With state homophobia deepening, violence threatens Saturday’s Warsaw Pride March
Poland’s state prosecutor last week announced a government investigation of all Polish gay groups for illegal financing, criminal connections, and pedophilia. This crackdown on gay groups is only the latest in a series of disturbing developments in Poland during the last month that illustrate the continuing rise of political homophobia under the country’s new gay-hostile government led by the duo nicknamed the Terrible Twins: President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslav, who controls the Polish Parliament.
“The situation of sexual minorities in Poland is under a very serious attack,” said Lisette Kampus of Poland’s four-year-old Campaign Against Homophobia.
The state prosecutor’s announcement of the investigation of gay groups came in response to a May 12 letter from Wojciech Wierzejski, a front-bench member of Parliament from the League of Polish Families Party, of which Wierzejski is a vice-president. Ultra-homophobic, anti-Semitic, and Catholic fundamentalist, the League recently became part of the hard-right national government led by the Kaczynski twins. A copy of Wierzejski’s letter was attached to the state prosecutor’s order.
Wierzejski, in his letter, formally demanded an investigation of Poland’s LGBT organizations by the interior and justice ministers for “illegal financing,” which Wierzejski claimed was from drug trafficking. Wierzejski—a former leader of the League’s violence-prone All Polish Youth—also equated homosexuality and pedophilia.
“Every police office will confirm that homosexuals are a circle that is nearly 100 percent identical to the circle of pedophiles. It is a fact that does not require any research,” Wierzejski declared, according to the English-language newspaper Warsaw Independent.
In reporting on the launch of the state prosecutor’s investigation, the quality Polish daily Rrzeczpospolita reported last week, “Every ‘detective’—even those from elite departments that combat organized crime—will now have to carefully check to see if they had any case connected with pedophiles or homosexuals.” The newspaper quoted an anonymous police officer from the state prosecutor’s office as saying, “This is absurd. We are not here to check the sexual orientation of adult people. Instead of chasing criminals, now we have to spend hours digging in papers looking for nobody knows what.”
In addition, “the Ministry of Justice has ordered local prosecution offices to investigate if ‘any crimes of a pedophile nature have been committed by homosexual persons’ in their respective areas,” Michal Rolecki of the Web site www.gaypoland.pl told Gay City News.
The government crackdown on gay organizations was its response to nationwide protests against the appointment of ultra-homophobe Roman Giertych—chairman of the League of Polish Families—as minister of education, his reward for taking his party into the Kaczynski- led coalition government.
Demonstrations against the appointment of the 35-year-old Giertych were held in recent weeks in the largest Polish cities, including Lodz, Czestochowa, Gdansk, Katowice, Poznan, Rzeszow, Szczecin, Wroclaw, Szczecin, Bialystok, and Warsaw. The demonstrations were organized by gay groups, left-wing opposition parties, and student groups. A May 9 Warsaw demonstration—which police estimated as having 1,000 participants, while organizers claimed 8,000—was led by middle and high school students, who carried banners proclaiming, “Roman, I choose to play truant” and “Roman Giertych is the Trojan horse of education.”
“We’re afraid of indoctrination in the schools,” Aleksander Powlowski, a 17-year-old student and one of the anti-Giertych rally’s leaders, told the Associated Press.
Wierzejski denounced the anti-Giertych demonstrations as exclusively the work of gay groups.
“There aren’t enough anarchists in Poland to organize such large rallies on the streets,” Wierzejski told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. “Homos organize those rallies using online chats and forums. They sign all kinds of appeals against Roman Giertych.”
An online petition denouncing Giertych’s appointment was signed in just a few days by 60,000 people, including many academics and artists. The signatories included a number of well-known film directors, among them Oscar-winners Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland, and Krzysztof Zanussi, as well as Marek Edelman, the last living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Giertych is also a leading anti-Semitic voice in Poland from a family noted for such views; his grandfather was the author of popular books denouncing “the Jew-Masonic conspiracy,” and his father was the League’s presidential candidate last year.
The League’s unofficial alliance with the popular and openly anti-Semitic Radio Maryja, the national Catholic radio station led by the demagogic and homophobic Father Tadeusz Rydzyk— noted for his Jew-baiting and gay-hating discourse—gives the party a high profile in national debates. Israel’s ambassador to Poland, on the instructions of his government, took the unusual step of formally protesting the appointment of Giertych as education minister because of his anti-Semitism in a meeting with President Kaczynski, denouncing “the inclusion of a party that has an anti-Semitic ideology in Poland’s governing coalition,” according to a statement released by Israel’s foreign ministry.
