Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Polish T-shirts not so ‘armless

Freedom campaign at university ‘offends many’.

Freedom of speech and expression is now hot news in Poland. Yet another story on the subject. When word got out that the organization Foundation for Freedom was taking their T-shirt for Freedom (Tiszert dla Wolnosci) campaign to Lublin University, the Archbishop of the city called on the Rector of the university to ban the exhibition.

So he did.

Why? Well, some of the slogans on the t-shirts might upset vulnerable people, apparently. Slogans written on the black shirts include: I am gay; I am a lesbian; I masturbate (are you offended yet?); I am an Arab (scary!); I don’t go to church; I had an abortion (you can't say that!); I am having a period (eeek!!!); and, I never cried when the Pope died

OK, you can come out from under the table now.

“The texts printed on the T-shirts could have offended the feelings and beliefs of many people," Wieslaw Kaminski, president of the student union at the University of Lublin, told Rzeczpospolita.

“To write ‘I’ve got Aids’ or ‘I’ve had an abortion’ on a T-shirt, you would have to be devoid of all human feelings,” added Lublin bishop Jozef Zycinski.

Still, a campaign that had, so far, not made much impression in the media – the originator of the idea, Antoni Adamowicz, has been trying to provoke the authorities with his T-shirts, to my knowledge, since at least last November - is now splashed all over the front page and being talked about in the news programmes.

The show, which would have included celebrities modeling the offending garb, was partly sponsored by the human rights NGO Helsinki Foundation, but they cancelled the stall they were going to have alongside the offending T-shirts after the campaign was banned from campus.

But it’s another indication that the ‘don’t be offensive’ mentality is spreading in Poland, as it is in the rest of Europe.

It's also good to see that academic freedom and independence is alive and well and studying in Poland.

But it’s also doing no end of good for human rights campaigners here and keeps the issue very much in the news.

A poll by PBS pollsters today found that 48% of Poles think that freedom of speech is under attack from the new PiS government. The feeling is that religious groups, outside of the Established Church, are having an unhealthy influence in the governing of the country.

You can see the T-shirts at the Foundation for Freedom web site if you click down the righthand sidebar.


roman said...

People who wear such provocative T shirts run the risk of getting beat up on the street. It's funny how a kind of PC balance takes care of itself. I can't see some of these proclamations as best sellers.

beatroot said...

Welcome Roman (not Giertych I presume - put the name in a wiki to see who I mean).

The point of the T-shirts is to be provocative, so risking getting beat up is part of it. As I said in the post, I heard first about the campaign in November, but have not seen anyone wearing one of them - the shrist didn;t get much popularity. But thanks to all the fuss in Lublin, I expect to see a few more now...

DBN said...

Freedom os speach also means freedom to be reticent. So, I don't think that wearing a tshirt that says "I masturbate" is the best way of using this important freedom of speech we have.

The organizers of this campaign want to make us believe that all they want to do is "provoke a discussion". But what they are doing is a a hostile attack.

Perhaps a more drastic analogy would be someone who has an abortion and then dangles what's left of the featus in front of a devote catholic's face, and say that he just wants to provoke a discussion.

Yes, the tshirst should be allowed. Yes, the university has the right to express its view and close the exposition.

sonia said...

Some of those other slogans are pretty tame, but OH My God! this one is definitely beyond the pale -
"I never cried when the Pope died"!!! This must be a Polish equivalent of wearing a "Prophet Mohammed is an idiot" t-shirt in Pakistan, or "Holocaust never happened and Hitler is OK" t-shirt in Israel.

beatroot said...

Again most of what is on those T-shirts is a little infantile and looks like naughty kids trying to shock their parents...

But a university that bans these things on campus just because they are 'offensive' is equally childish.

Henry Grodsk said...

"Lublin University" in this case means UMCS (University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska) not, as you might have thought, the Catholic University of Lublin. There was to have been a human rights film festival as well but the organisers called it off when the rector forbade the tee-shirts.

dbn wrote:
"Freedom os speach [sic] also means freedom to be reticent". By the same logic, freedom to live also means freedom to not live. Do you support euthanasia?

roman said...

No, it's not Roman Giertych, although I do support his fervent opposition to Poland's entry in the EU. Who wants to be a minor league player alongside OLD Europe's pretenders, France and Germany? It's a done deal, however, and there is no use "swimming against the tide".

beatroot said...

Well, exactly. The only thing worse than the EU is Poland trying to get along by herself.

Henry: I agree being reticent is not what humanity needs at the moment. We need more free speech, not less. But editors do have to decide what to publish and what not to. And everyday we decide that some story is not worth getting into trouble about. Where I work we have to make lots of those types of Monday we did the t-shirt story...yet another one about freedom of speech that featured gays. But we did it.

next week, maybe we wouldn't.

but on a blog we can do everything. That's why I like blogs.

Henry Grodsk said...

Well, I was really commenting on dbn's innovative approach to reasoning...

Of course editors do not have to publicise every single tiresome provocation (unless it's by Madonna, in which case there seems to be some law that it must be covered). But it sends out a very bad signal if a university acts to restrain speech. Supposing you taught English there. Would you now be questioning the wisdom of holding a debate about Poland's invasion and occupation of Iraq? Perhaps you would feel safer just sticking to the anodyne, happy-clappy British Council style textbooks instead. So much for encouraging students to have open, enquiring minds.

beatroot said...

Exactly, Henry.

I was a student teacher at a south London FE college when the Thatcher government made some legislation about local authorities not being able to 'promote homosexuality'. I was teaching sociology at the time and, if I took the spirit of the law seriously, I should not even talk about such things. And I did know of some teachers who were cautious when approaching this area - there was self censorship going on. So free speech should be an absolute we should not mess about with.

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