Thursday, 17 February 2011

We are more progressive than our political elite

Poland enjoys a reputation of a country rather hostile towards sexual diversity. Last week, a Robert Węgrzyn, an MP for the Civic Platform, did something to reinforce this view. When asked on the TV about his opinion on legal acknowledgement of gay and lesbian unions, he answered: "you can forget about gay men but I would gladly watch lesbians." His words provoked outrage and indignation, and his local party structures demanded that he be expelled from the PO. Węgrzyn apologised, half-heartedly, though he does not seem to be quite convinced he should. The apology notwithstanding, on his official website one finds also a statement entitled bravely "I did not offend a person". "I won't let myself be offended in public", he cautions, as if in a pathetic attempt to reverse the charge.

Węgrzyn is, at best, a third-rank MP, so one needs not ascribe too great a weight to his calamities. It is much more discomforting, however, that the foreign minister Radosław Sikorski came to his rescue. "Journalists complain that politicians are boring and speak only in slogans, but when someone makes a dubious joke they crucify him," he said on radio. And he added a joke of his own, saying that Węgrzyn "should get a rap across the knuckles and be made to do 30 push ups." Some may find Sikorski's sense of humour no less embarassing than the Węgrzyn's. The implied acceptance of corporal punishment is hardly enjoyable, as is the way the minister reframed the debate. Instead of taking the issues of sexism, homophobia and verbal aggression as seriously as they deserve, he seems to focus attention on the possible inconvenience into which the MP's words may have put the governing party.

The political correctness is still shallow, and the aacceptance of homophobic language within the political class seems to be widespread. But in what extent does this reflect the popular mood? When we look at the developments in public opinion during the recent decade, we can see that anti-gay opinions remain widespread, but the overall trend is progressive.

Trends in anti-gay attitudes in Poland, 2001-2010 (CBOS, June 2010)
The most striking change concerns the level of acceptance of the view that "Homosexuality is not a normal thing and should not be tolerated." Between 2001 and 2010 the ranks of those ready to agree with it halved, going from 41% down to 23% (green line). It seems there are more opponents of marriage equality than at the beginning of the noughties (red line), but this is explained by the growing ranks of those who support civil unions as a separate institution for LGBT people (yellow line).The most interesting change concerns the acceptance of LGBT Equality Marches. The number of those ready to curb the right of assembly to exclude LGBT is still high, but it went down significantly within a couple of months between July and December 2005 (blue line). It seems that the growth in acceptance of Equality Marches belongs to the lasting effects of the culture wars waged in the era of the "Fourth Republic."

The opinion is divided on civil unions. (CBOS, June 2010)

The attitudes of the Polish population towards LGBT rights are on average more conservative than in the West of Europe, and in some respects more conservative than in other Central European countries, like the Czech Republic or Hungary. But the Polish society is neither as conservative or as homophobic as our political class. One may expect that a moderate LGBT rights agenda should attract as many voters as it might repel. Oddly enough, the society has already moved on. It is the elite that seems set to stay behind.

Adam Ostolski
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