Today, in our daily article series that will be continuing for five more days, we look at not an individual, but an object - a rainbow in Poland. But first we must have a brief overview of queer rights in the country we are about to discuss. While Poland has always allowed same sex sexual activity, something that is rare for any country, and now has equal age of consent laws. But same sex marriage and adoption is still considered illegal. As the political climate for same sex relationships can be described as mixed at best, the social attitude is even more confusing. A very clear example of these mixed attitudes is found in the Tecza in Warsaw.
In 2012, an art installation made by Julita Wojik was put up in the capital city of Poland, Warsaw in Plac Zbawiciela. It is important to mention that the instillation was not originally meant as a queer symbol. It was just a rainbow made out of artificial flowers and was meant to be a wholly apolitical symbol that was a part of a series and was actually moved from its original place in front of the European Parliament by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. It was meant to convey simply peace, hope, and love - though, as we know, the far right hates every single one of those ideals, anyway.
However, the rainbow has, in a way, become a symbol for the queer community, as it is what is on the gay pride flag. Naturally, the far right in Poland was not pleased to see Ms. Wojik’s sculpture on display, as they misinterpreted it as a symbol supporting queer rights. That seemed to be a common factor for how queer people were viewed in Poland: they were allowed to exist, but not in public. We see that attitude clearly in the controversy over the pride parade in Warsaw. The legality of Pride in Warsaw waffled until 2007 when the ban against it was declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. Despite this, the public’s opinion on Pride is still very mixed, though the parade has grown to having over eighteen thousand attendees just last year, the most recent poll showed that only 45% of the population of Warsaw supported the pride parade. It is not so much the act itself, but the public display of it that causes outrage with the Polish public, and it is what caused the negative reaction over the rainbow.
First it is important that we look at how the politicians reacted. While it is not unusual for politicians not to reflect the exact ideals of everyone in a given place. In this case the politicians in this case show how deep the prejudice had settled into society. The homophobic sentiments were so commonplace that many politicians said them without fear of ruining their political career. Bartosz Kownacki called the installation a "gay rainbow", making it clear in his statements that he was not using gay as a positive adjective; Stanisław Pięta said that: "The hideous rainbow had hurt the feelings of believers" as the art instillation was near a church; and a Priest Tadeusz Rydzyk, described it as a "symbol of deviancy". Another politician, after seeing the vandalism of the rainbow, celebrated with dropping some homophobic slurs.
Then there was the general population’s reaction to it, and the reason it is so well known, the vandalisms. The sculpture was subjected to six counts of arson, the most famous of which was during Polish Independence day, started by members of a far right march, who damaged other property during their riots, as well.
If we are going to look at the negative effects of the rainbow, however, we must in turn look at the positive. While it was not originally intended as a symbol of queer pride, when the attacks on it were shown to be undisguised attacks against the queer community, we were quick to adopt it as our symbol. Where there was violently homophobic politicians there was Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who announced that the installation "[would] be rebuilt as many times as necessary", and she was joined in supporting it by many Polish celebrities, Including Edyta Gorniak, and the Swedish ambassador to Poland, who is also an LGBT activist in their own right.
Where there was far right protesters, there was also the queer community, which organized an event to counter the hate after one of the arson attempts on the rainbow, a peaceful protest that you can see here.
But despite promises to the contrary, on August 26th, 2015, the rainbow was taken down overnight.
There are times when a tactical retreat is necessary in a battle. The people fighting against the queer community were fighting with fire, whereas we were fighting with flowers. Look, though, to the affect one piece of art had on the entire country of Poland. Even when it was not intended as such, a rainbow was seen as an attack against a homophobic government. It incited anger in politicians and the general populus alike; it inspired our community to the point where we adopted it as our own. Not only does this speak to the power of art, but it speaks to the nature of our community. We are not a passive folk; while we may fight with flowers, we fight. We found ourselves a symbol where one was not intended and we use it, now, to stand up to those people who find not only said symbol, but our existence, incendiary.
We do not fight with fire because we are the fire. We are fire and flowers brought together, making a place for ourselves in a world that does not want to understand us. Yet, we take things like rainbows, flowers, and fire; we wave them in people’s faces, and we say, “here we are.”