Posts Tagged ‘ Warsaw ’

Krakow’s 2010 March of “Tolerance”

Police and participants

This past Saturday I participated in the sixth annual March of Tolerance in Krakow, which is a march to raise awareness for sexual minorities.  The event received very little media attention as far as I can see, but according to Radio ZET, there were around 500 participants that marched from Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz (the Jewish District) to the Market Square in the center of the old city.  Krakow police reported that this year’s march was very calm and that there were no serious incidents.

Inside the crowd of particpants

From a Polish perspective the march may have seemed calm but it was an interesting experience for me as an American.  In the past, I attended and participated in the Gay Pride Parade in Philadelphia, as well as other events organized by the GLBT community in my city.  Certainly it is not fair to compare a liberal city in the United States with a smaller city in former-communist, Catholic Poland.  However I am used to events in Philadelphia and the march in Poland seemed anything tolerant.

Praying for parade participants

First I noticed a group of priests holding a cross on the grass outside of Wawel Castle.  Policemen encircled the group, each with a German shepherd on a leash, lazily watching the priests pray for the parade participants.  People watched as the parade walked towards the center, carrying signs, rainbow flags, and holding balloons.  Some stood on balconies gawking out of their windows as the people walked past.  Just before the market, nationalists threw eggs at the parade.  Some shouted (according to the article, because I couldn’t understand all of the Polish yelling) “Boy, girl – a normal family!” and “We do not give you Krakow!”  As the parade participants released the balloons at the end of the march, I watched a man who was standing with a priest that seemed to be his friend spit at one of the demonstrators holding a sign.  However the most interesting thing for me to see was the sheer number of policemen that worked the event.  The policemen, some holding large plastic shields or with tanks of gas on their back ready to control an unruly crowd, formed a tight wall between the marchers and the public.  They intimidated me, dressed in all black like members of a SWAT team.

Looking at Poland’s homophobia in the past decade, one can understand why the police reported this year’s march was calm, despite the eggs and shouting.  A decade ago, there were no politics of sexuality in Poland, and no one openly discussed any of these issues.  The first “Equality Parade” in Poland took place in Warsaw in 2001, but received very little media coverage.  As the community became more visible, the country reacted more strongly against it.  In 2003, there was the “Let Them See Us” Campaign, which was an exhibit of thirty photographs that opened in five galleries around the country.  The photographs featured same-sex couples in their everyday lives, holding hands, etc.  The more controversial subjects such as marriage or adoption were avoided.  Nevertheless, within days most of the photographs were destroyed, ripped, or painted over.

In 2004, violence erupted at the Krakow and Poznan equality marches.  The extremely nationalist group All-Polish Youth and their supporters attacked the demonstrators by throwing rocks and punches, and even beating some with clubs.  They chanted sayings like “labor camps for lesbians” or “faggots to the gas.”  The police were unable to control the violence.  In 2005, the “gay parade” and its legality was a huge topic during the presidential elections.  Recently deceased Lech Kaczynski (elected president in October 2005) banned the 2004 and 2005 marches when he was mayor of the city of Warsaw.  This decision strengthened his political career.  The 2005 Equality March in Warsaw was held despite the ban, which ended up adding to the event’s popularity.  Around 3,000 people participated, which was the largest march in the history of the movement. Later that year, the march in Poznan was also banned by the city’s major, but it was less peaceful.  Again the All-Polish Youth group organized the attack, and they threw eggs, horse manure and slurs.  As the crowd got out of control, the police ended up attacking the demonstrators rather than the attackers.  A participant reported seeing a boy dragged by police with his head hitting the pavement, another person was dragged away from TV cameras when he was talking about police brutality, and many people were arrested without explanation.  This time the media did cover the event, mostly criticizing the police brutality.

In January 2006, the EU Parliament passed a resolution against homophobia in Europe, which explicitly named Poland as a country where homophobia exists.  Poland perceived this as an attack against the country’s religious and moral beliefs.  Right-wing Polish members of the EU Parliament unanimously opposed this resolution, but it was passed anyway.  In June 2006, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution in response to homophobic and racist violence in Europe, and again specifically named Poland mentioning groups like the All-Polish Youth. A survey from 2005 found 89% of the population stating that they considered homosexuality an “unnatural” activity.  A Eurobarometer poll in 2006 found that 74% of Poles were opposed to same-sex marriage and 89% opposed to adoption by gay couples.  Only Latvia and Greece had higher levels of opposition.

Some of the police leading the parade

So in comparison to past events in Poland, this year’s Tolerance March in Krakow was relatively peaceful.  Participating in the demonstration provided me with a valuable insight into the culture and mentality of the country.  It is only an excuse to say that Poland is homophobic because it is Catholic.  Now that it is a member of the European Union, it needs to catch up to the level of tolerance of the majority of the Member States. I was shocked by what I saw on Saturday.  Some of my friends with me felt that the strength of police presence shows that the country is willing to protect these minority groups but I am not totally convinced this is the case.  I could not help but feeling that the number of police was overkill, and that they were also meant to intimidate the participators themselves.  Maybe next year the city of Krakow will send less police, judging from this year’s calm result.  Eventually, I hope that Poland not only becomes tolerant for its Tolerance Marches.  I hope that Poland learns to be accepting and embracing of all minority groups in the country.

