I'm going back to the border (going back)
Where my affairs, (going back) my affairs ain't been abused (going back)
I can't take any more bad water
I've been poisoned from my head down to my shoes
Yes, I have
Holy Moses, I have been removed
— "Border Song (Holy Moses)," Bernie Taupin / Elton John
The processes of belonging and othering often appear together, as distinct vectors of the same historical moment or process, as alternative social struggles for recognition.1 Both constitute central elements of today's social life and are sometimes perceived as parts of the highly fetishized and mainstreamized “diversity.” However, the painful realities of symbolic, institutional, and physical violence that the minoritarian struggles for recognition work against, are, in fact, often conveniently obscured to make way for an optimistic, stable, one-dimensional version of “diversity,” i.e. multiculturalism. The dialectics of othering and belonging, however, sometimes form errant, paradoxical, and conflicted experiences. Othering can be an oppressive force, as in the subalternation strategies depicted by Gayatri Spivak, which express the hegemony of the European Subject over their colonized counterpart.2 In my text, I examine the case of the digital grassroots initiative “Atlas of Hate,” which opposes the othering oppression of the homophobic zones installed in Poland since 2019. The establishing of these homophobic zones has been enabled by policy, where local resolutions are adapted and adopted either to openly ban so-called “LGBT-ideology” in a region, municipality, or rural community, or in the name of “defending traditional families.” This policy is contested by LGBTQ+ activists, human rights organisations, and the European Parliament.
I follow Giorgio Agamben in my discussion of the actions of the activists behind “Atlas of Hate," which is embedded in the analysis of the state of exception as contemporary biopolitical governance in Poland.3 I will show how resistance and solidarity practices, within such brutally oppressive politics, build a practice of intentional belonging by those othered – without resigning difference.
To realize our aims we humans collaborate with others–even when our purposes may be in contradiction. Immanuel Kant coined the term “unsocial sociability” to express this paradox of our species.4 Gloria Anzaldua's affirmation of the otherness, heterogeneity, and hybridity of the Chicanas is built on the assumption that, indeed, it is within contradiction that identity and solidarity can be accomplished.5 This togetherness – rooted in recognizing heterogeneity as a basic force of today's societies – constitutes a strong declaration of a belonging that embraces othering, even in painful socio-political constellations. The case of the homophobic zones in Poland and the “Atlas of Hate” initiative are concrete examples of the making of belonging by means of solidarity and cooperation in conditions of the state of exception, and in direct response to its brutality.
LGBT-free zones in Poland
In recent years, one of the strongest processes at the intersection of belonging and othering is the empowerment of legal, as well as social, legitimization of non-heteronormative relations and persons.6 In Poland this process is expressed by particularly contradictory tendencies: on the one hand, a growing practice and acceptance of same-sex relations and non-heteronormative, non-binary identities can be observed in culture and society; on the other hand, however, mobilizations against this empowering current immediately grow, supported by international networks of so-called “anti-gender” groups and organizations, as well as by state institutions taken over by the extreme-right, often under the name of “protecting the traditional family.”7
Since 2019, various local governments, regions, and municipalities have established so-called “LGBT-free zones” – areas of seemingly legalized homophobia. These “zones” are produced by the ostensibly legal process of voting on declarations either explicitly opposing the “LGBT-ideology” or expressing the “protection of traditional families.” These declarations are aimed at making it impossible to provide education about LGBTQ+ persons and groups, to exclude topics related to sexual minorities from the public debate and media, to ban demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights, and in turn also to push already marginalized and vulnerable groups into social and political invisibility.
Kamil Maczuga, an activist who participated in the process of mapping the homophobic zones for the “Atlas of Hate” says: “On October 28, my hometown of Nowa Sarzyna adopted an anti-LGBT resolution. It was very depressing for me as I know young LGBT people growing up there and not receiving support." Maczuga proposed 15 points for the EP Resolution on the rights of LGBTQ+ people and continues to work generally for their rights. The introduction of "zones'' prompted Paweł Preneta, a programmer, to create the interactive website of the "Atlas of Hate":
"I could watch it happening live, in Rzeszów, where the president issued a ban on the equality march, and where the city councilors from PiS wanted to push through a resolution condemning this march. The ban was lifted by the court and the resolution was rejected by the city council, but it was still water for the mill of local homophobes. There was an attempt to block the march again, the internet (and not only) was full of disgusting comments, including 'faggots go to gas [chambers].' I can only try to imagine how such an atmosphere affects the lives of LGBT people."
