Moldova has become the latest former Soviet republic to consider adopting a law against so-called gay propaganda, following a path blazed by Russia in 2013.
Late last month, the parliament's Culture and Education Committee approved a bill that would impose fines for spreading "homosexual propaganda" to minors "through public meetings, the media, the Internet," and other means.
The latest salvo in Moldova's long-running cultural conflict was fired by the Socialist Party, the parliament's largest party. They brought the measure to committee on May 25, four years to the day after the country adopted a European Union-backed antidiscrimination law that social conservatives angrily opposed. Since that law was adopted, "homosexual propaganda in Moldova has become more aggressive," the new bill's sponsors wrote.
"What we are talking about is the public impact," Socialist deputy Vlad Batrancea told RFE/RL. "We want to ban the propaganda of this phenomenon because there is the danger that children might fall victim to it in schools. This danger is real because so many parents are working abroad and the children left behind are vulnerable to such actions."
Earlier this year, the Socialists presented a bill to overturn the antidiscrimination law, but that measure was not adopted by the legislature. Moldova's parliament is almost equally divided between socially conservative Socialists and Communists, on the one hand, and three generally pro-EU liberal parties on the other.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the first "gay propaganda" law in 2013, making it an offense to present "distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships" to minors. That measure prompted outrage among Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and among rights activists around the world. Critics say the law has led to increased discrimination and violence against gay people.
Russia's move has galvanized similar efforts around the region.
LGBT rights "are seen as a modern Western value that the West is trying to impose," International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) activist Bjorn van Roozendaal told The Guardian last month. "And this mindset really comes at the cost of the LGBT community."
A similar bill has passed two readings in Kyrgyzstan's parliament but has been awaiting a third and final reading for months. Kazakhstan adopted such a law in 2015, but it was struck down by the Constitutional Court as unconstitutional. No other former Soviet countries have followed suit, but Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan both criminalize homosexual relations between men -- as the Soviet Union did.
Igor Dodon's Socialist Party is pushing hard to get the new antigay bill passed. (file photo)
Moldova's bill faces an uphill battle, although Batrancea says he believes it can garner enough support to pass the legislature. Sergiu Sarbu, an official with the pro-Europe Democratic Party, says he believes the bill is unconstitutional, violating guarantees of freedom of speech.
"I have strong reservations concerning the legality of this bill," he told RFE/RL.
However, analysts say, the Socialists are playing a longer game and are looking ahead to Moldova's presidential election in October.
Polls show that Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon is the leading candidate and efforts to support "traditional values" play well among his electorate, says Artiom Zavadovschi, an activist with Moldova's only LGBT-rights organization, Genderdoc-M. The party's support is strongest among Russian-speakers and those who look toward Russia instead of the European Union.
Political analyst Petru Macovei agrees.
"The Socialist Party, which gives all possible support and promotion to [anti-LGBT] movements, is simply stoking social tensions," he told RFE/RL.
Dodon, a former Communist, has called for closer relations with Russia, including joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. He was a featured speaker last month at the World Congress of Families gathering in Tbilisi last month.
On May 21, Moldovan LGBT activists and supporters tried to hold a march in Chisinau. The event was interrupted by egg-throwing counterdemonstrators, including Orthodox clergymen. Nonetheless, the organizers considered the event a success because it was the longest such demonstration they have ever managed to hold.
"We marched five blocks," Genderdoc-M activist Angela Frolov told media after the event.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report