Most Pride celebrations are local, for a specific city or town. In Europe, things are a little different. Every year, one city is selected for a continental celebration, drawing in visitors from right across the continent for Euro Pride. A few years ago, it was London’s turn. Today, Warsaw hosts Europride.
This has attracted the attention of activists who are conscious of modern Poland’s reputation as a bastion of homophobia, one of the few European countries where gay marriage is constitutionally prohibited, and where some major political parties campaign on gay-bashing. UK government minister Chris Bryant, the most senior openly gay man in the new coalition, has gone to Warsaw to join the parade, in the hope that Euro Pride in Warsaw will contribute to an erosion of the hostile political culture.
At least one gay Pole objects to this image. Writing a “A Postcard From Gay Poland“, ?ukasz Palucki exposes an extraordinary amount of what for most of us is hidden gay history, showing how Poland was for centuries a bastion of gay tolerance.
Reports like this need to be taken seriously. Far too much for what passes for political or religious discourse on sexuality is based on a highly edited, selective view based on a heterosexist bias. We need to recover and disseminate our lesbian and gay history, in the state and in the church.
Here are some extracts :
There is a State called Poland in the middle of Europe. For unclear reasons to me, Poland is described as a part of Eastern Europe. This qualification is more mental than geographical because Poles are being perceived as homophobes.
This stereotype strengthens Poles’ image as fanatic Catholics whose intolerance results from conservatism and is deeply rooted in the state’s long history. There is nothing more false than that! There are only a few countries in the world where the history of social tolerance is of such great importance, as in Poland.
I’m going to tell you the story you certainly don’t know. This is a history of a State that was a safe refuge for many types of ‘unaccepted’ minorities, where homosexuality was never a crime, where several rulers were homosexual, and catholic priests gave church weddings to same-sex couples.
Some people quote a wrong date, 1932, as the date of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Poland. This mistake comes from a lack of knowledge. In this year, the ‘Makarewicz’ Penal Code was actually established – and it didn’t include a penalty for homosexual acts.
But the history of tolerance towards homosexuals is much older. In order to understand it, we have to go back in the past, to the beginning of the Polish State.
In a nutshell, in the Kingdom of Poland the phenomenon was well-known, named, and, what was the most interesting aspect, seldom punished.
Medieval church courts could sentence sodomites to burn at the stake or hanging, but a nobleman could replace it (as an act of favour) with beheading.
It happened like that throughout most of Europe. But not in Poland.
Polish historians have been proud that Poland was a state “without stakes”. There was no death penalty for homosexuality.
The date February 27, 1493, is very important here. On this day, King Jan I Olbracht finally separated secular and ecclesiastical judiciaries and placed a ban on the clergy’s interference in law courts.
Since that date, homosexual acts have not been penalised in Poland. There was no such tolerance towards homosexual individuals as in Poland at that time.
How was the state of tolerance born?
Everything started at the end of 14th century, when Poland and Lithuania were unified by the political union and military alliance that was to secure them against the aggression from the Teutonic Order and to avoid the war between these countries for the Russian land.
The victory over the Order in the battle of Grunewald in 1410 established the Jagiellon dynasty and gave rise to the union of the two states. The Commonwealth of both nations, composed of the Polish ‘Crown’ and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, was formed in 1569 in Lublin. This gave rise to one of the largest countries of contemporary Europe. The Commonwealth was a country with the Parliament dominated by the gentry. Kings were elected.
The law guaranteed everyone the right to practice any religion, which was of high importance in particular in the 16th century, when Poland was to a large extent a Protestant country.
Moreover, the famous Polish tolerance – although nowadays this sounds sarcastic – also referred to Muslims (Tatars) who received privileges from Polish kings as early as in the 16th century.
Gays and Authority
First rumours about the homosexuality of Polish rulers were in the 13th century with King Boleslaus the Bold, and Leszek Bialy.
The latter died in interesting circumstances during so called ‘Invasion of G?sawa’. It happened in 1227 during the meeting of Polish Princes. When Prince ?wi?tope?ek invaded Gasawa he met few Princes naked, without security, in an urban sauna.
However Jan Dlugosz, the Polish analyst, has described for the first time a homosexual incidence among rulers concerning King Wladyslaw III Jagiellon called Warnenczyk, who never got married.
Wladyslaw was fighting with Turkey in the defence of Christian Europe (formally it was a crusade) and he was killed during a battle in 1444 near Warna.
