Poland: The “Rainbow Plague” and LGBT-Free Zones, Why Such a Climate of Hate?

Temps de lecture : 11 minutes

10.12.2021

Written by : Audrey Pruvost

Translated by : Kerry Marcotte

Introduction 

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) “ideology zones”, known as LGBT-free zones (Strefy wolne od LGBT) refer to towns and regions in Poland that have been declared not to accept LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian , Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual). The aim of this approach is in particular to prevent equality marches within these territories.

This radical and openly declared position is based on a homophobic political climate, led by the government in power since 2015: the party openly promotes an ideology that is based on a nationalist discourse. Within this framework, it defends conservative values which are first and foremost religion and the national myth, which the party considers to be threatened by the LGBTQIA + community.

The Kaczynski brothers, founders of the Law and Justice party (PiS) in 2001, spoke of a necessary “moral revolution” and of “good change [1]“Moral revolution” and “good change” are expressions frequently used in their political speeches.”, in order to move away as far as possible from a Western cultural model, characterized by the emergence of more inclusive mores. With their coming to power in 2015, the stigmatization of LGBTQIA+ minorities increases in favor of this ultra-conservative nationalist agenda, supported by the Polish Church.

The debate posed by the LGBT-free zones makes it possible to understand the sensitive climate of political oppositions in the country, with each actor claiming to hold the true definition of what it is to “be Polish” today, and equally reflects the power relations in a territory. This article aims to question the political and cultural context that has allowed the development of LGBT-free zones and the homophobic climate in the country.

  1. The “ LGBT-Free Zones”, or Zones of Hate

a. A Homophobic Climate

Legally, anti-LGBTQIA+ attacks are not recognized as “hate crimes”. Only the judge decides on the nature of the assault and the penalty incurred. Moreover, there is still no recognition of civil marriage for persons of the same sex [2]“ UE / Pologne : les droits des LGBT+ et à l’avortement relégués aux oubliettes ? ”, FÉDÉRATION INTERNATIONALE POUR LES DROITS HUMAINS, novembre 2018 [lien].

The PiS party, in power since 2015, exercises its stronghold on the judiciary by appointing judges according to their political and ideological affinities [3]Claire Guyot, « Inquiétude sur l’indépendance de la justice en Pologne », La Croix, 17 juillet 2017, [lien], often to the detriment of the LGBTQIA+ community. Human rights groups, as well as those protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, regularly face verbal abuse.

Discrimination against LGTQIA+ escalated when Rafaƚ Trzakowski, of the right-wing opposition political party Civic Platform, signed an “LGBT Charter” in January 2019. This Charter aims to create a “refuge”, for people rejected by their families, and sexuality education that takes into account the issue of sexual orientation. Rafaƚ Trzakowski promised, for the 2018 municipal elections, that Warsaw would be an “open and tolerant city” [4]Jakub Iwaniuk, “ Les ultraconservateurs polonais vilipendent la « charte LGBT » de Varsovie ”,  Le Monde, Mars 2019 [link].

A climate of political tensions and accusations followed and it was tinged with hatred and stigma. For example, activist Elżbieta Podleśna was arrested in May 2019 for having displayed posters of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa [5]Black Virgins are female effigies that belong to the iconography of the European Middle Ages. They generally represent the Virgin Mary., with the rainbow halo, symbol of the LGBTQIA+ community, to denounce the homophobic climate in the country [6]Laure Daussy, « Pologne : des militantes LGBT devant la justice pour blasphème »,  Charlie Hebdo, janvier 2021 [lien]. The activist has since been placed under police surveillance. She faces two years in prison for “insulting religious beliefs [7]Amnesty International Petition: “STOP THE PROSECUTION OF ELZBIETA PODLESNA [lien]”. 

