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Campaign against Homophobia / Poland

in POLAND, 30/06/2004

March for Tolerance Results in Violence

On May 6-9, the Cracow branch of Campaign against Homophobia (Kampania Przeciw Homofobii, KPH), organised the Days of Culture for Tolerance in Krakow. The festival programme included parties, lectures, poetry evenings, a visit of LGBT activists to the former concentration camp in Auschwitz, and other events. But it was the march in support of LGBT rights that stirred unrest and gave rise to protests of local right-wing politicians and dogmatically anti-gay organizations, which evolved into violent riots lasting until the evening on that day. ILGA-Europe received a number of reports from KPH activists and the participants.

“We were expecting about 300 people to march. We thought people would be too scared to show up after all the fuss in the media. Instead, a river of 1,500 people chanting tolerance and singing, marched in support of democracy, freedom of speech and LGBT rights”, said Sylwester Gumienny, the KPH’s secretary.

The organisers had been expecting a counter-demonstration of the Pan-Polish Youth, and groups of football supporters and hooligans promised they would come to oppose the parade. Hence, the peaceful march for tolerance had to be escorted by the police, who changed the route of the march wherever Pan-Polish Youth organised blockades.

Malgosia, who also walked in it, told us that before the festival there had been threats from extreme right-wing organizations. “I saw a lot of leaflets and posters saying ‘Let’s kick homosexuals out of Cracow’, and similar, more offensive slogans. Many participants were really scared.” Some organisers had received text messages on their phones, saying: “Show up at the Old Town, and you will die.”

When the parade approached the Wawel Castle, where it was to end, they met the protesters, who threw eggs, stones, and even bottles at them. “They appeared to be well organised. The police prevented us from any direct contact with them. We acted calmly. We didn’t want anyone to get provoked to retaliate. We threw flowers at our opponents and chanted peaceful phrases in their direction. They only got more aggressive. We couldn’t move any further.”

Finally, the police and the organisers agreed it would be best to tell people to disperse. But as small groups were moving back towards the Old Town square via the only way out – a nearby park – they were chased by neo-Nazi youth. “We stormed into the square trying to find a place to hide, but the restaurant owners refused to let us in,” recalled Sylwester. “So we scattered throughout the square, and blended into the crowd not knowing where to go and what to do next, completely helpless and horrified.”

The square was crowded with people – strolling or sitting at outdoor cafes and restaurants. When the police arrived a regular fight ensued, with the hooligans picking up glasses and bottles from the tables and throwing them around. “Confused tourists didn’t know what to do. Mothers with children were trying to escape from the place. Then the police started shooting in the air to calm the situation.”

Twenty of the most violent hooligans were arrested; 12 of them eventually charged for taking part in the riots and three – for assaulting a police officer (a bag of acid thrown into the crowd hit him in the face).

“I’m sorry that a peaceful demonstration was attacked by a much smaller group of aggressors,” said Tomasz Szypu_a, KPH Krakow vice-chairman. “There were TV crews and journalists from other countries. May Europe see how weak democracy in Poland is, and that violence rules the streets. People suffered cuts and bruises in the attack. There are photos proving that the protest was coordinated by a city councilor from the League of Polish Families – an honorary leader of Pan-Polish Youth. The slogans about civic society are just fairytales that politicians tell the public.”

Before the march KPH appealed to the opponents to observe the Christian values they so often refer to, and which violence contradicts. Unfortunately, the appeals fell on deaf ears. In the aftermath, KPH announced filing a complaint against Pan-Polish Youth, the League of Polish Families, and two of its city councilors with the Prosecutor’s Office. “They staged an illegal counter-demonstration, incited hatred and violence, and used it against a peaceful demonstration”, said Robert Biedro_, KPH’s chairman.

At least, as Malgosia emphasized, the march for tolerance caused a national debate, with politicians and intellectuals speaking ill or in favour of it. “This was the first such event in Cracow. It just had to point the way. Hopefully, next time it will be different here.”

Konrad Szmerdt

The ‘Right’ Concept of Law and Justice

Meanwhile, for the third time Warsaw President, Lech Kaczy_ski of Law and Justice (a right-wing party), refused to grant permission to ILGCN Poland to organise the Parade of Tolerance scheduled for June 11, after the region’s governor overruled the previous two, and sent them back for reconsideration.

Mr. Kaczy_ski concluded that the parade was aimed at presenting the views of sexual minorities concerning their “sexual behaviour”. In his opinion, it contradicted the rules of public decency, and would lead to “dangerous events” posing a threat to local residents. The president said that tolerance did not come up to approval. The organisers intend to bring a lawsuit against Warsaw authorities to the Administrative Court. As time has run short, the parade had to be cancelled. However, those who intended to walk in the parade are invited to join the Demonstration for Freedom, organised by different human rights organizations, to take place in front of the City Hall in Warsaw on 11 June.

Warsaw Parade of Equality has never resulted in violence, save for minor protests overwhelmed by the curiosity of friendly lookers-on.

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