Preneta initially treated these "zones" as isolated incidents, only after observing how they were installed one after another, he realized, as many people did, that it was a systematic charge.
The Atlas of Hate
When local authorities vote on such declarations, the grassroots activists of the “Atlas of Hate” (Atlas Nienawiści) initiative immediately put the anti-LGBT documents on their interactive map.8 Between 2019 and 2021, some 35% of the territory of Poland has been “covered” by such declarations, thus making supposedly marginal voting events an active tool for homophobia. Now, due to EU pressure, the territory covered has decreased to 15%. Since 2019 Kuba Gawron, Paulina Pająk, Paweł Preneta, and Kamil Maczuga, the authors of the “Atlas of Hate," have worked incessantly to document these zones and make them visible for the public at large.
The authors of the “Atlas of Hate” collected a detailed list of anti-LGBTQ resolutions adopted by local governments. In 2021, more than 100 municipalities, counties, and regions enacted such resolutions. Some of these declarations contain provisions that are directly targeting “LGBT-ideology," but some are seemingly neutral in terms of gender or sexual orientation, as they focus on “protecting the traditional family.” However, how exactly they protect the traditional family is unclear and, indeed, without basis.
These declarations are aimed at making it impossible to provide education about LGBTQ+ persons and groups, to exclude topics related to sexual minorities from the public debate and media, to ban demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights, and in turn also to push already marginalized and vulnerable groups into social and political invisibility.
The “Charters of the Rights of Family," introduced by the Ordo Iuris organization, are another version of anti-LGBT declaration. Such “Charters” are a version of the homophobic zones - they do not always mention “LGBT-ideology” explicitly, yet through their emphasis on heteronormativity (ie. as in defending marriage as union of a man and a woman), they exclude sexual minorities.
The authors of the “Atlas of Hate” have been targeted with lawsuits; some regional authorities accuse them of defamation. In one of the hearings during a court case against the authors of the “Atlas of Hate," the judge demanded an explanation of the so-called dangers threatening traditional families–the local politician could not name any one of them. The judge asked again whether the politician could identify any specific threat in the municipality the politician represented–he repeated that he could not. The judge then clarified: “Thus you have to agree that there is no danger threatening traditional families in your area?” to which the local representative said: “yes, I have to agree, there is no such danger.”9 This absurd exchange from the courtroom clearly shows that the anti-LGBT declarations are not only ill-fitted to the system of law in Poland, but that they also evoke ghostly enemies in order to discriminate against actual people–the sexual minorities. Some parts of these documents do, however, contain evidently exclusive discourse specifically directed against “the LGBT-ideology," thus explicitly naming the so-called enemy of traditional values.
Since early 2021 some 20% of the territory of Poland has been liberated from this state-sanctioned homophobia, however there remains approximately 15% of the territory still covered by the anti-LGBT declarations. The process of retracting homophobia proceeds slowly, as the Ordo Iuris fundamentalist organization actively encourages local authorities not to succumb to international pressure. This organization also targets politicians, activists, and artists with strategic court trials (SLAPPs - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to discourage resistance against their homophobia and convince the public that the traditional family is under severe attack. The Ordo Iuris provides legal assistance to those local authorities who decide to accuse the activists of “Atlas of Hate” of defamation. Due to their support, some 10 court cases against the “Atlas of Hate'' were opened in various places in Poland. The sum claimed by the offended politicians is 165 000 zloty (approx. $41,000) – almost the equivalent of the combined yearly salaries of the four activists who constitute the “Atlas of Hate.” The activists managed to raise donations of 170,000 zloty, demonstrating their international support and solidarity. The stress, however, resulting from the complex proceedings within the trial, the consumption of time and money, and the toll on individual resilience, is huge, and it is only due to international solidarity that they can survive at the current moment. They continue their work with the “Atlas of Hate.”
