By Daniel Tilles
Critics often accuse Poland’s government of seeking to introduce measures that would limit free speech. But it is often overlooked that they already have a powerful set of tools at their disposal to stifle debate, restrict artistic freedom and intimidate opponents.
This month, a 67-year-old man was charged with the crime of insulting a monument for placing a t-shirt reading ‘constitution’ on a statue of former President Lech Kaczyński (pictured above). Last month, prosecutors launched an investigation into whether two men at an LGBT pride parade who added a rainbow flag to the national coat of arms (pictured below) had publicly insulted a state emblem, an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to one year. Earlier this year, a poet, Jaś Kapela, was found guilty of contempt for the nation after changing some words of the national anthem (adding a reference to refugees). Although he successfully challenged the verdict, the appeals court instead found him guilty of contempt for the anthem of the Republic. Continue reading
Robert Biedron does not fit the typical profile of a successful politician in Poland. He is secular, liberal and gay in a country that is among the most religious, conservative and homophobic in the European Union. Yet the 39-year-old is carving out a reputation as one of the country’s rising political stars, and his success – as well as its possible limitations – says much about Poland and the ways in which it is (and isn’t) changing.
As well as being an unlikely figure in himself, Biedron has also taken an unusual route to prominence. Following an early career as a journalist and LGBT activist, Biedron made an abortive attempt to enter national politics with the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD). Standing as a candidate in Warsaw in the 2005 parliamentary election, he received a meagre tally of votes, after the party placed him low on their electoral list. Six years later, however, competing in the northern Gdynia district, this time in first position on the ticket of the liberal Palikot’s Movement, he won election, becoming Poland’s first openly gay member of parliament. Continue reading