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The LGBT Community in Krakow

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SocietyEUtopia KrakowEU-TOPIA: Time to Vote

Poland is one of the most chal­leng­ing EU na­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity. In the last three years one out of every three peo­ple has ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lent threats or  at­tacks, each case ini­ti­ated as a re­sult of their sex­u­al­ity. We learnt more about the sit­u­a­tion from Miko­laj Cz­er­win­ski, a young Pol­ish ac­tivist fight­ing for LGBT rights.

To west­ern Eu­ro­peans, this as­pect of Po­land might seem un­real, like some­thing out of a his­tory book. Be­yond its his­toric cen­tre, the city of Krakow main­tains an un­yield­ing as­pect, dis­ci­plined by its So­viet past but del­uged by the hus­tle and bus­tle of mod­ern day tourists and in­hab­i­tants alike. What is most sur­pris­ing to a first time vis­i­tor is the sheer num­ber of churches in the city, al­most one on every cor­ner, with a con­stant trickle of the pious pass­ing through their doors.

Mi­ko­laj Czer­wins­ki is a young gay ac­tivist fight­ing for the rights of the LGBT (les­bian, gay, bi- and trans-sex­ual) com­mu­nity in Krakow, via the Cul­tu­re of To­le­ran­ce as­so­ci­a­tion. We met up with him in one of the few gay bars in the city, sit­u­ated in the pre­dom­i­nantly Jew­ish neigh­bour­hood of Kaz­imierz. Upon en­ter­ing, we are greeted by var­i­ous neo-N­azi scrawl­ings on the out­side doors. "Only two days ago a stranger in­sulted my part­ner and I, just two streets from here, for no ap­par­ent rea­son," he re­calls in such a mat­ter-of-fact way that it sad­dens us to hear. Mi­ko­laj is of gen­er­ous build and his ges­tures con­vey a calm­ness which sits at odds with the dis­tress­ing sit­u­a­tions he is de­scrib­ing. For­merly a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent in Eng­land, after which he spent time work­ing in Africa, these days he jug­gles a bar job and study­ing for a course in Cul­tural Man­age­ment. He is just 23.

The LGBT com­mu­nity is the ob­ject of con­stant jib­ing and de­ri­sion from po­lit­i­cal and ecle­si­as­ti­cal types in Poland. Ac­cord­ing to Mi­ko­laj, the sim­ple fact of being alive is more than enough cause for crit­i­cism and at­tacks from a cer­tain por­tion of Pol­ish so­ci­ety. Kiss­ing in pub­lic can cause up­roar, or as hap­pened with some of his friends, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion can be used as a suf­fi­cient rea­son to refuse some­one hos­pi­tal care.  For two years, Mi­ko­laj has been strug­gling for LGBT rights, par­tic­i­pat­ing in var­i­ous queer as­so­ci­a­tions and cam­paigns at an in­ter­na­tional level. Along with two of his cam­paign col­leagues, Mi­ko­laj is also fight­ing to alter the course of things from the plat­form of his youth as­so­ci­a­tion, Cul­ture of Tol­er­ance.

The con­ser­v­a­tive, re­li­gious spirit which per­vades most of this coun­try's so­ci­ety ob­vi­ously makes it a chal­lenge to nor­malise the LGBT 'sit­u­a­tion'. Ac­cord­ing to re­cent stud­ies on this issue by the EU's Fun­da­men­tal Rights Agency (FRA), 35% of peo­ple sur­veyed had been sub­jected to ag­gres­sion or hos­tile threats as a di­rect re­sult of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. In 66.7% of cases of psy­cho­log­i­cal vi­o­lence, the po­lice did not in­ter­vene. In a re­port en­ti­tled Si­tua­tion of LGBT Per­sons in Po­land – 2010-2011, one of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions found that around 40% of peo­ple who were phys­i­cally at­tacked had been at­tacked on more than three oc­ca­sions. It also high­lighted the fact that 70% of the sur­veyed pop­u­la­tion are too afraid to show their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion at school or at work, for fear of being dis­crim­i­nated against. 38% had con­sid­ered sui­cide as an op­tion at one time or an­other. 

Since Poland joined the EU and more­over with the change of gov­ern­ment — whereby the con­ser­v­a­tive coali­tion moved aside for the cur­rent, cen­tre-right prime min­is­ter Do­nald Tusk — the sit­u­a­tion has im­proved slightly. Nev­er­the­less, it clearly re­mains rooted in com­pli­ca­tions. Mi­ko­laj's life has been trans­formed into one of con­stant bat­tle, like that of any ac­tivist, fu­eled by his be­liefs and de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­fend a most basic human right: mu­tual re­spect. This sort of ded­i­ca­tion might one day lead to pos­i­tive changes in Pol­ish so­ci­ety, on a fun­da­men­tal and prefer­ably per­ma­nent level. 

This article is part of a special series devoted to Krakow. It's part of eu-topia: time to vote, a project run by cafébabel in partnership with the hippocrène foundation, the european commission, the ministry of foreign affairs and the evens foundation. 

Translated from Un día en la resistencia LGBT de Cracovia