A married couple have been convicted and sentenced for bringing homemade explosive devices to an LGBT parade in Lublin last year. However, the length of their sentence – one year in prison each – and the fact that the case was not treated as terrorism has been criticised by some.
The couple – Karolina S., 21, and Arkadiusz S., 27, whose surnames are disguised under Polish law – were stopped by police on the day of the march and found to be in possession of the explosives, which were made from items such as gas canisters and fireworks, reports Onet.
Expert analysis showed that the devices could have injured and potentially killed people within an eight-metre radius, according to local news website Lublin112. A balaclava was also found in the couple’s bag.
During questioning, Arkadiusz confessed to making the explosives himself, using information that he found on the internet. But he claimed he had not intended to hurt anyone, just to make a “big bang”, reports TOK FM.
Arkadiusz did, however, confirm that he was strongly opposed to LGBT groups and the marches they organise. He repeated a common anti-LGBT slogan – “chłopak, dziewczyna: normalna rodzina” (“a boy, a girl: a normal family”) – and said that he wears the Celtic cross symbol, which is often used by the far right in Poland and elsewhere.
“The Celtic cross means I am for Poles, for family,” he said, quoted by TOK FM. “I have a wife and normal family. My wife also has children from a previous relationship. She has limited parental rights, [and] together we’re fighting for those children.”
Prosecutors chose not to pursue terrorism charges against the couple. Instead, they were charged with the offence of possessing explosive devices that threatened the health or life of a large number of people.
That crime carries a sentence of up to eight years, but, after the couple pleaded guilty, their lawyers requested a sentence of one year, which prosecutors and the judge agreed to.
The sentence was immediately criticised as too lenient by Bartosz Staszewski, the organiser of Lublin’s Equality March, who noted that one year in prison is the kind of sentence given to those who do not pay alimony.
“We’re dealing with a couple who planned to kill or hurt participants of a peaceful assembly,” Staszewski told TOK FM. “It is terrifying that such short sentences were handed down. Homophobic crimes should be a priority for the state, but they are not.”
Staszewski blamed politicians and far-right groups for stirring up an atmosphere of hate towards LGBT people. “They are constantly talking about us as a public enemy who wants to destroy the Catholic family, they talk about us as a rainbow plague.”
Last year, the Archbishop of Kraków repeatedly referred to “LGBT ideology” as a “rainbow plague”, likening it to Nazism. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party also made anti-LGBT rhetoric a prominent feature of its election campaigns.
Its chairman, and Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński warned that Poland must “defend children and normal families” from the “imported LGBT movement”, which “threatens our identity, our nation, its continued existence, and therefore the Polish state”.
A prominent conservative commentator, Katarzyna Sadło (who writes for the weekly magazine Wprost under the pen name Kataryna), also criticised the sentencing. She argued that the attackers should have been treated as terrorists, but instead escaped with a “symbolic sentence”.
Like Staszewski, Sadło blamed “a certain archbishop and haters in ministerial posts” for creating “followers”, such as Karolina and Arkadiusz S., who are prepared to resort to violence.
LGBT events in Poland have recently come under increasing physical threat. Lublin’s Equality March has, in both years it has taken place, faced large and aggressive opposition organised by right-wing groups, with protesters throwing bottles and stones. Police have deployed tear gas and water cannons to prevent them from blocking and attacking the parade.
Police have clashed with nationalist protesters during Lublin's first ever #LGBT march #MarszRowności. Water canon and stun grenades were used, reports @wirtualnapolska. The mayor tried to ban the march because of potential violence from counter-protesters pic.twitter.com/M7FMCvHDAc
— Notes from Poland ?? (@notesfrompoland) October 13, 2018
Even more serious violence took place last year in Białystok when the city hosted its first ever LGBT parade. Protesters threw paving stones and other objects at marchers and police, with dozens arrested during and after the event.
Following the incident, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a leader of the far-right Confederation (Konfederacja) party that entered parliament last year, warned that the violence in Białystok was merely “a foretaste of what will happen”.
There would soon be “pogroms of homosexuals in Poland” if LGBT activists keep spreading “homo-propaganda”, said Korwin-Mikke, who after becoming an MP in October proposed an “anti-LGBT law” that would “ban LGBT”.
Who is to blame for events in Białystok (where the city's LGBT parade was violently attacked)?
Ruling party (28%)
LGBT organisations (24%)
Don't know (24%)@IBRiS_PL poll for @rzeczpospolita (https://t.co/Nm1UwvWopQ) pic.twitter.com/bg64uJYeSV
— Notes from Poland ?? (@notesfrompoland) July 30, 2019
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.