It is a bright Sunday morning when I walk down Aleje Jana Pawla II towards the pink-coloured letters of the Hotel Mercure. The glassy skyscrapers glitter under a blue sky and make the most ugly part of town look beautiful and fresh.
The bus drivers are already waiting, a few people are hanging in front of the hotel entrance, sitting on the sidewalk, catching some sun before the departure back to Berlin. As there is still some time left, I, too, sit down on the sidewalk to enjoy a last cigarette. As the drivers call upon us and announce the soon departure, my Polish-sometimes-lover hugs me tightly and gives me three kisses on my lips. I feel observed like on a platform, spotlights on me. Gently I push him away. He gives me a strange look and says good bye, turning down the street.
I take my back-pack and chew on my lips while climbing up the stairs to the bus. I recognise the-man-with-the-calm-voice’s shirt lying on an aisle seat. I take the window seat beside him just as 26 hours before on the way to Warsaw and stare outside, down the road, watching the back of my lover slowly disappear. As the man-with-the-calm-voice is coming and placing himself next to me, he – just as my Polish-sometimes-lover a few seconds before – gives me this strange look, for other reasons I suppose, or maybe for very similar reasons but coming from a different direction. I wonder whether I just overinterpret his gaze as I feel “discovered,” “outed.” I don’t know how many minutes pass until he finally comes up with the already expected question: “Have you been at the Parade – I didn’t see you there.” For a few seconds I am thinking if I should call myself “a sympathiser” or “left or anarchist supporter.” My answer though stays rather one-dimensional. “Of course,” I reply, “I was at the parade and at the after-party as well” returning the question to him: “What about you? I did not see you.”
It is only 26 hours ago that we arrived in Warsaw for one of the first Gay Pride Parades in Poland’s post-1989 democratic history. In the past two years the parades in Kraków, Poznan and Warsaw had been illegal, some ended violently, but never in Warsaw. In Warsaw all parades have been calm, protected by the police. Still, after the recent events in Poland and the openly speaking hatred towards homosexuals expressed by Polish conservative politicians and right extremists, the “international community” has woken up and found it necessary to raise its voice, to remind of international law, human rights and democratic obligations. “We are in the European Union,” it is claimed by whoever is coming to the Parade, as if this would explain anything. It surely does one thing: it offers the West once more the opportunity to show its “superiority.” This superiority is displayed by Westeurope’s tolerance far and foremost for homosexuals. Such tolerance implies freedom and modernity, hence: it reflects and confirms democracy. Democracy is linked to human rights and here we come: the protectors of human rights and democracy, the saviours of “tolerance” and “modern values.”
On my way to Fehrbelliner Platz the city seems exhausted by the previous excitement and anxiety. The opening game of the World Championships 2006 just ended, Germany bet Costa Rica with a 4 to 2, still no enthusiasm is wowing the city. Faces on the underground look empty. Maybe they are afraid of the announced Polish Hooligans supposedly coming to Germany to violate whatever is in their way. Poland will start to play versus Ecuador in less than an hour, but far from Berlin, in Gelsenkirchen. The video in the underground doesn’t say anything about Germany’s heroic first victory. Probably because it was not heroic. People talk about lost chances and that the team will never make it if they continue to play like this. The screen instead repeatedly displays the emergency numbers for depressed and suicidal people in a 10-second-tact. I am hot and wonder if more people commit suicide during the summer or if we are in some kind of time- loop. Four buses depart from Berlin to Warsaw which makes approximately 200 people who will take part at the Marsz Równości. Two of them will return right after the Parade the next day, two on Sunday morning which gives 100 people the opportunity to take a look at the city and enjoy the after-Parade- party with Jimmy Summerville and others.
When I arrive at Fehrbelliner Platz it is already crowded and I have to queue to check in. Anders Reisen (a gay travel agency) put a little table on the sidewalk and crosses my name on a list, while handing out some information sheets. It is some kind of instruction manual informing about various aspects one should consider before, during and after the demonstration. I still don’t know exactly what to call this event we are going to. In Polish it is called “Marsz Równości” which means “Equality March”, my gay friends call it “Gay Pride Parade”, but what would be its character: a demonstration, a protest march, a parade? What characterises which? I return to my information manual and start reading. On top of the page it explains who will be at the Parade: “Gay and lesbian activists, left and anarchist supporters and opportunist politicians,” I read while waiting to enter the bus. Moreover, it gives some detailed information about various dangerous groups, counter-demonstrators who are known for being aggressive on different grades as there are: Młodzież Wszechpolska (German newspapers define them as “right clericals”) and the ONR and the NOP, shortly: fascists. They are all described in detail, hence what they usually wear and how many of them will possibly be there and how dangerous they might be. There is also a paragraph on ‘normal people’: “Some middle aged and older men are known to throw eggs or stones. It is hard to pick them out; they look repressed and evil but perhaps you know this certain demented old homophobic look.”
