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Legacy of counter-revolution

State sharpens anti-gay attacks in Poland

Published Jun 15, 2006 9:01 PM

Estimates of the size of the June 10 "Equality Parade" in Warsaw, Poland, range as high as 10,000, making it the largest gay rights demonstration in that country’s history. Those who came out braved threats and an attack by Polish neo-fascists, reportedly members of the All-Poland Youth organization, who hurled rocks, bottles and eggs.

The Equality Foundation said only city officials could have known the time and route of their demonstration, which had not been made public but was included in their application for a permit.

Warsaw city officials scheduled an ultra-rightist League of Polish Families parade at the same time and along the same route.

The June 10 attack and others on recent gay rights marches in various Polish cities are being generated—and actually organized—as part of a sustained political and ideological campaign against homosexuality by the Polish coalition government, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy with which it is closely allied, and some of the national media. This classical scapegoating is a blatant attempt to deflect mass anger at the economic dislocation brought to Poland in the last decade and a half of capitalist restoration.

Gay rights groups in Poland report an escalation of anti-gay political attacks after the center-right Law and Justice Party (PiS) in September won a national election marked by low voter turnout. Anti-gay rhetoric is a centerpiece of the party’s program.

Lech Kaczynski, now Poland’s president, had banned pride marches in Warsaw when he was mayor in 2003 and 2004. Several thousand gays, lesbians and their supporters defied the mayor and took to the streets, despite organized neo-fascist attacks. The president’s identical twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who now rules parliament, had earlier called for a ban on gay men teaching in schools.

Shortly after being appointed as prime minister last September, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz—a senior politician in the ruling PiS—publicly characterized homosexuality as unnatural, likening it to a spreading disease that must be stopped. One of his first acts was to dismantle the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for the Equality of Men and Women, which was established to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In May, PiS formed a coalition with two parties even farther to the right in an attempt to secure a parliamentary majority. This brought the League of Polish Fam ilies (LPF), closely allied with the Cath olic hierarchy, and the peasant-based Self-Defense Party into the government. Both parties are ultra-nationalist, anti-gay and espouse feudal anti-Jewish propaganda.

As a reward for bringing the LPF into the coalition government, Roman Gier tych has been appointed education minister and deputy prime minister. Giertych founded the All-Polish Youth organization in 1989. This youth wing of the LPF is a magnet for skinheads, neo-Nazis and other fascist elements. Its violently anti-gay members were reportedly the core of ultra-rightists who threw stones and eggs at participants in a March for Tolerance in Krakow in April.

One of Giertych’s early acts after being appointed education minister was to demand a list of all schools that had been visited by gay rights groups.

Giertych’s closest aide—LPF director and former leader of the All-Polish Youth, Wojciech Wierzejski—reportedly told the Warsaw-based daily newspaper Zycie Warszawy that if demonstrators marched on June 10, they should be bashed with clubs. He later denied saying it. However, Wierzejski wrote a formal letter on May 12 to the justice and interior ministers demanding a criminal investigation into funding sources of Polish gay rights organizations. Wierzejski has tried to link gay rights with child sexual abuse and claims that organized crime and drug traffickers are financing gay organizations.

The Polish state prosecutor then announced on May 30 the launching of a widespread investigation into alleged criminal connections and financing of gay rights groups. He used the specter of child molestation to justify state scrutiny of the relation of gay rights organizations to the Polish educational system.

The deputy minister of education, also a leading member of the LPF, charged on May 19 that the Polish organization Campaign Against Homophobia—which had organized several gay rights marches —was “depraving young people.” He vowed to sever all funding to this group and others like it.

Struggle wins some support

Polish gay rights organizers have found some support, mostly from intelligentsia, artists and Social Democrats within Poland, and from Social Democratic lesbian and gay politicians and organizations in Western Europe.

Famous Polish singer Michal Wisniew ski announced that he and his band, Ich Troje, supported the Warsaw march organizers. The band held a concert in Berlin on May 7 to raise money for the march.

Chartered buses brought hundreds of Germans of all sexualities to the Warsaw march. Politicians from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden traveled to Poland to take part.

Individual Poles were also drawn to show their solidarity. Law student Kata rzyna Maszkowska said, “I came here to support the idea of freedom. I see no point in discriminating against people because of their sexuality. I want to live in a country which respects human rights.”

Polish Radio quoted one man who marched: “I’m hetero myself, but I quite simply support these people, because they have the right to express themselves as they want.”

This support for gay rights
predates the Warsaw march

The government investigation of gay rights organizations, and attempts to equate them with child molestation and infiltration of the school system, come on the heels of successful national protests against Giertych’s appointment as minister of education. Gay groups, joined by students and left-wingers, held a demonstration in Warsaw on May 9 estimated by organizers as 8,000 strong.

Within days after a petition against Gier tych’s appointment was posted online, some 60,000 people had signed it, including academics, artists, prominent film directors and Mark Edelman, the last living leader of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

In March, when Polish police on the orders of the Warsaw City Council raided and tried to shut down a gay bar, Le Madame, heterosexuals joined a sit-in with gays and lesbians to occupy the club. As word of the resistance traveled, left-wing activists, artists, students and other intellectuals—including those from out of town—made their way past police barricades to reinforce the occupation. A group of militants from the left-wing political party Nowa Lewa (New Left), with its chairperson Piotr Ikonowicz in the lead, “eventually broke through the police barricades while lobbing a few beer bottles at blockading forces.” (Gay City News, Doug Ireland)

The club, owned by Polish-born Black gay activist Krystian Legierski, was home to many political currents, including gay rights activists, anti-globalization acti vists, pacifists, anarchists and left-wing opposition parties.

