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Sexual minorities and tolerance in Poland Posted by on Dec 31, 2010 in Culture

Though much has changed in the past 20 years, from those days when any subject to do with gender or sexual preferences was either never brought up or even taboo, Poland is unfortunately still far from being a tolerant country towards people who are perhaps different in their preferences or tastes. The current political climate, the day to day role of the government in such matters can sometimes give the impression that Poland is not a very ‘tolerant’ country. The make up of the ruling powers in the Polish Parliament lean to the right and contain the more conservative, Catholic political groups. Parliament is not free of people who if not officially homophobic have an unfriendly attitude to the subject of tolerance of certain minorities. This creates in the minds of other Europeans in these more tolerant and open-minded countries of the European Union a negative impression of Poland.

From time to time the western press illustrates this intolerance with scandalous comments from political officials with respect to the gay movement, for example. These comments are read by people across Europe and from them a certain idea of life in Poland is formed. There is also tension within the Polish community who themselves as citizens of this country have different opinions concerning this question and who do not accept the stand taken by some of their politicians and leaders.

There is, however, a positive side to this situation; this is the awakening of an open-minded and more tolerant society within Poland. This tolerance and acceptance of diversity within modern Polish society goes further than the official position as often quoted in the media. And this does not concern moral issues only, such as those of different gender preferences from the norm, but also cultural, religious or race. This is the result of the ever growing mobility of Poles who for decades were cut off from their more tolerant western neighbors in Europe (although it must be said these countries, France and GB, for example, have had many difficulties over the years in this domain). An increasing amount of Polish citizens, especially those brought up after the end of the Russian occupation (called the communist era as well, are beginning to understand and value the idea tolerance as a very important factor indicating the level of development of civil rights and the freedom of individuals in a country. Here we understand that ‘freedom’ means not only the sovereign freedom of a nation to govern itself without outside interference but also the freedom of the individual within that society to live as he or she pleases (within the confines of the laws of the land); the right of free speech freedom of worship, and their form of gender preference. These and many more aspects of the freedom of the individual had for several decades been limited under the communist regime in Poland. The walls surrounding this regime have come down, borders have been opened, several years now, and the chains that bind individuals are breaking and freeing people to make their own choices and develop and follow their own destinies. The temporary stagnation or step backwards in today’s Polish society is hoped to be just that, a short one. Part of the problem lies in the fact that what was acquired as a democratic form of society in western nations (Europe) took place over many years. This freedom in Poland has been achieved in one or two giant leaps and it takes time for people to, for one, get accustomed to it, and two, to know what to do with their newly acquired freedom. The results of the future Parliamentary elections might prove a turning point however small on the road to a better understanding of the individual’s rights and a higher tolerance of his wishes in whatever aspect of his or her personal life.

A factor which is good news with a view towards a more tolerant society is Poland’s integration into the EU. Not only economical and political but in some sense a moral integration is taking place. We have to be careful not to assimilate the negative side of this integration and to acquire as much as possible of the positive side of this meeting of nations. The character of the combination of all the diverse countries and their very diverse histories, culture, etc is extremely complex. Given time a better understanding of what the rights of individuals should be will be attained. Certain accepted civil rights in the west will be eventually accepted in Poland. An example of the changes in society can been drawn from Spain, a conservative and Catholic country which today has the most liberal laws concerning the gay establishment within that country, if not the whole of Europe.

Today in the larger Polish cities gay people meet and have been generally accepted with gay type clubs opening to popular approval. A certain respect for different preferences has been acknowledged. No one is forcing anyone to do what they do not want to do. This is a fundamental concept of the idea of tolerance, of certain open-mindedness within a developing society. However it does take time, and when the changes take place in a society which has been imprisoned (from September 1939 to August 1988) and treated as badly during those days as this country has it is no wonder there is some confusion when these changes, so radical for some, take place. Today, gay bars or clubs can be found in Warsaw. There is a gay community and practically no one objects. There are occasional campaigns organized to explain or maybe the word should be ‘promote’ the gay situation, to make people aware of the situation, of the position of some of Polish society who still feel marginalized.

Most people in Poland and some in other countries in Europe have heard of the annual Equality (Gay) Parade in Warsaw (June) and the counter demonstration which brings out people to protest sometimes rather aggressively against the gay parade. Every year the numbers of pro gay supporters, themselves not necessarily gay, increases. They join the ranks of the gay and tolerance party to show their willingness to support gay people in their fight for their rights.

