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Poland: Stop Bzdurom, Queer struggle and the events of yesterday in Warsaw

Dozens of people were arrested in Warsaw yesterday following the police executing a court order granting two-month pre-trial detention of a member of Stop Bzdurom (Stop Bullshit) queer collective Małgorzata Szutowicz (Margot)* concerning a direct action involving alleged damage to a truck driving around Warsaw blasting homophobic hate speech (or indeed, bullshit) from its loudspeakers. 

Margot is now facing a potential seven-year prison sentence for several direct actions Stop Bzdurom undertook in opposition to Poland’s ever-increasing queerphobic fundamentalism and straightforward bigotry, primarily fuelled by the country’s ruling far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS). 

According to the Anarchist Black Cross Poland, her supporters are being charged with “participation in a gathering aiming at attacking people or property”: an offence which could see them sent to prison for up to three years. 

The unrest in Warsaw lasted until late last night and saw shocking levels of police violence, even for the new standards in Poland. Witnesses reported that the police threw people around “like a bag of potatoes”, detained random individuals, apparently including non-involved passers-by, injured many others, kneeled on peoples’ necks, kettled the demo, and snatched people from the crowd. For many hours, the cops were preventing the arrested from seeing their lawyers, moving them from station to station, refusing to give any information to their loved ones, friends, and lawyers and generally doing their best to obstruct any support actions. 

Polish police neck-kneeling, Warsaw 8th August 2020. Via Oko.Press

At the time of writing, 48 people are detained, and 10 are still unaccounted for. 

To explain what happened yesterday, I feel like I need to provide some context to those who are not Polish speakers, as this issue is shamefully underreported by the more mainstream than Freedom media.

Who are Stop Bzdurom?

Łania Madej and Małgorzata Szutowicz. Photo via Stop Bzdurom

Founded in May 2019 by two Warsaw activists Łania Madej and Małgorzata Szutowicz (Margot), Stop Bzdurom is a radical, feminist queer collective dedicated to fighting bigotry in the country by the means of confrontational, uncompromised and inventive direct action. They are not your nice well-behaved, let ‘s all be friends and sit down to talk LGBTQ+ NGO! In the interview Łania Madej gave to Oko.Press portal, she says:

Preaching love, tolerance and flowers in the gun barrels is completely inadequate to what is happening right now, when we are surrounded by graffiti saying: “no faggots” or “kill LGBT”. Sticking with the slogan “Love does not exclude” looks like a gloomy joke.

We wanted a place where being pissed-off is legitimised, where people are not silenced for saying swear words, expressing how they feel, that their tolerance has limits.

Smiles and understanding are forced upon the LGBT community. It’s not fair. Someone goes at you with a brick in their hand, and you can’t show them the middle finger?

We decided to speak openly. It gives people the feeling that they are not alone in what they think, that they are not going crazy.

The collective was formed in response to the actions of Pro-Prawo do Życia (“Pro-Right to Life”) Foundation: a grouping linked to Ordo Iuris (OI): a lobbying organisation formed by fundamentalist Catholic lawyers.  OI is trying to push several legal bills, including a law banning abortion and introducing prison sentences for both the pregnant person and the doctor, another legal bill enforcing the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman exclusively; and the “Stop Paedophilia” Act, which, in its essence, links queerness and sexual education with paedophilia The act further proposes to criminalise, by a prison sentence, sexual education and spreading information about safer sex practices to people under the age of 18. 

In normal circumstances, such backwards legal proposals could be simply laughed at.  However, given the influence of Ordo Iuris in the Polish government, they are a real threat to fundamental rights, and especially the rights of gender-oppressed people. OI continues to gain influence, a process which at this stage sees them holding a number of high ranking positions, including, but not limited to, two Supreme Court judges, the vice-minister of foreign affairs, the national genetics consultant, and the advisor in the office of Polish president Andrzej Duda.

Ordo Iuris is also known for legal harassment of activists. Recently, they have started legal action against Marta Lempart from Women’s Strike Poland. They are also pursuing a legal case against a group of students who complained about their teacher, Ewa Budzyńska, promoting homophobic views during her lectures.  

At time of writing, “Pro-Right to Life” Foundation collected 265,395 signatures in support of the “Stop Paedophilia” legal bill, and it was discussed by the Polish parliament, which, instead of binning it, have sent it to the relevant parliamentary committee for further discussions.

Stop Bzdurom was formed following three Warsaw activists witnessing “Pro-Right to Life” collecting signatures in support of the “Stop Paedophilia” Act. This was the first time Stop Bzdurom decided to take action. According to the collective themselves:

Right in the centre of Warsaw, there is a tent that scares the passers-by with “LGBT LOBBY”. On all walls – a rainbow crossed out. [Pro-Right to Life] volunteers claim that the LGBTQ+ community wants to demoralise children, that they try to impose the “gender ideology” on everyone. They say that sex education is designed to coerce children to consent to sex. That gays and lesbians are paedophiles. 

