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15th Aug 2020

Poland waives EU visa costs for gay pride march

The Polish foreign ministry has told Warsaw gay pride organisers that people from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine who want to take part in the march in June will temporarily be able to enter the EU for free.

The costs of a visa to enter the EU's so-called Schengen zone is normally €35 for Russians and Ukrainians and €60 for Belarusians, a big outlay in a country where the average wage is just €300 a month.

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  • Russian and German campaigners at EuroPride in Warsaw in 2010 (Photo: lgbt-ep.eu)

A Warsaw-based spokesman for the Polish EU presidency, Konrad Niklewicz, said the government is not interested in reputation-building in the run-up to taking over the EU chairmanship in July.

"Minority rights and gender equality are not specific parts of the presidency programme. These are values which the Polish government has always defended, whether there is a presidency or not," he said.

Niklewicz added that the Western stereotype of Poles as Roman Catholic homophobes is unfair: "Poland is a tolerant country and the vast majority of Polish society has absolutely no sympathy for any kind of intolerance toward minority groups."

The Polish presidency's spokesman in Brussels, Kacper Chmielewski, said Warsaw is keen to promote civil society in general in the EU's eastern neighbourhood.

The organisers of Warsaw pride, which is to take place on 11 June, have welcomed the Schengen fee waiver.

They expect several hundred people to come from the three non-EU countries. The move will help Warsaw pride become a "hub" for gay rights in central Europe, where levels of tolerance tend to get worse the further east you go, Warsaw pride spokesperson Jej Perfekcyjonsc said.

Warsaw pride last year pulled in between 6,000 and 12,000 people.

The 2011 edition is to see Polish centre-left MEP Joanna Senyszyn join the march, as well as MPs from the Polish socialist SDL and SDPL factions and from the Greens. The event will culminate in a mini-street party in central Warsaw.

Perfekcyjonsc said that anti-gay groups are likely to try to block the march, carry offensive banners and throw eggs, but that Polish police are "excellent" in stopping anybody who goes too far.

The spokesperson added that not all is as rosy in Poland as its diplomats suggest, however.

"Poland was extremely tolerant by the standards of the times in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then it changed. Now it's in the EU and it's a presidency country, and it's changing again because of these things. But the time has come to really catch up with the most progressive members of the EU."

Perfekcyjonsc said the ruling Civic Platform government is against registered civil unions.

The spokesperson added that the Civic Platform-affiliated and devout Roman Catholic mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, has declined to support Warsaw pride. Gronkiewicz-Waltz told organisers that if she backed one cause, she would have to back them all, including for example, nurses and coal miners.

"Not long ago, she patronised a march of labradors [a kind of dog] through Warsaw. It was to collect money for dog charities. We thought she might see fit to make an exception for a cause like ours as well, but we were wrong."

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