Sunday, August 27, 2006

Free speech in Poland must mean free speech for everyone

Gay activists are to take legal action against members of the governing party under Section 212 and 216 of the Polish Criminal code for two incidents of inciting discrimination and the promotion of hate speech. But are these the right cases to call in the lawyers?

Doug Ireland in Gay City News (hat tip: Doug Ireland) writes:

In one of the Polish ruling party’s latest anti-gay provocations, Waldemar Bonkowski [above - I bet his mum is proud of him], a leading Parliament member from the northern city of Koscierzyna, hung a banner in his headquarters reading, in part, “Today it’s gays and lesbians — what’s next, zoophilia… Our Polish pope is looking down from the sky and asking, Whither Goest Thou, Poland?”

In [another] incident, Pawel Zyzak, editor in chief of a party bulletin, Right Turn [W Prawo Zwrot!], wrote that gays are “animals” and were “the emissaries of Satan sent to destroy the Catholic Church.”

Leading gay activist, Lukasz Pałucki of the Equality Foundation and organizer of Warsaw’s Tolerance Parade last June, is consulting lawyers over the latest in a long line of homophobic comments from government and party representatives.

But going to courts over the two pieces of infantile nonsense quoted above is not the right way to go about challenging officially sponsored homophobia in Poland.

The only justification for legal action against what someone says or writes – no matter how vile - is if it presents a clear and present danger to an individual or a group of individuals.

The ‘queers are animals’ kind of dribble is not an incitement to violence, it is just the expression of a very ignorant person, indeed.

Even the ignorant have a right to dislike or even hate who they like. And they have a right, however distasteful, to express that ignorant opinion.

Before the Tolerance Parade this summer Wojciech Wierzejski, spokesman for League of Polish Families, said that if ‘deviants begin to demonstrate they should be beaten (bludgeoned) with batons’.

Now that is an incitement to violence and should have been prosecuted.

In another incident which seems to step over the line of free speech and into incitement, Doug Ireland reports:

Polish police announced that, after a three-month investigation, they have arrested the man responsible for knifing an activist whose name and photo had appeared on a hit list published by the neo-nazi Blood and Honor Web site. The Web site targeted lesbian and gay activists as “enemies of the white race” and called for their assassination, providing their photographs, names, and addresses.

During this year’s Warsaw Gay Pride March, members of the Law and Justice Party’s youth division, the All-Polish Youth — a thuggish strong-arm group, largely composed of skinheads, which has been responsible for many violent attacks on gay events, and many of whose members are also members of Blood and Honor — were observed taking photographs of participants in the Pride March. Gay activists suspected that the photos would have wound up on the Blood and Honor Web site.

It is right that the courts have got involved over the Blood and Honor list and they should have been involved over the remarks by Wierzejski.

But the stupid remarks by Bonkowski and Zysak should be given the widest possible circulation. Only the most homo-hating Pole would get excited by such childishness. And I am sure that if they want to attack gays then they would have done it by now or will do it in the future anyway. And they will do it because they decided to, with their own free will. So they will have to take the consequences alone - we can't blame it on what someone wrote about 'Satan'.

The rest of Poland will get a chance to see these men for what they are. And then they can challenge it or they can ignore it, as they see fit.

This government has shown that it is prepared to go to the courts over remarks that it finds offensive. Human rights activists should not be encouraging them by taking legal action over ‘offensive’ remarks, but only those which directly incite violence.

Free speech means that we will not always like what is said. And that’s a lesson that some in the government have to learn as well.


Lucia Maria said...

Gosh, those gay activists are really going for it in Poland, aren't they? I wonder if they'd try the same thing in Russia.

Anonymous said...

Before the Tolerance Parade this summer Wojciech Wierzejski, spokesman for League of Polish Families, said that if ‘deviants begin to demonstrate they should be beaten (bludgeoned) with batons’.

Sounds like a tip to Jedwabne all over again. This is what the Poles have learned from the Holaucost.


Anonymous said...

TC: So, based on what one idiot who represents a small political party said, you are extrapolating and saying that "this is what *the Poles* have learned from the Holaucost." (sic)

Bigotry and idiocy comes in many forms.

Anonymous said...

You're right. I'm sorry. I can't generalize.

beatroot said...

Lucyna meant that there have been attacks on gays in Moscow and there was that demonstration in St Petersberg where the police went apeshit. Much worse than Poznan even.

But taking legal action against prejudiced speeck is counterproductive. When you fighting for basic freedoms it is not wise to try and deny others them. More freedom of speech not less is what is needed.

Anonymous said...

Do demonstrations actually move other folks towards the intended objective, or do they have the opposite effect?

I really don't know.

History is a tangle of unintended consequences -- somebody else said that but I can't recall who...

beatroot said...

Isn't it "History can help us to recognize the power of unintended consequences,”?

So not that history is determined by unintended consequences...but that the study of history can help us see the pattern and form in unintended consequences.

A couple of words in a sentence can make all the difference.

beatroot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
beatroot said...


Many people think that going on a demonstration will push governments to change the course of action, policy. That does happens sometimes but rarely.

Loads of people get shocked and despondent when it doesn’t change anything. (Most of the millions of people at the anti-Iraq war in London were demonstration virgins’. They expected Blair to stop the war. He didn’t. They gave up).

The purposes of demonstrations are much broader than that.

It gets the thing you are demonstrating about in the media. Violent demonstrations gets even more media but can have positive or negative affects on the campaign. Depends what kind of violence. Context.

It encourages people who have committed themselves in someway to ‘the cause’…makes you feel you are not alone….gives a feeling of solidarity…encourages you to do the same again.

It increases membership of certain organizations, parties. Gets some deeper involved.

So demonstrations are part of a process, they are not an end in themselves.

Most importantly it forces issues out in the open. And you can’t resolve something unless it is out in the open, people are talking about it and being exposed to new (and old) ideas.

Anonymous said...

Chicago, 1968. Nixon.

Anonymous said...

TC can generalise in this case since the speaker (Wierzchejski) was and remains a democratically elected member of parliament. If Poles keep on electing fascists it indicates that they have not learned from the past.

Anonymous said...

And the same should then be said more amply of Americans and others as well. Thing is, Wierzchejski's (sic)party got about what... 15% of the vote, whereas Bush got 50-plus percent. Oh yea, and only 21% of Polish voters voted in the European parliamentary elections where the jerk obtained his seat to very unfortunately represent all Poles.

Anonymous said...

All true, Ignacy, which proves, as Kent Brockman once said, democracy just doesn't work.

michael farris said...

"democracy just doesn't work"

Well, there is a theory of something called a democracy threshhold. Basically, the theory goes:

There needs to be a certain level of education across society and a certain level of material well-being before democracy can work in any given society. The uneducated (in broad formal terms) and those who live hand to mouth do not make good choices at the ballot box.
FWIW Poland in the 90's was at the economic margin of the threshhold though safely over the education threshhold.
Worryingly, the percentage of the country well under both threshholds (from my perspective) has increased somewhat over the last 15 years or so.
The two divides in the last election were urban/rural and more-educated/less-educated.

Cultural factors come into play as well and sadly, the more-educated are much more likely in Poland to not vote as being interested in politics in and of itself is seen as uncouth and simple, two things that most Polish people (who are mostly of very recent peasant stock) are very sensitive about.

beatroot said...

democracy just doesn't work.

Depends what you mean by 'working'. Is democracy and messy business whereby the best most rational decisions are not taken? Well, of course. They don;t in totalitarian societies either.

The way democracy should be judged is if it enables individuals and groups to take part in the decisions that affect them. On that basis democracy 'work's better than most...

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