Anti-Gay Panic Sweeps Poland
A discredited American "conversion therapist" has been welcomed in the Polish Parliament, while Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," is hailed as a transcendent masterpiece, and used to advance a violent proto-Catholic nationalism, as rabidly anti-Semitic as it is homophobic.
Aggressions have mounted exponentially since Poland joined the European Union on May 1, perhaps a sign of the extreme right's anxiety over its own ability to keep at bay the "corrupting" influence of more liberal Western European countries.
"The atmosphere soon became charged" at the march, reported the French daily Le Monde on May 10th. "While a handful of indifferent cops looked on," marchers ran the gauntlet of passersby and counter-demonstrators screaming "Murderers!" "Let's send the fags to the hospital!" and "Perverts, get out of Cracow!"
The march "was blocked at the bottom of the Wawel castle by a few dozen thugs who then proceeded to 'chase the homos' all the way into the old town's central plaza. No doubt considering that it was bad for business, the police then stepped in to prevent further violence," Le Monde concluded.
The Campaign Against Homophobia, Poland's largest gay civil rights group, which organized the march, identified the attackers as members of All-Polish Youth, the militant arm of the League of Polish Families, the main far-right party. The Campaign said that the attackers numbered "about two hundred" and that they pelted marchers with firecrackers, eggs, bottles, rocks, and even acid. When marchers tried to take refuge in restaurants, the owners didn't let them in, Sylwester Gumienny, a Campaign activist, told reporters.
"Glasses and bottles on tables outside restaurants started flying at police officers and everyone else," Gumienny added. "Confused tourists did not know what was going on. Mothers with children were trying to flee the scene. Then the police started shooting in the air to calm down the situation... The fights between hooligans and police lasted till late in the evening. They arrested 20 [of the] most aggressive of them. Two people are in the hospital, one with a face burned as one of those Nazis threw a bag with acid into a crowd."
Banned in Warsaw
The mayor refused to meet with the parade organizers, the Campaign Against Homophobia. "I'm not willing to meet perverts," he reportedly said.
In case the organizers had not gotten the message, the mayor approved counter-demonstrations by the far-right League of Polish Families and their violent All Polish Youth, announced for the same day and the same place.
Queer activists and their supporters staged a "Rally for Freedom" on May 11 to protest against the mayor's suppression of the gay pride parade. That same day, the Polish Embassy in Paris was splattered with rainbow paint and flooded by gay leaflets denouncing Poland's homophobia.
The Ties That Bind
Just before debate began in March on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage introduced by Senator Maria Szyzkowska, a rare gay-friendly legislator, League patriarch Maciej Giertych sponsored a presentation in the Polish Parliament by Richard Cohen, an American "conversion therapist," self-styled "ex-gay," and President of the International Healing Foundation.
Cohen asked for ten million dollars to eradicate homosexuality, and called for a bill to criminalize gay activism in Poland, which Maciej's heir and current League leader, deputy Roman Giertych, then duly introduced. The Gyertych bill would change the penal code to criminalize, among other things, any attempt to change the traditional definition of marriage as an union between a man and a woman.
The Giertych political dynasty's founder, Jedrzej Giertych, was a "radical antisemitic leader in the 1930's," according to Tel Aviv University's Stephen Roth Institute, which tracks anti-Semitism worldwide. The first Giertych, Maciej's father and Roman's grandfather, was the author of a notorious 1938 book, "An End to the Crisis," calling for the expulsion of Jews from Poland. His ideas still have a substantial following in Poland. Last year, during the centenary of his birth, Cracow hosted an enthusiastic, well-attended conference on his work. His writings are regularly reprinted.
Cohen is a real find for the League because his "conversion" business does not stop at sexual identity. Poland's Catholic Press Agency reported that the key to Cohen's change from homosexual to heterosexual was, "as he indicates, his meeting of Christ. Cohen who had professed Judaism became a Christian."
The Catholic weekly, Gosc Niedzielny, ran a quasi hagiographic story entitled "'Saint' Mel" highlighting his Irish background, alcoholism, conversion to fundamentalist Catholicism, addiction to the Latin mass and traditionalist morality, and construction of his very own church building.
