- Split Pride/Split Identities
Homonationalism and Its Discontents
For the past few years one of the most popular topics in queer theory has been “homonationalism,” a term coined by Jasbir Puar to describe the idea that nationalism is no longer exclusively heteronormative or heterosexist, but that instead gay citizens and gay rights can be instrumentalized or coopted to exclude others—immigrants and Muslims—from the benefits of citizenship.1 In April 2013, for example, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) of the City University of New York hosted a major homonationalism and pinkwashing conference with some 200 speakers.2 The conference webpage explains that “homonationalism is increasingly present in Nationalist ideologies across the globe, as secular right-wing forces increasingly leave anti-gay politics to organized religion.” But this critique of homonationalism seems irrelevant for much of Central and Eastern Europe, where good old-fashioned heteronationalism continues to flourish. In effect, though the homonationalist critique aims to be more inclusive by critiquing Western uses of tolerance to stigmatize non-Western others, at the same time it tends to reinstate the erasure of Central and Eastern Europe, where charges of homonationalism do not properly apply. More productive in this context are earlier theories of heteronormativity and heteronationalism from Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner or Gayle Rubin, which [End Page 56] trace their underpinnings to pioneering works like George Mosse’s Nationalism and Sexuality and Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality.”3
I first encountered the concept of homonationalism and Jasbir Puar herself at the conference “Sexual Nationalisms: Gender, Sexuality and the Politics of Belonging in the New Europe,” which was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in January 2011. As the call for papers spelled out, “in late-capitalist, post-colonial Europe, struggles for sexual freedom and gender equality no longer necessarily challenge dominant formations; on the contrary … the new politics of belonging is inseparable from the new politics of exclusion.” Of the five projected themes of the conference, only a subsection of the fifth acknowledged what I as a Slavist saw as the elephant in the room: the complete invisibility of the other half of Europe, and it was limited to the following: “Conversely, the Europeanization of sexual democracy has fueled reactive nationalisms in recent EU members—regarding homosexuality in particular, for example, in Poland or Lithuania.” Poland and Lithuania are not alone in this regard. Reactive nationalisms are hostile to homosexuality in all the new EU member states, all the prospective EU members, and in parts of Europe that do not aspire to EU membership, such as Russia. In fact, tolerance of homosexuality is one of the clearest ways to split Europe into East and West. There are multiple examples of nationalist homophobia from all of the countries I study (Russia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland). My own paper at the Amsterdam conference focused on two films, one from Bosnia and one from Russia, which clearly cast homophobia as integral to the nationalist project and portrayed approval of homosexuality as something characteristic of Europe: France, the Netherlands—any place but “here.” But the most visible nationalist and homophobic reactions come not in filmic form, but on the streets in response to efforts to organize local or regional pride parades, which are met, when they are actually allowed by authorities, with various mixes of religious fanatics, football fan clubs, and neo-Nazis in numbers that can exceed those of the marchers by a factor of ten. Moscow, Riga, Vilnius, Cracow, Beograd, Bucharest, Budapest—these cities and others have seen such clashes between self-identified LGBT marchers and their allies and those who would defend the national purity of Central and Eastern Europe from Western depravity.4
Can homonationalism even apply in the “other” part of Europe? According to Puar, “the politics of recognition and incorporation entail that certain homosexual, gay, and queer bodies may be the temporary recipients of the ‘measures of benevolence’ that are afforded by liberal discourses of multicultural tolerance and diversity. This benevolence toward sexual others is contingent upon ever-narrowing parameters of white racial privilege.”5 Since the publication of Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages there have been several events that indicate...