Religious protesters in Romania have disrupted the screenings of two movies featuring gay themes, saying they violate traditional values. In response, a new screening of the Cannes award-winning movie "120 Beats Per Minute" is going to be held Tuesday in Bucharest.
The dispute illustrates Romania's divided views about homosexuality, which remains a difficult topic in the eastern European Union member where more than 85 percent of its people belong to Christian Orthodox churches. Homosexuality was only decriminalized when Romania prepared to join the EU in 2002.
Protesters calling themselves Christian Orthodox burst into a movie theater on Feb. 4 during the French AIDS drama "120 Beats Per Minute" by French director Robin Campillo.
Days later, protesters disrupted another movie featuring a relationship with a Romanian man and an ex-convict from the nation's oppressed Roma, or Gypsy, minority titled "Soldiers: A Story from Ferentari."
"(There's a) conflict between conservatives and liberals in Romania," Cristian Parvulescu, dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, told The Associated Press. "
Parvulescu says what's happening in Romania is similar to developments in other former communist countries.
"We are influenced by Hungary and Poland," he said
Protesters objected to "120 Beats" being shown at the Romanian Peasant Museum because "the Romanian peasant is a Christian Orthodox."
They sang the national anthem and religious songs while others held religious icons and banners saying: "Romania isn't Sodom" and "Hey Soros, leave them kids alone," referring to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.
The film, set in Paris in the 1990s, explores homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic. It won the Grand Prize from the jury at Cannes in 2017.
At the protest for the second film, protesters played Gypsy rock music to drown out the movie. Police were called in to break up the protest.
Dan Grajdeanu, who heads the Orthodox Brotherhood, believes the movies should not have been screened at the museum, which he says is "not the place to air low morality movies, that show homosexuality, pedophilia, pornography."
Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, the distributor of "120 Beats Per Minute" in Romania, has urged the culture minister and Bucharest mayor to publicly support the movie but so far they have remained silent. It will be reshown Tuesday at the same museum.
Parvulescu says politicians are "very circumspect" on gay issues due to the influential Romanian Orthodox Church.
Last year, 3 million people signed a petition backing a referendum to amend the Romanian Constitution so it explicitly states that marriage only can be a union between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages do not legally exist and are not recognized even when couples legally marry elsewhere.
The gay rights group MozaiQ condemned "the extreme gestures of some ultra-Orthodox and conservative groups ... who propagate hate against the LGBT community." It has urged Romanian politicians to "send a more decisive signal to society that discrimination is not acceptable."
MozaiQ chairman Vlad Viski said the movies were about "freedom of expression."
"In a democracy, sexual minorities must be protected," he said. "Extremist, radical speech has no place in a European democracy."