Kelly Sans Culotte

Gay Mundo

New Anti-Gay Regime in Poland
Catholic ultra-conservatives bash their way to victory.
By Tomek Kitlinski and Pawel Leszkowicz

Double trouble for queers.

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WARSAW, NOV. 10, 2005. Poland has hit the homophobic jackpot: the new President, the new Prime Minister and the boss of the conservative Catholic party which now controls a big chunk of Parliament, are all virulent, card-carrying queer-haters. And for the first time in Polish history, the "gay question" was a centerpiece of an electoral campaign.

Right-wing candidates, pandering to a traditionally homophobic electorate, openly used insulting terms such as "pederasta" and "pedal." These words, which not too long ago would have been deemed unsuitable to utter in polite company, are now heard in parliamentary debates and even on television.

During the electoral campaign, and in the months leading up to it, lesbians and gay men were often depicted in the Polish media as abnormal, asocial and abject. They were accused of being a cultural and even biological threat to the Polish nation, lowering the birth-rate, and imperiling what ultra-conservatives lovingly call "natural law marriage and family."

Poland's Catholic fundamentalist Radio Maryja dubbed recent developments in Spain and Poland "homosexual terror" "sodomitical unions" and "totalitarianism of sin." The Radio station, which also has an anti-Semitic bent, has an audience of three million. It supported the Kaczynski brothers' party, Law and Justice, in the recent electoral campaign.

Homophobia works. On October 23, Lech Kaczynski captured the presidency in the second round of an election marked by massive abstention (49 percent of voters stayed home). A month earlier, the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party, with 27 percent of the votes, managed to secure the biggest single bloc of seats in parliament (155 out of a total of 460 seats).

A Family Affair
The new President and the new governing party boss are as close politically, ideologically, and genetically, as anyone can get: they are identical twins (the French daily Le Figaro recently called Poland the first monozygotic republic). They are also both former, and famous, child actors. There seems to be only one difference between them: Lech Kaczynski, the President, is married, with one child; at 56, brother Jaroslaw, the Law and Justice party boss, has never married and lives with their mother. The word in the gay street here is that Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a closet case whose homophobia is fueled by fear.

The Kaczynski twins gay-hating credentials are impressive. As mayor of Warsaw, now President Lech banned the gay pride parade in 2004 and 2005, while this year allowing a homophobic, far-right counter-demostration, the "Parade of Normality." Not to be surpassed by his twin brother, Party boss and presumed closet case Jaroslaw recently announced that "homosexuals should not be allowed to teach." Earlier he had told the weekly Ozon: "The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can't agree to it."

The twins have quickly installed a faithful crony, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, as their Prime Minister. He is the guy who recently told Newsweek (Polish edition) that homosexuality is "unnatural" and also threatened lesbians and gay men with "state intervention" if they tried to "infect others with their homosexuality." It was a "violation of freedom" to "infect" others with homosexuality, he explained, adding, "The family is natural, and the state must stand guard over the family."

Homophobia is just one of the reasons Poland ended up in the Kaczynskis' lap.

Fear and Loathing
With an 18 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the European Union, crumbling health and education systems, widespread corruption and a growing underclass of "new poor," Polish voters were frightened by the austerity measures espoused by the moderate conservative Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform, who ran a lackluster campaign.

The Kaczynski twins promised voters to protect whatever is left of the welfare state and to save them from all the evils, real or imaginary, that besiege Poland: corrupt former Communists, German, Russian and European Union meddling, crime (they support the death penalty, which is outlawed in the European Union), and queers. Their mix of nationalism, populism, and militant Catholic conservatism proved irresistible to voters, particularly those in rural areas.

Although defeated, Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform hold 133 seats in parliament, the second largest bloc. They have refused to form a coalition government with the victorious twins, who need a 2/3 majority to govern effectively. The Kaczynskis have turned even further to their right, to the rabidly extremist League of Polish Families and to the conservative populist party Samoobrona (Self-Defense), both of which are going to demand their pound of flesh, particularly on social issues.

