Amidst the flood of sobering news about markets, shares, currencies, and the future of Europe and the United States, a small but historic victory for the cause of human rights, tolerance, and understanding of all kinds was scored last week in Prague, where I am spending my summer holidays. The first LGBT Pride Parade marched through the streets of Prague as a part of a five-day festival of alternative music, art, and performance.
The arrival to Bohemia of this modern form of staking territory was neither unexpected nor unwelcome. The event was in the making for some time, the venues were booked, the route of the parade planned, and the Lord Mayor of Prague accepted the auspices over the whole thing. August is a quiet month here and the expected influx of a few thousand of LGBT visitors from all over the country and abroad was a nice contribution to the well-being of the tourist industry. This bleak and rainy summer needed a little color.
Naturally, not everybody was as pleased. A few social conservatives, some of them highly connected, grumbled in public not so much about the event itself but about the official support it received from the highest elected official of the city. A christian democratic party organized a poorly attended counter-march in support of “the family.” A populist nationalist party organized an even more poorly attended counterevent in support of god knows what.
That was all to be expected. What came as a surprise was the elevation of the event to a diplomatic issue. A group of 13 ambassadors from the US, EU and NATO countries, and Switzerland issued a public letter expressing their “solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the Czech Republic, supporting their right to use this occasion to march together peacefully and lawfully, in order to raise awareness of the specific issues that affect them.” This letter, which apparently had been also some time in the making, raised some very high eyebrows and led to the airing of some misgivings about it being redundant, undiplomatic, or both.
It is true that in this rather conservative trade of ours an open letter by a group of friendly and allied ambassadors commenting on a domestic event in their host country is not an everyday occurrence. But to me, it opens new vistas of diplomatic activity that could make being an ambassador much more fun. I can see at least three ways in which to proceed.
First of all, we should expand and diversify on the approach applied to an LGBT parade in the Czech Republic—where, after all, homosexuality has been legal since 1961 (it pays off to refresh one’s memory and check on the date when homosexuality was decriminalized in one’s own country). The march in Prague last Saturday came and went without much of a stir. Whether awareness of the issues was raised I cannot vouch for but as of yesterday, Monday, all the news is about the damn markets again. We should think of places where a similar public expression of support would raise more interest and enjoy more attention. Countries like Saudi Arabia or China come to mind. I would be happy to add my signature to a similar letter by a similarly distinguished group, but then I am not the ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Second, new and delightful opportunities may arise for me to comment on all kinds of developments in the country where I am the ambassador, the United Kingdom. There are so many interesting events and issues there lately, over which I have been biting my tongue. Maybe it’s time I stopped.
Third, being on vacations, I should probably sit back and have some rest before I go any further.