LGBT issue as apple of discord: Belarusian PEN centre in crosshairs

Board meeting of Belarusian PEN centre, 29 October 2019, phot.

In late October, the board meeting of Belarusian PEN centre resulted in expelling Pavel Sevyarynets, a Belarusian politician and co-chair of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party. Earlier, he published an open letter accusing some fellow members of ‘gay propaganda’.

According to Sevyarynets, around 20 ‘leftists’ whose ideology is ‘cultural Marxism and LGBT propaganda’ are exerting influence on the organization. Part of its members expressed deep outrage, and the situation triggered a wide-ranging discussion about the centre’s role and mission.

Dissension at Belarusian PEN centre

When twenty writers created PEN-Centre in Belarus in 1989, they set the goal to provide the Belarusian authors with an intellectual platform and protect the language and culture.

In the past, the organization also experienced internal conflicts. For example, in 2015, the PEN centre published a press release highlighting the ‘discrimination of the Russian-speaking writers’, which caused heated debates and contributed to several members’ leaving the organization. As such, Syarhei Dubavets, Ales Arkush and Vinces Mudrou walked out in an act of disagreement. Later, the then chairperson Andrey Khadanovich apologized for incorrect wording and stressed that the Belarusian PEN centre supports and promotes the Belarusian language.

The reason for the current conflict is different. Former political prisoner Pavel Sevyarynets claims that the organization was seized by ‘radical adherents of cultural Marxism’ who ‘cannot stand Christians’.

Pavel Sevyarynets, phot. Iryna Arakhouskaya /

On October 29, the PEN centre held a board meeting where the members voted the politician’s future in the organization. It is not the first time that Sevyarynets has found himself in such a situation; in February, he was expelled for not paying membership fees, which he explained as the demonstrative act of disagreement with the centre‘s values. However, he was later re-established.

At the meeting, some insisted that the date of exclusion of Sevyarynets was utterly unsuitable since, on the same day, Belarusians commemorated the Night of Executed Poets. However, after the voting procedure took place, Sevyarynets was expelled for:

1. ‘disrespect to the honour of the organization, abusive and hostile attitude to the legitimate leadership elected by the General Assembly of the organization’;

2. ‘deliberately falsifying and distorting information for personal purposes’;

3. ‘public and systematic discrimination of LGBTQ+ social group <…>, which violates the International PEN Club Charter’.

Nobel Prize holder and Belarusian PEN chairperson Svetlana Alexievich, who was recently elected a Vice-President of PEN International, said: “I could not even imagine that our young politicians can be so narrow-minded”.

Svetlana Alexievich, phot.

As noted by Sevyarynets, he is planning to respond with the publication of his book Belarusalim. The Heart of Light. He also reacted on being expelled in a Facebook post:

“Eliminating, removing, squeezing out the Christians of the Belarusian culture will not work. Even the Bolsheviks failed to do it in their Red Empire.

LGBT suffers more than political prisoners?

Members of the PEN centre expressed different opinions on the situation.

Writers should think about Eros and Thanatos, life and death, freedom and power, the power of language and its weakness, the happiness and the impossibility of it… As a result, we have bureaucratic chatter and all possible violations of democratic procedures. And on top of that: rudeness, approval of homophobia, ignorance on the part of so-called ‘moral authorities’, insults and violation of all possible statutes,” Belarusian writer Alherd Bakharevich said on his Facebook.

Belarusian educator and translator Lyavon Barshcheuski believes that despite his words, Sevyarynets should be respected for his political activism:

“Do you really think that LGBT people’s suffering in present-day Belarus (I do recognise this problem) than that of Pavel Sevyarynets who was imprisoned in Valadarka and Akrestsina [jails in Minsk] and exiled to the villages of Malaye Sitna and Kuplin?”

Mirror image

In contrast to other countries with Christianity as a dominating religion, Belarusian Christian leaders have hardly expressed approval of any same-sex relations. Although Belarusian society seems to become more tolerant towards LGBT people, the country still remains among homophobic ones. Thus, Spartacus Travel put Belarus on 137th place in the world when it comes to the level of homophobia. As it was the case in 2015, the current state of things in the Belarusian PEN centre is nothing but a mirror image of the whole society and its internal conflicts.

PEN International calls on Belarus to use Belarusian language

Alesia Rudnik,

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