2006 - 1

The Equality March


Media Response to the Poznań Equality March

Izabela Kowalczyk

Equality Marches are organized to draw attention to minority issues and counteract discrimination. We hope to provoke public discussion about tolerance. Our Marches also serve as a litmus test of democracy by raising such questions as: How democratic is the public sphere? Does this space belong to all of us or has it been appropriated by the majority? Is our society mature enough to give differences a voice? After all, democracy needs differences and we need to get used to their existence.

Equality Marches are organized to draw attention to minority issues and counteract discrimination. We hope to provoke public discussion about tolerance. Our Marches also serve as a litmus test of democracy by raising such questions as: How democratic is the public sphere? Does this space belong to all of us or has it been appropriated by the majority? Is our society mature enough to give differences a voice? After all, democracy needs differences and we need to get used to their existence.

One such discussion about democracy was provoked by the Poznań Equality March of November 19, 2005. Officially banned, it did take place as an act of civil disobedience, and was broken up by the police. When banning the March on November 15, the Poznań Mayor Ryszard Grobelny justified his decision by invoking the issue of public safety which could allegedly be jeopardized by the very same people who had staged a brawl during the previous year’s March. The ban was upheld by Andrzej Nowakowski, the Governor of Wielkopolskie Province, who used the same rationale: that valuable property, including shop windows and flowerbeds, might be destroyed.

For the organizers this ban was a clear violation of the constitutional law while the justification was a cover-up for the real reasons, the most significant being that the right wing parties opposed the March. Already after the 2004 Equality March, the Poznań City Council passed a curious resolution that called on the Mayor to never again allow “a demonstration promoting homosexual behavior” to take place in the city (December 7, 2004). A dangerous thing happened: the city elders called for a violation of the constitutional law.

When we announced the March this year, we were put under pressure once again. Members of the Law and Justice party insisted that the March should not take place. Together with the League of Polish Families and the All-Polish Youth, Law and Justice accused us of promoting homosexual behavior. Active in this campaign were also representatives of the Catholic church, including Bishop Marek Jędraszewski. On November 11, 2005 the bishop publicly appealed to the city authorities to ban the March, which, in his words, is an assault on the law of God and undermines the credibility of the invitation extended by the city authorities to Pope Benedict XVI. These were not the only indignant and condemning voices. No-one asked us, the organizers of the march, about its underlying idea. Those who attacked us knew better and insisted on their own interpretation of our goals: “Let us not confuse the brutal propaganda of the homosexual orientation with the call for tolerance. For them our term in government will be as dark as the night,” said the new Minister of Culture, Kazimierz Ujazdowski.[1]

When on November 19 the demonstrators took to the streets in an act of civil disobedience and the banned Equality March started, the police broke it up by force. 68 of the participants calling for tolerance, democracy, and freedom were detained. The police were brutal: the demonstrators were manhandled, dragged by the hair, and beaten. A young man next to me was thrown on the ground and hit in the kidney region. A female colleague was not allowed to return to get her backpack containing medication. Only when she fainted was a doctor called. The police were ready for all eventualities, with tear gas and water hoses on hand. Fortunately, these were not used. Ludwik Dorn, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration, called this police operation a “model” one. I shall cite one of his statements for Program I of the Public Radio on November 28, 2005: “Absurd, ridiculous claims have been made on television and in influential newspapers that the demonstration which took place a week ago was brutally broken up. Anyone who saw the TV footage must have noticed that the police treated the participants of this illegal demonstration considerately and gently, simply lifting them off the ground and walking them to the vans.”[2]

The police operation was clearly targeted against one group. While the participants of the Equality March were calling for “Freedom, equality, tolerance,” on the other side of the police cordon a group of aggressive youths was shouting “We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews,” “Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess,” “Gas the faggots,” “We won’t give up Poznań to you, faggots and perverts.” The police did no more than write down the personal information of the participants of this illegal gathering, detaining only 15 of the most hot-headed youths. A group of All-Polish Youth remained in the street almost to the very end. But then, how else could the police have reacted to these fascist slogans when one of the higher-ranking officers shouted in our direction: “Perverts! You need treatment! You thought you could break the law? You won’t get away with it now!”[3]

We chose civil disobedience and we bore the consequences of this choice. But the March showed the scale of the problem of intolerance, homophobia, and hatred in Poland. What also became apparent was the lack of respect for democratic principles, which can be stretched by manipulating constitutional law. In these November events many people came to see a symbol of the 4th Republic of Poland.[4]> This can only motivate us and strengthen our resolve. Subsequent events confirm this: the march in support of democracy (Poznań, November 26, 2005) and the “Reanimating Democracy” rallies of solidarity with Poznań which took place on November 26 and 27 in several Polish cities (Warsaw, Elbląg, Wrocław, Toruń, Katowice, Kraków, Łódź, and Rzeszów) as well as abroad – in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, and London.