Also, thousands of demonstrators marched in Warsaw, Gdansk, Elblag, Rzes zow, Lodz, Torun, Wroclaw and Poznan last November, after police and right-wingers attacked a March for Equality and Tolerance in Poznan. The marches, called by the Campaign Against Homophobia, were co-sponsored by some branches of the Polish Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Democratic Party, the Young Socialists and feminist and human rights groups.

Struggle within state

There are indications that the Polish capitalist class is not united behind the ultra-nationalist outlook of this far-right government. A struggle has opened within the state over repression aimed at the gay rights movement.

After police arrested scores of gay rights demonstrators in Poznan in a march declared illegal by local authorities, courts later ruled the ban was unconstitutional and all charges were dropped.

Similarly, a ban on a gay rights march in Warsaw decreed by then-mayor Kac zynski was overturned.

This year, Warsaw municipal authorities—known to be controlled by conservative forces—were forced to formally allow the June 10 march after a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court that gays and lesbians, and other groups, have the right to rally and march. The crowd reportedly cheered on June 10 when several police joined in the march.

After the May 30 announcement by the Polish state prosecutor ordering an investigation of gay rights individuals and organizations, a Polish daily newspaper quoted this response from an anonymous police official from the state prosecutor’s office: “This is absurd. We are not here to check the sexual orientation of adult people.”

These point to tactical differences in the Polish ruling class over how to relate to the European Union. The Polish elite hoped that the restoration of full-blown capitalism would result in their enrichment on a par with the Western European ruling classes. Poland and seven other former socialist-bloc countries joined the European Union in 2004. However, the dismantling of the remnants of planned economies has left Poland and other Eastern European countries economically ravaged by imperialist finance capital.

One wing of the Polish ruling class is obviously concerned that state attacks on gay rights will result in the loss of European Union voting rights. On the other hand, pressure from EU politicians on the Polish government to protect gay rights is grist for the ultra-nationalist mill. German intervention is particularly resented by Poles, based on Germany’s history of fascist military occupation of Poland and mass extermination camps.

The movement in Poland can’t count on segments of the capitalist class there or in the EU or U.S. to turn the political situation around. It was their conspiracy with the Catholic Church hierarchy to bring down the weak Polish workers’ state and sever it from the socialist bloc that opened the door to the right-wing nationalist forces in the first place.

This is what ‘democracy’
looks like

Some are comparing the police attacks on gay demonstrations to attempts by the former Polish government to repress the Solidarity movement, and blaming “communism” for it.

It’s a false analogy.

Poland never had a strong socialist state, even though it was part of the Soviet bloc. It was the Red Army after World War II, not a workers’ revolution, that removed the capitalists from power, many of whom had collaborated with Nazi Germany’s military occupation of Poland. However, the new Polish regime, while anti-fascist, was a political amalgam that made many compromises with the former propertied classes and with Western imperialism.

More than 87 percent of agricultural production remained in private hands and had to be subsidized. Eventually, the capitalist banks got into Poland, convincing the political leaders to take out loans. Finally, Poland owed $20 billion to 14 imperialist banks that then demanded the right to oversee and control the “planned economy.” It was the workers who paid for all this with low wages and hard working conditions, making it easier for reactionaries to gain their confidence.

The leaders of Solidarity were Western-oriented intellectuals who used the workers’ grievances as a tool for counter-revolution. Most of the plants and shipyards where Solidarity demonstrated are now either closed or have been bought by Western imperialist companies that have “stream-lined” them by cutting the workforce.

Today, the last thing those struggling against capitalist reaction in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe need is anti-communist leadership.

Pepsi commercials hailing the tearing down of the Berlin wall and other spin doctors of Wall Street all promised that overturning the regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe would mean freedom, democracy and a “peace dividend” for all. Sixteen years later the reality is that these countries are collaborating with the U.S. military in exchange for a few crumbs while their people suffer severe economic and social dislocation.

The neo-fascist movements there, taking a page from the feudal past, are targeting same-sex love and Jews. White supre macy and ultra-nationalist attacks against immigrants of color are on a sharp rise.

This is what “democracy”—capita list state rule—looks like.

In Moscow on June 3, fascists, police and the city administration broke up a Pride demonstration. The same day, Romanian police teargassed the Pride demonstration in central Bucharest as nuns and priests joined other right-wingers in throwing bottles and eggs at marchers. The Latvian parliament voted to ban same-sex marriage in December.

Officials in Romania have banned demonstrations protesting same-sex discrimination.

In Hungary, the leader of the Christian Democratic People’s party ran on a viciously anti-gay platform in the recent general election.

While progressives worldwide should reach out to the gay movement in Eastern Europe, it should be not with anti-communist rhetoric but with a common program on fighting the forces of reaction, which have so clearly been generated by present-day imperialism.