The League of Polish Families joined the reactionary coalition government led by the Kacyznskis’ Law and Justice Party on May 5, in a deal that saw League chairman Giertych rewarded with the education post. The League won 7.8 percent the vote, gaining 40 seats in Parliament, in last fall’s elections, which saw 77 percent of Poles vote for right-wing parties ranging from conservative to neo-fascist. Giertych, a homophobic ultra-nationalist who favors a “Christian” Poland based on Catholic traditionalism, was the founder of the All-Polish Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska) organization, becoming its chairman in 1989. He remains its honorary chairman.
The All-Polish Youth, whose ranks include many skinheads, has for years been in the forefront of violent attacks on gay demonstrations and gay public events. Its thugs were responsible for attacking gay-sponsored “tolerance” marches last year in Poznan and earlier this year in Krakow with stones, eggs, and clubs. It is today the youth arm of Giertych’s party, and its members regularly carry Nazi placards in demonstrations.
One of Giertych’s first acts as minister of education was to demand a list of every Polish educational institution that had been visited by LGBT groups, declaring he “will not allow homosexual propaganda in schools.” Giertych helped organize an anti-gay march and rally for “normality” in Warsaw two years ago, at which he delivered a homophobic discourse and proclaimed, “Stop pedalowania!” This was a pun, literally meaning “Stop pedaling”—as in riding bicycles—associating gays with pedophilia because the word pedal’s colloquial Polish meaning is as a homophobic epithet.
A front-group for Giertych’s League of Polish Families, the Association for Catholic Culture—many of whose officers are prominent League politicians—last month distributed in Polish public schools an anti-gay brochure affirming that “discrimination against homosexuals, like that against people who don‘t want to work, is necessary for the public good and for the happiness of individuals. This discrimination is a defense against the pathologies provoked by homosexuality.”
In 2004, just before Gay Pride Marches in Warsaw and Krakow, the Association for Catholic Culture mailed anti-gay brochures to every inhabitant of the two cities. And in 2005, the same association covered the walls of Krakow with anti-gay posters denouncing gays as “dangerous perverts.”
On May 16, Giertych’s Ministry of Education held a press conference denouncing an educational program called “Do We Need Gender?” as “a depravity aimed at young people.” The program, financially supported by the European Commission’s Youth Program as well as by the Polish Education Ministry under Giertych‘s predecessor, had been organized by Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia and co-sponsored by other European gay organizations, including BGO Gemini of Bulgaria, Diversity of Estonia, and Bost Axola of Spain. At the press conference, Giertych’s deputy said, “The rules and priorities of the program under which such projects get money need to be changed in order to prevent such [gay] organizations from getting money in the future.”
The Campaign Against Homophobia’s Kampus criticized the Ministry’s statements as “untrue” and “homophobic,” adding that the program was a youth-exchange project involving 20 young European interns awarded scholarships to study topics such as “gender roles, discrimination, homophobia, and other prejudices.” Some of these European interns were assigned to Polish gay groups like the Campaign Against Homophobia.
Polish gay organizations are fearful of violent attacks on the Gay Pride March for Equality scheduled for Saturday, June 10 in Warsaw. Three weeks ago, the League’s Wierzejski—speaking of the march—told the Warsaw daily newspaper Zycie Warszawy, “If the deviants will start demonstrating, they need to be bashed with a thick club.”
Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, this week denounced Wierzejki’s statement, saying, “We are extremely concerned about the fact that the leadership of the League of Polish Families, a government party, has called openly for violence of a homophobic nature.” The Socialist group is the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament, made up of 30 social democratic, socialist, and labor parties in the European Union member states as well as Norway. Shultz called on the European Commission—which runs the day-to-day affairs of the European Union—and a plenary session of the European Parliament to take up the case of Polish homophobia.
The Warsaw Pride Marches in 2004 and 2005 were banned by President Kaczynski when he was mayor of Warsaw. But last week, municipal authorities in Warsaw—where the city government is controlled by the conservatives—said they “will allow” this year’s Pride March, baptized a “March for Equality.” This authorization for the gay march came in the wake of a May 25 court decision, when Poland’s Supreme Administrative Court in effect ruled that homosexuals and other minority groups have the right to organize public rallies and marches. The ruling, which is definitive, came on a final appeal by the sponsors of a gay-organized Equality March last November in Poznan—which had been banned by city authorities, who arrested 63 marchers, some of whom received brutal treatment at the hands of police.
