A (Very) Queer Dispatch From Warsaw

After interviewing an LGBTQ activist from Razem, a left-wing, dynamic and growing political force in Poland, I left Kafka Cafe and headed down Ulica Nowy Świat, one of Warsaw’s main historic streets. Bypassing tourists, shops, a Starbucks filled with Poles wearing nationalist symbols, I followed a group of men carrying a large Polish flag, with Polish flag armbands, to Rondo Charles De Gaulle. In the center of this roundabout (‘Rondo’) stands The Warsaw Palm Tree, an “art installation … created by artist Joanna Rajkowska in 2002 as an homage to members of the Jewish community who once lived in this area.” It is here that I stopped and took the following photograph. 23435092_187633161802888_5844694353863437569_n

Asking a man who looked like a middle-class journalist (expensive camera, etc), “where can I speak to the far-right,” he said “it’s all around.” He then proceeded to say “I am considered on the far-right, what is the far-right?” Asking him what he stood for politically, he looked bemused, “What do you think? I am not against all immigrants, of course, but only the Islamic ones, they want to take over Europe, they will not assimilate … Poland is a Christian nation. They want to take over all of Europe.” Deciding that nothing more could be gained from this conversation,  I politely said I would be moving on. “Oh, you must come to the speeches at the National Stadium, this is a great event, lots of speeches.”

I nodded politely, and began walking west, toward the march, and attempting to find my friend, and sometimes translator, Bartek Droździak at the counter-demonstration. Coming into wave after wave of predominantly younger men, some older women and very few younger women, all dressed with Polish armbands, I noticed several contingents dressed in military uniforms, with groupings based on age. Marching to the tune of far-right nationalism, in full military uniform, stood young men from their early 20s into their middle teens. Pyrotechnics, or flash-bangs, of white and red explosions began going off everywhere. Sounding like gun fire, with smoke blanketing the air, the clouds above seemed a bit darker (the sun was indeed going down), and it began to rain slightly. Waves of marchers, some of them with young children, proudly took part in this spectacle of white nationalism. I have never seen anything like.

Fumbling through the crowd, I came across my friend and sometimes translator, also lost because of police barricades, Wiktor Hys.  Asking me, what are you doing here! I responded: I am lost but this is something to see! He agreed, yet their was an implicit understanding between us: this is not safe.  Approaching, I could see some green flags, Wiktor clarified these belonged to “the hardest right group, Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR, or National Radical Camp.”

Various media, outside of Poland, would later report that “On 11 November 2017, 60,000 people marched in an Independence Day celebration procession organized by the ONR,[16][17] chanting ‘fatherland’ and carrying banners that read ‘White Europe’, ‘Europe Will Be White’, ‘Clean Blood’, and ‘Pray for Islamic Holocaust’.”  The centrality of such an openly fascist group in organizing the 11/11 Independence Day march belies the statements by its apologists and supporters, including the those disseminated via TVP (Polish State Television) and the ruling far-right Law and Justice (PiS) government, that this was simply a “beautiful” march of “patriots.” 

When I first came to Poland, my first commission as a writer came from Vice magazine; in that original article, published in June of this year, I cited Christopher Isherwood’s time in Berlin as a comparison. Realizing now just how appropriate that comparison is, living in a capitol city: dynamic, thriving with a large LGBTQ scene under a far-right government, with a massive fascist movement growing all around, I am stunned. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” opined the great Mark Twain, or so John Robert Colombo’s poem says.

Interestingly, “The ONR considers itself an ideological descendant of the antisemitic political movement which existed before World War II, sharing the same name.[4][5]” So yes, there are indeed, separated by time, rhymes of rhetorical fascism, usages of names past, alliances with forces responsible for so much evil and destruction, and those rhymes blasted onto the streets in red and white glory for all to see. Marching caricatures of hatreds held, perhaps against themselves and projected onto imaginary others, for there are virtually no Jews in Poland, nor Muslim immigrants, and LGBTQ people are forced into closets, or wardrobes, mouths clogged with the red and white flag of Poland and jammed with the cross of the Catholic Church. Former Polish MP and transgender woman, Anna Grodzka, who I’ve interviewed several times, recounts how she kept “a pile of women’s things” behind her wardrobes in her teens and twenties, “this secret space was my second life” she said via our translator, Dot Dobosz. This is Poland. And the situation is deteriorating under the ruling Law and Justice government.