A wall of policemen walking with the parade

Source  for Historic Information: Graff, Agnieszka. We Are (Not All) Homophobes: A Report from Poland. Feminist Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 434-449


Museum or Attraction?

I was extremely excited to go to the Warsaw Uprising Museum on my recent trip to Poland’s capital, but sorely disappointed by the tourist trap I found.  I mean no disrespect to the heroic resistance group that stood up to Nazi Germany in 1944; rather, I wish to discuss the organization of the museum itself.  As a former art history student who has worked in museums, galleries, and curated a couple of dozen art shows, perhaps I am a bit harsh on museums in general.  However, I found the Warsaw Uprising Museum to be poorly organized, failing to communicate much information, and downright tacky.



(above) Warsaw Uprising Museum: Crowds waiting to go upstairs, and tunnels in the basement.

Perhaps my biggest mistake was to visit the museum on a Sunday when admission is free, but I was with my school and had no choice.  I should also add right from the beginning that everyone else in my group seemed to be impressed and to really enjoy the museum.  In my opinion, the biggest problem with the museum was its failure to communicate information about the Uprising, and I left feeling like I had learned nothing.  It was truly a museum for people who do not like museums, as seen in their many different gimmicks to portray the events of the Uprising, and thus the information was lost.  I love when museums use innovative and interactive ways to educate the public.  For example, I thought Budapest’s House of Terror Museum was surprisingly worth seeing in a city with dozens of great museums.  No photographs were allowed, and there was an easy-to-follow chronological path.  Visitors could watch news clips, pick up phones to hear different audio recordings, and see memorabilia from different events throughout the 20th century history of Hungary.  In addition to the informative handouts in each room that visitors could take home, the best part of this museum was that it was an easy to understand walk through history.

IMG_2710 Facade of House of Terror, Budapest Hungary (no photography allowed inside museum)

Despite the obvious fact that the museum in Warsaw modeled itself after the museum in Budapest, right down to the same font on the information papers in each room, it was as if the Warsaw Uprising Museum exploded into chaos.  The expansive rooms make it easy to take a wrong turn and quickly get confused about the information portrayed.  The booming sound of bombs dropping rang in my ears the whole time I tried to explore the museum, and the pushing of little kids to look into every peephole or screen quickly got annoying.  It was as if the museum thought they needed to portray the information quickly, rather than effectively, so they rapidly flashed images of historic events at every turn.  I quickly grew tired of waiting behind lines of children to look at the images through binoculars for no apparent reason.  The claustrophobic tunnels in the basement felt like a playground.  Unlike in its Hungarian counterpart, the Warsaw Uprising Museum had very little “traditional” exhibitions to ground its overuse of multimedia.

Obviously, the city of Warsaw spent a lot of money on this museum.  As my first visit, I am unable to compare Sundays to other days of the week, and perhaps I am unfair in my assessment.  However, “In Your Pocket: Warsaw” seems to agree with me about the jostling by the crowds and the ease of making a wrong turn and thus finding yourself lost in history.  I couldn’t help but longing for my experience in Sarajevo when I visited the Bosnian History Museum.  I will forever be moved by experience looking at the exhibition on the Siege of Sarajevo.  The exhibition was one large room, showing historical documents and memorabilia from the years of hardship.  Visitors easily moved around the room through the display in chronological order, pausing over the artwork made by children or the re-creation of the living conditions at the time.  This museum shows that there is no need for technology to educate visitors.sarajevosarajevo2

(above) Bosnian History Museum: Sarajevo, Bosnia

All in all, I go to museums to learn.  I left the Warsaw Uprising Museum with the sound of bombs dropping still ringing in my ears, feeling like I had learned nothing.  My classmates, however, enjoyed their time and the multimedia-filled exhibitions.  It remains popular with tourists visiting Warsaw, so other people must feel differently.  At the end of it all, I couldn’t help but wondering… is this meant to be a museum or an attraction?

Polish Political Party(ing)

As my classes continue, I am slowly learning about the government of Poland.  Also, last weekend I took a tour of the Sejm (House of Parliament) in Warsaw, but the guide left out a very interesting fact that I learned today at school.  Apart from the “normal” sounding major political parties- Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe)… there is an interesting minor player in the mix: the Polish Beer Lovers’ Party.  I kid you not, this actually exists.

I can’t find much about the party on the internet, but according to wiki, the Polish Beer Lover’s Party (PPPP- Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa) was satirically founded in 1990 to promote beer over vodka consumption in an effort to prevent alcoholism.  Because of the funny name and the general feeling of post-communist discontent and apathy, some people voted for the party.  Although starting as a prank, the party actually developed a political platform and won 16 seats in the Sejm in the 1991 parliamentary elections.  Today the PPPP no longer exists, but I think this fact adds to the quirkiness I am finding here in Poland….as well as a small insight into the country’s post-communist transition.  Zywiec-piwo

%d bloggers like this: