Rotten eggs, firecrackers, bottles filled with urine, offensive gestures and profanities – these were all thrown towards the participants of the first Equality March in Bialystok, which began under the slogan "Bialystok - a city for everyone", and ended with one of the right-wing weekly magazines having the idea to sell supplementary stickers bearing the slogan "LGBT-free zone".
But the indignation sparked by the events of 20 July is nothing compared to the sea of indifference into which our civilisation is slowly sinking.
In daylight, and for a lengthy period of time, events have been happening in the middle of Europe that should have long ago prompted our deepest indignation and opposition. The events during the Equality March are yet another example.
“Tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet” (When a neighbor’s house is burning, it concerns you) – but even more so when it is your own house which is burning. It is extreme stupidity to think that your house, instead, is shining brightly.
Brown Shirts in Bialystok
In the past, Białystok was home to Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews and Tatars. However, in recent decades it has become a bastion of nationalists and xenophobes. Strange decisions by local law enforcement agencies also contributed to this – in 2013, they declared the swastika a “Hindu symbol of happiness”, and in 2016 as the “Panslavian symbol of Kruszwicka Swarzyca”.
In this relatively poor region, with a large percentage of national minorities, neo-fascist and racist groups have been growing in strength and are becoming increasingly well-organised over previous years.
In 2013, after attacks on foreigners, the then-head of the Ministry of Interior and Administration, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, cracked down on these movements, saying famously: “We are going after you” – but the proceedings against such groups then slowed down after the change of power in 2015.
Currently, hateful symbols and slogans are treated tolerantly by law enforcement agencies, despite appearing more and more often at patriotic events. Sometimes, they are even considered expressions of, or at least an addition to, patriotic feeling. The Monitoring Center for Racist and Xenophobic Behavior claims that a group of several thousand people associated with the far right is in operation in Bialystok alone, supported by some local authorities and representatives of business and justice.
The activists within the organization “Rainbow Bialystok” wanted to change these very one-sided, stigmatising attitudes of their city. They bring together representatives of LGBT+ communities and their friends, and were behind the first Equality March in the city, which took place on 20 July 2019. The description of their event read: “We know what we are fighting for and we know that it is right. We know that Białystok is a city for everyone. We want to say it out loud“. It was attended by around a thousand participants.
The march was also officially registered in the City Hall. However, shortly after the announcement of its registration, nearly 70 counter-demonstrations were reported to the magistrate, including a “National Congress of Supporters to Sign a Non-Aggression Pact”. The organizer’s announcement described it as being established “in connection with defending the city against perverts.”
Another counter-demonstration was the Family Picnic organised by the Marshal’s Office in Bialystok, which ended with a public Rosary in front of the cathedral and a prayer to encourage, among other topics, a transfomation of the attitudes of policemen who allowed the protest and thus “betrayed the Christian cause”.
In recordings of the counter-demonstrations, you can see PiS activists at the front of the march, next to an individual nicknamed Dragon – the suspected leader of an organised group of criminals and hooligans. And although this does not prove collaboration between these two groups, it is not the first time that PiS has accidentally found itself on the same side as hooligan militias. Right-wing politicians who use discriminatory rhetoric may not actively support nationalist groups, but they do downplay the threat they pose.
Along the three-kilometer route of the Equality March, verbal and physical violence were directed against participants. Vulgar slogans, offensive gestures, rotten eggs, firecrackers, bottles filled with urine, aggression, intimidation. Everything was surrounded by a police cordon – but, according to the participants of the demonstration, the police perplexingly delayed their reactions to any signs of violence.
Still, the march managed to be completed; a small step, but still a successful one. It was possible because of those organizers and participants who refused to be provoked and stayed united until the end, shouting back at their opponents to encouage them to “come with us”.
It is really difficult, however, for those who were unable to join the march – they have to be in hiding every day, facing exclusion, rejection and discrimination.
The police detained 25 people for aggression on the day of the march. In the following days the identification of subsequent culprits began, with the identity of more than 100 now known. In 77 cases “actions were carried out in relation to the committed crimes or offenses.” But how will these proceedings end? It is hard to say. Until now, after similar incidents at the Independence March in Warsaw or the March of Remembrance of Cursed Soldiers in Hajnówka, the consequences for such behavior were rather lenient.