Both the Provincial Administrative Court (on December 14, 2005) and the Constitutional Tribunal (on January 18, 2006) ruled in favor of the organizers. The Provincial Administrative Court ruled that the ban on the March had been illegal for, according to the logic used by the mayor and the governor, all demonstrations would have to be banned if there were groups that did not like the idea of these demonstrations. That could not be allowed to happen, the Administrative Court ruled. The freedom of assembly is one of the most important rights in a democratic state and should be respected by public administration executives. Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection filed a complaint in the Constitutional Tribunal concerning the traffic regulations which make the constitutional freedom of public assembly subject to concession. On January 18, 2006, the Tribunal ruled that it is unconstitutional to require permits for organizing gatherings on public roads.

There were also positive reactions from representatives of international organizations. UN representatives sent a letter of inquiry to the Polish Ministry of Justice concerning the Equality Parade in Warsaw and the Equality March in Poznań. Homophobia and discrimination against sexual minorities as well as banning marches were also discussed in the European parliament on January 18, 2006.

Thus the Equality March ultimately proved a great success.[5] It is worth considering the role of the media in this turbulent period as the March also became a major media spectacle, being inscribed in the logic of the media show. As far back as 1967, Guy Debord argued that the capitalist society is governed by the law of the spectacle. A great accumulation of spectacles occurs and “everything that had hitherto been experienced first-hand recedes till it becomes a spectacle.”[6] Image supplants reality. Everything is consumed and put up for sale in the form of a spectacle. Jean Baudrillard’s diagnosis of contemporary culture was quite similar: the reality is insignificant; what matters are its infinite simulations. In the culture of spectacle the TV image has become the most important; television has come to shape the opinions and tastes of contemporary people. Outlining the postmodern ideas about the relation between television and reality John Fiske wrote that television rather than representing (re-presenting) a fragment of reality creates or constructs it. An objective, empirical reality does not exist. It is only a product of discourse. Rather than registering reality, the camera and microphone merely encode it. Coding imposes an ideological meaning on reality.[7] We therefore need to ask how the Equality March was coded and how it became a fact constructed by the media.

It is important to emphasize right away a certain ambivalence: on the one hand, that friendly attitude of most of the media and, on the other, the constant distortion of facts. The media represented the event as “the gay and lesbian March.” It was also frequently called a “Parade” (or “Gay Parade”), while the solidarity with Poznań rallies were represented as “solidarity with gays rallies” (“Wiadomości,” 7:30 p.m., Program 1 TVP, November 26, 2005). They were announced ahead of time as rallies organized by gay organizations (though they were, in fact, organized by the Green 2004 party, Women’s Agreement, the Anarchist Federation, and other groups).

One of the most curious manipulation was the footage on the life of gay people in Poznań included in the main evening news program “Wiadomości” on TVP1 (November 21, 2005). As co-organizers of the march, Marta Jermaczek and myself were asked to speak about sexual minorities. The woman journalist insistently asked questions solely about gays and lesbians while we kept saying that the March was intended to bring attention to the problem of minorities in general. It came as a shock to us when we learned that “Wiadomości” used the footage but showed us with partly concealed faces, under false names, and we were introduced as a homosexual couple. This was done without our knowledge and approval. Against our interest as public persons and Green 2004 party activists we were shown anonymously. We were not disturbed by the fact that we had been represented as a homosexual couple, although Marta Jermaczek later said in an interview that it was hard to guess the purpose of this representation which was much like introducing a blonde as a brunette.[8] The representation was inscribed in the logic which makes discrimination against sexual minorities a matter of concern for those minorities alone. We witnessed a case of conscious manipulation.

Representatives of the media reporting on the Equality March and the Solidarity with Poznań Rallies made a silent assumption that these events were organized by extremists and radicals. In some accounts we were equated with the All-Polish Youth and the hooligans who attacked us. This seems to be part of a broader media strategy described by Agnieszka Graff in the essay “You are Cute When You Get Angry: Radical Feminism and the Mainstream Media.”[9] It is commonly recognized that the media need and thrive on conflict. According to Graff, the media “need simple stories, preferably ones that are constructed around a clear contrast or dramatic conflict.”[10] They seek our situations where on two sides of a barricade there are radically different groups that can be contrasted in an unambiguous fashion. Thus the Polish media readily report on the March 8 feminist “Manifa,” Equality Parades and Marches, as well as other events featuring feminists on one side and the All-Polish Youth on the other.

One such event and its repercussions in the media is analyzed by Justyna Włodarczyk in “Women on the Waves - A Media Affair: The Polish Media Coverage of the Langenort.”[11] As the author points out, as a result of the visit of the Dutch organization Women on Waves, which uses a ship to enter countries where abortion is banned, “it was possible to accomplish something feminists have long been trying to do: get the media to take an interest in women’s lives, though not exactly on terms set by the women who staged the event.”[12] Moreover, initially the media were negatively disposed towards the feminists, presenting the event with irony, a lack of understanding, or, at best, with a cool reserve. Yet the situation began to change on closer contact, and particularly when the media came face to face with the aggression of the Langenort’s opponents. Those who posed as “the protectors of life turned out to be ordinary hooligans throwing paint, eggs, and words of abuse at the feminists. From then on the media began to represent the situation as a war of the sexes, but one in which men were the aggressors. “The leaders of Women on Waves were cast in the role of damsels in distress whom any decent man should protect from the brutes wielding paint and eggs.”[13] For this transformation to occur it was necessary to find a stereotypical framework: “The feminists had to be feminized. What do real women do? They run, squeal, and are fearful. Bad men chase and attack them.”[14] Włodarczyk’s analysis is useful for reading the Equality March because it shows a mechanism according to which the media necessarily rely on specific conventions. The friendliness of the media after the brutal pacification of the March may have had something to do with the visible aggression of the counter-demonstrators shouting fascist slogans and of the police. After all, it was impossible to take the side of the two latter groups. What is more, the journalists observing these events first-hand found themselves in the thick of things. When the police made their move, the journalists’ faces showed signs of fear. Several were mistakenly identified as demonstrators: the police attempted to book them and put them in the vans. The atmosphere of aggression and brutality was rendered best in Wanda Wasilewska’s coverage for Radio Mekury, also broadcast on Program 3 of the Polish Radio (November 30, 2005, 10:00 p.m.).

