On the night of July 28-29, several Warsaw statues were decorated with rainbow flags. “This is our call to fight. For as long as we go to sleep thinking that nothing’s ever going to change, we will keep reminding people that we exist. That you’re not alone. That this city is also ours. Fight,” wrote the activists in their manifesto.
Prime Minister Morawiecki and Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta interpreted these words differently. “An LGBT hit squat has desecrated a number of monuments,” thundered Kaleta. “LGBT circles present a certain ideology that targets patriotic and Christian values.”
The Deputy Minister referred the case to the prosecution. On August 3rd, the police started detaining activists – “detaining the rest is just a matter of time,” boasted the Warsaw police on Twitter. Activists were picked up off the street, from a friends’ apartment, even from an off-the-beaten-path holiday spot in the Bieszczady Mountains. They were kept in custody for over 24 hours, without any specific cause. During the National Assembly session on August 6th, when President Andrzej Duda was sworn in, opposition left-wing MPs protested against repressive measures against LGBT persons.
OKO.press spoke with Łania from Stop Bzdurom [Stop the Nonsense], one of the activists detained by the police with respect to putting rainbow flags on Warsaw monuments.
Marta K. Nowak: Tell me something about yourself.
Łania: I’m 22, and I’ve been a queer activist for the last 2 years. Around a year and a half ago, in response to the Stop Paedophilia campaign, I founded the Stop Bzdurom Collective with Margot to fight against homophobic propaganda.
Was your anger at what’s happening in Poland sparked by tents and vans with propaganda targeting LGBT people?
Law and Justice’s last term of office was exceptionally queerphobic, but things were rather nasty even before that. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as in 2020, but you couldn’t have been a lesbian without hearing slurs, receiving weird messages or being bombarded with politics.
At one point, though, things started accelerating. [Krzysztof] Bosak started gaining popularity, and when Confederation [Bosak’s right-wing party] stopped harping on about the Jews, they found a new subject: LGBT people. These tents and vans were the culmination of everything – paedophilia was associated with being queer and with sex education.
But the last presidential campaign was the worst.
Having lived in Poland for years, were you able to predict that in August 2020 vans broadcasting slogans such as “homo perverts live 20 years shorter” would be driving around Warsaw, while hanging rainbow flags would be prosecuted?
No, Poland is absurd and full of surprises. You’re expecting something bad to happen, but what you get is ten times worse. A few years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that there would be tents pitched in the centre of Warsaw, where people would be told that gay people want to teach their children how to masturbate. This is the kind of news that usually comes from countries where homosexuality carries a death sentence. The smear campaign has reached these levels.
And yet we tend to think that Poland isn’t that bad after all, that LGBT is just one of these subjects that are targeted once they’re done with other topics. But when you see documentaries about the situation of LGBT people in Poland made by filmmakers from abroad, it suddenly becomes clear just what sort of a country we live in. And that the death penalty isn’t as abstract as one could think.
“We stand out from other LGBTQ+ groups because of our insolence, uncompromising nature and methods neither TVP Info nor other right-wing lunatics have even dreamt about” – this is how you describe yourselves. Why did you decide to stand out like that?
We learned that we have to be this way when we started throwing the first dance parties in front of the central underground station as protest against the homophobic tents put up there. They attracted a lot of teenage kids who wanted to do something more angry than what Campaign against Homophobia or Love Does Not Exclude could offer them.
We had no space to openly say that “love is love” isn’t the case when a van driving in front of my house makes me lose the will to live, and the guy in front of the block wants to kill me.
Talking about love, tolerance and putting flowers into rifle barrels is completely at odds with what’s happening, when we’re surrounded with walls sprayed with “no homo” or “kill LGBT”. Sticking a “Love does not exclude” slogan next to them looks like a sad joke.
We wanted to establish a place where being pissed off is a legitimate feeling and where people aren’t silenced if they swear or get their feelings off their chests. Such as the fact their tolerance isn’t unlimited.
The LGBT community is forced to smile and be understanding. This is unfair. There’s a guy aiming a brick at you, and you can’t even show him the middle finger?
We decided to openly say what you can hear behind the scenes. So that people will no longer think that they’re alone in their beliefs or that they’re going crazy. And then we get messages saying: “Hey, I blocked a van today. It may have been for just 2 minutes, but it really felt empowering.”
Your methods are also met with criticism.
Yes, we get messages saying: “What are you doing, they’re going to hate us because of you!” As if they didn’t see that they hate us anyway, no matter what we do or how we do it.
Even when we’re polite and charming, the right wing puts together their own materials against us, deceptively editing films from our marches to make us look threatening with soundtracks that would suit a horror film. The hatred we’re facing isn’t caused by the fact we’re doing something wrong, but by the fact we live in an ultra-homophobic state.
It’s sad that after each of our actions, even peaceful ones, we hear voices from within the queer community that say: “Don’t make such a display of yourselves” or “Easy on the glitter, you look like a queer.” Some people are intimidated by the right wing and its oppressive Polishness, they let themselves be persuaded that there’s something wrong with who they are. They tell us that we’re doing the attacking when, in fact, we’re merely defending ourselves.