Picture : Beata Zawrzel, Wiadomosci Journal: The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, with a rainbow halo

b. Ordo Iuris Leading the War Against the LGBTQIA+ Community

It is therefore within this homophobic environmemt that LGBT-free zones have developed. They were listed on the Atlas of Hate[8]https://atlasnienawisci.pl/ website created by Polish activist Bart Staszewski who supports the LGBTQIA+ community. In total, 88 zones – counties, districts, or municipalities [9]This number varies according to the sources between 75 and 100 zones. – were set up in the south-east of Poland on the initiative of their local elected officials, eager to slow down the expansion of what they call “the LGBT ideology [10]Anna Zielenska, “ La croisade des ultra-conservateurs polonais contre “ l’idéologie LGBT “ ”, The Conversation, October 2020[link] ”.

Established in 2013, the Ordo Iuris think tank finances and carries out research and lobbying activities on Polish “legal culture and spiritual heritage [11]http://en.ordoiuris.pl/who-we-are” and promoting “traditional” values[12]Ibid.. It supports the pro-life movement[13]Articles from the think tank in favor of the pro-life movement: https://ordoiuris.pl/pro-life-0[14]The pro-life movement refers to a movement bringing together associations and people, often close to religious movements, defending the “right to life”, through opposition to “the … Continue reading, the nuclear family[15]The nuclear family is a domestic group bringing together in the same household only the father, the mother and the unmarried children., and the Catholic community.

Ordo Iuris is an influential player in the Polish political scene. It is said to have played a key role in the position taken by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Poland’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Treaty [16]Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: this document constitutes the first legal tool, which has real power of constraint at European … Continue reading. Upon ratification, Zbigniew Ziobro declared that the document was “an invention, a feminist creation which aims to justify gay ideology” [17]Marc Santora, “ Poland Considers Leaving Treaty on Domestic Violence, Spurring Outcry ”, The New York times, July 27,  2020 [link].

His think tank is at the core of the “Charter of the Rights of the family”, which the Polish local authorities know as “LGBT-free zones”[18]https://www.kartarodzin.pl/  : available download pdf version in English under tab  : “SAMORZĄDOWA KARTA PRAW RODZIN” and have signed, in response to the charter proposed by the mayor of Warsaw, who wanted to protect the LGBTQIA + community. The “Charter of Family Rights” does not explicitly mention the LGBTQIA + community or homosexuality, but promotes a traditional and Christian view of the family: “marriage as [the union] between a woman and a man” and “ the right of parents to bring up their children according to their convictions and the right of a child to be protected against moral corruption.”[19]Ibid In response to the signing of the communities of this charter, the activist Bart Staszewski, as well as other activists defending the LGBTQIA + community, have hung signs and stickers indicating in several languages “LGBT-free zones” at the entrance  of the cities concerned.

The far-right daily newspaper Gazeta Polska developed the idea of stickers printed with a crossed out rainbow (see photo above), with the inscription “LGBT free zone [20]Jerzy Baliski, “ Pologne. Un magazine, proche du gouvernement, diffuse des autocollants anti-gays ”, Ouest France, July 24, 2019 [link]”.

In response, opposition newspapers retaliated by publishing “hate free zone” stickers, supported by intellectuals and other public figures of the opposition who expressed outrage [21]Anna Zielinska, “ La croisade des ultra-conservateurs polonais contre “l’idéologie LGBT “ ”, The Conversation, October 15, 2020, [link].

Promotional Picture of Gazeta Polska showing the initial version of the “LGBT-Free” Sticker

The think tank argued that these so-called “LGBT-free zones” were just fake news[22]« Fake news about “LGBT-free zones” results in a proliferation of lies about Poland. Ordo Iuris steps in », , Ordo Iuris publications, Juillet 2020 [lien], peddled by LGBTQIA+ activists[23]« Another harmful initiative of Bartosz Staszewski. Ordo Iuris in defence of pro-family local authorities », Ordo Iuris publications, Octobre 2020. Local elected officials concerned by the “LGBT-free zones” have only signed the “Charter of the Rights of the Family” without mentioning the LGBTQIA + community. The municipalities signatory to this charter would therefore have been named “LGBT-free zones” by the activists, to denounce  these discriminatory principles.

c. European Political Reactions

The initiative of the “Family Bill of Rights” was initially welcomed at the local level, as the governor of Lublin awarded prizes to local elected officials who had taken positions against the “LGBT ideology” [24]Sebastian Bialach, Wojewoda przyznał medale za walkę z LGBT. “Homoseksualizm główną przyczyną pedofilii w kościele”, Onet Lublin , 16 mai 2019, [link].