Public against our will? The LGBTQ+ persons and groups under attack in Poland
In some communes, local governments receive leaflets that contradict the standards of the International Health Organization: in some, homosexuality is conflated with pedophilia. Such materials are provided by fundamentalist organizations, such as the Foundation "Pro Right to Life," The Piotr Skarga Association, or the Ordo Iuris. In 2021, after EU interventions concerning funding and the threat to cut serious European financial support for local projects, two large regions (vojevodshafts), Małopolskie and Podkarpackie, together with some smaller regions, repealed the homophobic laws. At this time, some 90 regions, including two vojevodshafts, still have the anti-LGBT regulations, covering some 15% of the territory of Poland, compared to the 35% in Spring 2021.
“Othering'' in this context, against LGBTQ+ persons and groups, basically reduces people to some abstract, undefined “ideology.” Belonging, on the other hand, is formed in solidarity practices.
In the regions of Poland that adopted homophobic “zones," members of the LGBTQ+ communities, as well as our heteronormative allies, immediately felt exclusion and discrimination. Notably, public speech of Polish media and political debates since 2015 has been noticeably discriminatory: where leaders in key positions – including the President and Prime Minister – engage in overt hate-speech. For example, in 2020 the President of Poland, Mr Andrzej Duda, called the LGBTQ+ people: “not people, but ideology.”10 The current minister of education also pushes a homophobic agenda, eradicating any human rights and equality-oriented materials from classrooms.11 Various media attacks on non-heteronormative persons and groups, further contributing to the procedures of “othering," have became ubiquitous.
Kuba Gawron and Paulina Pająk rightly emphasize the negative impact of the homophobic resolutions on LGBTQ+ people. It is estimated that some 60% of the LGBTQ+ youth in Poland have suicidal tendencies, given that prejudice-based violence, as well as hate speech, constitute the group's daily experience. This sense of danger increases when local and central authorities make efforts to make life difficult for non-heteronormative people. In particular, the provisions of various Charters of Family Rights or declarations against "LGBTQ+ ideology" are harmful here.
“Othering'' in this context, against LGBTQ+ persons and groups, basically reduces people to some abstract, undefined “ideology.” Belonging, on the other hand, is formed in solidarity practices – in the discussions and support actions around the “Atlas of Hate," in various queer and LGBTQ+ marches in big and small towns of Poland, and in legal and media support. In some municipalities, like those of Poznań, Warsaw, and Gdańsk, the solidarity of opening the “LGBTQ+ - zones” was emphasized with actions like the huge Palace of Culture in Warsaw bearing the rainbow colors in the Pride month and on other occasions.
Homophobic zones on trial
Thanks to EP Resolution 2019/2933 (RSP) of December 18, 2019, we know that the "zones" do not comply with EU regulations and standards. Yet despite European admonishments, in 2021, a project of law delegitimizing expressions of so-called “LGBT-ideology” was sent to the Polish Parliament by Kaja Godek, an ultra-conservative activist, working with the Ordo Iuris fundamentalist organization. The Parliament did not vote for this law, but it was also not immediately rejected. It can be said that the process of first voting local anti-LGBT declarations, and then introducing a general law to the Parliament was practiced, successfully, in Russia some years ago. Regions voted homophobic local regulations, and then in 2012 the Duma (Russian Parliament) voted a law banning what was called “LGBT-ideology” from public debates, media, and education. In Poland, however, passing this law may not be possible as the European Union institutions claim that no funding will be given to homophobic regions.
The former Ombudsman of Poland (the Officer of Human Rights heading an independent institution citizens can work with to claim their rights), prof. Adam Bodnar, asserted that many of the regional homophobic declarations violate several Polish laws, such as those regulating the relations between the local and central state governments, as well as those protecting the citizens from discrimination and inequality. Several courts have already responded by confirming the statements of the Ombudsman and therefore determining that the LGBT-free declarations are illegal. Some court trials have given rise to arguably absurd situations–a notable example being the aforementioned local politician who voted in favor of the declaration to “protect [the] traditional family," and yet, when asked what exactly the dangers were to the traditional family, responded he did not know any.
