Guilt to love. LGBT rights in Poland are still threatened. Interview with Mikolaj Czerwiński.

 When the mayor of Warsaw signed the declaration supporting the LGBT rights in the Capital, promising anti-discrimination classes in schools, an LGBT Centre and a psychological and legal support system, the reaction of the conservative ruling homophobic party PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Law and Justice in English) didn’t wait too long. The leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, defines LGBT as an ideology to be faced: “(We must) live in freedom, and not be subject to all that is happening to the west of our borders… where freedom is being eliminated,” as reported by Reuters.

To-date almost 100 municipalities, an area bigger than Hungary, declared themselves LGBT ideology-free zone.  How much was the LGBT community  affected? I interviewed Mikolaj Czerwiński, LGBT activist vice-president of the association Queerowy Maj, who let me understand something crucial: something is changing, from the bottom.

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LGBT activist Miko Czerwiński

 Kraków still conservative, but something is changing

Living abroad, seeing anti-discrimination policies, equal treatment for the LGBT people, he wanted the same for his country and he became an activist. “Eight years ago, things were much different. At the first Equality march in Cracow, there were small right-wing conservative and neo-nazi counter-protesters too, they threw eggs against us, insulting us. There was no physical violence during the march, but I was attacked on my way home, and so many others were, the situation was quite dangerous for us.” Kraków is a conservative city with PiS at the government still today. However, around 10.000 people last year participated in the Equality march and it was a “huge celebration of diversity”, following Poznań with 13.000 people and the Capital with 70.000 participants, and few were the counter-protesters, with no physical violence. “A couple of years ago, the city council was not interested in the march, they didn’t support us and last year too they refused to patronage it, but at the same time there were positive statements from the vice-president and up to 10 members of the city council actually attended it.”

Quite the contrary, the reaction of the archbishop of Kraków was the most aggressive, calling the LGBT community a plague, with Kaczyński’s backing. People are more open-minded than eight years ago, but these kinds of statements from the Polish Church still have such a strong influence. Additionally, they changed their communication strategy, from an “anti-LGBT campaign” to a “pro-family” discourse, to reach more support.

The LGBT free zone impact on the community

The LGBT ideology-free zone is a non-binding resolution, in other words, it’s not a legal act and, constitutionally speaking, it could never be legitimate. “However, even if these resolutions don’t have a direct legal impact on LGBT people, they can be interpreted in different ways, for example, blocking LGBT associations to organise some events, even an Equality march, preventing supportive members of the city council to help”, stressing that even if they are non-binding resolutions, there’s still a huge impact on such inner political dynamics.

But here Miko makes a peculiar observation: many citizens in the interested areas asked their city councils to withdraw from the resolution. And here he lets me understand the discrepancies between the political aggressive communication on LGBT and the actual perception of common people. 

“Kraków gives an interesting example. In theory, it’s in the LGBT free zone, but de facto people are starting to be more progressive and tolerant” and often the national political declarations against this phantom ideology imported from the West have no feedback in the society.

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Krakow Equality March 2019. Photo: Mario Giagnorio

Politics still behind, but not at the local level

At the presidential election polls, the ruling party Law & Justice registers in the polls 54% of preferences to the candidate and current President Andrzej Duda, seeing the only left-wing running candidate Robert Biedroń at 7%. So, even if an imminent political overturning is not even imaginable, Miko stresses an emblematic point. “They cannot censor Biedroń on public debates on TV while supporting LGBT rights. He’s forcing other candidates at least to take a position on the matter which is gradually becoming part of the public debate.” Here also takes place the strong controversy over the interpretation of Article 18 of the Polish Constitution. The dominant reading presumes the article banning same-sex marriage and even the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of this interpretation, stating that any different interpretation of this Article should be considered unconstitutional. Let’s remind Article 18 text:

Marriage, being a union of a man and a woman, as well as the family, motherhood and parenthood, shall be placed under the protection and care of the Republic of Poland.

However, a provincial administrative court of Warsaw ruled against the dominant reading, stating that Article 18 effectively protects the marriage between a man and a woman, but doesn’t ban same-sex marriage and doesn’t prohibit the transcript of a foreign marriage certificate, as was the case claimed by the two popular vloggers Jakub and Dawid, who got married abroad and initially saw their foreign marriage certificate refused by the Polish administration. This can be considered as a landmark ruling for the Country. 

A wind of change

“Discrimination stays, it’s detrimental”, the LGBT community still feel threatened and “the negative mindset living in an LGBT free zone… has a huge impact on the people, even if it has no legal direct effect.” It’s hard to say when something will change at the political national level, but as Miko stresses, if even such a conservative city as Kraków has started accepting the LGBT community, including two LGBT activists in the city’s anti-discrimination committee, it’s a huge step forward. Following the examples of brave figures as Paweł Adamowicz, Mayor of Gdańsk, supporter of LGBT, migrants and minority groups, assassinated last year on the stage of a live charity event, the local dimension is the key to finally give the LGBT people the right to love.

Cristina Piga

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