In December 2019, the European Parliament voted for a resolution [25]Résolution du Parlement européen du 18 décembre 2019 sur la discrimination publique et le discours de haine à l’égard des personnes LGBTI, notamment les «zones sans LGBTI» (2019/2933(RSP, Mercredi 18 décembre 2019 – Strasbourg)) condemning the so-called “LGBT-free zones” municipalities, asking the Polish authorities to intervene in relation to these acts accused of fueling the climate of hatred, discrimination as well as attacks against the LGBTQIA + community.

In July 2020, European Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli announced that six Polish municipalities that passed resolutions on “LGBT-free zones[26]Czarek Sokolowski, “ EU funding withheld from six Polish towns over « LGBT-free zones ”, Euronews, Juillet 2020, [link]” would not receive the EU funds planned under the town twinning. In response to these restrictions, the Polish Ministry of Justice promised these communities that the state budget would compensate for these losses.

Interactions between the Polish authorities and the European Union have therefore gradually become tinged with animosity. There exists strong antagonism between Western Europe and the ruling party, driving the need to protect Polish culture, like a certain “polonity[27]Jan Sowa, Hourras et désarrois, Scènes d’une guerre culturelle en Pologne, dir. Agnieszka Zuk, chapitre : «”Fourchettes, végétariens et cyclistes ”, 2019”. The PiS party was built by establishing scapegoats, leading in the same movement to a polarization of Polish society. This electoral strategy allows the PiS to win the votes of the conservative and nationalist right-wing, by establishing itself as the defender of “Polish identity”.

  1. Why Has a Homophobic Climate So Easily Proliferated in Poland?

a. A Very Divided Country: Poland A and Poland B 

The 2020 Presidential Elections

Polish society has been very politically divided since the early 2000s, and the creation [28]Both parties were founded in 2001. of the two political parties PiS and PO contributed to this trend.

An anti-LGBTQIA+ platform was reintroduced even more intensely during the 2019 [29]Jakub Iwaniuk, “  La communauté LGBT prise pour cible par les ultraconservateurs au pouvoir en Pologne ”, 9 mai 2019 , Le Monde, May 9, 2019, [link] European elections and the presidential elections of 2020 [30]Samuel Ravier-Regnat, “ En Pologne, le PiS attise la haine anti-LGBT ”, Libération, June 2020 [link]. This was particularly reflected in the defense of the nuclear model of the “traditional family” and open criticism against LGBTQIA+ perpetuated by the PiS party. Facing this party, PO chose Rafał Trzakowski as its candidate, who has proven to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. This community then found itself at the center of the political debate of the presidential elections. Krzystof Sobolewski, chairman of the PiS executive committee, said in an interview with Polskie Radio: “We will have the choice [in these elections] between white and red Poland represented by the current president and a Poland. [Trzaskowski’s] rainbow [31]Daniel Tilles, “ Elections are “a choice between white-and-red Poland and rainbow Poland”, says ruling party official »,  Notes from Poland , May 20, 2020 [link]”.

LGBT-free zones are located almost exclusively in the South-East, territories largely dominated by the PiS party since the 2015 elections (see map #1).

