Transregional Center for Democratic Studies

Letter from Warsaw – November 2010

November 15, 2010

Demonstration against anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia in Warsaw On November 11, 2010, simultaneously the Armistice Day that was to end all wars, and Poland’s Independence Day, Poland’s foremost LGBT activist, Robert Biedron, was arrested and beaten in a Warsaw police van. He is an icon of the difficult fight for LGBT rights in Central and Eastern Europe today.

Born in 1976, Biedron founded in 2001 the Campaign against Homophobia and served as its president until 2009. He is now the virtual leader of the progressive movement in Poland. Robert is the most vocal advocate of queer, women’s, and minority rights in this country: he authored a popular book, A Rainbow Reader, and spearheaded such LGBT actions as the queer visibility action “Let Us Be Seen”, strategically placed billboard-size portraits of lesbian and gay couples. I met him when my partner Pawel and I (both TCDS alumni) participated in that campaign, and I remember Robert’s unbounded, inspiring enthusiasm. We later collaborated with him again when Pawel mounted an exhibition he had curated for Warsaw’s National Museum, called “Ars Homo Erotica.”

Robert’s charisma was also visible when I met him last on that November 11th in Warsaw. We were participating together with film director Agnieszka Holland and psychologist Paula Sawicka (co-author with Marek Edelman of And There Was Love in the Ghetto) and thousands of other Poles in an anti-fascist demonstration in the Old City. Robert was, as always, on the front line, but, as always, he was open and available to anyone. He even promised me to come to my city of Lublin to help out the following week. (Last May we in Lublin had protested with peaceful picketing and an open letter against a neo-Nazi march along the main avenues of the city.)

Robert was taking part in this demonstration to express his contempt for anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia. We had convened to protest against the appropriation of Poland’s National Day, November 11, by fascist organizations that had been permitted by the city authorities to march. Many TCDS friends were with us: sociologist and Democracy & Diversity alumnus Adam Ostolski, feminists Kazimiera Szczuka and Katarzyna Bratkowska, Green activist Agnieszka Grzybek. Following the suggestion of Seweryn Blumsztajn of our major daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, we blew whistles at the fascists who paraded so proudly through the streets of Warsaw.

During the demonstration, Robert was arrested on the implausible charge of attacking a policeman. An independent politician, Marek Balicki, went to the police-station (the detention ward on Wilcza Street) to inquire about Biedron. Dr Balicki reported that the police had not responded to the queries of Robert’s partner. On November 12, Robert was set free. He says that while in custody he was severely beaten in the police van. Poland’s media are reporting on it widely now. But the massive (and legal!) demonstration of far-righters in Warsaw, along with the arrest and beating of Robert Biedron, make us think and further move us to act against ultranationalist prejudices in Central and Eastern Europe.

Poland still lacks any real fostering of the rights of minorities and women (abortion is banned here); also, we are in urgent need of legislation, education and day-to-day political practice against discrimination. We are confronted with the ethical obligation of making Warsaw and other cities free from fascist tendencies; skinheads must not appropriate the public sphere of our cities; activists for social change should be treated with respect. Our task is to counter women- and gay-haters of the extreme right and encourage a secular democracy, Poland’s polis for all in the heart of Europe.


Tomek Kitlinski, Poland, Democracy and Diversity alumnus, TCDS associate


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