It can be assumed that it will be similar on this occassion too. This is all the more likely regarding the recent behaviour of right-wing politicians, who both condemn aggression and then, in the same breath, say that “nothing is so useful for the promotion of the LGBT movement in Poland as declaring these people victims” and that “the LGBT march was a provocation.”
“T” for “Transparency”
Unfortunately, this lack of acceptance and even hostility is promoted from the pulpits of most Polish churches, where Pope Francis’ call to promote evangelical simplicity is often confused with simplistic evangelising.
Although there are more and more representatives of the Polish Church who see the LGBT movement in terms of the individuals involved rather than as an ideology, their voices are still less audible than those condemning the group. These louder opinions echo the appeal to the inhabitants by the Białystok archdiocese, issued by a local archbishop two weeks before the planned Equality March.
This appeal, which was supposed to help the sheep of the Bialystok Church to identify the threat to their community, altered the LGBT abbreviation to make the T stand for transvestites, rather than transsexual – but even this was not the end of the story. The Archbishop also deemed it appropriate to define the Equality March as being set up “by a foreign initiative in Podlasie land and community, an area which is deeply rooted in Christianity and concerned about the good of its own society, especially children”. This religious official clearly suggests that the Equality March is all about demoralising the youngest Polish citizens and desecrating religious symbols.
“With regards to this attitude, we firmly say “no”, and repeat for Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński «Non possumus» – we can’t agree to it! We cannot allow the holy values to be ridiculed and our religious feelings offended with impunity.”
But this adaptation of the words of Cardinal Wyszyński contradicts their original message. By departing from the Christian commandment to love thy neighbour, Archbishop Wojda has dangerously embarked on a policy resembling that of the current government, which promotes and applies the principle of “divide and rule”.
Unfortunately for the Polish Church, it is more and more difficult to resist the temptation to put God’s concerns “on the altar of the emperor”. And by declaring and singing supplications for the sins of others, it gives the impression that the Church merely wants to cover its own transgressions.
In healthy democracies, emotions are the fuel of politics. When emotions burn, they drive political development, and the energy released through this process is used to introduce changes beneficial for the whole policy. Emotions are therefore the means, and man and community are the goal.
In a degenerate system, however, the opposite is true. This is where man and community become the centre of the equation, and emotions become the goal – because hot-headed citizens and social groups fail to notice that politicians have long ceased to deal with them, represent their cases, solve their problems – and instead only weaken state institutions so much that they are no longer concerned with the rule of law.
In such a system, instead of putting out fires and planting forests, politicians effectively ignite wood chippings – and then grab fire extinguishers to look like heroes. Managing a crisis that has been previously evoked is an extremely disgusting case of manipulation because the political goal is achieved only by finding and declaring a scapegoat for the public’s collective aggression.
There will never be a week in which PiS will not defend Poland against a potential internal or external threat. The enemies of the homeland were already immigrants, Brussels, judges, teachers – now they are the LGBT movement.
And although the childless Jarosław Kaczyński’s thunderous declaration “Hands off our children” at the party convention before the elections to the European Parliament was far from grotesque,
it clearly showed how the situation is promising to proceed in the coming months.
After the events in Białystok, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki assured the public that: “There is a place for everyone in Poland, but there is no place for such hooligan, barbaric treatment of other people. I strongly emphasise that we will maintain the security of Poles. ”
Meanwhile, the day before the Equality March in Bialystok, Kaczyński said: “We do not have to become like those in the West. We don’t have to stand under the rainbow flag, we can stand under the white and red flag.”
This was an example of one of many occasions in which the ruling party not only tried to arouse fear of homosexual individuals, but also to suggest that they are a part of foreign lifestyles which threaten the safety of Polish children and the sovereignty of the country. Such incidents only add to the already prevalent homophobia in Poland.
LGBT and the Polish affair
With the Polish raison d’état increasingly becoming an opposition to the LGBT movement, ideological differences have become the main axis of political dispute and social conflict in the country.
There have been many recent events that fit into this pattern. Among others, this includes a recent situation involving the then-head of the Ministry of Interior and Administration (currently PiS MEP) Joachim Brudzinski, who brought a case to the prosecutor’s office regarding the “profanation of national symbols”. This alleged profanation was the design of the Polish eagle on a rainbow background carried by participants of the Equality March in Częstochowa on 8 July, 2018.
