Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Rainbow flag protesters charged by Polish police

  • One of the statues targeted by pro-LGBTI flag-hangers in Warsaw (Photo: Fred Romero)

LGBTI activists are facing fines or prison for draping rainbow flags on statues in Poland, amid hardening feelings on EU values.

Police, on Wednesday (5 August), briefly arrested two women and a man for hanging flags on five Polish monuments, including a Roman Catholic one, in Warsaw last week.

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  • Pride march in Warsaw last year (Photo: Max Bashyrov)

They also pressed charges under a law against offending religious feeling, punishable by fines or up to two years in jail.

"As the police, we take action not because somebody hung a flag, but because by so doing they insulted religious feelings and profaned, among others, the statue of Jesus Christ outside the Basilica of the Holy Cross," police spokesman Sylwester Marczak told media, referring to a church in Warsaw city centre.

"Reducing the whole thing to a flag makes it political, because it doesn't include those people who were hurt," Marczak said.

Police did not exclude other arrests in the case, he noted.

Police were also investigating a separate case, in which a man on a balcony, next to a rainbow flag, grabbed his crotch during a World War II memorial march last weekend, Marczak said earlier.

The police crackdown prompted accusations of undemocratic behaviour.

It also came amid raw nerves over an EU decision, last week, to impose symbolic fines against Polish cities which had made homophobic declarations.

The police had behaved like communist-era apparatchiks, according to Sławomir Neumann, an MP from the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party.

"Do you really have to suck up to the authorities so hard?", Neumann said on Wednesday, according to Polish state TV.

"The rainbow flag shouldn't offend anybody," Rafał Trzaskowski, the PO's mayor of Warsaw, also said on Tuesday.

"No democratic country should allow the kind of incidents we saw, in which police enters people's private homes," he added, referring to police efforts to stop the balcony protester last weekend.

Meanwhile, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party voiced its own offence.

"If we don't react, all boundaries will be broken. Vulgarities will become the norm at [public] gatherings," Arkadiusz Czartoryski, a PiS MP, said on Wednesday.

"Rafał Trzaskowski once again stands on the side of homosexual communities, showing them absurd support," Maria Koc, a PiS senator, said one day earlier.

For some, the balcony-crotch grabber might be "normal, modern, European, and free", Rafał Bochenek, another PiS MP told press.

But for him that kind of behaviour was "pathological", he said.

"Let's stop with this leftie media gobbledigook. It's a harmful ideology. Stop interfering in our lives," Bochenek said, referring to LGBTI values and EU 'interference'.

The LGBTI arrests came amid already heated debate on the EU fines against Polish cities and against a wider backdrop of PiS-sponsored euroscepticism and homophobia.

One PiS MP, Przemysław Czarnek, said on Monday that "LGBTI ideology grew out of ... the same root as Germany's Hitlerian National Socialism" after news of the EU penalties.

Czarnek, last year, also offered medals to MPs who voted for an anti-LGBTI resolution, but a court in the Polish city of Lublin ruled, on Wednesday, that that did not add up to corruption.

He is outspoken even by PiS standards.

Ziobro's project

But the man who will decide how hard to hit the Polish rainbow-flag protesters - Polish justice minister and prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro - is also a hawk.

The LGBTI activists were guilty of "hooligan excesses" and the EU should stop funding gay-rights groups, Ziobro said on Monday.

Ziobro's ministry has also funded a media project by a right-wing Polish foundation, the Guardian of Remembrance, on countering pro-LGBTI activism in future.

The project, reported by Polish newspapers on Wednesday, was called: "Counteracting crimes related to the violation of the freedom of conscience committed under the influence of LGBTI ideology".

And it aimed at "eliminating from the Polish public sphere", by 2023, anything that "violated the rights of religious people", in an approach which augured badly for EU-protected minorities in the bloc's fifth-largest member state.

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