Map #1: 2019 Legislative Election Results: Strong Support For the PiS Party in the East of Poland and in Rural Areas
Source : wbdata.pl ; Wojciech Brol
Map #2 : « Poland. Map of LGBT-free zones.
31% of the Polish population lives in areas that have been declared free of the LGBT “ideology” .
Source : Bart Staszewski, polish photographer and activist[32]Lgbtfreezones.pl

The Polarization of Polish society, Exacerbated By the Media

The polarization of Polish society, illustrated in the maps above, can be explained by the following dynamics: there exists a “Poland A”, characterized by city-dwellers who are young and European, facing “Poland B” who are  rural, aging, conservative and Catholic.

Since the 2005 elections, the Polish political scene has split into two camps, leading to the polarization of both the media and society. With the PiS party’s victory in 2005, many reforms regarding the media were introduced in order to strengthen state control (through appointments and funding), and ultimately, to favor pro-government media to the detriment of foreign private groups. Thus, the government uses them in order to disseminate its conservative messages to the population and promote patriotic values, more specifically through the channels of the public television group Telewizja Polska (TVP) [33]Janek Starzynski, « Pologne : la très controversée loi sur les médias publics est entrée en vigueur », 7 January, 2016, Le Monde, [link].

Former Polish Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński (PiS) said, “In the local press, we would like to change the relationship of ownership. In the banking sector, we can buy the media out of its foreign owners, if possible, create our own institutions of this kind or develop the existing ones.[34]Sergei Supinsky, « Pologne : réforme des médias publics et « repolonisation » de la presse locale », 15 November 2015, L’Express, [link]” The principles of the freedom of press and pluralism are therefore currently very threatened[35]Janek Starzynski,« En Pologne, la télévision publique accusée de propagande », 20 May 2019, RFI [link]: Reporters Without Borders declared in 2018 that the Polish public media “had been transformed into spokespersons for government propaganda »[36]Dossier « Pologne », Site web de Reporters sans Frontières [link].

b. A Homophobic Climate Reinforced by the Strength of the Polish Catholic Church

The party in power associates Catholicism with its system of values and with its political program, as demonstrated by the speech of its members, and in particular of Jaroslaw Kaczynski: “Christendom is a part of our national heritage. The Church was and remains the preacher and holder of the only system of values known in Poland [37]J. Kaczynski speech in  Lublin, le 7 September, 2019 [link] “. PiS stands as the only bulwark protecting the Church: “Whoever lifts his hand over the Church lifts his hand over Poland”[38]http://en.ordoiuris.pl/who-we-are.

This discourse testifies to the instrumentalisation of the Polish Church for electoral purposes. On the one hand, a politicization of the Church occurs as the Polish identity is intrinsically linked to Catholicism. According to the PiS discourse, to be Polish is to identify as Catholic. And to be Catholic is to support PiS. The party thus appropriates the electoral vote of the faithful under the guise of protecting the values that derive from the Christian faith.

On the other hand, the Polish Church constitutes a weapon of choice in the framework of the cultural war waged by the PiS. This party uses Catholic values to legitimize certain social policies (increase in pensions, child allowance, religion lessons at school).

Because of the space that the Polish Catholic Church may have occupied in the past, especially during the communist period through the personality of Pope John Paul II, its place in the public sphere today is indisputable. Simply put, there is no separation between Church and State, as the preamble to the Polish Constitution states: “our culture is rooted in the Christian heritage of the Nation”  [39]The Polish Constitution [link]. In fact, priests are very active on the political scene and publicly support the PiS party, the best known being Father Tadeusz Rydzyk [40]« Pologne : l’empire médiatique du Père Rydzyk », 12 April 2019, France Culture, [link].

The hatred felt by the Catholic Church in Poland towards the LGBTQIA+ community can be illustrated by the words of the Archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, who compares the communist regime to the LGBTQIA+ community: “Our land is no longer burdened. by the Red Plague, which does not mean that there is not a new one that wants to control our souls, hearts, and minds. It is not a Marxist, Bolshevik plague, but it was born from the same spirit – it is not red, but rainbow[41]Tom WHEELDON, “Pologne : la communauté LGBT, cible privilégiée de l’Église et du pouvoir ”, 13 October 2019, France 24, [link]”.

