Kelly Sans Culotte

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Virginal Boys
Homophobia, nationalism, and the war on Polish children.
By Tomek Kitlinski

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WARSAW. AUGUST 27, 2004. In the heart of Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, stands the statue of "An Insurgent Boy." It shows an exhausted boy-fighter in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. He wears a helmet that is too big for him, and heroically holds on to his machine gun.

That image of macho virginity is at the core of puritanical Polish nationalism, which, in turn, is central to Poland's national identity.

For the past year or so, led by an army of politicians of all stripes, priests, and media moguls, Poland has been on a war footing to save the virginal boy-nation from a danger greater than subjugation by czarist Russia in the 19th century and Nazism and Communism in the 20th century. This new danger is the defilement, ergo annihilation, of the virginal boy-nation by homosexuals/pedophiles (by now firmly equated in the popular mind).

The boy-nation is in peril! Everybody to the rescue! That is the underlying message trumpeted over the last 12 months by the media and the pulpit. On the surface, the frenzy was triggered by the trial of Wojziech Krolopp, 59, the long-time director of the prominent Poznan Boys Choir, who was sentenced in July to 8 years of prison for sexually molesting some of his charges.

But the Krolopp trial, relentlessly and sensationalistically covered, was only the hook. The hysteria sweeping Poland, stoked by the Catholic Church, the big media and much of the political establishment, was really about the imagined loss of the national soul. The enemy is Western European modernity. Its Trojan Horse is Poland's emerging queer civil rights and abortion-decriminalization efforts. Its Munich, Poland joining the European Union on May 1.

That the hysteria, with its homophobic, anti-modernist reverberations, spread like wildfire among Poland's 30 million people is a sign that deep anxiety about Poland's present, and future, is not restricted to the self-appointed guardians of traditional nationality.

The panic the latter instigated, however, got them three juicy, collateral gains: it sold papers and generated huge TV ratings; it won elections (about half of Poland's new Eurodeputies are either hard or harder rightists); and it distracted the populace from real problems confronted by real people, including real children.

Reality Check
The post-Communist economy and government are a disaster. Unemployment stands at twenty per cent. Public education is in ruins. Ditto for the health system.

Young people are hardest hit by privatization and the new poverty. In Poland, and other economic disaster zones in Eastern Europe, parents rely on children to help ends meet. In the countryside, subsistence farmers expect their children not only to perform chores at home, but exhausting and dangerous labor in the fields.

With very little social mobility, fewer and fewer village children have a chance for a secondary education. Although public education in Poland is ostensibly free, it is expensive for people here to drive their children to secondary schools, have them attend classes when they are needed in the fields, and buy them costly books.

Life for children and teenagers in urban housing estates is not easy, either. Blokensi, the kids who live in the sordid blocks (bloki) of Communist-era flats, turn at a young age to alcohol, one of Poland's biggest problems, or to drugs, and prostitution. Poverty is rampant, and there are no cultural or community activities to relieve the boredom.

For some children and their families, prostitution seems the only solution to their poverty. One of the biggest centers of teenage prostitution is Warsaw's Central Railroad Station. After a sting operation in early August, all the media focus was on a priest who allegedly ran a prostitution ring, with no mention of how or why children might be forced into it.

Instead, the Polish media slavered over one more opportunity to equate homosexuals and pedophiles, and portray them as horror movie monsters out to violate and kill virginal children, particularly boys.

Homosexuality/pedophilia and abortion are the ultimate crimes in Polish politics and media. Sexual abuse of girls is hardly ever mentioned. When they actually reach the court system, girl abusers are treated more leniently than boy abusers. In June, a Roman Catholic priest in Tylawa was sentenced to only two years in prison for abusing girls, a far cry from the eight years slapped on choirmaster Krolopp for molesting boys.

The growing fixation of the Polish media and political body on homosexuality/pedophilia, and its purportedly lethal menace to boyhood and the nation is in contrast with their relative indifference to the very real problems plaguing children, notably poverty, alcoholism, and AIDS.

Child Worship
To understand how real flesh and blood children can be ignored in Poland today while boyhood is revered, one has to go back to the dawn of Polish nationalism. Child worship, particularly worship of the boy child, reached a peak in the 19th century, when Poland was under total foreign control, having been carved up by Prussia, Russia and Austria. The rebirth of the nation became inextricably bound with giving birth to children and educating them. It also became incestuously bound with the Polish Catholic Church.

As the only alternative to the colonial powers, as it was to be a century later under Communism, the Polish Church turned into a political force and Polish Catholicism became what it is to this very day: more of an ideology than a religion. Machismo took root, along with its counterpoint, Marianismo, the cult of the Virgin Mary as an obligatory model for womanhood.

The image of macho virginity embodied in Warsaw's "Insurgent Boy" is particularly fierce now that Catholic ideology is on the ascent, after decades of sexophobic Communist regime. In 1990, without parliamentary debate, the Ministry of Education imposed religious instruction in all public schools. In 1992, parliament passed the censorious Act of Respect for Christian Values in Mass Media. In 1993, it banned abortion.

At the same time, needy Poles work their children into the ground, offer them in prostitution, or stand idly by while they sink into addiction. A pediatrician who asked to remain anonymous, for fear of a moralistic backlash, told me that he was shocked that parents usually ask for cheaper medicines for their children, but not for themselves. Poles may be in love with childhood, but actual children are largely irrelevant.

From the Web

Campaign Against Homophobia
BBC Country profile: Poland
Polish queer portal — Innastrona

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