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Walery, Radomir, Karol

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Sexual minorities and tolerance in Poland.

Though much has changed in the past 20 years, from those days when any subject to do with gender or sexual preferences was either never brought up or even taboo, Poland is unfortunately still far from being a tolerant country towards people who are perhaps different in their preferences or tastes. The current political climate, the day to day role of the government in such matters can sometimes give the impression that Poland is not a very ‘tolerant' country. The make up of the ruling powers in the Polish Parliament lean to the right and contain the more conservative, Catholic political groups. Parliament is not free of people who if not officially homophobic have an unfriendly attitude to the subject of tolerance of certain minorities. This creates in the minds of other Europeans in these more tolerant and open-minded countries of the European Union a negative impression of Poland.

From time to time the western press illustrates this intolerance with scandalous comments from political officials with respect to the gay movement, for example. These comments are read by people across Europe and from them a certain idea of life in Poland is formed. There is also tension within the Polish community who themselves as citizens of this country have different opinions concerning this question and who do not accept the stand taken by some of their politicians and leaders.

There is, however, a positive side to this situation; this is the awakening of an open-minded and more tolerant society within Poland. This tolerance and acceptance of diversity within modern Polish society goes further than the official position as often quoted in the media. And this does not concern moral issues only, such as those of different gender preferences from the norm, but also cultural, religious or race. This is the result of the ever growing mobility of Poles who for decades were cut off from their more tolerant western neighbours in Europe (although it must be said these countries, France and GB, for example, have had many difficulties over the years in this domain). An increasing amount of Polish citizens especially those brought up after the end of the Russian occupation (called the communist era as well) are beginning to understand and value the idea tolerance as a very important factor indicating the level of development of civil rights and the freedom of individuals in a country. Here we understand that ‘freedom' means not only the sovereign freedom of a nation to govern itself without outside interference but also the freedom of the individual within that society to live as he or she pleases (within the confines of the laws of the land); the right of free speech freedom of worship, and their form of gender preference. These and many more aspects of the freedom of the individual had for several decades been limited under the communist regime in Poland. The walls surrounding this regime have come down, borders have been opened, several years now, and the chains that bind individuals are breaking and freeing people to make their own choices and develop and follow their own destinies. The temporary stagnation or step backwards in today's Polish society is hoped to be just that, a short one. Part of the problem lies in the fact that what was acquired as a democratic form of society in western nations (Europe) took place over many years. This freedom in Poland has been achieved in one or two giant leaps and it takes time for people to, for one, get accustomed to it, and two, to know what to do with their newly acquired freedom. The results of the future Parliamentary elections might prove a turning point however small on the road to a better understanding of the individual's rights and a higher tolerance of his wishes in whatever aspect of his or her personal life.

A factor which is good news with a view towards a more tolerant society is Poland's integration into the EU. Not only economical and political but in some sense a moral integration is taking place. We have to be careful not to assimilate the negative side of this integration and to acquire as much as possible of the positive side of this meeting of nations. The character of the combination of all the diverse countries and their very diverse histories, culture, etc is extremely complex. Given time a better understanding of what the rights of individuals should be will be attained. Certain accepted civil rights in the west will be eventually accepted in Poland. An example of the changes in society can been drawn from Spain, a conservative and Catholic country which today has the most liberal laws concerning the gay establishment within that country, if not the whole of Europe.

Today in the larger Polish cities gay people meet and have been generally accepted with gay type clubs opening to popular approval. A certain respect for different preferences has been acknowledged. No one is forcing anyone to do what they do not want to do. This is a fundamental concept of the idea of tolerance, of a certain open-mindedness within a developing society. However it does take time, and when the changes take place in a society which has been imprisoned (from September 1939 to August 1988) and treated as badly during those days as this country has it is no wonder there is some confusion when these changes, so radical for some, take place. Today, gay bars or clubs can be found in Warsaw. There is a gay community and practically no one objects. There are occasional campaigns organised to explain or maybe the word should be ‘promote' the gay situation, to make people aware of the situation, of the position of some of Polish society who still feel marginalized.

Most people in Poland and some in other countries in Europe have heard of the annual Equality (Gay) Parade in Warsaw (June) and the counter demonstration which brings out people to protest sometimes rather aggressively against the gay parade. Every year the numbers of pro gay supporters, themselves not necessarily gay, increases. They join the ranks of the gay and tolerance party to show their willingness to support gay people in their fight for their rights.

Let us not exaggerate. There's no gay bashing in this country. Do not be afraid of visiting the country because you are gay, male or female. Just bear in mind when you are in Poland that you are not in Holland (some people confuse the names). The situation in Polish cities cannot be compared to that found in London's Soho or Madrid's Chueca. Perhaps in ten years a balance will be found and we will all be able to live peacefully in a tolerant society ...

Updated May 2009