Writing about the Langenort, Włodarczyk says: “In this script the women become the victims. . . . Public opinion bought this script and sighed with relief, for it allowed the public to side with the Women on Waves without necessarily supporting the ship’s mission.”[15] A similar argument can be applied to the Equality Marches. Their participants were first transformed into victims – first, of the aggressive young men in football scarves armed with, eggs, horse manure, and epithets, and then of the police, whose actions undermined the sense of public order and safety. The police is generally expected to punish wrongdoers, though some of us still remember that under martial law the police and riot squads (ZOMO) often punished those who were good and innocent. It is no accident that during the pacification of the march many of us immediately thought of the riot squads of the 1980s. Some members of the public were appalled at this comparison with martial law or the fact that we used the term “the Poznań incidents.” Marcin Kęszycki, an actor of the Theater of the 8th Day, who was harassed and brutally beaten by the security forces in the 1980s, responds in the following words to a journalist’s comment that using the martial law analogy is ridiculous: “some colleagues who belong to my generation also find it ridiculous. I don’t. For me this is as serious as it was back then. The drama is somewhat different, as are the decorations. My generation fought for democracy while these young people are fighting so that it won’t wither . . . . My colleagues from the theater and I went there out of solidarity. When we got there I realized that I had been deprived of my right to civil disobedience. In Poznań the beginning of the 4th Republic was marked by a police attack.”[16]

Television audiences and newspaper readers saw images of young, pretty, well-dressed women being dragged along the street by policemen, frail-looking boys yanked by force out of the sitting crowd. We saw policemen expressing anger and engaging in violent behavior. Yes, the sitting protesters were a colorful, young, and good-looking group. Esthetic considerations undoubtedly were important. The media captured and emphasized those elements. Of all the protesters the one featured in the largest number of media representations was a girl wearing an army helmet and a bright garland of artificial flowers around her neck.[17] The contrast between the protesters and the police also emerged in press photographs of women with lighted candles in their hands standing in front of the police cordon, and of other women pointing at a peace sign of candles, whose light is reflected in the policemen’s shields. Thus emblems of color and peaceful protest were contrasted with police aggression.

Perhaps that is why Minister Dorn attempted to convince us that no brutality was involved in the police operation (as if what we had seen was an illusion) and spoke of the “uncommonly courteous and gentle treatment of the participants who were lifted off the ground.” He may have consciously been trying to construct a media fact, since sensitive, good-looking people require “uncommonly gentle treatment.” Such words have a calming effect. When one has gone through the traumatic experience of being afraid of the police, complete disempowerment, and the violation of one’s private space, it is difficult to rationalize what happened.[18] That is why I realize with amazement that the words have a calming effect on me, too, despite the fact that I witnessed a person being beaten and another insulted, and though the police roughly carried me away form the demonstration. This example clearly shows how easy it is to believe in media messages and the extent to which the world around us is a world of simulations.

The strategy of casting the demonstrators as victims was put to use by the friendly media. Exactly as in Włodarczyk’s analysis, the public was able to take our side without supporting the ideas we represented. On November 28, Duży Format, the Monday supplement to the national daily Gazeta Wyborcza, carried an article about several participants of the March titled “In the Police Van of the 4th Republic.” The friendly journalist came close to idealizing us, emphasizing our prior engagement in public initiatives (my participation in the demonstrations of the late 1980s, including the protest against the construction of the Klempicz nuclear power station, Jacek Polewski’s role in protests against the construction of a motorway on St. Anne’s Mountain, Marcin Kęszycki’s experience in the opposition movement and beating by the security forces, the climate of resistance in the family home of Marta Jermaczek, Sergiusz Wróblewski’s contribution to the struggle for a free Poland, and Marysia Łankiewicz’s work for Food Not Bombs[19]). The report also exposed the absurdity of the arrests. It opened with the following words: “Jacek and Marysia were dragged by the legs. Marta screamed that they should stop yanking her or they will tear her in two. Marcin says he is past 50, that the street is the last resort. He was embarrassed to be inside a police van again, and to have had to fight with the police.”[20] Barbara Pietkiewicz described similar experiences in the weekly Polityka: “Joanna was hit over the head with a truncheon, Katarzyna was just pushed and pulled. Joanna covered her head with her arms and started thinking: I’m not here. Katarzyna was pressed up against police shields and thought that she is in an aquarium.”[21] Writing for Przegląd, Przemysław Pruchniewicz included similar scenes in an article aptly titled “Truncheons Against Tolerance”: “The policemen were not particular. They grabbed us by out hands, clothing, and hair. Once they pulled someone out, they would push them with shields, beat them with truncheons, and then drag them off to the vans, says Joanna Zakrzewska, a co-organizer of the march who was detained after being hit on the head with a truncheon.”[22]

