Warsaw gay activists march with pride

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Thousands of people marched in the polish capital of Warsaw last weekend in an Equality Parade to protest against increased homophobia in the country.

A counter parade by far-right groups was cancelled after pressure from politicians, meaning compared to the neighbouring cities of Moscow and Bucharest, activists marched relatively peacefully.

A heavy police presence ensured egg wielding skinheads could not get near to marchers, which included politicians and international supporters.

One of supporters was former EastEnder turned Labour MEP Michael Cashman, he told the BBC, “We’ve all become extremely worried in the European Parliament in particular about the increasing hate-speak from senior politicians here in Poland.

“Poland has joined the club of the European Union. The same rules apply throughout those 25 countries and part of that is respect for minorities and we’re not seeing that at the moment.”

The ruling Law and Justice Party, struggling to achieve a parliamentary majority, recently formed a coalition with two right-wing parties, the League of Polish Families and the Self-Defence Party. Both have a record of nationalist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Roman Giertych, leader of the League of Polish Families, became deputy prime minister and minister of education. He has stated that, “There is no room, nor will there ever be any room for homosexual activism within the school system in Poland on my watch.”

Last month, deputy minister of education Miroslaw Orzechowskiego, also a member of the League of Polish Families, accused the Campaign against Homophobia, a Polish gay group, of “depraving young people.” Pointing to an international seminar on gender stereotypes that the group co-sponsored in 2005, he said the ministry would work to “prevent such organisations from getting money in the future.”

In recent weeks, another Polish minister, Wojciech Wierzejski, called for a ban on the march, warning that, “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.”

President Lech Kaczynski, the former leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, has long opposed lesbian and gay people’s rights to expression and assembly. When serving as mayor of Warsaw, he attempted to ban Gay Pride marches in 2004 and 2005. He refused to meet with the parade organisers, saying, “I am not willing to meet perverts.” During his presidential campaign, Mr Kaczynski said that he would continue to ban gay demonstrations, as “public promotion of homosexuality will not be allowed.”

When Warsaw marchers defied the ban and peacefully demonstrated in 2004, skinheads associated with the far-right All-Polish Youth assaulted them. The All-Polish Youth is affiliated with the League of Polish Families, and was founded in 1989 by Education Minister Mr Giertych. In April 2006, demonstrators from the All-Polish Youth also attacked a “March for Tolerance” in Krakow, pelting it with stones and eggs.

“Intolerance has reached the highest levels of Poland’s government, and it brings the menace of violence in its train,” said Human Rights Watch’s Scott Long. “Polish political leaders must condemn the voices of hatred, and affirm that human rights are for all.”