Reviled over his support for LGBT+ & other minority rights
Guest post by Angus Reid
London & Lublin – 14 November 2019
The general election one month ago in Poland has brought with it a wave of ultra-nationalist, far-right social prejudice that is working its way into the institutions of Poland, and using LGBT people as a political scapegoat.
Przemysław Czarnek is the Governor of the Lublin region in eastern Poland and an incoming MP to the Polish Parliament, representing the ruling Law & Justice Party. On the 21 October he was awarded the Amicis Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska medal. This prestigious and highly respected honour has been conferred on a public official who speaks openly against Ukrainians and Muslims, frames gender as ideology and incites the open expression of racism, xenophobia and homophobia in Poland.
Last year he called Lublin’s Pride March for Equal Rights “the promotion of perversions, deviations and degeneration.” This helped legitimate the hatred spewed by right-wing groups against the march participants.
He also smeared those who protested against the Law and Justice party takeover of the Supreme Court as “descendants of former secret service agents, Soviets, Communists and informers.” This also incited far-right violence.
That such a prominent mouthpiece for far-right prejudice should be honoured by an acclaimed academic institution is deeply problematic.
Among those who have protested against this honour is a member of the University faculty, Dr Tomasz Kitlinski, a philosopher, writer, art curator and recipient of many academic awards, among them a Fulbright scholarship in the US (at the New School for Social Research). He is well known for his work on lessening divisions and building bridges between people.
Kitlinski wrote a public letter in which he cited Czarnek’s intolerant bigoted views.
In response, Governor Czarnek on 28 October referred his comments to the state prosecutor, with the accusation that Kitlinski had committed a crime against the state, for which there is a penalty of two years imprisonment.
Czarnek is currently waging a public war of harassment against Dr Kitlinski through government and extreme right-wing media channels. Radio Lublin, a regime-sponsored radio station, broadcast an interview with the governor entitled: “Maria Curie-Skłodowska University should be ashamed of having in its ranks a man who struck at the constitutional organ of the state.”
The fundamentalist and anti-Semitic station, Radio Maryja, both aired and published an interview with Czarnek justifying the criminal charges under the headline “Truth comes at a price.” For two days, on the hour, the station broadcast a summary of the interview, repeatedly citing Kitlinski’s name.
And in opposition to a petition defending Kitlinski, Czarnek launched his own petition through government channels and signed exclusively by women government workers, which praises his stance as a “brave and uncompromising defense of the family, the homeland and faith.”
This is similar language to what the far-right is using to justify hate-speech, and to normalise racism, anti-democratic authoritarianism and homophobia.
Tomasz Kitlinski has become a symbol and flash-point of the struggle between democratic freedom and authoritarianism in Poland. Far-right politicians like Czarnek are seeking to close down democracy and diversity by targeting their critics, such as Dr Kitlinski. They send a signal that intolerance is legitimate, which fuels the far right.
While non-government organisations in Poland such as the Committee for the Defense of Democracy and Citizens of the Republic of Poland have spoken out in support of Dr Kitlinski and denied the legitimacy of the accusations made against him, it is essential that others join them in the call for human rights and the protection of minorities.
If you support Kitlinski’s freedom of speech, and his fight for democracy and against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in Poland, please SIGN THE PETITION HERE.
NOTE: The petition has been signed by, among others, Daniel Rycharski, gay artist in Poland; Professor Amelia Jones of the University of Southern California, curator of the exhibition Sexual Politics; Professors Anne-Emmunelle Berger and Pierre Zoberman, queer scholars in Paris; Professor Sarah Wilson of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, curator of Paris, Capital of the Arts at the Royal Academy; Professor Irena Grudzinska-Gross of Princeton, who reveals Polish anti-Semitism in her book Golden Harvest, published by Oxford University Press.