Pressing on, Wiktor and I, attempting to meet our friends and join the counter-demonstration, headed past a line of men urinating on the gates and walls of Poland’s National Museum of Art. Supposing art as decadence, fascists rarely see any value in it, and I suppose this line of pissing, was directed or coordinated, as there were other places to relieve the bladders of these brave storm-troopers against invasions of the imaginary Islamic caliphate. We weaved and bobbed through wave after wave of marchers chanting “Poland for the Polish,” “Immigrants Out,” “Catholic Poland” among some drunken ditties, crossing a park where a very thin, pale boy of 13 or 14 tried to pass me a ticket. I looked at Wiktor, he said, “oh, those are tickets to visit the airplanes.” And we entered another layer of this dystopia. Lines of children with their mothers, young women primarily, waiting to get to see war planes from the past. Teenagers dressed as soldiers. The women looking tired, drained and not enthusiastic, attending an obligatory event in the capitol city, as their husbands marched to the National Stadium. The entire scene was tragic and kitsch.

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Leftist Counter-Demonstration, 11/11/17, Warsaw, Poland

Finally arriving at the counter-demonstration, less than a kilometer away, I observed the increasingly militarized police presence. Wiktor made some jokes about the different personalities and classes of police based on the weapon they carried. Armed with guns, grenades and other items for wounding, the police presence differed greatly from the hands-off approach that allowed pyrotechnics and mass public urination, alongside hate speech and property destruction of the fascist march. Bringing into stark relief the government’s differing responses, bands of heavily armed police tightly encircled this small group of socialists, liberal democrats, anarchists, feminists and LGBTQ demonstrators. Here I met with Tomasz Puła, organizer of the Queer Solidarity contingent, in the middle of a group of people. They are all listening as information comes in and out of the group frantically. “People have been arrested” Tomasz says. They are marching to the police station. I find Bartek Droździak, pay him for his translation services, walk on with him until it looks like the police are ready to arrest everyone. We might get a drink, but it’s too early and too late. I head home, exhausted and stunned.

Arriving home, I write:

“Warsaw, first of all I want you to know I love you, and that we have work to do. Today I saw perhaps more than 100,000 neo-fascists march through your streets, pissing on your National Museum of Art’s walls and gates, using pyrotechnics, engaging in xenophobic chants, etc. There is a serious Nazi/fascist problem in Poland. We need to address it. You are a beautiful and power Space. I know, as with so many other occupations by cruel idiots, you will find a way.

May the Mermaid of Warsaw, in her divine guidance, bless the city with love. & remove out those who cannot love. Open the city to love, to the cosmos, to those that will love you too, like me, Warsaw.”

I posted the above text with an image of the mermaid sculpted by Jan Woydyga which was erected on the Stanislaw Markiewicz viaduct in Karowa Street in 1905.

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21 comments

  1. I can not agree with you on matter the demonstration in Warsaw on November 11th. Naming “fascists” 60,000 people gathered there is completely unfounded. In Poland, as far as I know, there is no large organization, which would in any way refer to the thought of Bennito Mussolini, so whom do you call ‘fascist’? I guess you are using this term according to stalinist propaganda, according to which the “fascist” is simply not a communist. In Poland, for 50 years of communist occupation all polish patriots (AK soldiers, Warsaw ) were called”fascists”.
    Moreover, the vast majority of the demonstrators were white – red national flags, not green flags of nationalists with the ONR, and racist slogans were completely rare and later condemned by the marching organizers.

    I also note that during the march there was no beat, no riots. Poles of Asian and African origin also participated and enjoyed it. Interesting – they somehow survived. In opposite, during the recent events in Hamburg, when the lefttist, liberals and “antifascists” demonstrated against Trump, there were many rioting days, numerous material losses, cars were burned out. And who here is “fascist” – whatever that means?

    For immigration and “Arab invasions,” look at the map of terrorist threats in Europe and compare it with the number of immigrants accepted by these countries. And then try to draw conclusions.