The King’s corpse has never been found. There are several legends about his further history. One of them suggests that the King survived and escaped to Turkey with his lover. The Church officially recognised his homosexuality and because of that, Wladyslaw is only King Crusader who has never been beatified.
And you thought that Gay Pride was a modern idea!
Gay Prides in XVI century?
Some reports about the first homosexual individuals, directly demonstrating their orientation (they simply paraded) on market in Cracow in 16th century, have been kept. A well-known historian, Stefan Bratkowski, has described them (but very shortly) in one of his books. It wasn’t actually a gay parade as we know today, unless we consider a Polish word paradowa? (which translates as public manifestation) as a Parade.
A long line of gay kings…
Even King Sigismund the Old was suspected of at least being bisexual…
However, the greatest ‘star’ of these times was King Henri de Valois – the first Polish elected to be king, who became later the King of France. He was stayed just 123 days in Poland. But what he had done in Wawel in Cracow was remembered by the Polish nobility for a long time. He wasn’t gay, he was transsexual.
History, like nature, likes balance. So surely that’s why Wladyslaw IV (1595-1648) , a son of the ‘king-Jesuit’ Zygmunt III, Waza, started to rule. The same-sex affairs of the king Wladyslaw IV constituted a secret for ages. But fortunately, my friend Sergiusz Wróblewski, a well-known LGBT journalist and historian from Poznan, has spent some time on revealing these interesting stories.
This is perfect story for a movie. Wladyslaw IV was very powerful gay. He was king of Poland and Sweden, he was Tsar of Russia and Great Duke of Lithuania – and he was gay. This story is very long, so I will give only the precis…..
Even the city symbol is a gay emblem!
Symbol of Warsaw is gay
Only a few people know that the Sigmund Column – a symbol of Warsaw and the oldest civic monument in the city – was erected after conflict between conservative ultra-Catholic father and his homosexual son.
There is quite a lot of evidence on homosexuality of the king W?adys?aw IV Vasa. The emotional tie linking the king’s son with Adam Kazanowski was noted by several known people at the beginning of 17th century. Kazanowski and his family benefited from it greatly. However, let’s concentrate on the Warsaw City.
King Sigmund III Vasa wanted his unruly son to be his successor. In order to facilitate his the election, he bought Bobola’s manorial estate near Krakowskie Przedmie?cie in Warsaw and refashioned the building into dignified residence that was donated to his son.
From chronicles, it can be concluded that it was the one of the most beautiful (and the most expensive) palaces in Europe of the time. Young Wladyslaw gave it as a present to his lover Adam Kazanowski so the gift constituted beautiful expression of Wladyslaw’s love.
Since that time, this building has been called Kazanowski’s Palace. When king Sigmund found out about this, he went mad. There were many conflicts between father and his son, but this was the greatest.
The Church objected (naturally)
The Church claimed pagan Romans had built columns and Christians should not have done it. Church resistance had greater weight because the Bernardines Monastery was the owner of the ground where the sculpture was planned to be erected.
Church protests against the construction had some interesting aspects. For instance, a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin was placed to discourage the ‘king-sodomist’. However, after lots of adventures, Wladyslaw erected the Column. This is the history of Warsaw’s symbol that today is associated more with catholic conservatism than with family scandal.
We also have in our history two bisexual kings: Michal Korybut-Wisniowiecki and the last Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The latter started his political career in the English ambassador’s bed, from where he jumped into Tsarina Catherine the Great’s bed!
Gay Marriage is not possible in Poland today, but that is because the modern politicians have “redefined ” it, restricting it to one man and woman. It was not always so:
Catholic same-sex marriages
In 15th century Poland, two men, as long as they were from the nobility, could marry each other. It happened in Catholic churches. A ceremony had unique character. Men joined their hands and kneeled down at the altar. A priest blessed them and read ceremonial prayers. Next, both knights pledged that they “would love each other as whole brothers”, would support themselves with health and fortune till the end of their lives.
An oath was long and full of flourishes, in accordance with rhetoric of the rime. After that, the priest put the rings on their fingers and blessed them again saying: “To glory of God. I wish you all the best wholeheartedly”.
The ‘newlyweds’ kissed the steps of an altar and joined their hands, bowing to moved nobles and marched through the church.
In eastern Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine there are lots of common graves of men that they spent their lives together. If the Catholic church ever takes the decision to support gays and lesbian’s partnerships, it will be enough to go back to the ritual that was established five hundred years ago.
There is much more in the full post. Read it at UK Gay News
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- Gay Parade in Warsaw Meets Jeers From Some (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Keeping Your Fear-Mongering Straight, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)