The magazine Przekrój also printed a short test that revealed the absurdity of the situation, “How is a gay man different from a miner?” opening with the words: “Gay people who took part in the Poznań demonstration will soon face trial. Meanwhile, no-one is suing the miners who attacked the parliament building last July.[23] The narration was based on a comparison: on the one hand, a battle fought by 5,500 miners in Warsaw for new legislation that would give them higher retirement pay (37 policemen wounded, one severely; no-one was sued); on the other, the police aggression against peaceful demonstrators followed by announcements that the participants of the banned March would face trial. Illustrating the article were two images: one of a miner beating someone, the other of a gay man being beaten.

References to the 1980s opposition movement, our engagement in ecology, feminism, or the problems of homeless people, were used to legitimate out struggle for democracy. One might say that the media accounts diverted the attention away from minority issues to those of democracy. But we, too, wanted to expose this problem. Discrimination, intolerance, as well as homophobic and even fascist attitudes do not concern gays and lesbians alone; they concern us all. They will cope somehow as they wait for a better day, but how will we cope in a society that accepts violence? For those who banned the march in fact sided with the aggressors – those very people who had stood in the way of the Equality March in Poznan a year earlier. We also wanted to show that there is no democracy if the rights of some citizens – basic constitutional rights, including the right to organize and participate in peaceful assemblies – are violated. Our protest revealed that not all people in this country have the same rights. It was our goal to get more members of the society to pay attention to the problem of minorities. Paradoxically, it was the ban on the March and the police decision to break up the demonstration that were most effective in publicizing this predicament of minorities. Newsweek journalists also observed this: "It may turn out that, paradoxically, the decision of Poznań Mayor Ryszard Grobelny to ban the Equality March and send in the police was good for Poland. By depriving a group of citizens of their constitutional right to express their opinions and demands in the form of a demonstration Grobelny forced Poles to initiate a debate about the meaning of democracy, civil rights, checks on power, and the functioning of the state.”[24]

What the media passed over were the concrete problems. Admittedly, several articles about sexual minorities did appear,[25] but the exclusion of other minorities – the disabled, ethnic minorities, and women – was forgotten. Nor did the media attempt to analyze the problem of minorities within a democracy. The mechanisms of exclusion work on many levels. Social exclusion is different from symbolic exclusion, and both are different from discrimination. Without analyzing these problems we will continually run into unresolved conflicts. After all, it is enough to say that those who found themselves in opposition to the March are also excluded and rejected by the neoliberal system, in which success and the cult of money rule. Young, uneducated, unemployed men are the losers in this system. They seek brawls, but they also seek the “other” who is responsible for their problems. That is why they are such pliable material for right-wing organizations.

But media analyses are not what concerns me the most. To refer once again to Agnieszka Graff, the media “want social movement to stage spectacular events rather than provide subtle social analyses, and if they do report someone’s views, they look for vivid, quotable ''sound bites.''”[26] Graff also demonstrates that the media seek remarkable people and then fashion them into “leaders.” She then goes on to say that “media analysts enumerate three basic factors that enable a social movement to gain the sympathy of and access to the mass media: (1) professionalism, resources, coordination, and strategic planning, (2) a clear division of responsibilities among the activists and representatives of the media, (3) a narrow range of demands that do not threaten the system but are merely aimed at correcting it.”

In view of the latter, it is worth emphasizing the fact that the breaking up of the March got such extensive media coverage though it was not the first brutal pacification of an illegal demonstration since 1989. This fact was pointed out by the Poznań anarchists who co-organized with us the Pro-Democracy Rally of November 26, 2005. Together we established the Freedom Coalition by issuing a proclamation in which the anarchists wrote: “The right to demonstrate has been broken in Poland for a long time. That is why we are surprised to read declarations of support for our movement issued by political elites during whose terms in office the police pacified demonstrators no less brutally than they did in Poznań. During each of the recent coalitions’ term in office the government abused power in unprecedented ways: during the rule of prime minister Buzek, the police shot at workers and farmers blocking roads (workers of the Łucznik plant were severely wounded); during the times of the Social Democratic Alliance, the police spent four days pacifying a legal protest organized by the Ożarów Cable Plant; last January, the police broke up a peaceful demonstration against Wladimir Putin’s visit to Kraków. These are just a handful of dozens of similar incidents. Significantly, in the spring of 2004, MPs of the Social Democratic Alliance (including those who today are prominent members of the Polish Social Democrats) and of the Workers’ Union, under the pressure of a growing social disapproval of their governments, voted in favor of a bill limiting the right of public assembly. Today, guided by political opportunism, they put on the mask of protectors of democratic freedoms. This is hypocrisy at its worst.”[27]

Newsweek’s Wojciech Maziarski enumerates similar examples, including the pacification of a spontaneous demonstration in Warsaw on the day the war with Iraq began, the denial of permission for the anti-Putin demonstration in Kraków. He also points out the fact that the authorities turn a blind eye to rallies “for causes approved by the government,” such as the rallies in support of the orange revolution in the Ukraine.[28] To this list we could add the bans on the Equality Parades in Warsaw issued in 2004 and 2005 by the Mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczyński. Yet the 2005 Parade did not evoke such controversies because it did take place despite the ban and was protected by the police.