    In the end – loook at this “fasists”: https://assets.polskaniepodlegla.pl/media/k2/items/cache/f7f90d519532d04f49f9d0946d699de2_XL.jpg

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    • One picture proves nothing. These chants were heard everywhere. I was there with a translator. I heard them myself. ONR is a central organizer of this march. All of the international media reports this as a ‘white nationalist’ or ‘fascist’ or ‘far-right’ demonstration. I am not alone here. This march represented some of the most hard-right sentiments in Polish society. One does not need to be a ‘communist’ to see that. Liberals have denounced it. And I have yet to read any denunciations of the ONR by the organizers of this march, because, well the ONR organized the march. As for a larger organization on the far-right, one need look no further than the anti-liberal, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant Law and Justice ruling government. This is a far-right government, one of the worst in Europe (aside from Hungary). Poland will become more and more isolated if it continues down this road. I love Warsaw. I love Poland. I have many friends here. And I don’t want to see the whole nation go down the road to patriotic perdition.

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      • The photo shows that probably foreign commentators do not understand very well what is happening in Poland. The person in the picture is not accidental, it’s Bawer Aondo Akaa. He has a facebook account, ask him what he was doing there.

        As for the Polish government, most Poles do not share your point of view. We do not want Poland, like France, Belgium, England or Sweden, to become a Middle Eastern country, with mass immigration. And we are not “hard right” at all. We are normal, Europe and the United States have become extremely leftist and therefore the whole world seems threatening and disturbing to them.
        The Government of the Law and Justice is the first Polish government for years that seriously fights corruption, fuel mafia, lawyers who plunder the real estate through their false reprivatisation, which seeks to fight tax evasion by international corporations. Did your Polish colleagues say all this?
        We can talk a long time about the scams and offenses of previous liberal governments. Do you want your Polish colleagues to fall into the hands of thieves who have mastered the pretense of “enlightened Europeans”?

        Finally, the perception of the situation in Poland in terms of “left-right” leads astray. Poland is an extremely divided country, but it is rather a postcolonial division, a “national” and a “creole” group. Each of these groups has its left, right, liberals, etc. It was accepted in Poland that “creoles” are called leftists, because they come from a group that accepts communism and “national” on the right. But it does not have much to do with the classic division of “left and right”.

        The Polish government has taken care of Polish interests and international companies may not like it. Governments of some countries, such as France, also try to direct the reluctance of citizens to Poland and Polish immigrants because of their difficult internal situation. Perhaps there will be sanctions or isolation against Poland, but we have survived Stalin, Hitler, partitions, 50 years of communism, 20 years of neo-liberalism, we will also survive european sanctions and isolation. It is worth remembering that this isolation will also be costly for european investors.

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      • “France, Belgium, England, [and] Sweden” are most certainly still European nations. I can assure you that the geography of the Earth will not change because of immigration, immigration that represents a tiny percentage of the overall EU population (nearly 500 million). I would disagree that the United States has become “extremely leftist” as Donald Trump is the president, the right-wing Republican party controls both the House and the Senate and most state and local governments as well.

        Law and Justice have also implemented lower taxes – a flat tax – for corporations, which is not helpful as it shifts the burden of taxation to other parts of the nation. I will grant you that they have some excellent economic policies, reducing child poverty, re-nationalizing the Polish bank that was sold to an Italian company, etc. Yes, my friends on the Left, and in Razem acknowledge this.

        I agree that there are problems with the European Union; it needs to be reformed, made more democratic, and re-created to fit the interests of the people over corporations. However, you can only do that with transnational solidarity. Additionally protections for minorities, including marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, legal protections in terms of non-discrimination laws for all LGBTQ people in housing, employment and healthcare need to be put in place within Poland. Xenophobia is not a good place to start.

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      • Law And Justice (PIS) is not a real right wing party. PIS’s officials did not take part in Independence March in Warsaw – they were in Cracow at the time. The march in Warsaw is gathering more and more people disapointed with PIS’s rules.
        Poles wanted a real right-wing government, not PIS. PIS is only talking, it is doing nothing.

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  2. I feel you. This march is clearly not about celebrating sensitivity, good taste or cognitive complexity. It’s easy to feel excluded if you cherish any of those three. The more you love Warsaw, the more it feels bad.

    It’s a window into the clumsy, immature, simple-minded Polish national pride, which gets easily organized into aggressive nationalism.

    The only consolation lies in the fact that it’s part of a larger wave sweeping through the Western world, so it’s not just my compatriots, but rather humans in general.

