Thursday, 10 November 2011

Below the Belt

It was heartening when watching the opening of the new Polish Parliament yesterday to see a more socially diverse group of MPs.

Most prominently were the first openly gay (Robert Biedroń) and transsexual (Anna Grodzka ) MPs from the Palikot Movement, alongside the country's first black MP (John Abraham Godson) from PO. Despite this progress, the Polish parliament - dominated as it is by representatives of the conservative right - showed how it remains stuck in the past.

Biedroń managed to offend and amuse a number of MPs when he spoke in favour of the nomination of Wanda Nowicka for Deputy Speaker of parliament (WiceMarszałek). Nowicka is a Palikot Movement MP and a long-serving activist of the Womens' Movement in Poland and at the second attempt has been elected as Deputy Speaker. Defending his collegue against attacks from the right Biedroń dared to use the term (wait for it).... 'Below the Belt'.

As in English this is a commonly used phrase in Polish. However, for the MPs from PO and PiS (including PM Donald Tusk) it was just too much to hear a Gay MP use such phraseology and they responded with howls of laughter.

However, rather than being embarassed by their behaviour a number of MPs then went on the attack against Biedroń. Interestingly, it has been MPs from PO that have criticised Biedroń the most - as the conservative wing of the party seeks to reassert its influence.

The PO MP Julia Pietra argued that Biedroń had crossed acceptable limits in the parliament and during a subsequent debate on television she argued that he always talks about the same thing: sexuality. As Biedroń pointed out there was nothing in his speech about sexuality. Furthermore, another leading figure from PO - Stefan Niesiołowski - stated that he voted against the nomination of Nowicka because of Biedroń's irritating and stupid smile (sic). As normal Niesiołowski was growling and grimacing as he said this.

Biedron won over 17,000 votes at the last election, which was possible due to years of campaigning against homophobia during a time when such voices were rarely heard. The election of MPs such as Biedroń is a great advance for Polish politics. However, from yesterday's spectacle it is obvious that many in the parliament are not yet ready for this.

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