We should therefore ask why, if civil rights had been restricted in the past, the ban on the Equality March received so much media coverage and evoked such a big (and, of course, necessary) public debate on democracy. There may be several reasons. First, an external reason: a new balance of power in the political arena, embodied, among others, by President Lech Kaczyński, who had himself acted to restrict civil rights by banning two Equality Parades. Observers also increasingly note the undisguised efforts of the current ruling party to monopolize power and introduce censorship, particularly in the media. Questions about the shape of democracy are therefore timely today. As Maziarski argues, “It was not until today that Poles were able to experience at first-hand the fact that majority rule is not yet democracy. What distinguishes democracy from dictatorship is not only free elections but, above all, constitutional guarantees of minority rights, defining what the majority cannot deny or impose on a minority.”[29]

A second possible reason could be the friendly media reports on the March which were the effect of strategic coordination on the part of the organizers: the Organizing Committee of the Days of Equality and Tolerance in Poznań and the Organizing Committee of the Equality March. As the Committee we professionally prepared several press conferences and sent statements to the media. It was clear whom journalists could contact about the March and who would always supply reliable information. In a sense, we had worked to get the media used to the idea of the March.

Still another reason could be our fairly narrow range of demands which do not undermine the entire system (as do the demands of the anarchists who almost entirely reject the existing system of power) but merely to modify it. Protests that represent a narrower range of demands therefore constitute a smaller threat to the system, and may even serve to reinforce it (by introducing minor shifts and modifications). An excellent example of the way in which our ideas were co-opted by the corporate system comes not from the media but from the world of advertising: the Cropp chain store group created a series of advertisements distributed across Poland that employed a March-related aesthetic, including pink tones and the slogans “The March of Equal lower prices,” “Love, equality, and lower prices,” and “Illegal demonstration of prices.”

For those who attended the March those advertisement might sound ironic, to say the least. Katarzyna Bratkowska, Anna Laszuk, and Julia Kubisa open their article „Fascism and Indifference: The March Seen from Behind (a Shopping Center) Window” with the following words: "When the participants of the illegal Equality March in Poznań, locked between two tight police cordons, shouted ‘YES for equality! YES for democracy! STOP homophobia!’ confronting the thugs and pseudo-football fans with their infamous slogans ‘Gas the fags!” and ‘We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews!’ we stood at the Old Brewery entrance. Around us stood a crowd of Poznań residents who had simply come there to do their shopping that day. In the street the emotions were on the rise; the ‘illegal gathering’ was about to be broken up by force. Meanshile, we watched through a huge shopping center window male and female consumers (separated from it all by a few meters of pavement and a pane of glass) trying on shoes, buying food, and counting the money in their wallets, unmoved by the events unfolding outside. We will always remember this sight as within an instant those consumers became for us a symbol of disengagement and so-called normalcy. As long as one can go on buying unimpeded, as long as they are beating ‘them,’ not ‘us,’ as long as there is a big glass pane separating ‘your’ problems from ‘ours,’ life goes on. Even between two police cordons.”[30] The authors continue by invoking the arguments of the Poznań Mayor who pointed out that the demonstrators would get in the shoppers’ way, that consumers would have trouble getting to the Old Brewery and the store owners would lose money. “It would appear that the single most readily defended right of Polish citizens is the right to shop. I shop, therefore I am.”[31] That was the message sent by Mayor Grobelny: one cannot limit the rights of shoppers simply because a group of “leftist extremists” want to come out and shout about the rights of gays. We could find an apt analogy in the Peoples’ Republic of Poland, when people protesting against the system were represented as “brawlers” condemned by the peaceful society whose life was being disrupted.[32]

Despite this “assault against consumption,” it now turns out that (once suitably refashioned) even March slogans can become an attractive lure used to sell consumer goods. Yet we do not wish to simply condemn this. The logic of subversion is at work here, for would it occur to someone who buys the clothes advertised by the words “Equality March” to insult fags? No. But then, those who did insult gay people cannot afford to shop in brand-name stores. What we are dealing with here is the intersection of social protests, media, and corporations.

