A couple of days ago, my older friend said:
‘I can’t stand this country any more.’
It was an unpleasant surprise, although I understand him. All that day I’d been hearing the names of distant, civilized countries- all places where he would like to immigrate to. It’s a strange feeling for me when I hear things like this. I thought, ‘Hey, I know the society in Poland isn’t necessarily promising, but it’s still your country…’
He can’t stand that, according to many, one of the stereotypes of Polish people has, throughout the last 25 years of freedom, been proven to be true: In 1989, there were the first open elections for the parliament and it was also a sign that the communist times were ending. Throughout these 25 years, Poland has fast developed on the economical and social level. In 2004, it became a member of the European Union.
This stereotype creates a specific image of the Polish nation as one which really can unite and fight for freedom and sovereignty. Sadly, once it reaches these longed-for values, it gradually becomes a free nation with people lastingly set against each other. The truth is, no country lives in permanent, inner peace. The Polish case is a bit different, however.
I would like to show it differently to the generalizations made by politicians and public intellectuals from various communities, left-wing, right-wing or any other. I think what all of them would agree to is that they often cannot work together towards the progress of the country.
The vast majority of them just can’t cooperate in the long run.
Maybe I am proving how true the stereotype of the Polish ‘always complaining about everything’ is, but they really cannot get along together. I’m not going to explain why; I think we, the Polish, are slowly turning all these complaints and stereotypes into something that triggers discontent, and I have no wish to introduce any other cultures to it. I could dig further into the problem, but I’m afraid I would tangle myself up in all these prejudices and overgeneralizations.
There might be a way to deal with this complexity and it isn’t through focusing on the causes of our self-degradation, as this can quickly lead into pointing out others’ faults. Alternately, starting from our own personalities and improving our attitudes towards other people and members of our own communities, even if their views are completely different to ours, even if we are conservative and those others are liberal.
This may sound obvious, but the Polish seem to take a harder route towards change and better times, never thinking of the peaceful, easier one. We bypass the opportunity to create a coherent society, often blindly thinking that acting hatefully towards others is all that we can do.
Not all of the Polish are like this though, there are some filled with reasonable optimism and positive energy.
Moreover, a good example of this ideology is a homosexual mayor of one of the biggest cities in Poland – Słupsk, Robert Biedroń. Until December 2014, he was also a Member of Parliament in Poland and a member of the European Parliament.
I would not have emphasized that he is homosexual, however, the situation I’m going to explain centres around it.
In Poland, there have not been any bills passed which legalise same-sex civil unions.
When our Roman Catholic country joined the European Union in 2004, the capital, Warsaw, still banned gay rights marches, with media and society largely treating homosexuality as a taboo subject.
In 2008, when asked about them, the Cabinet of Donald Tusk’s spokeswoman answered, “The Council of Ministers did not and would not take care of that matter”.
Despite the Prime Minister’s refusal, the President, Mr. Komorowski, declared aims to help homosexual couples- in terms of their administrative situation. He said that if there are any legal barriers that make it difficult for the couples to support each other, care for each other, or inherit, he is willing to break them down, “because in this case, there has to be equality.”
I am almost certain that it is not an empty promise. Komorowski’s words really can be treated as credible; (if one were to take his former declarations and speeches as examples). And at this point, it all starts to appear as optimistic for the LGBT people. But unfortunately, we ought to never judge too fast. Here is the reason why:
“Society can’t be paying for the sweet existence of unstable, barren relationships between people who are of no use to society, just because of their sexual relationship.” said one of the members of the parliament, Krystyna Pawłowicz, furiously expressing her disapproval during a debate about civil unions in Poland.
How can the Polish make progress towards a more tolerant, open society if hatred and insults are thrown by members of parliament during such an important and significant debate?
Moreover, while these words were spoken, there was a homosexual mayor, Robert Biedroń, sitting in the sessions chamber.