On the eve of Warsaw's pro-gay Equality Parade, on June 10, the League of Polish Families ran a prime-time election ad on the government-owned State TV featuring a young male supporter who intoned: "I have the courage to say that two 'pederasts' (sic) are not man and wife." A week later, on the eve of the homophobic "Parade of Normality," an All-Polish Youth activist said, also on State TV, that homosexuality is a disease that can and should be cured. All Polish-Youth, a militia of the League of Polish Families, organized the "Parade."

Tyranny of the Majority
The current Polish trend of seizing on queers as scapegoats is more than a cultural or religious question: it is also a symptom of Poland's difficulty in making a transition from Communist single-party rule to democracy in the midst of social and economic ills. Instead of embracing democracy, and respecting the rights of everyone equally, Poland is rapidly developing as a tyranny of the majority.

Political scientist Jon Elster's analysis of Eastern Europe accurately describes what is happening in Poland today: "In this region, majority rule is being adopted across the board. At the same time, individual rights have a precarious existence. To exaggerate somewhat, there has been a shift from the despotism of the [Communist] Party to the despotism of the majority, both inimical to the protection of minority rights. Although there has been progress of a sort, since the Party did not care for the rights of the majority either, the achievements are decidedly limited. In most countries, constitutional democracy is still in the future."

Poland is also in the throes of a nationalist backlash, after joining the EU last year. The far-right equates EU membership with a loss of national identity. Nation, faith, and family in danger! Queers are regarded as part and parcel of Western "degeneracy" and "moral relativism." In these circumstances, queers, decidedly not in the majority, are seen as a real social and political threat.

Stealing Minority Thunder
Ironically, the tyrannical majority, in Poland and elsewhere, has learned to make its homophobic case using the argument of minorities. Conservatives construct a state of siege, feel their ideas threatened, and entrench themselves. Discrimination, in their minds, is not against lesbians and gays, but against themselves. Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons in the U.S. have written the definitive book on the subject. Their power-grabbing success is a source of awe and inspiration to others worldwide, including the Polish right.

Take Rocco Butiglione, an Italian politician whose candidacy as EU commissioner was dropped because of his overt homophobia. He regularly calls Christians an endangered minority, and along with other far-right Europeans uses the arguments of human rights, freedom of expression, and tolerance to defend his right to oppress queers.

Unsurprisingly, Buttiglione was feted in Poland; his heterosexist lecture at the Catholic University of Lublin was interrupted with bursts of enthusiastic applause. Swedish pastor Ake Green, who was convicted in his country of inciting hatred of gays after he delivered a graphic homophobic sermon, was also warmly welcomed in Poland.

Queer activists are resisting the right's growing strategy of queer-baiting and oppression. Defying then mayor Lech Kaczynski's two-year ban on gay pride, 2500 lesbians, gay men, and their straight supporters marched in Warsaw's Equality Parade on June 11.

"Let us be seen!" they shouted, evoking a 2003 visibility campaign in which lesbian and gay couples were portrayed on billboards. Banners read, "No to homophobia!" "Right to love" and "Gays are no pedophiles." Counter demonstrators responded by pelting banners with eggs and crying, "Deviants!"

In the midst of the overheated electoral battle, the sixth Queer Studies Conference took place in Poland in September. The Campaign against Homophobia, Poland's main LGBT rights organization, has tried to widen support for the beleaguered community. In a statement signed with a few other groups, it recently declared: "We are afraid. Anguished by the escalation of hatred toward homosexual persons by right-wing parties, we call on all who hold dear the values of democracy, freedom of thought, and tolerance to take a firm stand and take concrete and effective action."

On September 20, a hitherto unknown group that identified itself as Gay Power reacted to the Kacsynskis' imminent victory by planting thirteen dummy bombs in the heart of Warsaw. Poland's capital was paralyzed for several hours. The Campaign Against Homophobia distanced itself from this action. The bomb scare made headline news in Poland and abroad, where some journalists wondered if it was an act of agents provocateurs.

Either way, the bombs are the perfect metaphor for Poland's increasingly embattled gay community, and the explosive impact of the queer issue here.

From the Web

Poland: Campaign Against Homophobia
Polish queer portal — Innastrona

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