Agnieszka Graff cites studies conducted by Todd Gitlin on the influence of the media an the New Left in the 1960s U.S., which can be used to interpret the case of the Equality March. In the case of social movements, the media play a stabilizing role, acting in a symbiosis with corporations. According to Gitlin, the strategy of the media in relation to social protest movements is primarily to neutralize their effect on the life of the collective. They tend to frame discontent and the need for change in such a way that it seems to be a radical departure from the social norm. In effect, the addressee is highly unlikely to recognize his or her own needs and doubts in the views expressed by the protesters. But as social movements gain momentum, there is a tendency to “tame” them by giving exposure to their least radical wings and, finally, to absorb them into the cultural mainstream, not as a set of political views and goals but as a lifestyle.[33]

It seems that all of this holds true for the Equality March, from marginalization to the mainstreaming of the manifested views as a lifestyle in the Cropp advertisements. But before all this occurred, the March functioned in the media first and foremost as “The Gay Parade.” This representation of the March prevented the society from identifying with the protesters’ views. This is one of the strategies described by Gitlin based on the example of the 1960s protests. At that time the opponents of the protests were given the opportunity to speak out and their numbers were exaggerated. Demonstrations organized by the so-called New Left [Students for Democratic Society], attended by tens of thousands, were shown as the excesses of a handful of spoiled youth with crazy, radical views.[34] Gitlin outlined six media strategies: (1) trivialization (ridiculing the language, dress, age, style, and goals of the protesters); (2) polarization (highlighting the counterdemonstrators, juxtaposition of the antiwar movement on the one hand and extreme-right and fascist groups on the other); (3) emphasis on internal conflicts; (4) marginalization (showing the protesters as abnormal and unrepresentative); (5) numerical underestimation (e.g. in assessing the numbers of demonstrators); and (6) depreciating the influence of the movement on the reality.[35]

In the case of the Equality March, as I mentioned above, the media were relatively friendly though some of their reports had internal contradictions. Despite this positive attitude, few of the media managed to avoid trivialization. Numerous press articles emphasized the young age of the organizers (“girls in their twenties”) and the fact that the demonstration was attended by anarchists wearing T-shirts with the “leftist terrorist Che Guevara,” in the words of a woman reporter from the local Gazeta Wyborcza.[36] The literary critic Kazimiera Szczuka made similar observations on a report by Paweł Smoleński, “Women organize a Rally,” about the Warsaw Solidarity Rally (Gazeta Wyborcza, November 29, 2005). As Szczuka said in an interview, “Paweł Smoleński published a report in Gazeta Wyborcza about little girls preparing rallies in protest of the violation of democratic rights in Poznań. Admitting that their ideas were basically right, he nonetheless pictured them as hystrical, wrote about their radicalism, their screaming, distorted perspective, exaggerated talk of the fascist turn in Poland. But right next to this article there was another one about boys making armbands with the words ''Fuck-off, old fart'' [a phrase reportedly uttered by the then Mayor of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński to a rowdy elderly Warsaw resident] and setting up anti-duckism[37] websites.” The journalist interviewing Sczuka noted that those websites have already been closed down, out of fear of repressions. Szuka responded to this with the words: “That’s what is so interesting. Those are the boys that become members of the Civic Platform, have a corporate education, high earnings, and can go abroad to work any time they like, but when they fight against duckism they do it anonymously, without showing their faces, out of fear. By contrast, the girls who are organizing the nationwide protests invite well-known journalists to the rallies, as well as the activists of the old democratic opposition. They show their faces, reveal their names, and are not ashamed of their political position. Meanwhile, Smoleński writes that they are ''exaggerating.'' Yet those who bleed their frustration anonymously into the Internet are normal because they wear suits and ties, and will work in big corporations. But we are mad, hysterical, screaming women.” Thus, according to Szczuka, the rally organizers are cast as “too radical.”[38]

Polarization was also visible in the media reports, though it was the right-wing politicians rather than the media that highlighted this conflict. They persistently used the argument about the promotion of homosexuality—an evident case of manipulation. One could just as well accuse disabled people who also organize Marches for Tolerance that they are promoting disability or illness. But the media, failing to recognize the absurdity of these arguments, picked up this dialectic when they presented the March in the context of a “scandal” (for instance, the local Poznań supplement of the Gazeta Wyborcza collected all the articles about the March on one page titled “Scandal around the Equality March”[39]).

Many of the media reports focused on those who protested against the March. Several papers placed photographs of the opponents on the front-page, though admittedly there were fewer of these photos than in the previous year. Polarization, especially in media reports on March 8 Manifestations, Equality Parades, and events like the above-mentioned Langenort visit (when the media love to show the protesting All-Polish Youth), was not as pronounced here due to the ending of the March. In the conflict with the participants of the March, the All-Polish Youth and pseudo-football fans were upstaged by the police, which altered the perspective of the media and shifted the focus of the subsequent press reports to such issues as the potential charges being brought against the participants and the organizers’ challenging the Governor’s decision in the Provincial Administrative Court (December 15, 2006). The report on the trial and the reading of the verdict became top stories in the national radio and TV news services and a photograph of two of the organizers was printed on the front page of the Gazeta Wyborcza.[40] For the first time, the organizers of the Equality March received such exposure.

Something similar happened in association with the Solidarity Rally in Gdańsk where the organizers came into conflict with shipyard workers. The latter would not allow the rally to take place near the Fallen Shipyard Workers Memorial. The conflict was resolved when the organizers moved the rally to Długi Targ Street. As a result, Roman Gałęzewski, Cahirman of the local Solidarity trade union and Beata Maciejewska representing the green Party signed an agreement on November 25, 2005 in which the union expressed support for the rally. This event was also reported in almost all news programs while the people who signed the agreement were shown on the front page of the Gazeta Wyborcza (November 26, 2005).