For the following two days, we organised dance parties [in front of the Pro-Right to Life tent]. We drowned out the announcements from their loudspeakers, we danced with rainbow umbrellas and flags. We quickly realised that it was not enough. (…)

We wanted more, louder and better. We gave ourselves ten days to regroup and gather strength. We started doing research, statistics, reports. (…) We consulted lawyers and sex educators. We collected and published all our work.

After 10 days of hard work, we came back armed with a powerful loudspeaker … and we were in for a surprise! Dozens of people were waiting for us. New ones kept arriving. We played music, started dancing – we absolutely took over the place! We screamed we jumped, we spoke. Videos from the event quickly circulated the Internet.

We came home happy, sure that we were doing something right. Sure we were not going to stop. We will not sit indifferently – there is no consent to homophobia in public places (neither is it allowed in anyone’s home). There is no room for lies about sex education, no room for anti- LGBTQ+ hatred.

On 14th June 2019, we did another dance – this time homophobes ran away at the sight of the first rainbow kids – it was good because the hot sun quickly exhausted our strength. We realised that apart from the dances, we had to do something else.

One of the dance protest parties organised by Stop Bzdurom

Since then, Stop Bzdurom have been very busy. They organised flyering actions; distributed materials across Poland in order to help other queer people undertake their own actions; designed stickers and sent them free of charge all over the place (up to date, approx 50 thousand); publicly laughed at fascist organisations; supported queer events and projects; took part in Pride Marches; and challenged the queerphobic lies prevalent in the Polish state-run media. 

In 2020, during the electoral campaign subsequently won by the PiS representative Andrzej Duda, the group organised a protest in coalition with Queer Tour to confront Duda’s and other politicians’ queerphobic rhetoric. The rally, titled “LGBT Ideology Provocation” saw a large crowd gathering in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw and again involved dancing as well as a number of other happenings designed to mock and confront the propaganda spread by the far right. 

Stop Bzdurom and the law

While the queerphobia was taking over Poland, in late June 2020 persons unknown took direct action against another “Pro-Right to Life” Foundation’s project, namely something you may have seen described by Polish activists as a “homophobic truck”. This is an accurate description. The homophobic truck is a vehicle driving around Warsaw, decorated in virulently homophobic propaganda, often conflating queerness with paedophilia and abuse of children.

Prior to the June events, the truck has caused outrage among many citizens of Warsaw, who took action against it. There were attempts to block it and reports to the police. However, LGBTQ+ people are not listed as a protected category in Poland’s hate speech laws, and the country has been, for years, ignoring the EU regulations in that matter. This makes prosecuting hate crimes against the queer community incredibly difficult. If such cases do end up in court, the sentences are usually laughable. For example, in February 2020, a couple who brought a bomb to a Pride march in the city of Lublin was sentenced to merely a year prison. 

In any case, the homophobic truck apparently enjoys the support of Warsaw Police, and there are sightings of the cops protecting it from possible harm, thus enabling it to carry on with its hateful activity: something the police certainly does not have to do, regardless of the very weak or non existing laws.

The “homophobic truck” protected by Warsaw police. Photo via Stop Bzdurom

On 27th June, the truck was damaged by a group of undisclosed individuals, who stopped it, removed the homophobic propaganda from it, broke some mirrors, took off its registration number plates, slashed its tires, and had a physical fight with its driver and the Pro-Right to Life activists. Someone also graffitied “Stop Bzdurom” on it. Stop Bzdurom Collective reported on it on their Facebook page, together with pictures of the truck and one of the persons unknown clearly showing signs of beating on their face. 

Action against the “homophobic truck”. Photo via Stop Bzdurom

Then, the events quickly escalated. On 14th July, Margot was arrested and dragged out of a friends’ home by a bunch of undercover cops who, obviously be a sheer miracle, knew precisely where to look for her. She was then taken to a police station and charged with conspiring to commit  criminal damage, following which, a court rejected the prosecutor’s request to keep Margot on remand until trial and released her. Instead, she was issued bail conditions requesting her to report to the police station: something she has abided by.  

Stop Bzdurom responded to the arrest of their member by organising another of their actions: namely, they placed rainbow Pride flags on some statues in Warsaw, including a Jesus statue, both making them looking cool af and outraging the highest-ranking government officials, including the Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, and generally causing a good old right-wing shit storm.

Morawiecki ended up performing a rather bizarre celebration in front of the offended Jesus statue, which involved him laying a candle in front of it to “apologise” for Stop Bzdurom’s action, and comparing the collective to the Nazis for a good measure.

Another government member, the vice-Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta was so offended that he reported a crime under the “profanity law”: “Who offends the religious feelings of others by publicly insulting the object of religious worship or a place intended for the public performance of religious rites…”. This crime is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Jesus statue redecorated

Another crime was added on top of it, in defence of other, non-religious, offended statues: “Who insults a monument or other public place designated to commemorate a historical event or to honour a person, is a subject to a fine or penalty of restriction of liberty”. 