Why did Pawłowicz desire to insult people that she has no understanding of? She does not accept homosexual people and she has the right to it, but it should excuse such degrading remarks.
In my opinion, she expressed her convictions with too much certainty. She is not homosexual, but she is fully convinced that such relationships are barren and merely sexual in nature. Ms. Pawłowicz does not know enough to be able to judge that these are only sexual relationships.
Ms. Pawłowicz’s words were met with public condemnation. The Internet responded quickly with memes, critical comments and letters of protest. Mostly, the people who did it were the members of Ms. Pawłowicz’s community – students and professors.
I know that she is just one Polish policy makers and some of you might think that there are always people who have controversial convictions. But the first problem is she isn’t the only one, and the second is that her insults towards homosexual people were just the beginning. If others who oppose civil unions, even if not to such an extreme, hear these words, they may become more confident, readily opposing any bills or proposals. They influence one another and are gathering more and more arguments against civil unions, while trying not to look at the LGBT people’s situation from a different point of view. Sometimes they seem to have tunnel vision- they just don’t want to discuss it openly. They shun any deeper discussions. What prevents them from talking willingly? Prejudice.
I do not know what the point of their opposition to civil unions is. Obviously, civil unions don’t mean legal marriage of homosexual couples, they just make it easier for people who live together in a relationship to care for each other and inherit wealth in the event of death. Do opponents of these unions think that disapproving of them will prevent homosexual relationships? Do they want homosexuals to change their sexual orientation? Why are they focusing on stifling something that has existed for ages and will continue to exist?
In 2011, Anna Grodzka, a transgender woman, was elected to the Polish parliament – the Sejm. She is the first openly transgender Member of Parliament in Poland. As of May 2013, she is also the only remaining openly transgender MP in the world, and the first transsexual MP in the history of Europe to have had sex reassignment surgery. Despite this, it seems like there’s been no effect on LGBT rights in Poland.
The ensuing extremity of 2 LGBT members of parliament and other politicians full of hatred and lack of understanding towards civil unions of LGBT people is ironic, but also positive – it forces them into discussions. Maybe these talks are not deep and reasonable, but even if they are controversial, they raise the voices of citizens. The problem will not be swept under the carpet.
Anna Grodzka had to endure many insults from politicians. I feel ashamed thinking about the offensive comments I’m about to quote. They’re not sophisticated, just pure abuse. Ms. Grodzka was called “Sir” many times, Ms. Pawłowicz said that she will not say Ma’am to her, because she sees a man when she looks at her. “If someone devours a bunch of hormones, it does not make them a woman” – this is what Ms. Grodzka had to face. Moreover, one of the politicians said that she parades her transsexualism and that she changed her sex because it would help her entrance into politics.
There were also some extremely unpleasant comparisons made, and I think at that point some went too far. I have no wish to write them; it would be an injustice to do so.
I quote these comments to draw attention to the way in which politicians express their disapproval, and how they reach the state where they cannot and do not wish to acknowledge any arguments other than their own.
Anna Grodzka is exposed to that kind of abuse. But, instead, she does not respond to it with hatred. She remains calm and focused on her work. She ranks among the most cultured MPs in Poland (because she offends others the least). This is what she said in regard to the insults: “I wanted the Polish society to understand that every human, even if different from the others, has the right to be accepted, if they do not harm any fellow human beings.”
The speed of change
What could seem a good omen for LGBT people is what happened recently in Słupsk.
The city’s inhabitants elected Robert Biedroń, (mentioned above), to become the mayor – the first openly gay mayor in Poland.
This was ground-breaking.
During this campaign, nearly 20 candidates came out by the election day.
“I see how fast Polish society has learned its lesson of tolerance,” Biedroń told The Associated Press in an interview two days before he was elected. “So I am very optimistic and happy with Polish society — and proud.” (Although no information was given information given regarding the time at which he came out, he has remained openly gay since he entered into politics.)
