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Inside Europe

Poland: Homophobia Spreads with Government Backing

Poland has recently shocked the EU by introducing regulations to stop what it called the “promotion of homosexuality in schools”. With elections due in October, many believe the anti-homophobic rhetoric will intensify.

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Poland's gay activists have a tough time

The action by Poland’s conservative government is just one measure in a continued campaign against the country’s gay population which has seen a high-ranking education ministry official fired for authorizing the distribution of an EU-approved leaflet about gay rights, as well as the withdrawal of books written by known gay Polish writers from the school curriculum.

Even the country’s president, Lech Kaczynski has frequently likened homosexuality to a disease.

Polen Lech Kaczynski und Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Jaroslaw (left) und Lech Kaczynski have both made openly anti-gay comments

With his brother Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński of the Law and Justice Party reliant upon the support of traditional Roman Catholic voters, the anti-gay rhetoric of conservative politicians looks set to continue during the election period.

An uphill battle

In this climate of increasing homophobia, the television program Homofonia broadcast by itv Poland has been regarded by many of the country’s gays and lesbians as a lifeline.

In the live weekly show, studio guests discuss everything from safe sex to online dating and outrageous hair styles in a light and chatty format. But despite the fact that the show contains no pornography and is aired well past children’s bedtimes, it has been the target for Poland’s homophobic campaigners.

One of those is the journalist Joanna Najfeld, who has compared homosexuality to pedophilia and accused gay activists wanting to work with schoolchildren of having ulterior motives. Najfeld has been repeatedly invited to talk shows and is free to express her views on Polish national radio.

Liberal backlash

However, the government’s moral crusade has produced a backlash among liberal and left-wing organizations, which recently staged a demonstration in the capital Warsaw in support of gay rights. Many of those present at the rally were concerned that the anti-gay measures had wider implications.

CSD 2007 in Warschau

This year's gay rights parade in Warsaw was the biggest ever held in Poland

"Homophobia is wrong and we think that those processes that are happening in Poland right now are really dangerous because it’s a straight road to totalitarian society," said one supporter.

Another supporter said he was there to "fight for fundamental human rights."

"The government wants to separate minority groups from the rest of society," he said.

One of the few Polish politicians who has dared to speak out for gay rights is Izabela Jaruga Nowacka of the Social Democratic Alliance. She has frequently suffered verbal abuse from extreme nationalist and Christian politicians for her appearances during gay pride demonstrations -- events that the current president, Lech Kaczynski used to regularly ban in his former role as the mayor of Warsaw.

Der Haß auf alles Andere

The government's openly homophobic stance feeds scenes like this anti-gay protest

For Jaruga Nowacka, showing solidarity with the oppressed minorities is what democracy is all about.

"We are for democracy," she said. "We are for protection of all human rights, not only for some groups who are in the majority in Poland. All citizens have the right to choose their own way of life."

But according to observers, people like Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka are facing an uphill struggle in a country where those in the public eye don’t mind making biased and hurtful comments about gays.

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