The Null Device
Nobel laureate Lech Wałesa, who had led the Solidarność movement that overthrew Poland's Soviet-backed puppet government in the 1980s and served as the first President of independent Poland, recently caused an uproar when he said that gay people had no right to serve in parliament:
Wałesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believed gay people had no right to sit on the front benches in parliament and, if there at all, should sit in the back "or even behind a wall". "They have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights," he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. "A minority should not impose itself on the majority."As a private citizen, Wałesa's words have no force in law, though given his status, they wield considerable influence, and resonate with a significant ultra-conservative proportion of Poland's population. (In Poland, the common colloquial word for “gay”, pedał, also means “paedophile”.) This proportion are well-represented; theirs is the opposition Law and Justice Party (currently allied with David Cameron's Tories in the EU Parliament, much to the discomfort of the we-are-not-the-Nasty-Party faction) and a conservative media which makes Fox News and The Australian look like the New York Times by comparison. (The fact that the Catholic Church was prominent in resistance to the Communist dictatorship imposed by the USSR, and that anything with a whiff of left-wing ideals, from secularism to equal rights for minorities, still stinks of Russian tanks to a proportion of the public doesn't help things.) Fortunately, they are not the unanimous voice of the Polish voting public: Poland's liberals have condemned the remarks, and the liberal Palikot's Movement party in parliament protested by temporarily promoting its two LGBT* parliamentarians to the front bench:
On Wednesday, Robert Biedron, a gay rights activist, and Anna Grodzka, who had a male-to-female sex-change operation, took seats in the front row of the assembly. Both are members of the progressive Palikot's Movement party, and party leader Janusz Palikot arranged for the two to sit in, relinquishing his own seat to Biedron.
The first row in the semi-circular lower chamber, or Sejm, is reserved for party leaders and prominent lawmakers. Biedron and Grodzka – who have been in parliament since 2011 – usually sit in the third row.Meanwhile, here is a petition asking for an apology from Wałesa for his statement.