Outside the Church of the Conversion of St. Paul in Lublin, Malgorzata holds her rosary in her hands. She would have never expected anything except to see her country still under attack. “I won’t stand idle and let these sodomites destroy our values,” avows the eighty-six year old. “I have seen Poland end up under Nazi and Soviet rule, it will not happen again.”
For this reason, she is here with dozens of other people in response to the “evangelical call” of Father Miroslaw Matuszny, at a meeting to pray for the conversion of the “enemies of Christ” and for families so that “children and young people can grow up in a homeland free of totalitarian ideologies, hostile to Christianity,” says the priest.
The reference is to what Jaroslow Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS) calls “LGBT ideology” a totalitarian view promoted by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities to destroy the core of the nation: the traditional family and the Christian values on which it is founded.
The PiS launched their campaign for the European elections in May, and for the election of the Polish National Assembly on October 13, based on their crusade against LGBT communities. It has proven to be a winning strategy as at the Sejm and the lower house of the parliament, the PiS gained 43.59% of the votes in the latter election. This percentage reached 55.39% in the region of Lublin, the heart of so-called “Poland B”, the poorer and more conservative part of the country.
Here in recent months, prayer meetings, like the one organized by Father Miroslaw, have become increasingly frequent. “The congregation are shown photos of gay pride marches or obscene images that have nothing to do with the LGBT. The priests explain to them that the LGBT want to sexualize children, abuse them, and take them away from their families, trying to scare them,” says Alina Pospischil, a journalist at the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper in Lublin.
This proselytism has also been condemned by a part of the Church. The long J’accuse by the Dominican priest Ludwik Wisniewski, published in the prestigious Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, was a talking point in Lublin. In it, Father Ludwik attacks all priests who tolerate or openly support Kaczynski’s policy. It is they, according to the Dominican priest, who are killing Christianity in Poland – starting with Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Redemptorist priest who supports the anti-LGBT crusade on his channel Radio Maryja, one of the most popular stations in Poland.
A billboard stands out among Swidnik’s communist tower blocks. In the foreground, two half-naked men, with their backs turned, in a photo that seems to have been taken during a gay pride parade. And then a question: “Czy to jest milosc?”, “Is this love?” On March 26, Swidnik, a south-eastern suburb of Lublin, was the first powiat (district) to declare itself “free of LGBT ideology”, a macabre expression that brings to mind the term “Judenfrei” (“free of Jews”), used by the Nazis while carrying out the Shoah.
With an overwhelming majority of 15 votes out of 18, the powiat’s Council approved a declaration presented by Radoslaw Brzozka. Mr Brzozka is an elected PiS councillor standing against “the radicals who aim to establish a cultural revolution in Poland and who attack freedom of expression, the innocence of children, the authority of the family and the school, as well as the freedom of enterprise.” The latter refers to the story of a printer from Lodz convicted for refusing to print posters for an LGBT group. In the blink of an eye, “free of LGBT ideology” areas have multiplied throughout Poland: more than fifty municipalities, villages and regional assemblies are involved.
Like many in Swidnik, Maciej, a father of two, defends the decision to declare the powiat “free of LGBT ideology”. “They shouldn’t really exist, not even one of them. They are not normal – they are unnatural. Now they have decided they want to teach children to masturbate. It is not right, my wife and I decide the best way to educate our children.”
This is one of the many warped views that have been around since this story started. On February 18, Warsaw’s liberal mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, signed a joint declaration against homophobic discrimination with several LGBT associations. Among the twelve points of the declaration, one in particular, triggered a reaction from the sovereignists – that which stipulated the introduction of a sex education programme in schools, based on the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The statement approved by the Swidnik powiat states that “the authorities will do everything possible to prevent entry into schools by the politically correct and the depraved, who are seeking the early sexualisation of Polish children according to the so-called WHO standards.” Although it has no legal value, the declaration has given official status to the accusations made against the LGBT.
Now the communities live in fear that one day the “paedophiles”, “sodomites”, or “deviants” may snatch their children and grandchildren from them, and that is why, during marches for equality in LGBT rights, it is often ordinary people (not just hooligans) who verbally and physically attack the demonstrators.
“First it was the migrants’ turn, now we are the enemy. All for a few more votes in the elections. I thought that after the death of Pawel Adamowicz – progressive mayor of Gdansk, stabbed during a public event in January this year – that things would change. The PiS has instead raised the level of confrontation, they will stop at nothing.”
Bart Staszewski, the gay activist of the Love does Not Exclude association, voices his frustration at length. Bart is one of the most famous faces in the LGBT world in Poland. Originally from Lublin, it was his idea to organize the first two marches for equality in his home city, as a challenge to a conservative society not only to ask for more rights, but also to reiterate that Poland also belongs to them, to the LGBT.
Yet Bart is paying a high price for his activism. Not a day goes by without his social media channels being flooded with insults and threats. The latest one arrived by post, a few days before a march on September 29: “Don’t organize that parade or you’re a dead man.” The rainbow march could literally have been stained red. A few days after the parade it was discovered that among those arrested was also a couple, a man and a woman, stopped shortly before the start of the march. The police found a rudimentary explosive device in the woman’s backpack. Now the pair will have to face charges of attempted mass murder.
“This has been going on for months,” says Bart, “I’m now constantly paranoid. The paranoia of being attacked on the street, phone calls hacked, spied on via Facebook, checked up on by the police. It doesn’t take much to end up in the propaganda machine, it’s scary.”
Suicide among boys belonging to sexual minorities has also increased since the start of the PiS crusade. Like that of Milo Mazurkiewicz, 23, transgender, who ended his life by jumping off a bridge in Warsaw. “There are frequent stories,” continues Bart. “A 15-year-old boy who lives in a village near Lublin called me in tears. He is homosexual, but is afraid to tell anyone and often has suicidal thoughts. There you go, that is what being gay in Poland means today.”
Bart calls it a pogrom-type atmosphere, which was impossible to imagine until recently, especially in this corner of Poland, where the entire Jewish community (about a third of the population of Lublin) was exterminated during the Second World War. It feels like you can still hear the echo of its past coming from the Majdanek concentration camp, on the hills surrounding the city. The fear is that this echo goes unheard.