The declarations of local government officials that their homophobic resolutions allegedly “are not of an executive nature” change nothing because the statements of democratically elected authorities always have some practical influence on the local populations, being an expression of power. In fact, former Ombudsman prof. Adam Bodnar, who submitted five local government resolutions to court in December 2019, accused them of violating the human rights of sexual minorities and the principles of legalism. In the opinion of the Ombudsman's experts, these resolutions constitute "a ruling disposition for the executive organs of the commune and other subordinate organs, to which the commune councils had no right to formulate" and "limit the rights and freedoms of the commune inhabitants - their right to private and family life, freedom of expression, to education, the right to education and the right to raise children in accordance with one's own convictions - in an unlawful manner, as these rights and freedoms may only be restricted by law."12
The resolution adopted by the European Parliament (EP) on December 18, 2019 states that “LGBTI rights are fundamental rights, and that the EU institutions and the Member States therefore have a duty to uphold and protect them in accordance with the Treaties and the Charter, as well as international law” (point 1) and that the EP “Strongly condemns any discrimination against LGBTI people and their fundamental rights by public authorities, including hate speech by public authorities and elected officials, in the context of elections, as well as the recent declarations of zones in Poland free from so-called ‘LGBT ideology’, and calls on the Commission to strongly condemn these public discriminations” (point 3).13 In March 2021 the European Parliament voted a “Motion for a Resolution'', in which it: “Hereby declares the European Union an ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone’.”14 The majority of Euro Parliamentarians took a stance against various sabotages of equal rights taking place in Poland and Hungary. And since Fall 2021, several EU institutions demanded the repeal of the anti-LGBT+ legal statements, which was effective to some extent, as now “only” 15% of the territory of Poland is still a zone of legalized homophobia.
State of exception for LGBTQ+ people in Poland: Lessons from History and Contemporary Examples
Despite the actions of the EU and the Ombudsman, a state of exception for the LGBTQ+ persons and groups is being established, step-by-step, at all levels and clusters of politics and society in Poland. This “step by step” proceeding follows the most tragic examples of Europe's history: fascist Germany and the efforts to eradicate the Jewish population and legacy, as well as Putinist Russia, where sexual minorities are also deprived of rights systematically. Following these examples, the Polish conservative government, central and local authorities, as well as fundamentalist organizations, violate Polish and international laws–while also trying to introduce homophobia as state doctrine, precisely by making it legal. It has been many times repeated that the German fascism of the 1930s and 1940s was legal – astonishing and unacceptable to consider now, it was made legal by the step-by-step proceedings of changing the state's laws. The German legal transition of the 1930s followed the scenario shaped by the philosopher of law, Carl Schmitt, a theorist very popular among the members of the conservative elite in today's Poland.
In the history of law and society, attempts to deprive various minorities of dignity, rights, safety, and even life, are well known. In Europe we are still haunted by the crimes of the Nazi German Third Reich to deprive groups they deemed different (Jews, gays, the Roma) of recognition, rights and even life. The Nazis tried to dehumanize Jews not by one decree, but by meticulous transformation of the state law of the Third Reich, gradually depriving the Jewish population of their property, titles and positions, rights, and finally - also lives. This painful process of transforming Germany into a "Jews-free zone" was described in detail by Franciszek Ryszka in the book The State of Emergency and has also been critically addressed by Giorgio Agamben in The State of Exception.15 The exception is twofold, being attributed to the sovereign, who constructs the law while also being exempt of its regulations, and the “other," the homo sacer – a person or a group, whose life is reduced to mere biological survival, thus not being worth legal protection or recognition.
...this made it clear to us both that we were observing a sudden reappearance of what could be called fragments of the fascist discourse.
The state of exception obviously reduces the number and the quality of mediations between the state's executive powers and the bare lives of those excluded from citizen status. The ancient notion of homo sacer – of the person excluded from community and from the legal order – is used by Agamben to depict the lives and situation of today's refugees, whose functioning in the societies where they are not recognized as citizens allows many cases of direct, unmediated action on their bodies by executive power. I use Agamben's theory of the state of exception to situate the various forms of legal exclusion and marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community in Poland in the wider context of fascist politics returning under the names of fundamentalism, defense of traditional family, and/or nationalism. In this operation, various supposedly distanced state strategies can be seen as parts of the same socio-political process.
