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Polish government inciting ‘pogrom mood’, say LGBT activists

Claims PiS and church ‘directly responsible’ for hooligan attack on regional pride parade

Anti-LGBT protesters seek to disrupt the first pride parade in Bialystok, Poland, on July 20th. Photograph: Magda Bogdanowicz/Reuters

Campaigners for LGBT rights in Poland have accused their national conservative government of inciting a “pogrom mood” towards homosexuals, after a regional pride parade was attacked by hooligans.

Marchers faced verbal and physical abuse on Saturday during the first equality march ever held in the northeastern city of Bialystok.

After dozens of injuries and 25 arrests, gay rights campaigners in Poland say they fear for their safety and blame the radicalised atmosphere on PiS and the influential Catholic Church.

“They are directly responsible, this is a full-on strike on our community and they know exactly what they are doing,” said Hubert Sobecki of the campaigning group Love Doesn’t Exclude.

On Saturday, he and other marchers found themselves surrounded by hooligans on three sides, with police blocking the only way out.

“People were throwing bottles filled with piss, firecrackers, stones. It was a mess, basically, and is still difficult to talk about,” he said. “The police were there to protect us but most were pretty terrified themselves and surprised by the number of fascists.”

‘F**k off faggots’

Eyewitnesses say the attacks were led by young men in football jerseys or T-shirts with “patriotic” slogans. They threw objects and chanted slurs – “God and Fatherland” and “F**k off faggots” – and were joined by some passersby.

“They felt completely right in what they were doing, gesturing wildly and shouting slurs with ugly grimaces on their faces,” said Mr Sobecki. “There were young teen marchers completely terrified. I saw a teenage girl having what I think was a panic attack and tried to help her.”

On Sunday, interior minister Elbieta Witek condemned the violence in Bialystok, tweeting that “any person who breaks the law . . . should know they can be held responsible”.

But other PiS politicians were more equivocal. PiS MP Marcin Horala “condemned doubly any act of hooliganism” on Polish broadcaster TVN24. But he added that “nothing helps promote LGBT in Poland as much as giving them the role of victim, as was the case in Bialystok”.

Traditional Polish values

The ruling PiS secured an absolute parliamentary majority in 2015 after a campaign that framed immigrants as a threat to Polish security. Facing re-election in the autumn, PiS and the Catholic Church – amplified by government-controlled public media – have identified a new threat to traditional Polish values in the “western ideology” of equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexuals.

To applause from leading Catholic clergy, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling PiS party, has criticised LGBT rights as an “attack on the family”, “an attack on children”, a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state”.

Before the weekend march, the PiS-supporting Gazeta Polska daily distributed “LGBT-free zone” stickers to its readers, with a crossed-out rainbow.

Meanwhile LGBT campaigners in the eastern city of Lublin, hounded by hooligans at last year’s march, secured a €1,200 court fine and apology from a local politician who accused them of “promoting homosexuality and paedophilia”.