Conclusion 

The “moral revolution” which is referenced by the Kaczynski brothers, founders of the PiS party in 2001, was able to triumph through the hatred of minorities, including refugees and the LGBTQIA+ community, and lead to a national Christician model, even if it means moving away from undesirables and consequently dividing society.

However, recent advances should be duly noted. In January 2021, a Polish city decided to withdraw its resolution against “LGBT ideology[42]Daniel Tilles, “Polish town becomes first to withdraw resolution opposing “LGBT ideology” , Notes from Poland , 29 January 2021, [link]” for the first time. Perhaps the opposition’s political challenges, as well as the artistic activism of activist Bart Staszewski, have had the desired effect: shaming those who promote hatred and intolerance[43]Juliette Bretan, “Activist signposts Polish towns as “LGBT-free zones” in protest against anti-LGBT resolutions”, Notes from Poland, 25 January 2020, [link].

Other political figures have also come out in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, such as Robert Biedron, an openly gay, atheist, center-left, vegetarian, and anti-charcoal activist. He is the founder of the “Printemps”[44]Roman Su, “Robert Biedron, nouvel espoir du centre gauche en Pologne ”, Le Monde, 4 février 2019 [link] party in addition to a candidate in the 2020 presidential elections[45]It only received 2,22% of the vote...

More recently, Polish society has been able to demonstrate the power that civil society’s opposition to this conservative government has to offer. Protests against the anti-abortion bill are a noteworthy example. These represent a true revolution, illustrating a new public image of Poland itself[46]Natasza Quelvennec , “ Pologne : Vous avez dit « Avortement » ? Moi, je dis « Révolution » ! ” , 19 November 2020, Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, [link].

To cite this article : Audrey Pruvost, “ Poland: The “Rainbow Plague” and LGBT-Free Zones, Why Such a Climate of Hate? ”, 10.12.2021, Gender Institute in Geopolitics.

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.