In 2005, with the visual artist Aleka Polis, we were invited by the organizers of the “Uwaga, Polen Kommen” Festival, to make a documentary film comparing contemporary Warsaw with Weimar. The topic was left for us to decide, but the request was that the film touch socially pertinent phenomena. We sat down and started thinking: “Weimar? Weimar? Well – Goethe, Schiller, Weimar Republic.” At the time, I was analyzing Aleka's artworks with many references to Agamben's work, and perhaps this made it clear to us both that we were observing a sudden reappearance of what could be called fragments of the fascist discourse. We started to connect seemingly different dots: laws concerning refugees; enhancement of giving birth in a national way, i. e. by Polish and German women;16 and various other factors that made our comparison of today's Warsaw with the historical Weimar Republic incredibly apt.17 Indeed, we were able to predict the results of the parliamentary election in Poland in 2005 – including the rise and further development of the semi-fascist coalition now called the “first PiS government” (2005-2007). A stronger version of this government came back in 2015 and still plays a role in Poland's politics, with an approach explicitly shaped in agreement with Schmittian principles of the state of exception doctrine.
The detailed analysis of the state of exception, offered by Ryszka and Agamben, contains insights necessary to comprehend the modes of selection, surveillance, and control of contemporary societies. Because fascist politics is their immediate context, they also allow immediate diagnostics of those moments when a state approaches the Third Reich. In the context of LGBTQ+ rights, the analysis of the state of exception allows us to make a connection between otherwise very distant narratives: that of the limitation and stripping of fundamental rights of entire groups and the caring narrative concerning traditional families and values. As Korolczuk and Graff show in their study of the Anti-Gender movements, much effort has been made by today's fundamentalist organizations to rhetorically separate their demands concerning private life and intimacy norms from the repressive modes of fascist politics.18 Yet, such connections should be made in order to diagnose the repressive, exclusivist currents, as well as to resist injustice. Precisely that connection has continued to be made by the four “Atlas of Hate” activists from Poland since the first appearances of “LGBT-free zones” in local governments in 2019.
Such fear of globalization, and the changes of standards and egalitarianism it might bring, is particularly strong in Poland.
The state of emergency on the Polish-Belarussian border, introduced in Fall 2021 by the government of Poland, could be understood as a means of transferring the public interest from the “anti-LGBT+ zones” to the supposed risks Poland is facing from refugees. This policy of the Polish government against refugees entering Poland from Belarus began exactly at the time when the municipalities and regions started to turn down the homophobic declarations in order to comply with the European Union's legal standards. In short, we suggest that this dramatic moment was opportunely embraced by the the government of Poland to distract from internal discriminatory actions against the LGBTQ+ people and groups in Poland.19 Such instrumentalizations of the lives of discriminated groups are sadly a common practice in the politics of the Polish governments since 2015. We have seen the efforts to use the reproductive rights as a topic masking the inability to handle the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and in the 2015 electoral campaign members of the Polish right-wing parties used scandalous anti-refugee arguments, such as those accusing the immigrants of spreading diseases.
Arjun Appadurai convincingly writes about fear of minorities and the geography of anger, referring primarily to ethnically motivated hatred after September 11, 2001. He discusses outbursts of ethnic and racial hatred as a response to fears caused by globalization, precarization, and increasing inequality. In his essay, Appadurai writes: “(...) the globalization of violence against minorities causes deep anxiety about the national project and its own ambiguous relationship with globalization. And globalization, which is a faceless force, cannot be the target of genocide. On the other hand, minorities do.”20 Such fear of globalization, and the changes of standards and egalitarianism it might bring, is particularly strong in Poland. Since 2015 the conservative parties have exploited this fear to win elections, by using racism and homophobia in their campaigns and politics, promising ‘to keep tradition intact’.
As Bożena Umińska wrote during the first Law and Justice (PiS) government of 2005, in the ultraconservative project of transforming Poland into a country of traditionalist fundamentalism, gays and lesbians replaced Jews as the internal enemy.21 Appadurai explains that "... historically, minorities are not born by themselves, but are formed.”22 This is a very important observation as we highlight the ways in which the LGBTQ+ populations are being instrumentalized as an enemy ideology against which a fundamentalist politics can form.
Already in ancient Greece, any person who had ancestors outside of Athens in the last three generations was considered a "metojka" (that is, a non-Athenian). An analogous definition was adopted in the Third Reich to define a Jew. In the USA, up to 1% of "non-white" blood excluded a person from full citizenship during the decades of racial segregation. The criteria for determining minorities are also constructed in relation to LGBTQ + people, where even seemingly unambiguous categories such as "gay" or "lesbian" become more complicated when we include people who, for example, have had heterosexual relationships in the past or have children.