“Warsaw municipal authorities cannot give their consent to this year’s march!” Wierzejski growled, and he called for violent attacks on left-wing German politicians from the Social Democratic, Green, and other left parties who have announced their intentions to join the Warsaw Pride March in solidarity against the homophobia of the national Kaczynski-led government. “Once they get a few lashes, they won’t come again. Gays are cowards by definition,” said Wierzejski, who resigned from the European Parliament at Strasbourg in 2004 because, he claimed, it was “under the thumb of the homosexual lobby.”
One of the German politicians included in Wierzejski’s threat—Claudia Roth, former chair of the Green Party and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag—earlier this week filed a formal criminal complaint with the Berlin prosecutor against Wierzejski for inciting violence against her. While the German prosecutor has no jurisdiction in Poland, a criminal charge could keep Wierzejski from visiting Germany, and an international arrest warrant might be issued against him.
Roughly 100 TV and theater stars in Germany have launched a campaign of solidarity with the Warsaw Pride March called Warsaw Pact 2006 that will send more than 1,000 Germans, straight and gay, on chartered buses to Saturday’s event.
While “allowing” this year’s Warsaw gay march, city authorities also gave official approval to an anti-gay march organized by the League of Polish Families, and scheduled for the same time this coming Saturday, and along the same route, as the Gay Pride March. It appeared that the right-wing Warsaw city government was setting up a potentially violent confrontation by authorizing the two marches in the same place at the same time.
The respected German newsmagazine Der Spiegel noted this week, “Bit by bit, Poland’s small gay rights movement is transforming itself into a larger civil rights movement against the intolerance of the Catholic nationalist coalition government. ‘The gays could be Poland’s saviors,’ writes a gleeful liberal Warsaw journalist.” And Warsaw Pride’s chief organizer, Tomasz Baczkowski, expects non-gays to outnumber homosexuals at this year’s parade. “Our demonstration,” Baczkowski said, “was never a carnival like it is in the West, but instead was highly political—a parade of democracy.”
This year’s Warsaw Pride Equality March takes place in a context of rising government anti-homosexual propaganda. For example, this past Monday night, Poland’s state-run TVP2 television network, in a report looking at Warsaw Pride in the light of the violence committed against Moscow’s Gay Pride March on May 27, included slanderous statements about openly gay German Bundestag member Volker Beck, whose beating by anti-gay fascists when he joined demonstrators in Moscow was filmed and widely publicized in Europe. The regime-controlled Polish network accused Beck—the father of Germany’s domestic partnership law—of “promoting pedophilia” and of “wanting to legalize it in Europe.” The absurdly false charges were made on the popular program “Warto rozmawiac” (“Worth Talking About”), which snidely asked its viewers “”whether we want such an Equality parade that promotes pedophilia” in Warsaw.
Adding to the fear of more anti-gay violence, the Polish branch of the Web site RedWatch—a self-proclaimed “white nationalist” group—has published lists of gay and left-wing activists, including photos, names, addresses, and telephone numbers, and incited violence against them. RedWatch, which operates in a number of countries, including the U.K., contains Internet links to white supremacist organizations including the Ku Klux Clan, Combat 18, and Aryan Unity. RedWatch recently published photographs of rank-and-file participants in the gay-organized Krakow “Tolerance March” earlier this year.
According to Radio Polonia, “The Web site encourages everyone to assault those people physically and gives all the details by which the human rights’ activists can be recognized—including the clothes they wear and the pubs and cafés they usually go to.”
The Web site www.gaypoland.pl reported that two weeks ago, “a young left-wing and ecological activist was stabbed with a foot-long knife which narrowly missed his vital organs. The assault is obviously linked with his presence on an Internet list called ‘Krew i Honor’ [Blood and Honor’] where Polish fascist organizations openly call for killing left-wing and gay activists. Although fascism is a crime in Poland, the police are unable to solve the problem since the server with the Web site is located in the U.S.A.” RedWatch is a branch of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor International Movement, which is particularly active in Eastern Europe and Russia, and in countries with fascist pasts, such as Argentina. Many of the skinheads in the Polish branch of Blood and Honor are also members of the League’s All-Polish Youth. In the wake of the stabbing, and following formal complaints to state prosecutor’s offices by some gay and left-wing activists who had been listed on RedWatch, last week Polish police arrested some dozen RedWatch militants and charged them with “propagating racial hatred and participation in a criminal group.”
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.