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    • Yes, fascist organizing is happening all over Europe and in the US. Fascists came from many EU nations to ‘celebrate’ their ‘white pride’ – it is quite devastating. And now, I have been informed that journalists and politicians are being sued for writing that this was a far-right, fascist march. With the support of many in the ruling Law and Justice government.

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  3. Nobody condemned racist remarks about Jews because they were not. There were no such slogans in the march, and no one could point them. This is a typical disinformation, fake-news. If you have photos that document such slogans, then you will be the first to publish them.

    Secondly, the racist slogans were raised by one group called the “Black Bloc”, which does not belong to the ONR nor to the All-Polish Youth, but has much in common with the neopogonous groups. It has already been announced that they will not be allowed to join march next year.

    Thirdly, here you have a statement from Młodzież Wszechpolska (one of main national organizations) on this matter:
    https://mw.org.pl/2017/11/oswiadczenie-zarzadu-glownego-mlodziezy-wszechpolskiej-3/

    And here you have a spokesperson for the organizers:
    http://www.polsatnews.pl/wiadomosc/2017-11-12/organizatorzy-marszu-niepodleglosci-odcinaja-sie-od-rasistowskich-transparentow/

    In addition, at least three organizations announce lawsuits against disseminators that the march was racist and fascist.

    As for Islam, Poles have a right to their opinion about this religion. In Western Europe and in the United States, supporters of the left condemn Catholicism in a very dirty way. Have you ever condemned them? Besides, this condemnation is about militant Islam spreading terrorism. It does not apply to our Polish Muslims, who, as far as I know, belong to Polish national groups, and one of them is a senator from Law and Justice.

    If you support the democratization of Europe, why do you condemn the democratically elected Polish government? If the Poles decided in the democratic elections that they do not want LGTBQ marriages and e they think are equal now (thats true, there is no law in Poland that differentiates the situation of homosexual people from healthy people), why do you think they should be forced to do so? So what are you suggesting? Aggression on Poland to democratize it? A media campaign of slander so that we feel we are bad and condemned? I am afraid that you only convince us that Western Europe and leftist from USA understands democracies in such a way that we are obedient and that our views do not count.

    Democracy can not mean that the minority dictates the will of the majority. Such a system is called the oligarchy.

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    • There were chants against Jews, please see the video in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/17/international-far-right-poland-march-nationalism

      “Every journalism school should show its students the video clip of the moment on Saturday when a chirpy Polish state television reporter asked a man decked out in red and white national colours what it meant to him to participate in a march celebrating Poland’s independence day. “It means,” replied the man, “to remove from power … Jewry!”

      Since Poland is governed by the rightwing populist-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), the obvious next question is: who exactly do you have in mind as Jewry’s current representative in power? The PiS party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński? The prime minister, Beata Szydło, perhaps? Or do you mean someone who is in power elsewhere: Donald Trump or Theresa May, or the Jews on Mars?

      Throwing away this rare journalistic opportunity to interview an antisemite ready to speak openly to camera, the flustered reporter turned to a nearby woman, asking what it meant to be a patriot taking part in the march. When she agreed with the previous speaker, and said she was proud to be there as a Pole among Poles, the reporter turned back to camera saying cheerily: “This is pride, pride that one may be a Pole, pride that one is a Pole!”

      I am not the only one stating what has been televised, recorded and reported. The ONR is a fascist organization re-birthed from the 1930s. They will still play the central role in next year’s demonstration, I assume?

      As for religious plurality, no democracy can pick and choose how or what people believe, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Nowhere in Europe does there exist an ‘Islamic hegemony’ imposing its will on anyone. If anything, the power of the Catholic Church over the will of the people is a far greater threat to democracy. And no, no democratic nation can deny equal rights to its minorities. It ceases to be a democracy, and so if Polish law discriminates against what you derisively, and implicitly call unhealthy “homosexuals,” then it ceases to function as a democracy. You cannot negate the rights of others and call that democracy; you must uphold the rights of those who are in the minority. A democracy is only as a good as it treats its lowest member.