Definitions of minorities necessarily constitute a form of, at least partially, constructivist ordering in a world in which diversity and contradictions are, after all, a natural element. Paulina Pająk points out that as a Polish citizen and lesbian, married to another woman, she is in a strange situation. Although she has been creating a family with her wife for over a dozen years and married her in Great Britain, they are not recognized as a family in Poland. This contradiction – and at the same time the need – to include rainbow families in the provisions of Polish law became the reason for pressure from LGBTQ+ organizations on national and regional authorities to create inclusive, affirmative resolutions such as the Warsaw “Charter of LGBT+ Rights," adopted also in Poznań and Gdańsk.
The power of the powerless
Non-heteronormative and queer persons of the LGBTQ+ groups in Poland are targeted by the current government of Poland, as various Parliament Members and other politicians openly dehumanize us, accuse us of spreading disease, and of attacking “traditional values.” We are also under attack from right-wing, fundamentalist associations and groups (from the Ordo Iuris, to nationalist groups and parties), and public media. This situation results in hate speech becoming the public discourse about LGBTQ+ groups and persons. It’s possible to see non-heteronormative persons in Poland merely as objects of oppression, as a version of homo sacer from Giorgio Agamben's analysis of today's state of exception. However, the agency of the oppressed should not be reduced to the reception of attacks. In the book The Excitable Speech Judith Butler questions the popular assumption that hate speech is always already successful.23 By emphasizing the distinction between the intention and results of hate speech, Butler shifts the focus from a determinist interpretation of speech acts towards an indeterminist one. Thus the intention behind the hate-speech act does not determine its success. Using several examples of hate speech, Butler demonstrates how: by the courageous response of the attacked; by the shift of context; and by simple mistakes on the side of the ‘hater’, the speech intended as causing pain and violence, de facto can achieve something different. The hate speech of public media and government in Poland, for example, created a plethora of solidarity actions and initiatives amongst sexual minorities, thus spectacularly failing in their effort of degradation and marginalization of LGBTQ+ persons and groups.
In this battle with the zones of homophobia, we believe more solidarity and belonging will eventually be created to surpass hatred and othering.
Agamben's take on Carl Schmitt's doctrine of the sovereignty of the state of emergency is particularly important for understanding the process we were dealing with in the Third Reich, but also for explaining what we are dealing with in Poland today. The Polish policy of recent years has been heading in exactly the direction taken by the Third Reich: a legal system is installed, in which the centralization and, at the same time, chaos of hastily introduced regulations, sometimes in the form of "night sessions" of the parliament, favors the executive power over the legal one, thus dismantling the balance between these two and the juridical. This process of autonomization of the executive power in relation to the legal, however, is only one element of the Schmittian concept of sovereignty, its other key element is the politics of hostility, in which, thanks to the establishment and then gradual dehumanization of a person or group chosen as the "enemy," the sovereign obtains its absolute position and uniqueness. In the Third Reich, Jews were cast as the enemy, in the Polish reality of the beginning of the 21st century, this role is played by LGBTQ+ persons. We have become a minority whose severe deprivation of rights and humanity serves the function of symbolically strengthening the identity of an exclusively understood "nation" and its sovereign, allowing them more and more absolute power. However – not all hate speech is successful. And in this battle with the zones of homophobia, we believe more solidarity and belonging will eventually be created to surpass hatred and othering.
The “Atlas of Hate” project helped create a lively queer counterpublics – a public sphere of LGBTQ+ groups and our allies – oppositional to the conservative mainstream voices.24 In opposing specific pseudo-legal operations, such as the homophobic zones, this counterpublics created a much needed collection of cases violating human rights. In opposing homophobia, it also challenged one of the principal divisions organizing liberal societies–that of the private and public. The two-fold resistance of counterpublics consists in their opposition to specific rules and government action, and to more general socio-cultural principles at the same time. The other important factor of counterpublics is their transversality: pro-LGBTQ+ activism proceeds from the most grassroots levels (information spread, network building, collecting of money in solidarity funds) to the most institutional levels (the Polish Ombudsman and the European Parliament taking action), to the level of media and non-governmental organisations (engaging in solidarity and support.)