Emphasis on internal conflicts is the next strategy analyzed by Gitlin. We were, among other things, accused of “dragging” disabled people into the March whose “main idea was to propagate (total) acceptance of homosexuality.”[41] We went out into the street with tolerance, equality, and social solidarity in mind. Our opponents turned us into propagators of homosexuality. A conference titled “Democracy or Dictatorship of the Majority” which took place before the March gave equal attention to the problems of discrimination of homosexual people, racism, and social exclusion. Disabled people and representatives of ethnic minorities had participated in the 2004 March. This year, predictably, there were fewer disabled people as the March had been banned and it was clear from the start that something unpleasant would happen. Nonetheless disabled people were there. They, too, are affected by discrimination and the marginalization of their problems. Another strategy used to create internal conflict involved statements made during TV interviews on local channels about the fact that many homosexuals do not support the Equality March. Filip Libicki of the Law and Justice party was a prime example. He also argued that the March had co-opted the disabled. Additionally, it was said that by getting involved, politicians are playing their own game to win the minority electorate—another clear instance of trying to create inner conflict among the participants.

Gitlin also points out the strategy of marginalization. In this case it manifested itself as a persistent representation of the organizers as representatives of the “homosexual circles.” Meanwhile, many groups joined the struggle for the rights of those who are discriminated against. One cannot classify the Green 2004 party, the Anarchist Federation, or feminist organizations as “homosexual circles.” Actually, some homosexual groups are part of the larger freedom movement. Yet in the main edition of the TVP evening news the “Solidarity with Poznań” rallies that took place on November 26th and 27th were misrepresented as “Solidarity with Gays” rallies.

Numerical underestimantion of the demonstrators is another type of manipulation mentioned by Gitlin. This was easily noticeable in the media reports on the “Reanimating Democracy” rallies of solidarity with Poznan that took place across Poland. After the Poznań rally one paper reported that there had been more policemen than demonstrators, "of whom there were 250," when in fact there had been at least three times as many.

Finally, Gitlin pointed out the strategy of depreciating the influence of the movement on the reality. This can be exemplified by the voices of our opponents reported in the media, who claimed that all we cared about was the legalization of homosexual partnerships.[42] Much less was said about the fact that we are interested in shaping a democracy that has room for difference. Thus the entire conflict was taken out of its political context. The media ignored the fact that the March was part of a broader debate on the shape of the state at a time when leading members of the government are opposed to openness and tolerance. It was not just the All-Polish Youth and pseudo-football fans that were our opponents but also all those who spoke out against the rallies. In Poznań, Law and Justice politicians ruled the roost. Other politicians openly called for the pacificiation of the March. Wojciech Wierzejski, an MP representing the League of Polish Families, called the wave of demonstrations that swept across Poland a “coup against the state” and demanded that they be broken up by force. Marek Jurek, speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, said in Katowice that “anyone who says local governments have no right make decisions to protect us against the propagation of attacks against the family or various forms of promiscuity, is trying to deprive us of our civil rights.” Government representatives plainly stated without beating about the bush that if anyone wants to manifest views that are in conflict with the views of those in power, they do not have the right. Should they demand this right, they are attacking the state.

These attacks on the Equality March should be seen in light of the broader policy of the new government. One of its first moves was to dismantle the office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Gender Equality. One of the first bills passed by the Parliament concerned a subsidy for the parents of newborn babies. The government is working hard to establish control over the media and to introduce a Catholic-national model of education. Furthermore, in a country that has one of the most restrictive abortion laws and a huge abortion underground, the League of Polish Families and the All-Polish Youth have proposed that the law be made even tougher so that abortion would no longer be accessible to rape victims. The most disturbing aspect of these moves is the imposition of one set of views, one political option, and one system of values on all citizens and the lack of space for discussion and for the existence of other views and other orientations. [43]

That is why the debate about the place of minorities is, in fact, a debate about the shape of democracy. Democracy needs differences because their erasure leads to conflicts and the atrophy of social life. That was the central vision of the March—a vision that the media did not fully comprehend.

Yet a new media debate was initiated in the Gazeta Wyborczaby Sławomir Sierakowski on December 13, 2005—a debate about the political center-left. It turned out that references to the Equality March and its aftermath played an important role in this debate. It was not so much the organizers but the other participants of the debate (including Władysław Frasyniuk, Magdalena Środa, and Wojciech Olejniczak) who referred to the March in the context of civil rights and the constitutional right of assembly. Nonetheless, an important thing happened: the Equality March started to function as a symbol, a major point of reference in public debates about the shape of the opposition in the face of the victorious national-Catholic right. This also means that minority issues (including those of the homosexual minority) can no longer be marginalized or ignored. But the discussion about the center-left is another story.[44]


