The Polish government uses the LGBTI+ movement as a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. The president and his supporters want to turn all of Poland into an LGBT-free zone and the police are cracking down on the LGBTI community. “Let #PolishStonewall lead to something good. The EU must intervene and act firmly,” writes Bruno De Lille.
Last Friday, the Polish LGBTI+ movement lived its own Stonewall. That day the police wanted to arrest Margot, an activist of the Stop Nonsense (Stop Bzdurom) group, and put her on pre-trial detention for two months. Margot had pulled posters that equated homosexuality with paedophilia from the van of an anti-abortion association, flattened the van’s tyres, and hung a rainbow flag on a statue of Christ. She could get as much as two years in prison for that.
When the police wanted to arrest her, other LGBTI+ activists blocked the road in front of the police cars. Eventually, about 50 other LGBTI+ protesters were arrested. The police dealt with them brutally; many of the protesters stated that the police showed degrading behaviour during searches and interrogations. Since then, both inside and outside Poland, hundreds of people have been campaigning under the hashtag #PolishStonewall.
This conflict is the preliminary culmination of the anti-LGBTI+ campaign of the Polish conservatives.
For several years now, Poland has had a very right-wing, populist government that is trying hard to stay in power. In order to divert attention from what is going wrong and to keep the people on its side, the government has created an ‘enemy of the state’. This happened for the first time in 2015, when the current governing party had targeted migrants. At that time they had tried to paint a picture of how the country was the last fortress to stand up for European, Christian values.
This attempt did not succeed, because even today Poland is so homogeneous that pinning all the wrongs on a group that literally hardly exists in the country didn’t make a convincing argument. So a new enemy was sought and since then the LGBTI+ community has taken the migrant’s place.
Inspiration from Moscow
The Polish rulers are not exactly close friends with Russia, but they clearly drew their inspiration from Moscow. In House of Cards, the Netflix series about the cynical and opportunistic Frank Underwood, there is a scene that beautifully exposes the underlying idea.
In the sixth episode of season three, Russian president Petrov tells American president Frank Underwood that he only made his anti-gay laws for populist reasons. “Personally, I don’t care,” says Petrov. “Is the gay propaganda law barbaric? Of course it is. But religion and tradition is in most of my people’s DNA. This law was passed for them.”
It’s almost as if the scriptwriter also wrote the script for Poland.
Where a few years ago LGBTI+ rights were never a theme in Polish politics, they suddenly became the divisive issue.
Polish human rights activists tell me that the government didn’t do this overnight. First, they silenced every dissenting voice. They brought the public media under their control, set up their own NGOs which they promote as the ‘real’ human rights watchdogs, and the public prosecutor’s office is already in their hands. The European Commission and the European Parliament have already expressed their concern about the state of Polish democracy and the rule of law.
That’s when the smear campaigns that put the LGBTI+ community away as ‘dangerous’ began. More than eighty local and regional authorities declared themselves LGBT-free zones. European MP Petra De Sutter rightly made a comparison with the ‘Judenfreie’ zones in Nazi Germany or the ‘non-whites not welcome’ zones during the apartheid regime in South Africa. Proponents of these zones had called it “just a symbolic gesture”, but in practice it did give extremists the signal that they could discriminate against and harass LGBTI+ people unhindered.
At the same time, when you bought the pro-government Gazeta Polska, you received a sticker with ‘LGBT-free zone’ on it. The stickers were widely distributed and hung with the intention of creating an atmosphere of fear among the Polish LGBTI+ community.
On the national Polish television channel TVP – which is no longer independent but is in fact the mouthpiece of the ruling party PiS (Law and Justice) – a supposedly ‘revealing’ documentary about the ‘LGBT Inwazja’ (invasion) was broadcast. It was a homophobic reportage that mainly wanted to make it clear that PiS was the only party that could save Poland from the ‘LGBT ideology’. A judge ordered the channel to remove the video from YouTube, but the ‘documentary’ is still on TVP’s own website.
During the presidential election campaign they went full steam ahead. This is how the incumbent Polish president called LGBTI+ rights an ideology that was more destructive than communism and therefore had to be fought. A member of his campaign team called LGBTI+persons “not equal to normal people”. The president also signed the ‘Family Charter’ in which he promised to restrict marriage to male-female couples, and to prohibit same-sex adoption, sex education in school, and LGBTI+ propaganda. The bottom line is that they are trying to turn all of Poland into an LGBT-free zone.
Polish President Andrzej Duda and his party call LGBTI+ associations dangerous for national sovereignty because they benefit from international support and because international human rights organisations use the discriminatory treatment of the LGBTI+ community to criticise the Polish regime. They also see them as dangerous for the Poles themselves, because they ‘undermine’ traditional values. And so the LGBTI+ community is now viewed as an ‘enemy of the state‘ by conservatives and populists.
The way the Polish government treats LGBTI+ people is indeed reminiscent of the discourse on Jews in the 1930s in Germany, or the hate speech against Tutsis in the 1990s in Rwanda. There’s a very clear parallel with the way in which the Polish president, the governing party and the organisations around them dehumanise LGBTI+ people. Europe must therefore do everything possible to reverse this situation.
Poland has about two million people who identify themselves as LGBTI+. And 50,000 children grow up with same-sex parents. The words and actions of the current government, civil servants, members of parliament and prosecutors put all these people at risk.
Meanwhile, there is a significant increase in homophobic hate crimes. What is worrying is that both the prosecutors and the police are constantly downplaying this aggression – either by refusing to investigate or by stopping the prosecution every time because it is apparently always ‘impossible’ to track down the suspected perpetrators.
Luckily, there’s resistance as well. The president’s victory margin was very low – a sign that many Poles do not support the ongoing attacks on their LGBTI+ friends. Polish judges have declared the LGBT-free zones unconstitutional and Europe has rejected the subsidy requests made by some Polish municipalities for declaring themselves as LGBT-free zones.
EU should intervene
But this is not enough. At least that’s what the arrests of the last few days show. It seems that after the re-election of the president, a decision has been made to go after the leading figures of the LGBTI+ movement in order to decapitate this movement and at the same time give Europe the middle finger.
The European Community cannot and must not tolerate this. To be admitted to the EU, a country must show that it is democratic, that the rule of law functions well, that human rights are respected and that minorities are protected.
Even a blind person can see that this is no longer the case in Poland today. It’s high time the EU made it clear that the line has been crossed a long time ago. The systematic way in which Polish LGBTI+ people are being targeted is unacceptable and
makes us fear the worst. Tough sanctions are needed to get Poland back on the right track. The time for declarations and symbolism is over. Take away the country’s right to vote and force it to respect European laws and rules. In the same way the Polish Stonewall might lead to something good.
This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. The original can be found here: http://brunodelille.eu/eu-mag-haat-en-geweld-tegenover-poolse-lgbti-gemeenschap-niet-toestaan-weekend-knack/