Let us not exaggerate. There’s no gay bashing in this country. Do not be afraid of visiting the country because you are gay, male or female. Just bear in mind when you are in Poland that you are not in Holland (some people confuse the names). The situation in Polish cities cannot be compared to that found in London’s Soho or Madrid’s Chueca. Perhaps in ten years a balance will be found and we will all be able to live peacefully in a tolerant society…

Do następnego razu! (Till next time…)

 

 

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


Comments:

  1. Yorick:

    Good article!
    t is sad that such hypocrit religion like the catholic church still deny some human rights when it concerns different kind of sexuality.
    a year ago in Holland we had a reportage that much gay’s flee to other countries in EU to avoid the problems they have as a gay etc in Poland…
    I wish all these people in Poland who suffer under this kind of surpression that it sall chance soon…

  2. Michael:

    Most people in Poland and some in other countries in Europe have heard of the annual Equality (Gay) Parade in Warsaw (June) and the counter demonstration which brings out people to protest sometimes rather aggressively against the gay parade.

    You forgot the riot police! They have to come too!

    Anyway your post was very long and I didn’t get a chance to read it.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/benjamingolub/4735705301/

  3. Michael:

    In my own opinion Poland is better than the reputation that it has and Polish expats are the same as everyone else in supporting gay rights or accepting gay people etc.

  4. Steve:

    I think there are several aspects to Polish attitudes.

    Media bias – journalists have to report ‘news’. This includes gay parades and anti-gay protests, but does not include anything about people not thinking that homosexuality is worth talking about. Foreigners cannot know what Poland is really like and their views of its people will only change when they forget about anything the news has said.

    There is, I strongly suspect, greater dislike of homosexuality amongst normal people than, for instance in the UK. Associated with this is the belief that this is the norm and using language that gays (or whatever) think is abusive is acceptable.

    However, Poles are in fact extremely tolerant. They would not normally wish to interfere in people’s private lives or be personally abusive. There are trigger points where, what they rationally consider to be promotion of homosexuality, angers them. Much of the early fear of the gay parades was the expectation to see, as is prevalent in USA entertainment, hairy men in skimpy dresses, thin strips of leather, etc. Since the parades have generally shown ordinary people, with the protesters being extreme, this fear has dispersed.

    To me, it is this that is making changes – gays are increasingly considered normal, unexceptional people and their sexuality is irrelevant. (Even the word ‘tolerance’ no longer applying.) I cannot help but suspect that extreme negative comments by politicians are helping attitudes change for the better. People can now more easily compare abusive rhetoric with people who clearly are no different in the important parts of their lives from themselves.

    The problem for foreign perception of Poland is that as more and more people either don’t care about homosexuality or, if they don’t like it, are nevertheless completely tolerant, the more media attention will focus on the extremism of the intolerant and the more the intolerant will exploit this – as in the UK. Whatever politicians do, it will be a long time before Poland loses it’s reputation, no matter how inaccurate that is.

  5. russ:

    Thanks for a good overview of a controversial subject.

    As someone from the US now living in PL, it feels not very tolerant and like there is a lot of ignornace about the subject of sexual minorities here. Even the typical Polish language about sexuality (a gay person is a “homoseksualista”; a straight person is “normalny”) suggests a conservative negative attitude toward sexual minorities. (In a conservative culture “normal” is “good”…)

    The ex-communist and ex-Soviet lands generally have a strong tradition of homophobia based on bogus ideas that gay people are mentally ill. Poland additionally has a Catholic influence which is also traditionally anti-gay.

    In 5 years here, I have yet to meet someone who openly identified themselves as gay to me, which is a big difference from my experience in the US. (Which is not to say that there aren’t many homophobic parts of the US as well.)

    But I agree things seem to be improving, especially with the younger generation.

  6. Joanna:

    @russ : Polish word for straight person is “heteroseksualista”. If someone use word “normalny” for straight person, he/she doesn’t use “homoseksualista” for a gay person, but probably sth more offensive.

    To author: I agree with all you wrote. It’s kind of refreshing to read about the place you live in.

  7. Alec:

    Well, first of all, sexual orientation isn’t a ‘preference’ or ‘taste’, it’s determined by nature.
    Second, Poland can’t be a tolerant country, because no country can be tolerant. People can be tolerant. But they’re not. Only in some countries people know that gay rights are protected by law, so they know they may be punished for not controlling their speech. And in other countries, law doesn’t care about gay rights, so people aren’t afraid to openly despise everybody who’s diferent from them.