References

References
1 “Moral revolution” and “good change” are expressions frequently used in their political speeches.
2 “ UE / Pologne : les droits des LGBT+ et à l’avortement relégués aux oubliettes ? ”, FÉDÉRATION INTERNATIONALE POUR LES DROITS HUMAINS, novembre 2018 [lien]
3 Claire Guyot, « Inquiétude sur l’indépendance de la justice en Pologne », La Croix, 17 juillet 2017, [lien]
4 Jakub Iwaniuk, “ Les ultraconservateurs polonais vilipendent la « charte LGBT » de Varsovie ”,  Le Monde, Mars 2019 [link]
5 Black Virgins are female effigies that belong to the iconography of the European Middle Ages. They generally represent the Virgin Mary.
6 Laure Daussy, « Pologne : des militantes LGBT devant la justice pour blasphème »,  Charlie Hebdo, janvier 2021 [lien]
7 Amnesty International Petition: “STOP THE PROSECUTION OF ELZBIETA PODLESNA [lien]
8 https://atlasnienawisci.pl/
9 This number varies according to the sources between 75 and 100 zones.
10 Anna Zielenska, “ La croisade des ultra-conservateurs polonais contre “ l’idéologie LGBT “ ”, The Conversation, October 2020[link]
11, 38 http://en.ordoiuris.pl/who-we-are
12 Ibid.
13 Articles from the think tank in favor of the pro-life movement: https://ordoiuris.pl/pro-life-0
14 The pro-life movement refers to a movement bringing together associations and people, often close to religious movements, defending the “right to life”, through opposition to “the right to abortion”, to contragestion, to euthanasia. , and sometimes to certain forms of contraception.
15 The nuclear family is a domestic group bringing together in the same household only the father, the mother and the unmarried children.
16 Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: this document constitutes the first legal tool, which has real power of constraint at European level for the prevention of violence, the protection of victims and the end of the impunity of perpetrators of violence against women
17 Marc Santora, “ Poland Considers Leaving Treaty on Domestic Violence, Spurring Outcry ”, The New York times, July 27,  2020 [link]
18 https://www.kartarodzin.pl/  : available download pdf version in English under tab  : “SAMORZĄDOWA KARTA PRAW RODZIN”
19 Ibid
20 Jerzy Baliski, “ Pologne. Un magazine, proche du gouvernement, diffuse des autocollants anti-gays ”, Ouest France, July 24, 2019 [link]
21 Anna Zielinska, “ La croisade des ultra-conservateurs polonais contre “l’idéologie LGBT “ ”, The Conversation, October 15, 2020, [link]
22 « Fake news about “LGBT-free zones” results in a proliferation of lies about Poland. Ordo Iuris steps in », , Ordo Iuris publications, Juillet 2020 [lien]
23 « Another harmful initiative of Bartosz Staszewski. Ordo Iuris in defence of pro-family local authorities », Ordo Iuris publications, Octobre 2020
24 Sebastian Bialach, Wojewoda przyznał medale za walkę z LGBT. “Homoseksualizm główną przyczyną pedofilii w kościele”, Onet Lublin , 16 mai 2019, [link]
25 Résolution du Parlement européen du 18 décembre 2019 sur la discrimination publique et le discours de haine à l’égard des personnes LGBTI, notamment les «zones sans LGBTI» (2019/2933(RSP
26 Czarek Sokolowski, “ EU funding withheld from six Polish towns over « LGBT-free zones ”, Euronews, Juillet 2020, [link]
27 Jan Sowa, Hourras et désarrois, Scènes d’une guerre culturelle en Pologne, dir. Agnieszka Zuk, chapitre : «”Fourchettes, végétariens et cyclistes ”, 2019
28 Both parties were founded in 2001.
29 Jakub Iwaniuk, “  La communauté LGBT prise pour cible par les ultraconservateurs au pouvoir en Pologne ”, 9 mai 2019 , Le Monde, May 9, 2019, [link]
30 Samuel Ravier-Regnat, “ En Pologne, le PiS attise la haine anti-LGBT ”, Libération, June 2020 [link]
31 Daniel Tilles, “ Elections are “a choice between white-and-red Poland and rainbow Poland”, says ruling party official »,  Notes from Poland , May 20, 2020 [link]
32 Lgbtfreezones.pl
33 Janek Starzynski, « Pologne : la très controversée loi sur les médias publics est entrée en vigueur », 7 January, 2016, Le Monde, [link]
34 Sergei Supinsky, « Pologne : réforme des médias publics et « repolonisation » de la presse locale », 15 November 2015, L’Express, [link]
35 Janek Starzynski,« En Pologne, la télévision publique accusée de propagande », 20 May 2019, RFI [link]
36 Dossier « Pologne », Site web de Reporters sans Frontières [link]
37 J. Kaczynski speech in  Lublin, le 7 September, 2019 [link]
39 The Polish Constitution [link]
40 « Pologne : l’empire médiatique du Père Rydzyk », 12 April 2019, France Culture, [link]
41 Tom WHEELDON, “Pologne : la communauté LGBT, cible privilégiée de l’Église et du pouvoir ”, 13 October 2019, France 24, [link]
42 Daniel Tilles, “Polish town becomes first to withdraw resolution opposing “LGBT ideology” , Notes from Poland , 29 January 2021, [link]
43 Juliette Bretan, “Activist signposts Polish towns as “LGBT-free zones” in protest against anti-LGBT resolutions”, Notes from Poland, 25 January 2020, [link]
44 Roman Su, “Robert Biedron, nouvel espoir du centre gauche en Pologne ”, Le Monde, 4 février 2019 [link]
45 It only received 2,22% of the vote..
46 Natasza Quelvennec , “ Pologne : Vous avez dit « Avortement » ? Moi, je dis « Révolution » ! ” , 19 November 2020, Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, [link]