“There is no reason to think that Mr. Biedroń’s private life was an advantage, but it looks like it wasn’t a disadvantage, either,” said Jarosław Flis, a sociologist and political commentator. “Sexual orientation didn’t matter for the voters in Słupsk.” Mr. Biedroń said that the most important point was that he did it all without his sexuality becoming an issue.
“In conservative Poland, where the Roman Catholic Church wields enormous political power, that amounts to a sea of change.” wrote a journalist in the New York Times.
“If you are mayor of a modest city, you must live a modest life, and many politicians in Poland do not understand that,” said Mr. Biedroń. “You cannot treat the city like you’re a king and the city is your property.” He promised to get to the city hall by bicycle every day.
He inherited a city full of debts. For now, it seems like his work is satisfactory for the inhabitants of Słupsk. He was generally said to be diligent and cultured.
What has surprised me a lot, is a simple situation filmed in front of the city hall, where Mr. Biedroń, while locking his bicycle, talked with some journalists about the first days of his work. While watching the video, I almost had to pinch my hand. It all did not look like it was in Poland.
-…well, I am excited, no doubt. Today I am having a meeting with all the officials and… – said Biedroń to the journalists.
– Good morning!… So this is the mayor… – said an elderly lady passing by, cutting in.
– Good morning!
– …the mayor without a car!
– Good morning Ma’am! – he laughed and shaked hands with the lady.
– All the best!
– Thanks, same to you!
– How do you like your new mayor? – asked one of the journalists.
– Well… I voted for him! – answered the lady while walking away.
Many of you might think: “Not a big deal…”. But I, as a Pole, can feel positive energy emerging from this simple situation. Even though in other nations conversations like this can be had on a daily basis, I feel really happy. Maybe it is because of my Polish complex about the Poles? Or perhaps because I became overwhelmed with these insults people offer towards other people? Or that little everyday scenes from trams, buses and other public places that I have experienced, gather up in my mind and create a bittersweet view about my country?
Mr. Biedroń managed to keep his positive attitude towards other politicians and generally, the citizens, although he had also had to face many thoughtless insults that clipped his wings. I know he must have been prepared to endure them before entering into politics, but it cannot be easy to get one’s way through to finally becoming a mayor.
In year 2014, the national news weekly “Polityka” listed Biedroń as one of Poland’s 10 best lawmakers.
After his election campaign, he went to a local soccer game. Again, there were insults thrown towards him. After the first round, one of the men who shouted the insults, came up to Mr. Biedroń. “He said, ‘Of eight candidates, you were the one we didn’t expect in this game, but you were the only one who came. You have courage, you put up with us, so we voted for you.'” recalled the mayor.
Two different universes
One of the Polish-American journalists conjured up a vision of Poland as a country in a deep split, consisting of two different universes. One of which is a cold place full of people, (often the representatives of policymakers), who are insensitive and do not even try to accept the parts of the society that differ from others, denying these people’s basic rights. They are able to publicly humiliate others because of their sexual identity. Fortunately, this theory only suits Poland 3 or 4 years ago. Everything changes so fast that I thought today, on the 5th of February 2015, it would be slightly different – more optimistic. The second universe is a nation created by a young, Catholic and conservative democracy, able to elect LGBT members of parliament.
But what about civil unions? Slowly, let’s take it easy. In 2013, the Sejm – the Polish parliament, rejected 3 bills about the unions. On the bright side, at least the bills were suggested.
Some of the MPs that voted, rejected their own party’s proposal. They got inundated by a flood of 700,000 emails in just a few days from citizens protesting their decision.
There is a clear way for LGBT people that has become apparent. A way for negotiation, for Mr. Biedroń to work and spread his positive attitude around, for opponents to talk and think over their arguments. This way is paved by those people who have decided to come out, face prejudices and insults, and do what they planned to do as politicians.
I do not really like to recapitulate or sum up.
But now, I am willing to say:
I can stand this country.