[1] See P. Pruchniewicz and P. Nowosielska, ”Papierek lakmusowy IV RP.” Przegląd (4 December 2005), p. 17.
[2] Archive of the Days of Equality and Tolerance Organizing Committee (ADETOC).
[3] Account of a female participant, ADETOC.
[4] When Law and Justice came to power at the end of 2005, it announced a symbolic break with the post-communist era (1980-2005) and called the new era the “4th Republic.”
[5] Paradoxically, however, in a local opinion poll conducted by TVP 3, a Poznań TV station, Radio Merkury, and the local supplement to Gazeta Wyborcza the March was classified as the “Flop of the Year” in the “Politics and Society” category.
[6] Guy Debord, Społeczeństwo spektaklu, translated by Anka Ptaszkowska, Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 1998, p. 11.
[7] John Fiske, Postmodernizm i telewizja, translated by J.Mach, Pejzaże audiowizualne. Telewizja, wideo, komputer, ed. Andrzej Gwóźdź, Kraków: Universitas, 1997, p. 166.
[8] Włodzimierz Nowak, “W suce IV RP,” Gazeta Wyborcza. Duży Format, 28.11.2005, p. 3.
[9] Agnieszka Graff, “Jesteś urocza, kiedy się złościsz. Radykalny feminizm drugiej fali a media głównego nurtu,” Kobiety, feminizm i media, ed. E. Zierkiewicz and I. Kowalczyk, Poznań-Wrocław: Konsola, 2005, p. 37-58.
[10] Ibid., p. 38.
[11] Justyna Włodarczyk, “Kobiety na falach. Afera w mediach. Polskie media o Langenorcie,” Kobiety, feminizm i media, op. cit., p. 89-97.
[12] Ibid., p. 89.
[13] Ibid., p. 93.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] W. Nowak, p. 4.
[17] This was Anka Zawadzka who came to attend the March from Warsaw.
[18] Barbara Pietkiewicz cites Błażej Warkocki’s account in Polityka:
It is said that people rather than books bring about change and there may be something to this because what happened in Półwiejska Street in Poznań on November 19, 2005 will always remain part of my inner biography. I know these are big words but I am still in a mild state of shock after yesterday’s events, which I haven''t yet absorbed emotionally.” Barbara Pietkiewicz, “W zastępstwie geja,” Polityka 48 (December 3, 2005), p. 80.
[19] W. Nowak, p. 2-5.
[20] Ibid. p. 2.
[21] B. Pietkiewicz, p. 83.
[22] P. Pruchniewicz, “Spałowana tolerancja,” Przegląd (December 4, 2005), p. 15.
[23] Jull, “Co różni geja od górnika”, Przekrój 49 (November 30, 2005), p. 20.
[24] W. Maziarski, “Marsze Niezgody”, Newsweek (December 4, 2005), p. 35.
[25] As in the case of Newsweek, which focused on the „Polish Gay Male” in one of its issues (December 4, 2005).
[26] Graff, p. 38.
[27] A passage from the declaration “WOLNOŚĆ ZGROMADZEŃ CZY POLITYCZNA HIPOKRYZJA” issued by the Freedom Coalition p Koalicję dla Wolności}, organizers of the Poznań demonstration of November 26, 2005.
[28] Maziarski, p. 35.
[29] Maziarski, p. 36.
[30] Katarzyna Bratkowska, Anna Laszuk and Julia Kubisa, „Faszyzacja i obojętność. Marsz zza szyby (centrum handlowego)” – an article written for the Gazeta Wyborcza, but finally rejected (manuscript made available by the authors).
[31] Bratkowska, Laszuk, Kubisa.
[32] See. I. Kowalczyk and M. Jermaczek, “Demonstracja to zaproszenie do dyskusji,” Gazeta Wyborcza, Poznań (November 29, 2005) reprinted at: www.zieloni2004.pl.
[33] Todd Gitlin, The whole world is watching, Berkeley, 1980, quoted in A. Graff, p. 38.
[34] Graff, p. 48.
[35] Gitlin, pp. 27-28, quoted in A. Graff, p. 49.
[36] Jolanta Brózda, “Mimo różnic, zacznijmy ze sobą rozmawiać, (Równość czy manipulacja - głosy ', 2);
[37] “Duckism” p “kaczyzm”], derived from the name of the Kaczyński brothers, stands for cultural conservatism, nationalism, Catholic piety, and a preference for a strong centralized government.
[38] Przemysław Szubartowicz, “Demokratka w rydzykowym Zoo” p An interview with Kazimiera Szczuka], Przegląd, (January 1, 2006) http://wiadomosci.wp.pl/kat,38214,wid,8138943,prasaWiadomosc.html?P%5Bpage%5D=1
[39] http://miasta.gazeta.pl/poznan/8,36022,3019256.html
[40] Gazeta Wyborcza (December 15, 2005).
[41] Brózda, op. cit.
[42] Brózda, op. cit.
[43] See. I. Kowalczyk and M. Jermaczek, “Demonstracja to zaproszenie do dyskusji.” Gazeta Wyborcza, Poznań (November 29, 2006) reprinted at www.zieloni2004.pl.
[44] See. I. Kowalczyk and L. Mergler, “Czego nie widać z Salonów? (wokół dyskusji o centrolewie).” Zielony Portal Informacyjny, http://www.zieloni.org.pl/articles.php?id=1014.

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    a journal of queer studies