This did not discourage Stop Bzdurom from their activities. Their response to the PM’s candle laying was to steal it and take it to the place where Milo, a transgender person, has taken her own life on 6th May 2019, after having been dragged through basically impossible to manage legal and medical transition process in Poland. 

On Tuesday 4th July, Łania and Margot were arrested. This time Margot was apprehended while she was walking on a street, while Łania was taken from a friends’ home shortly after. This was followed by another arrest of a collective member, with the police going as far as to make a 900 kilometre round trip to South of Poland where a Stop Bzdurom member was on holiday and bring her back to Warsaw. The three were kept in remand for two days and then released pending trial.  

And this, finally, takes us to the events of yesterday

Margot confronting the police

At 4pm, the court granted a 2-month arrest for Margot, for the alleged crimes related to the homophobic truck action. This was an unexpected decision, given that Margot did not breach her previously imposed bail conditions. When the court verdict was announced, Margot was at the HQ of the NGO Campaign Against Homophobia.

Stop Bzdurom quickly released a callout asking their supporters to turn up outside of the building where Margot was and show support. Hundreds of people gathered intending to prevent the arrest. Shortly after, the police arrived, ready to execute the court order. 

The crowd became verbally confrontational with the police, who, met with resistance, appeared like they are not that up for making the arrest. Eventually, Margot went outside and confronted them, trying to hand herself over. “And now what?”, she told them, “That’s how tough you are? You are easy with beating queers, but now, there is not a single officer who dares to arrest me in front of everyone?”

Indeed, the police did not make the arrest, and, following a stand-off, eventually left. Stop Bzdurom then lead the growing crowd of supporters to the Jesus statue apparently offended by a Pride flag. 

Łania Madej at yesterday’s protest

This turned into a lively, colourful and radical protest which saw statues (other than the Jesus one, which spent the afternoon being kettled by the police) decorated with Pride flags. There was also a confrontation with a homophobe attempting to take down one of the flags from the Copernicus statue. 

At some point during the protest, Margot was arrested. The protesters reacted to this by attempting to block the car in which Margot was detained by surrounding it and performing a sit-down action, with some climbing to the roof of it. This lasted for a significant time. 

Margot in the police car

At 8pm, the police started to brutally dismantle the blockade, dragging protesters out one after another. The car with Margot inside started to move, which created even more mayhem and brutal scenes. Then, the police kettled the square where the protest was taking place, trapping the demonstrators in it, while also announcing from megaphones that whoever will not leave the scene, will get arrested and/or subjected to more police violence. However, dispersing was made impossible by the very same cops who were requesting everyone does just that. 

The arrests started, with the police being heard saying that they are dragging out random people, without any indication that they were committing an offence. There were reports of severe police brutality, described by some as unseen in contemporary Poland. People were beaten, dragged around, experienced panic attacks, while being trapped in the square by the police who was also requesting they disperse or more violence will commence. 

Police protecting the car with Margot

Until late last night, there were more brutal scenes outside of the police stations where the arrested are kept, with the police violence used against the people who showed in support, including the loved ones and friends of the arrestees. 

Additionally, there are reports that the police spent last night hunting people across Warsaw, beating and arresting them. 

In total, aside Margot 48 people were arrested in Warsaw yesterday, and at the time of writing, 10 are still unaccounted for. Polish ABC reports the detained supporters of Margot will be prosecuted under the “24hr court”: a fast-track legal route which could see them sent to prison for up to three years without adequately securing their right to defence.

What’s next?

The scenes in Warsaw yesterday, in my opinion, can be seen as one of the fiercest acts of disobedience to the rule of PiS. Following the July presidential election in Poland, the far-right enjoys the full state power, and, without surprise really, can count on the police to enforce it.  The PiS government does not have to care about public opinion anymore, and in any case has a backup of, judging by the last election’s result, roughly half of the population. The other half, with particular attention given to the queer community, is dehumanised, scapegoated, and repressed with ever-growing brutality. It is supported by a handful of MPs who (credit is given when credit is due), stood up to the challenge and took an active part in the protests yesterday, and also engage themselves in symbolic actions. But otherwise, the sympathetic MPs are pretty powerless.

As Poland turns even further to the right, Stop Bzdurom, and broader the entire LGBTQ+ community needs support right now. So do other groups, such as women, migrant and refugee people to name just three.  So. Organise solidarity actions, demos, support Polish activists, ask your Polish friends what can be done and how, reach out to polish collectives, NGOs and others to offer your support. It is important. 

In Poland, Never Again is now. 

Zosia Brom

*Freedom previously reported that Małgorzata Szutowicz is a trans woman. However, yesterday we were corrected that she is, in fact, a non-binary person using she/her pronouns. For this mistake, we apologise.

As for the UK, there will be solidarity demos in London today and in Edinburgh on Monday.

Follow Stop Bzdurom here and here.

Donate to their legal fund here.

Unless otherwise stated, all photos by Marta Bogdanowicz/ Spacerowiczka, published with permission.

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