It’s quite an unusual battle that Poles living in Warsaw have been witness to over the last two years. During the day artists were seen constructing a huge rainbow on a square in central Warsaw and then, every few weeks, someone burned it down by night. Does this make sense, considering the construction was not even intended as an LGBT symbol? And will it ever end?
It’s an ordinary Wednesday, the last week of August. I am hurriedly walking towards Saviour Square (Plac Zbawiciela) in central Warsaw, Poland, whose well-known French boulangerie, Charlotte, is a place where the capital’s politicians and hipsters cross paths. As I rush to get there on time, I raise my eyes a moment to look at the blue skies overhead. Before me I glimpse a massive six-colour rainbow hiding between the historic buildings.
This rainbow is a landmark of my destination, for next to it stand Charlotte’s cute little tables, chaotically spread across the pavement. I’m surprised to hear the words, “Hail Mary,” in the distance. Intrigued, I walk a bit closer and see an army of Catholic crusaders reciting them in unison. They’re conducted by a monk and guarded by huge posters held in their hands.
“Gender ideology kills!”
The words are in an ugly font on one of the crusaders’ banners.
“NO for deviation and abomination in the majesty of the law.”
This time the words are in English. I can only suppose this is meant to send the few tourists in Warsaw packing. A gentleman nearby me in a suit suddenly bursts out into laughter: “What is this; a new tourist attraction?” He asks rhetorically – visibly amused.
Unfortunately, it is not. Quite the opposite – it is the everyday reality of Polish society, torn by the battle between progressive Western secularity and traditional Polish Catholic values. The rainbow is a symbol of this struggle – it has been so for two years.
It was in 2012 that a Polish artist Julita Wojcik created a construction of artificial flowers entitled simply, “Rainbow.” She caused public uproar. Despite numerous declarations by Wojcik herself that it is supposed to be a symbol of human alliance with God, peace, and hope, it has become a favoured target of verbal attacks by right-wing politicians and, sadly, a playground for arsonists with a nationalist agenda. Approximately every three months the construction goes up in smoke and is subsequently rebuilt. Meanwhile, policemen have only made arrests in two out of the six incidents where the rainbow was burnt down. This impressive result is no doubt a product of industrious investigations and extensive surveillance in the area.
Although the guards of Poles’ morality, who make sure no one has to lay their eyes upon the symbol of satanic abomination, are certainly encouraged by the sluggishness of the police, the conservative Polish political scene is not of much help either.
A month ago a female politician Tweeted;
“A bottle of the best scotch to anyone who sets the communist rainbow on Saviour Square on fire!”
The truth is – none of this really matters. Few things are as predictable as the fact that someone will soon burn the Rainbow down yet again. The stubbornness of both the arsonists and those who rebuild the construction is impressive indeed, but I wonder; does it even make sense to build a rainbow and fight to keep it there if it’s going to burn down in little more than a few weeks?
Consider this; many of the LGBT+ community have already realised the authorities will not ensure them a decent life in Poland. Many have left Poland and are not planning to return; at least until there is place for something other than a church in both the public space and the closed minds of many Poles.
Jakub Nagrodzki will start his studies in medicine at the University of Cambridge this October.