LGBT activists held for attacking police

Several LGBT activists have been detained for attacking a police vehicle in Warsaw during protests against the arrest of an activist who is charged with damage to property and violence.

A protest against the arrest of a prominent LGBT activist took place outside an anti-homophobia NGO’s HQ as the police arrived to arrest a man, Michał Sz. who calls himself “Margot” (Małgorzata Sz.). The arrest was sanctioned by a decision of the appeal court. The man is charged with damaging a vehicle belonging to a pro-life organisation and of violently attacking one of the pro-life activists who was hurt in the incident.

Michał Sz, is also one of the activists who participated in the act of veiling a statue of Christ carrying the cross with a rainbow flag and a pink mask with an anarchist symbol outside one of Warsaw’s best known churches in the centre of the city. Other statues of famous figures in Polish history, such as Marshal Józef Piłsudski and Copernicus were also subjected to the same treatment. But it was the veiling of the statue of Christ that received the greatest criticism for hurting religious feelings in a site that was important during the Warsaw Uprising. However, the arrest which took place on Friday is not related to that incident.

The arrest

The police saw a large crowd blocking the entrance to the building and backed off. The arrest later took place on one of Warsaw’s most prominent streets as the individual concerned turned himself in. A crowd of LGBT activists then proceeded to protest and many attacked a police van in an attempt to stop the arrest being completed.

The police then proceeded to take action against the demonstrators. Many have been detained and taken to various police stations across the city. According to MPs attempting to monitor the situation 48 individuals were detained. One of the MPs, Klaudia Jachira from the Civic Platform (PO) criticised the police for its actions saying they had “nothing in common with the rule of law and was just a round-up of activists”.

Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski also criticised the police. He said that law should protect the weak against the strong. He also mused that the police’s actions were reminiscent of a long by-gone period in which political activists were hounded for their views. Other opposition politicians have criticised the court decision to arrest Michał Sz. for being excessive. He is to be held for two months as a measure to prevent him from interfering with the due process of law. Opposition politicians argue that the offence he is charged with (damage to property and assault) do not normally lead to an individual being held before being tried.

The police spokesman has said that the police only stopped those who were behaving aggressively. He denied that the police had over-reacted citing the fact that police officers did not force the arrest at the site of the NGO, seeing that such action might lead to violence.

LGBT activists criticised a journalist from commercial TV station TVN as well as the police for referring to the individual as Michał Sz. saying that the individual concerned wishes to be known as “Margot”. However, according to Polish law there is no automatic right to change sex or name and both the police and media must report the name as it stands in official documents, respecting of course that the full surname may not be revealed unless the individual charged agrees or until he has been convicted.

LGBT became a major issue during the presidential election, with the ruling party staunchly defending Poland’s constitutional position on both marriage and sex education. It also proudly defended the Polish model of family life.

This was bound to provoke a reaction from the LGBT lobby. They were incensed by language they argue was one of exclusion. They were particularly incensed at LGBT being referred to as an “ideology” rather than a social category, arguing that this was dehumanising.

The reaction LGBT activists have pursued is one of protest and high visibility. This is what the campaign of veiling high profile statues was about.

It is highly questionable whether such tactics can advance their cause in Poland. They are being pursued as a means of mobilising political support and attempting to build political pressure at the international level for Poland’s state to back off, and in the long term fulfill their demands on full legalisation of same sex partnerships so that they are equal to those enjoyed by married couples.

In this respect these tactics are certainly proving effective. Foreign media are highly sensitive to the issue and sympathetic to the LGBT cause. So is the EC and other international bodies.

However, there is the rule of law aspect too. The police have to carry out the decisions of the courts. Attacking them physically for so doing cannot be tolerated. The Polish police are hardly known for brutality and it is not fair to ask them to become whipping boys in political conflicts.

As for criticising the media for calling the individual by his proper name reminds Poles of the culture wars going on in the west. Many will not want to follow the example of other European countries in which people lose their jobs or are sued as transphobic for perceiving there to be two principle genders, man and woman.

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