The heavy-metal singer Nergal, aka Adam Darski, has fallen foul once again of the conservative government in Poland and is appealing a sentence for blasphemy.
Nergal, a self-professed satanist who fronts the band Behemoth, fought a long-running battle with the Polish government over a previous charge of blasphemy; he won that one at trial in 2010. This time he is disputing a fine he received last week for a post on his Instagram account in 2019 that appeared to show him stamping on an image of the Virgin Mary.
He was judged to have blasphemed and penalised 15,000 zloty, or about €3,300; he was also charged a 3,500 zloty, or €775, court fee. The case is now expected to go to a full trial. If Nergal is found guilty he faces up to two years in jail.
I don't think the public know the details of the level of harassment I have been through. It is getting monstrous, and it is a growing tide of censorship
The original charge accused the frontman of publicly insulting “the object of Christian religious worship in the form of the person of the Mother of God... thus offending the religious feelings of four people.”
Nergal says it is more than the principle at stake. If he does not appeal his fine, he will have a criminal record and so be unable to tour in many countries, including the United States and Australia. He describes his native country as the "last bastion of fundamentalist Catholic dogma in Europe".
The 2010 case, which made him a household name in Poland, began three years earlier, when he was prosecuted for tearing up a Bible on stage. In 2012 the European Commission said he was entitled to offend people. In 2017 he was again prosecuted, for subverting the two-headed eagle that is the emblem of Poland.
Nergal has started a GoFundMe to raise more than €20,000 towards his legal costs. “I don’t think the public know the details of the level of harassment I have been through. It is getting monstrous, and it is a growing tide of censorship and harassment,” he says. “Every few weeks I have to check myself in at the police and go for different hearings and spend a fortune on lawyers with all the costs around court cases.
“I am being the perfect target. The Polish authorities just pick on me. It is not a secret that a prosecution officer has me as his favourite scapegoat. He follows my Instagram account. Can you imagine that? It’s insane and absolutely unprecedented.
In Ireland you have been through all this before, but now you are a secular state. Now I give Ireland as an example of what Poland should follow in order to evolve
"I am being made a criminal for posting a f****ing photograph on Instagram. In Ireland you have been through all this before, but now you are a secular state. Now I give Ireland as an example of what Poland should follow in order to evolve."
Nergal is something of a cause celebre in Poland, where many regard the ruling Law and Justice party as aligning itself with the Catholic Church in undermining the country's liberal constitution.
“We are going backwards in time, more backward thinking. It is a violation of the most basic human laws. It is not just me. There are different artists being harassed by police and self-proclaimed censors,” Nergal says.
“They forget that Poland is still a pluralisatic country. It is not a Catholic or a totalitarian state. We are a democratic and pluralistic democracy, which means we can say what we want about other religions. The authorities are trying to censor us and shut us down.
I must win, because we can't see my case becoming a precedent. People like myself need to be protected to freely express themselves
"We can't be part of the European Union if we are upholding different standards. We have a blasphemy law, and we are the only country in Europe that still holds to that law – and that is insane. That is an excuse for all of those people, all those opportunists. I must win, because we can't see my case becoming a precedent. People like myself need to be protected to freely express themselves."
Nergal criticised Catholics who object to behaviour. “I don’t know how people can be offended. If you are religious and you get offended, maybe you are not religious enough. Maybe your faith ethics are too soft and your ethical spine is too soft. Maybe you should strengthen your faith if what I post on Instagram offends you. If your faith is weak, maybe you should drop it. Leave artists alone.”