A few voices of protest pierced the national Gibson lovefest, one of them from inside the Catholic Church: Romuald Jakub Weksler Waszkinel, a priest and professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin. As a child, he was given by his Jewish parents to a Catholic family, to save him from the Holocaust.
He told reporters, "I don't see any Passion mystery plays and, for sure, I won't go to see Gibson's Passion." He also noted sardonically, "there are already debates on whether it incites anti-Semitic feelings or not. And I hear again that it's Jews who are guilty because they protest."
Filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, who is Jewish, was one of the film's most outspoken critics. "If this were just a movie, we could just talk about whether it's successful or not. But we all know what is behind it: two thousand years of history, the whole attitude of Christian Europe to Jews, and ultimately, the pogroms and the Holocaust. To my mind, the two thousand years were, in a way, rectified by the words and deeds of the [Catholic] Church in the last fifty-sixty years. However, I am afraid that a sociological fact and this film is a sociological fact may negate those fifty years."
Gazeta's staunchly heterosexual supplement for men, which usually features glossy pictures of cars, offered up, instead, Brad Pitt as "Troy Boy," a thinly veiled posterboy for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, unquestioningly backed by both Gazeta and the Polish government. In contrast, when Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" finally opened in Poland, Gazeta derided it as a "foul pamphlet" and compared it to Leni Riefensthal's Nazi propaganda films; its Washington correspondent opined that Moore's film was made with "evil will".
Poland's incestuous marriage of nationalism and religion, whose most virulent and succesful mainstream political embodyment is the rightist League of Polish Families, has dire consequences for queers and women. There is an obsessive insistence on reproduction. The right-wing repeats ad nauseam the argument of Poland's falling birthrate. "The fatherland is in danger," politicians and the media cry out. "Poles are dying, there are no new generations, lesbians, gays and pedophiles do not reproduce. On the contrary, they are out to ambush and deprive your children!" In the past 12 months, the outlines of what is, in fact, a nationalist mobilization against an imagined enemy, queers, have become clear.
It is not surprising that acid was one of the weapons used in the Cracow attacks. Acid does not simply hurt and burns: it erases. Poland's xenophobic forces are not just out to contain minority culture and diversity, but to erase them. Censorship, the metaphorical acid, is also on the rise.
Earlier this year, the head of the Department for Polish Culture at Warsaw University, banned a series of extracurricular lectures in queer studies focussing on literature, philosophy, ethics and sociology. Nevertheless, at the end of May, scholars and activists defiantly held the fifth conference of LGTBQ Studies in Poland attracting more than a hundred participants from Poland, Eastern Europe, and the United States.
In the fall of 2003, Gazeta Wyborcza uncritically featured in its section "Science" a flawed study by Robert L. Spitzer, a Columbia University professor, purporting to show that "conversion therapy" worked. In February of 2004, the newspaper speculated, in sensationalistic frontpage headlines, that Poznan Boys Choir conductor Wojciech Krolopp, who was on trial for allegations of pedophilia, might be HIV positive.
What followed was an anti-gay frenzy in which pedophilia, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS status were equated, and everyone from the highest politicians to the lowest Internet reader agreed homosexuals were filthy, perverted, AIDS-infected pedophiles deserving of horrible deaths. Popstar Maryla Rodowicz told the tabloid Fakt that pedophiles should be castrated. In the same issue, politician and former head of Poland's State TV, Wieslaw Walendziak, published a piece accusing "sexual minorities and their supporters of all conceivable transgressions of morals."
The June 13th cover of the national weekly Wprost featured a straight couple gagged with a piece of tape captioned "tolerance"; above them, a rainbow-colored title: "The Dictatorship of Equality." In a vitriolic attack against choirmaster Krolopp and gays in general, Wprost claimed to have unearthed an international conspiracy of gays (the "Homintern") to spread HIV/AIDS.
When choirmaster Krolopp was sentenced on July 23, the courts gave him an even longer term than what the prosecutor had asked for.