Meeting Damian Krysztofik, I meet a walking contradiction. The Warsaw LGBTQ club, which is mainly frequented by gay and bisexual men, GLAM, is his “second home.” He’s slightly feminine, even camp in person. His Facebook profile is full of twink-esque selfies. He is also politically on the far right. Arriving at a quiet café, Wrzenie Świata, off Nowy Świat, Damian wears a crystal hanging from a cloth necklace, his streaks of blonde hair immediately capture my imagination, and I am reminded of Andy Warhol’s influence on gay and bisexual male fashion. He apologizes, “my English is not very good. I can’t explain anything until the translator arrives.” Pleasant, kind and smiling, I am prepared to speak with him about what he calls, through Dot Dobosz, the translator, “the Facebook storm.” In fact, it was his faux cyber-relationship with Mateusz Kowalski, and the reaction it caused that led us to this interview. Damian begins, “I was chatting with a friend, we decided to choose a guy on Facebook, I thought ‘well he is cute,’ so I updated my relationship status and because of his security settings it showed us as being in a relationship.” I ask if he knew this person in real-life, and laughing Damian says, “no we had never met, but he did want to actually be in a relationship after what happened, I said no.”
What happened next “crossed all boundaries of normalcy.” Awaking to thousands of comments, mostly hate-filled, this cyber-phantasy relationship created a homophobic backlash from Polish conservatives. Eventually Damian began to receive serious threats, not just on Facebook, but also through SMS. “That’s when I started to worry; fortunately it all died down, but it was a shock, the media wanted me to appear on a television show, there were 60,000 comments about this status update, many of them full of pure hate, and all over a Facebook relationship, I’d say that is dramatic.” The LGBTQ communities’ response included two articles by Jej Perfekcyjność,a trained sociologist. One of these articles included “the psychological dimension” of what I would call a very interesting social display mob mentality. One person comments, shares and passes it on until it reaches a massive audience all saying almost the same thing, and Damian agrees, “it grew and grew, and I still don’t know why, totally random.” Turning my notebook to the next page, I ask Damian about what he calls some “controversial views.” Damian smiles and says, “Are you ready, because I don’t think anyone will print this.”
Firstly, Damian doesn’t think LGBTQ Pride should be “so deviant.” He says, “why do we need to provoke normal, average people, we should be proud to be Polish, there is no need for LGBTQ Pride? I feel safe here. Why can’t straight people have a Pride?” Putting the question directly to him, I ask if the LGBTQ Pride parade should be cancelled? “Well it does provoke normal people and make our society more homophobic, and there are bigger issues, but I wouldn’t cancel or ban it, I think we just need to be quiet right now, it needs to have more normal people attending, broader, and like I said there are bigger issues.” Stunned that a young bisexual man could hold these views, I enquire, “What are these bigger issues?” What follows are his direct answers at Wrzenie Świata and some from follow-up questions on Facebook. After these conversations, I am certain that there is no single “LGBTQ community” but rather many overlapping communities, and that queer people are just as diverse in their politics as straight people; the concept that LGBTQ people are on only on the Left or with the Centrist Opposition in Poland is wrong.
“Well, I really think if you look at the situation in France, Holland, Germany, and so on it’s tragic. All these cultures have lost their identity. When I walked the streets of Paris, I didn’t see one French person, well they might have been born in France, but they are the children of immigrants.” While he denies being racist in anyway, he certainly sounds like one. I want to challenge his view, but it is more important to dig deeper, so I ask if he thinks Muslim culture poses a risk to Polish and European identity. “Yes, the migrant crisis is a serious problem for Europe and this is where I really see one of the pluses of Law and Justice (PiS – the far-right) being in power. They, as opposed to all the previous governments, didn’t break under pressure from Angela Merkel and the rest of EU to accept all of this multiculturalism and migration.” In fact, Damian thinks, “a coalition between the far-right and the LGBTQ community might be needed to protect Europe.” Mirroring some of the homosexual neo-Nazi rhetoric reported in Russian, he states, “Those boats are filled with only dark skinned men. They don’t want to come to Poland; they want countries where they will get money for nothing. They are aiming for Germany, Sweden, France, Belgium or anywhere else where they can be social parasites; their culture and lifestyle are totally different to ours. I mean they have lots of children, no willingness to assimilate. Unless in of course, in 20 years we want the Plac Defilad to be a place of executions where beheaded bodies of gay, bi or trans people will be put on display. In that case, let these people in and show them our Polish hospitality.”
In my last article on LGBT Poland for Vice Magazine, I noted the parallels between Christopher Isherwood in early 1930s Germany and myself in 2017 Warsaw. However, in thinking of the far-right PiS government as a menace supported by people outside of Warsaw, predominantly in eastern parts of Poland, I didn’t realize to what extent racism, bigotry and xenophobia permeates Polish society. I am new to Poland, and I am still recording. I am a camera. Therefore, I asked my friend, Sebastian Słowiński, a well-known queer Leftist, what he thinks of Damian’s comments. His response is thoughtful and erudite, “Many LGBTQ people are moving to the right, because they feel that fear and destruction represent power. Racist populism allows this gay or bisexual man, and many like him, to feel they are citizens. By repeating Islamophobic clichés they gain some identity. Since we live in a world of post-politics and post-truth, full of fear and nationalistic populism, it is very common, or at least not surprising, that one minority with a little bit of white, European privilege would want to destroy another, and perhaps gain some support from the right-wing.” Indeed, Sebastian’s analysis rings true, considering that some gay men did vote for Marine Le Pen in the last French election, precisely because they feared what Damian calls a “Muslim invasion.”
He does acknowledge, “for now Poland is safe, because these people from Africa and the Middle East want to go where the money is, and we are a relatively poor country.” Additionally, he says, “the current political situation in Poland may actually be beneficial for LGBTQ community. There is a saying that nothing unites more than a common enemy; you have examples of this in history and in every day life. In the face of a threat there is no, or shouldn’t be, space for divisions. We must unite against this cultural invasion.” I ask him about the situation in neighboring Germany, and he remarks, “What is happening now would cause Hitler to cry his eyes out over Germany’s migration policy. His ideology of ‘clean race’ is now lost thanks to Angela Merkel, who is terrible for Europe, allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims who are now starting to rule some of the districts in Berlin such as Kreuzberg. It’s not even about current immigrants form the Middle East but about many years of being open to Muslims. It’s a specific religion, which will be safe for others as long as there aren’t too many Muslims in one place. The moment there is a lot of them they will be implementing their rules. I don’t want to be the ‘pessimistic messiah,’ but I am afraid we will need to separate ourselves with a wall from Germany like US has to do with Mexico, as your current president aspires to do.” So much for Polish hospitality? Damian isn’t a skinhead, nor is he a neo-Nazi; he is at the heart of the LGBTQ scene in Poland, and that’s what makes his views all the more illuminating.