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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » March 27, 2013
Politics & Society
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Outrage as Wałęsa Hits Out at Gays
March 27, 2013   
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Former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has caused outrage by suggesting gays in parliament should sit behind a wall. His comments have caused some to question his credentials as an icon of democracy.

Wałęsa, 69, a staunch Catholic and a father of eight, said March 1 on the popular TVN24 news channel that gays “have to understand they are a minority and settle for a smaller role.”

He was referring to plans to introduce civil partnerships in Poland, including for same-sex couples. Legislation of this kind has been adopted by most EU member states, but the first attempt to introduce such measures in Poland failed when three bills proposing civil partnerships were rejected by deputies Jan. 25. Even though Prime Minister Donald Tusk had urged deputies to back the move, a bill proposed by the ruling Civic Platform (PO) was rejected by some of its own lawmakers. Tusk was outraged and the vote caused a rift within his party.

Asked whether gays should sit on the back benches in parliament, Wałęsa said, “Of course they should (...) And even behind a wall.” He added that gays should not be “bugging me and my grandchildren.”

The anti-gay remarks from possibly the world’s most famous Pole instantly made headlines in Poland and abroad, provoking a flurry of criticism. Wałęsa refused to apologize and continued criticizing gay people.

“If a majority of people ventured into homosexuality, who would pay taxes?” Wałęsa said in an interview for the right-wing Rzeczpospolita newspaper. “God created women and men so that they would multiply.”

Wałęsa added he did not know what to say to his grandchildren when they saw two men on a street kissing and holding hands. He added he was not a homophobe, but was campaigning to make sure democracy reflected the structure of society. “If someone accounts for 3 percent, they should occupy 3 percent of seats,” said Wałęsa. “Nude people must not strip down and run up and down streets showing their differences to the majority. I don’t like it when people flaunt their homosexuality.”

Wałęsa said he was not worried that people in Poland would turn their backs on him after his remarks. “The nation is on my side,” he insisted. “I am speaking for the majority of Poles. And not just Poles, but Europe and the world. I have been getting letters, calls and e-mails of support. People think like I do. But only Wałęsa has had the courage to say it.” Neither was Wałęsa’s self-confidence shaken by opinion polls showing that most of the Polish public felt embarrassed about what he had said. Wałęsa’s critics include his own son, Jarosław Wałęsa, a member of the European Parliament elected on a Civic Platform ticket. “I was flabbergasted, because those words should not have been said in that interview,” Wałęsa junior told the TVN24 channel. He added that he was planning to have words with his father. “I will tell him we are living in a different world now,” Jarosław Wałęsa said. “Thirty years ago he was campaigning for freedom for all of us and now we should be campaigning for equal rights.”

Lech Wałęsa later said that his and his son’s differing views could be a matter of a generation gap. “I will never change, I shall remain like this,” Wałęsa said in a popular political talk show on public television.

Wałęsa’s former colleagues from Poland’s democratic opposition of the 1970s and 1980s also voiced criticism. Former opposition leader Władysław Frasyniuk attributed Wałęsa’s remarks to “a combination of old age and loneliness.”

“It is kind of like he is spitting in his own face,” said Frasyniuk, adding that he agreed with those saying that Wałęsa has disgraced the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ryszard Nowak, the head of the Polish Committee Against Cults and Violence, reported Wałęsa’s comments to the public prosecutor’s office, arguing that Wałęsa had promoted hatred of a sexual minority. Nowak cited articles 256 and 257 of the Penal Code, which forbid insults and inciting hatred “on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity, race, religion or lack of a religion.”

The prosecutor’s office examined Nowak’s report, but refused to launch an investigation, because neither of the two articles mention sexual orientation.

Commentators believe Wałęsa’s remarks could backfire if people stay away from lectures and speeches he delivers, for which he is handsomely paid. In recent years, Wałęsa has been a frequent guest at many universities, think tanks and corporations around the world. Royalties he has received for lectures at U.S. universities alone total hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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