker, University of Groningen–International Relations and International Organization (IRIO), PO Box 716, 9700 AS Groningen, Netherlands. Telephone: +31 50 363 5986; E-mail:


State-sponsored homophobia emerged in certain Central and Eastern European states in the past decade, with the denial of the right of assembly for gay pride marches. However, more recently there has been progress in the recognition of the fundamental democratic right of assembly. What accounts for this progress in fulfilling commitments enshrined in the European human rights treaties? This article proposes that the response of European organizations, in particular the Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as human rights nongovernmental organizations working in collaboration with local civil society organizations, have been critical to this progress. Previous literature has described a “boomerang” effect, in which aggrieved citizens use transnational activist networks to publicize human rights violations and put pressure on governments to fulfill their international legal commitments. To understand the functioning and effectiveness of the “boomerang” we introduce the concept of the “ricochet”—a process in which various institutions and civil society rapidly exchange information as well as political and legal argumentation. We posit that the ricochet is an integral process in the development of a European consensus on the human rights recognized by the European Court of Human Rights. Four cases have been selected for empirical analysis: Poland, Latvia, Serbia, and Russia. In analyzing the ricochet of information and argumentation between institutions and civil society, we find the consensus has been framed around the right of assembly, instead of the more contested area of human rights and sexual orientation.