I look up as someone is approaching me. The man with the calm voice says: “You also seem to not have a peer group. So your friends must be as boring as mine.” I smile to him without replying. As we start talking I realize that there is some nervousness all around. Up to this point, there was just one thing making me nervous: riding the bus through the night and questions I would rather not answer. Questions about boring friends or about my interest in going to Warsaw. In my imagination, of course, I was much braver. I thought that I would just say what I do. I am prepared. I have my camera and my dictaphone by hand. Batteries are all new, notebook is small and “handy”. But I remain silent. I don’t tell them that I am an anthropologist working on gender and sexuality in Poland – whatever that means anyhow. Suddenly, I wonder why I am here instead of sitting in a comfortable train that brings me in less then 6 hours to Warszawa Centralna. I wonder why I only go to Warsaw on a 26 hours trip, even though I could stay longer and be more comfortable. I am not going to an unfamiliar place. Going to Warsaw feels like coming home. I know the city, its streets and places, I know which tram to take and which bus to ride. I know the centre as much as its surroundings, I find my way by foot, bike and public transportation.
I read the information sheet the ”Warschauer Pakt” handed out. It says: “Don’t forget: we are the good ones. No weapons, no dangerous objects!” I am on the bus out of curiosity. I want to know what makes people go to Warsaw. I would like to learn about their motives and how people view the situation in Poland. I also want to know if they know that just two weeks ago there was the Gay Pride in Bucharest. I assume nobody heart about it. There was not a sentence in the German newspapers and I cannot help to relate this silence to Romania’s position outside of the ‘great European Union.’ Who cares anyhow what is happening outside the EU – as long as it is not such a ‘threatening power’ as Russia.
Some people make remarks on what it will be like and express their anxiety. German newspapers have been full of the upcoming Parade in Warsaw. They quoted various Polish politicians and seem convinced that once again, just like during the November Parade in Poznan, it will be dangerous and violent. People on the bus express their anxiety. The man- with- the –calm- voice tells that his mother tried to convince him not to go. Someone else says his friends think he is crazy and I myself recall all the “take-cares” before leaving for the bus.
German newspapers created an atmosphere of fear, which I only now become fully aware of. We are crossing the border to a ‘foreign country.’ I get the impression that for some of my co-riders on the bus it almost feels like crossing ‘the border of civilization.’ The information manual contributes to this atmosphere of anxiety. As I read along, I find some behavioural instructions on what to do in the case of aggression and danger. It tells to walk in groups to the Parade and from the Parade. It says that people should walk close and linked together. It says that nobody should walk alone and that one should exchange phone numbers – not only for pleasure but for safety reasons. Suddenly, I get nervous, made aware of all those possible dangers. To that point, I was sure that nothing at all will happen. Somehow I am still convinced that the march will be peaceful, but as the manual continues to illustrate the possible tactics of counter-demonstrators and of the police, summing up with giving legal advice in case of (unjustified) arrest, I am starting to lose my confidence.
I decide to ignore the information manual and listen to the bus driver explaining the use of the toilet.
On Sunday morning the atmosphere changed. People are not only tired, they look relaxed, pleased and confident. People seem to feel that they have taken part in something important and contributed to bringing ‘Europe to Poland.’ Europe and its ‘atmosphere of tolerance,’ human rights and democracy: The Marsz Równości was a success. About 5000 people participated (the police speaks of 3000). It was a peaceful, happy, rather calm event. People were friendly, passers-by smiling, some spectators leaning on their window sills, waving down to the colourful crowd on the streets. Some lonely eggs fell on the ground, the police working effectively while the crowd is gratefully shouting in chorus “Dziękujemy, dziękujemy!” 15 demonstrators were arrested, the Polish news only speak of apprehensions, but don’t tell ‘on which side they were on.’ Watching the news on Polish TV after the Parade, I get the impression that I was at a different event than the one shown there. The pictures displayed make it seem like a small and meaningless event. Moreover, the emphasis is placed upon the German Greens Claudia Roth and Volker Beck hugging the only two (as well non-Polish) Drag Queens on the leading truck. The message is clear: homosexuality is not home-grown, it is not Polish. It is ‘European,’ foreign, imported, invented, maybe contagious. It is Europe that brings it to Poland, it is a European or even international conspiracy that spreads immoral practices in the world and dirties the Polish nation. The News on TVP 1 open their report with the counter demonstration ‘March for life.’ The original counter-demonstration titled ‘Culture and Tradition’ was cancelled shortly before argueing that ‘Polish people’ should have the opportunity to celebrate the victory of the Polish soccer team (during our nightly ride to Warsaw we learn that Poland lost the game. All my co-riders, myself included, sympathize with Poland for this loss, while my Polish-sometimes-lover sends me a text message telling that this causes another ‘wielki trauma’).