I don’t want to say that we’re so cool and radical, and the others are hopeless. Other organisations are doing a great job. We’re not going to write a draft bill, but Campaign against Homophobia are brilliant at that. Still, a group such as ours is also necessary – to boost the morale of the Polish queer community.
You write that you want to combat passivity, hiding, fear and loneliness. I guess someone must have got wind of these plans, as they really brought out the big guns against you. As suspects in the case concerning putting rainbow flags on statues, you spent a day or two in police custody. You were detained 12 hours after Margot, on August 4th. What did that look like? Were you expecting that?
I knew that they could come for us eventually, but definitely not on this occasion. Putting up rainbow flags isn’t something that would justify raiding your home, being searched and undressed.
The police somehow got wind of the fact I was at a friend’s house, even though I hardly ever visit her. We don’t know how they got in. They showed up in the apartment at 8 a.m., while I was asleep in bed.
These were plainclothes officers, they didn’t want to say a word, but threatened to handcuff me if I resisted. And then they spent quite a while in this apartment, I don’t know why. They were pretending to do some sort of a search, but they’d simply pick stuff up, ask whether it’s mine, and put it down once I said that it wasn’t.
We spent some two hours there, while subsequent pairs of police officers kept coming in. Eventually there were eight of them to take away one little me.
They took my things and searched me at the police station, I was ordered to remove all my clothes. They took my shoestrings, strings from my sweatshirt, panties…
Yes, thongs. Apparently I could try to hang myself on them. It soon turned out that this early morning detention was completely pointless, as I was not going to be charged until the following day. They took me to the slammer at 1 p.m.
But at 9 p.m. they again drove me to the police station on Wilcza Street. And there I was, handcuffed, waiting for technicians to arrive and take my fingerprints. Then they took me to the slammer and searched me again.
What happened in the slammer? Were you prepared for that experience?
Nothing happened. I was alone, they only brought in some girl to my cell at night. I’m not sure whether I was mentally ready for all this, but in my mind, I treated it as a weird scouting camp. You sleep on a piece of wood and a military blanket, locked up in the basement with just a small window near the ceiling and a fluorescent lamp that burns out your eyes. There’s nothing to do. I got some poorly written fantasy book to read, so I read it.
I wasn’t broken by this experience, but it wasn’t pleasant either. It doesn’t matter if you’re prepared or not or how many stories you’ve heard. When the huge metal doors close behind you, and you’re alone with just the fluorescent lamp and silence, without any news, you feel bad.
I heard the samba played in front of the police building [a solidarity action organised by the Anarchist Black Cross] and that was incredibly nice. Such gestures are priceless, they rescue you from loneliness.
Were you in contact with a lawyer?
Yes, fortunately. The anti-repression collective SZPIL(A) very quickly organised legal care. I managed to see my lawyer already in the apartment where I was arrested. I think this influenced my later treatment.
They knew I was being taken care of so they couldn’t bullshit me. One of the detained colleagues didn’t have a lawyer. They took her from some place off the beaten path where she was on holiday and boasted about knowing all sorts of things about her. They intimidated her, abused their authority, refused her food and did not allow her to use the toilet. Out of the three of us, she had it worst.
When they see you in handcuffs at the police station, you’re treated as a subhuman. I was in a slightly better situation, as most of the time I was just the butt of jokes or the target of silly comments. I felt more secure thanks to my lawyer, but also because I was prepared – I knew my rights and I knew how to behave. But if it had been someone unprepared, things could have been worse.
It’s this revolting situation that feels like being back at school, only this time around you’re handcuffed and in a building full of people who despise you. You have to ask to go to the toilet or get a cup of water. For an adult, this is a really degrading experience.
You were detained for more than 30 hours. Why?
For the purpose of completing “procedural steps” that took 15 minutes. I was woken up at 6 a.m. when that cursed fluorescent light was switched on. I got a slice of bread with cheese spread and was taken to the police station. I was taken there just after 7 a.m., handcuffed, and then I simply sat there. It was 10 a.m. when I heard charges. I denied all of them and refused to provide explanations. I signed a piece of paper. And that’s it.
It was all over at 11 a.m., but I was kept on this chair until after 3 p.m. That’s when they let me out. We were treated like terrorists. Margot was kept there for almost two days for no good reason.
What lessons will you learn from this experience?
That we have to keep doing our thing. Besides, we’ve seen the chaos that surrounds all this. Nobody knew anything. I sat handcuffed and had to listen to police officers complaining that they had to deal with this case and didn’t know what it was all about… This was not a huge police investigation, but a political performance. It looked as if they were ordered to catch someone for no particular reason, and there wasn’t anyone around willing to deal with it.
It was a mess. Just so that Kaleta [Deputy Minister of Justice who reported the flags to the prosecution] could boast about the very dangerous terrorists he helped catch. When in fact they had to let us go. They made themselves look foolish. Of course, contact with the police was unpleasant and disgusting, there were a lot of weird comments, but this won’t stop us from acting. They’re not as scary as they’d like to be.
Translated by Matthew La Fontaine