Walesa under-fire for anti-gay remarks

An anti-homosexual outburst by former Polish president Lech Wąłesa during a television interview Friday has been met with a firestorm of criticism by equality campaigners.

Speaking to TVN 24′s ‘Fact after Fact’ programme Friday, the former Solidarity trade union leader, widely regarded by historians as having played a major role in tearing down the Iron Curtain, said “homosexuals should be seated on the backbenches, or even further, behind a wall” in the Polish Sejm (parliament).

Pressed on his controversial remarks by Polish presenter Grzegorz Kajdanowicz, Mr. Wąłesa continued, “I don’t want minorities (gays), with whom I don’t agree, walking down the street talking crap in front of my grandkids….I’m an old-timer and don’t think I’ll change.”

Wałesa, a former Lenin shipyard worker and human rights icon who hails from Gdansk added, “they’ve got to realise they are in the minority so they should adapt and not try scale the highest peaks” and “the minority should not impose themselves on the majority”.

The ultra-conservative Roman Catholic, who has been a staunch opponent of recent attempts to introduce civil partnership legislation, added, “Lets not allow them enter centuries-old institutions” and “I don’t want myself or my grandkids to be turning our heads.”

Jaroslaw Walesa, an MEP with the Civic Platform party and Mr. Walesa’s son, reacted to his father’s comments by saying they were “wrong and damaging” but also “typical of the older generation”.
Mr. Janusz Palikot, leader of the liberal Palikot Movement party, which has Poland’s first and only gay MP as well as the world’s only transsexual parliamentarian, reacted furiously to the comments, saying “until now Wąłesa has swam on the tide of taking down a wall, now he’s started to construct them.”

The controversial remarks by the Solidarity trade union icon has also led one of Poland’s top journalists, Monika Olejnik, to remark that the Nobel laureate has “disgraced” his prestigious award. Right-wing media outlets, on the other hand, have jumped to defend Wąłesa.

Despite this, Ryszard Nowak of the Defence Committee against Sects and Violence, and former politician with the conservative Law and Justice party, has requested prosecutors in Gdansk press charges against the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner for “propagating hatred against sexual minorities.”

In response to Wąłesa’s comments, openly-gay liberal politician Robert Biedron from the Palikot Movement, who was elected in 2011 and is a former director of the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland, told a TVN reporter he hoped to have “a meeting with the former president.” He added that he did not wish for Mr. Wąłesa to be prosecuted.

Mr. Biedron, one of only two openly-gay MPs in Poland, added “I adore Walesa – if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be an MP….but his son (centrist MEP Jaroslaw Walesa) ought to explain him a few things: civil partnerships, IVF.”

The web has been set alight in Poland with both criticism and praise of Wąłesa’s comments. Chief among his critics is Law Professor Monika Płatek – lecturer at the University of Warsaw Criminal Law department. On Saturday Ms. Płatek launched an appeal to all parliamentarians via facebook, appealing that they invite the press to report from behind the parliamentary chamber pillars, adding that “we cannot allow the symbol of solidarity to discriminate like this.”

The last time Walesa cracked a ‘gay joke’ that sparked a political feud was in 2007,  when he told a gag about the former prime minister and current main opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and tragic twin brother, former president Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash at Katyn three years ago. Wałesa jested to colleagues “two brothers who arrive at a party – one (Lech) with his wife and one (Jaroslaw) with his “husband”‘. In response, the ultra-conservative politician told the media his only sleeping partner was his cat Alik. Relations between both men have been hostile ever since.

In an interview for Polish television last year Mr. Wąłesa said that, as a Catholic, if he discovered his son was gay “he’d still be my son, but I’d pray for him to stop going down the wrong road.”
Wąłesa is no stranger to controversy in Poland, where he served as president from 1990 to 1995. He has won numerous court cases over arch-enemies allegations that he was a paid, infamous Communist spy known as ‘Bolek’.

He vehemently opposes liberalising Poland’s stringent abortion laws (albeit more liberal than Irelands) and in-vitro fertilisation, which is due to become State-funded from June this year.
During his most recent interview Mr. Wąłesa condemned recent attempts by Polands and the world’s only transsexual MP, Anna Grodzka to become deputy speaker of the Polish parliament.

Despite retiring from political life over a decade ago, Mr. Wąłesa has remained a vocal commentator on national and international issues, lending his support to Mitt Romney in last years US elections. He also wrote to Russian leader Vladimir Putin to request imprisoned punk-activists Pussy Riot be released.

In a reference to the controversial annual Equality Parades that attract thousands to parade in key cities around Poland in summertime, Wąłesa commented that “homosexuals shouldn’t demonstrate their views in city centres during the busiest hours.”


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