In recent years, Polish society has split in half. On the one hand there are the most conservative influences, which are common in all states in the former Soviet influence area, mixed with a strong nationalist and ultra-catholic attitude, all this is condensed and represented by the government of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice; PiS), the first political party of Poland, oriented on the conservative and clerical right, slightly euro-sceptic and characterised by xenophobic speeches and policies (but which does not hesitate in welcoming many immigrants from outside the EU when they are needed by the country’s companies and industries), which won the past election in 2015 having defeated the current main opposition parties, generally centrists and convincingly pro-EU.
“They continue to ignore us”
We asked W.K., a young homosexual man from the voivodship of Małopolskie (a Poland’s southern region), to explain how things are going in the country: “Every government has ignored homosexual people, from 2004 to today. PO and SLD (parties that governed in previous legislatures, today part of the opposition) said that they were in favour of same-sex partnerships, but against same-sex marriage. In fact they have done nothing.
“And now the PiS has said it will not give us anything. The opposition replies that homosexual couples should have the right to unite in civic partnerships, but while they were being the governing parties for eight years, they completely ignored this topic.”
Then he adds with disappointment: “Trying to be objective, I must admit that the PiS is doing for LGBTQIA people exactly what the previous parties did, which means nothing. The PO (second Polish party) would like to present itself as a more liberal alternative to the PiS, but for example Warsaw’s mayor is the PO’s candidate and she has never granted the patronage to the LGBTQIA pride parade of the city“.
A changing society
Regarding the current situation in Poland, he says: “Same-sex marriage is constitutionally banned, since the Polish constitution (Article 18) describes marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but half of the citizens are in favour of same-sex partnerships. Nowadays in cities like Warsaw and Kraków, or even Wrocław and Poznań, it’s normal to see homosexual couples holding hands in public, but in smaller cities this is absolutely not accepted, although obviously here in Poland there are many gay clubs and meeting places.
“The statistics also say that the number of children raised by same-sex parents is increasing, since they can adopt as single parents (which is legal in Poland), even though this is not always easy. The generation of citizens between 18 and 25 years (especially the ones who studied or lived abroad) of age is very open-minded, therefore I hope that in thirty, if not even in twenty years we would already be able to obtain same-sex partnerships”.
As for a possible increase in hate crimes under the PiS government, he reassures: “I am of Jewish origins, and my being Jewish and gay can easily be noticed, but nevertheless I never ended up in dangerous situations. Some people say that Poland has a problem with neo-Nazism, but for me at the moment there is no such danger”.
Pride throughout the country
On the other hand, in addition to the uncertain opposing centrist parties and these small glimmers of change within society, there are also openly homosexual mayors, elected both in rural areas and in cities such as Słupsk, in Pomerania (a region in the north-western coastline), and who have stood up against the government’s homophobic, xenophobic and anti-abortion positions. We should also mention with them the numerous festivals and pride parades in the country scheduled between May and October 2018.
Examples are Kraków’s queer festival, followed by the final march on May 19th, the parades of Konin (May 18th), Gdańsk (May 26th), Poznań (August 11th), Katowice (September 9th), Rzeszów (June 30th), Opole (July 7th), Szczecin (September 15th), Toruń (September 29th) and Wrocław (October 6th), not to mention the successful march for LGBT equality in Warsaw on June 9th (which takes place every year uninterruptedly since 2001) and the one of Częstochowa, in which the first LGBT+ event in the city’s history took place this July 8th, with the slogan “Solidarity is our weapon, homophobes be afraid”.
The city is a well-known pilgrimage destination and its sanctuary is one of the main religious centres in Silesia (a region in southern Poland), but despite this the activist Małgorzata Mróz, one of the co-organisers of the event, said: “Many people have expressed a desire to help, support and participate. It can be seen that in times when xenophobic, homophobic and racist feelings are rising, the need for a progressive part of our society to manifest ideals such as freedom, equality and tolerance also grows.”
Let’s hope this is happening for real, in Poland as well as everywhere else.