How underground magazines helped liberate gay men in the Cold War

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

In an extract from his new book, Lukasz Szulc explores life behind the gay magazines in Communist Poland.

Born in 1948 in communist Poland, Andrzej Selerowicz immigrated to Vienna in the late 1970s, where he started to work for a foreign trade company and joined a local gay and lesbian organisation HOSI Wien.

He became one of the key persons behind the Eastern Europe Information Pool programme, launched in 1981 by the International Gay Association (now ILGA), and started to publish what was most likely the first Polish gay magazine Biuletyn, later renamed Etap.

How underground magazines helped liberate gay men in the Cold War

In one issue, he explained to his readers that ‘the main objective of the magazine is to provide you with information about important issues for the homosexual community in the West in exchange for your news from the country’.

Selerowicz published the magazine regularly, four times a year, since March 1983 until December 1987 in the form of a letter, usually starting with the words ’Dear friend’. In total, he made 20 issues, each consisting of one, two or four pages.

Etap was a typical do-it-yourself magazine, or zine, produced only by Selerowicz at his home and work. The first step in the production was to type the magazine’s content using a typewriter available in Selerowicz’s office.

Because the typewriter did not have Polish fonts, the second step was to manually add all the dots and dashes required by some Polish characters such as ą, ś or ż. The third step was to copy the magazine using a photocopier, again the one available at his work.

How underground magazines helped liberate gay men in the Cold War

Selerowicz started to distribute the magazine by handing it to the people he met during his travels to Poland or by mailing it to about 50 addresses, which he had collected by the mid-1980s.

However, most often he sent Etap not from Austria but from Hungary, where he was travelling regularly for work. He explains that ‘Stamps to Poland were cheaper from Budapest than from Vienna. Besides, mail from Budapest was less suspicious for the Polish Postal Services than letters from the West’.

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