However, the Polish news inform its audience that Volker Beck demanded the legalization of paedophilia in a book published in 1987. His comment on this reproach is cut short and the viewer is left with an ambivalent impression: it has not been made clear whether he did or did not demand the legalization of paedophilia. The two different ‘truth-regimes’ that are operating here are only visible for those who have attended the March. The truth that is told on TV is implying danger without naming it. The emphasis on foreign groups that came to support their Polish gay and lesbian friends in their difficult struggle with its government, only strengthens the idea of homosexuality as a foreign product.
In this respect, the media amplify and confirm the idea of the most conservative and right extremist politicians in Poland. Without using the same overt and aggressive rhetoric, they support in a subtle way the accusations of its right-wing government.
On our way back to Berlin, we stop at a little restaurant close to the Polish-German border. About 100 people are hungry and sit down to eat. I place myself at a wooden table in the sun among some men. They are discussing the parade and its political character, which already lost its meaning at the CSD (Christopher Street Day, Gay Pride Parade) in Berlin. One is telling about his experiences in Poland. Since 31 years he is travelling there for vacation. For 31 years he and his partner (they have been together since 41 years) have been spending summers at the Polish seashore. He said that he did not once encounter any problems with Polish people. He felt accepted. He and his partner were invited to Polish heterosexual couples and even introduced to their friends. From the beginning it was clear that they were gay and nobody ever made any remark or acted exclusive. He did not once feel discriminated.
Due to his experiences, he was surprised to read about the overt hatred and discrimination against gay people speaking through the right-conservative/right extremist/ right clerical politicians.
On Monday morning, back in Berlin, I read a more detailed article in the Gazeta Wyborcza which also counts down the positive features of the Parada. In the same paper though, there is another article which moves the discussion on homosexuality in a different direction. Mrs Senyszyn, Polish member of Parliament from the SLD (Left Democratic Alliance) who talked at the final declaration at the end of the march, is blamed for having abused some words of Pope Jan Paul II, by saying “may the parade change the earth, this earth.” It is seen as a reference to a sentence Jan Paul said in 1979 during his first visit as Pope in Poland. “May the holy spirit come down and change the earth, this earth,” entered the collective memory as the beginning of the opposition movement, the Solidarność and the beginning of the fall of communism. The “re-contextualization” of this sentence is seen as an abuse. Its use in a context explicitly referring to homosexuality is viewed as spreading immorality and danger for the Polish nation, a nation that is closely linked to its religion and the former Polish Pope Jan Paul II. In this logic, it is not only a stupid mistake that could be forgiven, but an insult of the Pope and the Polish nation. The conservative powers that call upon an assembly of the Ethic Commission in order to dismiss Mrs Senyszyn from her post as Member of Parliament, once again successfully move the debates on homosexuality to debates about the nation and its spiritual heritage, a heritage that is threatened by (European/foreign) homosexual intruders and immoral practices.
Shortly before Berlin, the-man-with-the-calm-voice is suggesting to the people sitting around us to travel to Poland for the weekend some time during the summer. He opens his map and shows some places he would like to see. I am not sure whether his suggestion is directed towards me as well. I follow this thought thinking whether I am excluding myself or whether I am ‘naturally’ (read: sexually) excluded or ‘politely’ included. Just a few minutes ago I was asked once again, whether or not I had been to the Parade. I feel like I am the only one who was asked this question and somehow I myself ‘naturally’ link this question to the kisses of my lover shortly before our departure from Warsaw. I figure that I am myself captivated in truth and sex regimes. I wonder whether they are really trying to categorize me in terms of “is she one of us or not” or whether I am drawing this line between ‘them’ and ‘me,’ creating a sexed division. To me their questions imply assumptions drawn from what they see. These thoughts create loop-sited circles in my mind. Maybe their question of whether I was at the parade or not, only implies: (how) do I categorize myself?
There are various answers to that question and not all are connected to my contemporary professional tasks in the fields of anthropology. But there is certainly one that has never been expressed more precise than by one of my most favourite “writers” Michel Foucault:
“We need to mistrust the tendency that connects the question of homosexuality only to the question: Who am I? What is the secret of my desire? Rather, one should ask: What kind of relations could homosexuality create, invent, broaden and from case to case form diversely? It is not so much about discovering the truth about ones own sex life, but rather to use ones sexuality for the creation of varied relationships. Doubtless, this is the real reason, why homosexuality is not a form of desire, but rather something desireable. We need to work on becoming homosexual…”