On May 6, 2019, at 6 am, activist Elżbieta Podleśna was detained for putting up posters with the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa with a rainbow halo. It was her form of opposition to the declarations of the Holy Sepulcher in one of Płock’s churches, which compared the LGBT symbol to sins and crimes. Podleśna charged under art. 196 of the Penal Code, i.e. on the violation of religious feelings. It can be suspected that this type of action by Polish law enforcement is intended to discourage further activity.
The dismissal of an IKEA employee for his controversial internet activity also had a widespread impact. His posts contained, among other points, Bible quotes condemning homosexuality – it was his opposition to the company’s policy to support the LGBT Duma Month campaign.
The company ensures that “it was not his views which were a problem, but his means of expressing opinions which acted to exclude other people. We would take similar action if the case had concerned the violation of the dignity of any other group (e.g., Catholics). ” The Ordo Iuris Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of the man, demanding compensation from IKEA and recognition of the termination as unofficial. This case also went to the Ombudsman.
The fire was stoked too during the Equality March in Gdansk, which was established as a parody of the important Catholic Corpus Christi procession. This incident caused outrage among Christians, including those supporting LGBT communities, especially as Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the president of the city, participated in the march.
Earlier in February this year, the right-wing were appalled by the signing of the LGBT+ Card by President of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski (PO), aimed at supporting and protecting against discrimination of homosexual movements and environments. Among others, the bronze medallist of the London Olympic Games Zofia Klepacka, reacted, writing on Facebook: “Did my grandfather fight for this kind of Warsaw in the Uprising? I don’t think so … Mr. President, maybe you will take a better sport in Warsaw, which is limping?”
Putting the issue of protecting LGBT+ environments as a case of discrimination (called by the right “LGBT promotion” or even “homoterrorism”) in opposition to patriotism and Catholicism is becoming increasingly common practice.
75 Years of Fighting
Meanwhile, after the attacks on participants of the Białystok Equality March, it was the insurgent organisations that explicitly reacted against violence and intolerance by writing in their statement:
“Without generalising, every person deserves respect and dignity, including those who take part in the event of the Equality March.
Meanwhile, with the ineffective work of the security services, there were acts of aggression aimed at participants of the march. The images of such violence, seen by all of Poland, but also by the world, must be met with radical opposition from decent people. […] The majority has no right to humiliate minorities. The stronger have no right to beat the weaker. […]
There is no consent to humiliation of sexual minorities in a country where homosexuals were killed by fascists for their differences. You do not have our consent to beat and spit on other people, or to use the symbol of our fight against the occupying forces in WWII – the symbol of Fighting Poland. “
These clear opinions of veterans and heroes must embarrass Polish political parties, including the opposition which, like the Episcopate and the majority of society, hides behind the banal phrase “we condemn acts of aggression, but …” and allows national symbolism to be seized by neo-fascist circles.
Exactly 75 years ago, on July 28, 1944, Zofia Nałkowska wrote: “People prepare this fate for people” in “Daily periods of war”. It is not countries (Germany) making this happen to Jews or Poles, as the IPN would like claim, nor right- and left-wing extremists, but people who are the enablers.
The Warsaw Insurgents knew that there could never be any ideology; any moral, political or religious value that would justify the humiliation of one man by another. They have been saying this for years during various occasions and in different ways. After the attack on the Equality March in Bialystok, they once again proved their integrity and courage: here, now, in times of peace, in times of their retirement, without focusing on their own priorities, without hiding in corners.
Meanwhile, it is not the first time that we, civil society, eagerly remember the heroism of Poles during the war standing at attention on 1 August; but we do not remember the decency of everyday life and the fact that you need to try to understand each other, help each other, be nice to each other.
We not only spark pyromania and encourage firemen, but we are convinced that the fire we are watching does not apply to us.
We may focus on worldviews and important things to pursue, the values whose names we have learned by heart – but we never understood the meaning; we forget that descendants do not have the right to boast about the sacrifice of their ancestors if at the same time they do not respect their ideals.
On the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, there is nothing else but to thank the Insurgents for a lesson in heroism and decency, and loyalty to true values then and today.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project and was published in Hungarian on Magyar Narancs.