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      • There is, of course, a group of older people who see the world away from reality. Why did he talk about Jews? This is a long lecture showing who the Jews were in Poland during World War II and what they did in the Polish People’s Republic after the Second World War and why they are still connected with the elites of power. But as you’ve noticed, this is a rare occurrence and there are no such references in the official organizer’s documents. In the background of speech there is no anti-Semitic song, but “God, honor, strength, country”, nothing about the Jews. “God, honor, homeland” comes from the banners of the polish army fighting against Germany in Western Europe during World War II. If you are concerned about the fate of Polish Jews, ask Pawel Jędrzejowski. This is one of the founders of the Forum of Polish Jews, lives and is recognized in Warsaw. Ask him if he has ever been attacked by “anti-semites” in any way.
        On why Jews are still identified with the elite of power by people who remember communism, you should read this article at the Polish Jews Forum: http://www.fzp.net.pl/zydzi-i-commonism/ grandchildren-zydocomuny This is the Polish language but since you have Polish colleagues and a Googler Translator – I hope you can do it 😉 I think do not help Jews that the spokesperson for the military junta government in Poland in the 80s was Jerzy Urban, a very unpleasant figure of Jewish origin.

        In the 1930s the ONR was actually an anti-Semitic organization, as did most of the then-political organizations, including the left. Poland had a big problem with the 10% minority, which in large part did not feel connected with the country where she lived, and in part she did not even know Polish. They were forced to settle in Poland by tsarist and Prussian authorities, or refugees from the leftist revolution of Russia. As I said, the matter is for a long discussion.
        The present ONR does not address Jewish issues, because there are very few Jews in Poland, and they do not constitute any axis of conflict. If you ask why young people in Poland have just chosen this sign to radically demonstrate their patriotism and rejection for moral liberalism, then I will answer you this way: probably to stronger offend the left. They chose such an organization and a sign because for many years it had been accused of all the worst in Gazeta Wyborcza witch was once the leading newspaper in the polish public space.

        But I can not accept this understanding of the democracy you are presenting.
        Democracy is the ability to shape the law around us. If the Poles choose a model of rights that corresponds to the morality proposed by the Catholic Church, then that is their right. I also point out that this law is not in any way directed against any minority. Polish law does not differentiate homosexuals in any way, it does not create any specific laws directed at them. They have exactly the same rights and obligations as healthy people. Polish law does not say whether homosexuals are healthy or sick, the common sense says it. In Poland both homosexuals and heterosexuals can not marry same-sex couples, as they can not have a marriage with a chair, a dog or a family of their own. Marriage is not the union of two any entities in the universe. In Poland, matrimony is the union of a woman and a man according to human biology, tradition and common sense. It is our law to set the law, your right to disagree. But you do not have the right to claim that by setting the laws we like we are not “democracy.” Minority rights are not absolute, especially if they are completely absurd. I feel that democracy for you is just a slogan, and you really identify democracy with the implementation of the left-wing agenda. And what if people do not want to pursue it? And what is the difference between the influence of the left-wing thinkers on society and the influence of the Catholic Church? Maybe Western Europe is not democratic, because the leftist have too much influence on the will of people and is “a far greater threat to democracy”?

        I’m surprised you do not see the immense threat to democracy as the immigration of millions of people from countries where democracy or the rule of law has no tradition. Their impact on democracy is only a matter of time. There are already enclaves in Western European cities, where imam’s opinion is more important than national law. In fact, Muslims do not question the left-wing agenda, because they clearly benefit from it. Demographic trends are such that they will cease to be a minority, and then they will end up pretending. Do you know the term “ketman”?

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      • I will reply pithily:

        There can be no democracy where a minority group is discriminated against. Homosexuality is just as ‘natural’ as heterosexuality: it occurs in nature, in homo sapiens (humans) and other animals. The right marry is important, and this right is denied to homosexual couples in Poland, that is not democratic, but rather authoritarian. When the Catholic Church influences everything from whether or not you can wear condoms, to how to have sex, then there is a serious overreach if that religious relationship between Church and believer becomes instituted into Law. This is why the right for a woman to choose, the right to have an abortion, is being curtailed in Poland. Another essential right being taken away because of a religious entity; not Islam, no Islamic ‘authority’ is taking away marriage equality or abortion rights from gay people and women, no that is being done by the fanatical Catholic Church.

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  4. For some it is hard to find any appropriate words to describe this. The entire fight for freedom should be fought without any emotions which I’m still buzzing from.

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