Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can Poland stop the Purple Peril?

POLISH BISHOPS waiting at airport as Pope arrives by helicopter cover faces as wind blows up their skirts. Could young children be unduly influenced by such sights?

MY keyboard skills are limited as it is, otherwise I'd consider typing this blog with my fingers crossed. A few posts back, commenting on right-wing American tele-evangelist Reverend Jerry Falwell's departure from this life, I was bold enough to say now Tinky-Winky could safely come out to play again.

What I meant of course was that parents could safely leave their small offspring watching the Teletubbies on TV without fearing they might be accused of fostering homosexual tendencies among the pre-school infants. (I say nothing about the programme's cultural merits, or otherwise) It was Reverend Jerry who sounded the warning in 1999 by pointing out that Tinky-Winky wore a triangle, was clad in purple, and carried a handbag.

Apparently the good reverend was not the first, as I'd thought, to have noticed these tell-tale signs. The show had already gained an amused following among those gays with nothing better to do than watch morning TV , and was beginning to be discussed among cultural iconographers or semiologists who make a living at it. Whether sophisticated three year olds were nodding sagaciously and nudging each other with a wink, I don't know. It's just as likely they were saying "Wow! That red handbag with purple outfit is SO retro, darling!"

But anyway, I rejoiced too soon. My idea that daft concerns about such dangers to the very young would be confined to barnstorming American preachers like the Baptist Falwell has been confounded by the Old World, Old Time Religionists of Catholic Poland, not just in the pulpit but the seats of government.

Tinky Winky accused of promoting homosexuality in Poland
Reuters, Warsaw, Tuesday May 29, 2007
The Guardian
"Poland's conservative government took its drive to curb what it sees as homosexual propaganda to the small screen yesterday, taking aim at Tinky Winky and the other Teletubbies.
Ewa Sowinska, the government-appointed children's rights watchdog, told a local magazine yesterday she was concerned the popular BBC children's show promoted homosexuality.
She said she would ask psychologists to advise if this was the case. In comments reminiscent of criticism by the late US evangelist Jerry Falwell, she said:"I noticed [Tinky Winky] has a lady's purse, but I didn't realise he's a boy."

I'd been warned about the way Poland was going, mind. About ten years ago, taking a cut through St.James' Park one afternoon I stopped by a tea stall for refreshment. The tea wasn't up to much, I seem to remember, but the young woman on the stall either spotted I had an intelligent and sympathetic face or was short of someone to talk to on a dull weekday afternoon. Anyway, she told me she was from Poland; and that not only were conditions not improving, but after ridding itself of one sort of dictatorship her country faced another authoritarianism, that of militant Catholicism, intolerant of minorities, and thrusting back women, welfare, and family law.

It's a pity I had not come prepared to record her actual words, because she put it all better than I can. But that unexpected encounter gave me something to think about and it has stuck in my mind. And that was all before the present Law and Justice Party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, came to office, in alliance with the right-wing Catholic

Its first prime minister was Kazimierz Marcinkewicz, a member (like Blairite minister Ruth Kelly) of Opus Dei. His place was then taken by party founder Jaroslav Kaczynski, whose brother Lech banned Gay Pride when he was mayor of Warsaw. Lech Kaczynski is now Poland's president.


In October last year the newspaper Rzeczpospolita published leaked security service documents (from the time when it was headed by Kaczynski's political opponents) discussing his sexuality, because like Britain's Ted Heath, he had never married. Operatives were to determine if he had homosexual orientation, and try to spread such rumours. Unfortunately, the prime minister seems to have felt he must respond to such stories by proving himself a gay-basher, like his brother, with statements like "homosexuals who are involved in homosexual propaganda should not be teachers".

The Polish government's illiberal stand has been a bit embarassing for those who welcomed it into the European Union.
"Poland's prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, rejected EU criticism of a ban on "homosexual propaganda" in schools yesterday, saying that it was not in society's interests to increase the number of gay people.
Mr Kaczynski dismissed suggestions that homosexual people faced discrimination in Poland, in a blunt response to an EU parliament vote earlier in the day in which MEPs called for a fact-finding mission to the country to investigate recent anti-gay comments by senior officials".,,2066792,00.html

Not everyone in Poland is taking the move to control children's televiewing entirely seriously. "One radio station asked its listeners to vote for the most suspicious children's show. Some e-mailed in, saying that Winnie the Pooh had only male friends.
Even Ms Sowinska has backtracked a little, insisting that she does not believe the Teletubbies is a threat to the nation's children. But the evaluation is still going ahead and her office can recommend that the show should be taken off the air.
Poland was criticised recently after its education ministry announced plans to sack teachers who promote homosexuality".

There's that last sentence to remind us this witch-hunting isn't only a joke.

It was bad enough in a relatively enlightened country like Britain, having legislation sneaked in by the Tories that made teachers nervous of being reported by some hostile student or parent if they so much as tried to counter homophobia and bullying. Now that law has gone, but not without resistance from diehard defenders, notably in Scotland where Stagecoach transport boss Brian Souter who financed the campaign to keep Section 28 is now a backer of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

Despite the obvious differences, such as Scotland's notorious religious division, as well as the SNP's generally more modern outlook, voters who have looked to the Nationalists for greater freedom might turn a nervous side glance on the Polish experience.

  • While my thought was lightly turning in that direction, it was announced on the television news that the head of Scotland's Roman Catholic Church is to warn politicians they risk excommunication if they defend abortion. Cardinal Keith O'Brien was being received yesterday by an amiable Alex Salmond, and telling him about the Church's importance in Scottish history.


  • ON A BRIGHTER NOTE - I see from a Polish website that there was a legal Gay Pride march in Warsaw this year, and that a counter-demonstration called by a Catholic organisation claiming to promote "family values" and backed by a government minister attracted a mere 800 supporters rather than promised thousands.

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