After moving to ‘LGBT-free’, a Polish town pays the price


Krasnk, Poland – When local councilors adopted a resolution two years ago declaring their small town in southeastern Poland “gay free”, the mayor saw little harm in what appeared to be a symbolic and legally useless gesture.

Today, it strives to contain the damage.

What initially appeared to be a free ruse for conservatives in the religious and rural Polish border regions bordering Ukraine, the May 2019 decision became a costly embarrassment for the city of Krasnik. It has put millions of dollars in foreign funding at risk, and “our town has become synonymous with homophobia,” said Mayor Wojciech Wilk, which he insisted was imprecise.

A French town last year severed a partnership with Krasnick in protest. And Norway, from which the mayor was hoping to obtain approximately 10 million dollars from this year, to fund development projects, He said in September It will not award grants to any Polish city that declares it “gay free”

“We have become the laughing stock of Europe, and it is the citizens, not the local politicians, who have suffered the most,” said Mr. Wilk, who is now pressuring councilors to overturn the resolution that put the town’s 32,000 residents in the midst of a tumultuous debate about traditional and modern values. The situation also illustrates the pragmatic consequences of political situations in the trenches of Europe’s culture wars.

When Krasnick declared itself “gay-free”, it was joining dozens of other towns in the region that had adopted similar measures with strong support from the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party in Poland and the Roman Catholic Church.

These statements come as part of the party’s efforts to Mobilize its base Before the presidential election in 2020, gay people were not denied entry or threatened to expel those who already existed. Instead, they pledged to banish “gay ideology,” a term conservatives use to describe ideas and lifestyles that they see threatening Polish traditions and Christian values.

Cesare Nyradko, a 22-year-old student who describes himself as the “only open gay” of Krasnick, has rejected the term “gay ideology” as a smoke screen for homophobia. And he recalled how, after the town made its decision, the local pharmacist refused to fill out his prescription for a heart medication.

Mr Nieradko recently moved to the nearby town of Lublin, where the regional council also adopted a decision “free of LGBT” but its residents are, he said, more open overall.

Jan Albiniac, the Krasnik city councilor who drafted the resolution, said that he had nothing personally against homosexuals, whom he described as “friends and colleagues,” and that he wanted to contain ideas that “disturb the normal and regular way in which our society operates.”

He said he made the decision after watching a video online of abortion rights activists yelling at Christian men in Argentina. Although this has nothing to do with LGBT issues or Poland, Mr Albiniak said the video showed that we are “dealing with some kind of evil here and we can see manifestations of demonic behavior” around the world that “should stop”.

In response to a series of decisions against LGBT people across Poland, the European Union, of which Poland is a member, as well as Norway and Iceland, said: Will cut off funding To any Polish city It violates Europe’s commitment to tolerance and equality.

European Parliament too A decision was made last month All 27 countries in the bloc declare a “freedom zone” for LGBT people, although like Polish decisions declaring otherwise, the declaration has no legal force.

However, all situations began to have tangible consequences.

The mayor of Krasnick said he is concerned that unless his town’s “gay-free” status is revoked, he has little chance of securing foreign funding to fund electric buses and youth programs, which he said are especially important because young people keep leaving.

“My position is clear: I want to cancel this decision because it harms the city and its residents,” he said.

That would be an uphill struggle.

Faced with the loss of foreign scholarships, in recent months several other Polish cities have declared themselves “homophobic” or have adopted a “family charter” expressing traditional values. But the 21-member council in Krasnik, after voting last year against the cancellation, recently rejected a request from the mayor to take another vote.

Only one member has publicly expressed a willingness to change positions. “I made a mistake,” said Paul Couric, who abstained from the original vote but now says the resolution was foolish and should be repealed.

On the national level, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the Law and Justice Department, told Gazeta Polska last week that Poland must resist LGBT ideas that “weaken the West” and “run counter to all common sense.”

Behind the stalemate in Krasnick lie the political and demographic realities of an area where many young people have left to seek work abroad or in Warsaw, the capital, and where the Catholic Church remains a major force.

While many elderly people like their city to be “gay free,” the young people who remain are stunned. Amanda and Jessica, a 24-year-old young store employee, said the idea was embarrassing.

But Jan Chamara, a 73-year-old former construction worker, said he would rather live on a diet of only potatoes than succumb to economic pressure from outside to overturn the decision. “I don’t want their money,” said Mr. Chamara, who said he had never seen gays in Krasnick but still felt the need to take precautions. “We shall survive.”

Krasnick gained such a notoriety that a French minister in charge of European affairs said he wanted to visit the town recently to show his opposition to discrimination during an official visit to Poland. The official, Clement Boone, who is gay, The visit was canceled To Krasnick after what he described as pressure from Polish officials not to go, an allegation that the Polish Foreign Ministry said was untrue.

When Krasnick and other cities adopted “LGBTQ-free” decisions in early 2019, few people paid attention to what was widely seen as a political ploy by a ruling party happy to insult its opponents with “political correctness.”

But that changed early last year when Bartosz Staszewski, an LGBT activist from Warsaw, began visiting towns that vowed to banish “gay ideology.” Mr. Staszewski, a documentary filmmaker, took an official-looking yellow label written in four languages: “LGBT-FREE ZONE”. He placed the fake banner next to the real banner for each town, and took photos that he posted on social media.

The work, dubbed “performance art”, sparked outrage across Europe as it highlighted what Mr. Staszewski described in an interview in Warsaw as a push by conservatives “to convert basic human rights into an ideology”.

Prime Minister Matthews Morawiecki accused Mr. Staszyowski of fomenting a fake scandal about “restricted areas” that do not exist. Several towns, with the support of a right-wing group partially funded by the government, have filed defamation lawsuits against the activist for his portrayal of the “ideology” ban as prohibiting homosexuals.

But even those who support these measures often seem confused about what they want to exclude.

When asked on TV whether the region around Krasnick will become Poland’s first gay free zone, Elsbetta Krook, a prominent law and justice politician, said, “I think Poland will be the first gay free region.” The goal was “gay ideology”.

For Mr. Wilk, the mayor of Krasnick, the semantic row is a sign that it is time to abandon attempts to make the city “empty” of anyone or anything.

But Mr Alpiniac, the decision maker, vowed to resist what he denounced as blackmail by foreigners and their threat to withhold the money.

He said, “If I vote to cancel, I will vote against myself.”

Anatole Magdziars contributed to this report.

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