Recognising and cultivating belonging consists not only in resisting homophobic politics and claims, but also – and perhaps more importantly – in recognizing what Vaclav Havel once called “the power of the powerless.”25 By embracing the position of the attacked, of the weak, oppressed and marginalized “other," LGBTQ+ activists, communities, and persons announce a different, new political agency, perhaps a less heroic one, but also one capable of belonging, in solidarity.
Dr hab. Ewa Majewska is a feminist philosopher and activist, living in Warsaw. She taught at the UDK Berlin, University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, she was also a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley; ICI Berlin and IWM in Vienna. She published five books, including Feminist Antifascism: Counterpublics of the Common (Verso, 2021) and many articles and essays, in journals, magazines and collected volumes, including: e-flux, Signs, Third Text, Journal of Utopian Studies and Jacobin. Her current research is in Hegel's philosophy, focusing on the dialectics and the weak; feminist critical theory and antifascist cultures.
"I am a queer Georgian artist, based in London. In 2017 I made my first short experimental film which premiered at the Berlin Porn Film Festival. The film was made from a need to deal with the inner world rather than the outer world that saturated my daily life as a journalist. After making this film, which explored female sexuality, photography became a medium for artistic expression and I started photographing nudes, culminating in self-portraits photographed during the first lockdown in 2020. In my photographic practice I am drawn to a visual language that celebrates fluidity and allows the subject to navigate the space, rather than be fixed by the gaze of the photographer. I have been photographing nudes for a few years now by focusing on the stories that emerge through gesture, posture, choreography and the blurred lines of the gender binary." - Marika Kochiashvili
Although homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ+ folks are legally prohibited in Georgia, homosexuality is still socially frowned upon and the community is severely vilified. In 2013, a march taking place on the International Day Against Homophobia was infamously targeted by religious zealots who were responding to belligerent calls from the church patriarch. Over forty queer marchers were injured and in 2014 the church declared 17th of May as the ‘Day of Family Purity’ in the country. In July 2021, thousands came out to interfere with the planned Tbilisi Pride. Over 50 journalists were injured. The state was unable to guarantee the safety of the marchers. The Pride was canceled.
In recent years, safe spaces have flourished in Tbilisi. The queer scene remains very much underground, but a new sense of hope emanates. A sense of hope that I have had to assess from afar, in London, where I have been living for ten years and where I have come to terms with my own sexuality and identity.
Due to familial and societal pressure I have rejected my truthful gender expression and adapted to normative femininity throughout my youth in Georgia. It had a considerable effect on the way I held myself and occupied space. When I moved to London and felt able to come out, I was also able to claim back the space that had been denied to me.
- 1 See: Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange (London: Verso, 2003) and Judith Butler, “Longing for recognition,” in: eds. Kimberly Hutchings & Tuija Pulkkinen, Hegel's Philosophy and Feminist Thought: Beyond Antigone? (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010).
- 2 Gayatri Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (Harvard University Press, 1999).
- 3 The notion of “biopolitical governance” was built by Michel Foucault, whose work examined the embodied practices of control and management of the population. Emphasis was made on the internalization of the mechanisms of state power, which was not seen as solely external to the Subject, but to a large extent integrated by individuals. See: Michel Foucault, Society must be defended (Penguin Classics, 2020). See also: Giorgio Agamben, The state of exception (University of Chicago Press, 2005).
- 4 See: Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim. A Critical Guide (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- 5 Gloria Anzaldua, Bordelands/La Frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987).
- 6 See: Ewa Majewska, “Strefy wolne od LGBT+”, in Le Monde Diplomatique (PL edition), 1 (161)/ 2020.
- 7 Agnieszka Graff and Elżbieta Korolczuk, Anti-Gender Politics in the Populist Moment (London and New York: Routledge, 2022).
- 8 The “Atlas of Hate” - interactive map depicting the homophobic zones in Poland since 2019, is available here: https://atlasnienawisci.pl/
- 9 Stenograms of the trial available from Kamil Maczuga's social media page, I confirmed the information with him and other activists of the “Atlas of Hate” in January 2022.
- 10 "Andrzej Duda o LGBT: Próbują wmówić, że to ludzie. To ideologia." Rzeczpospolita, June 13, 2020. https://www.rp.pl/wydarzenia/art8909311-andrzej-duda-o-lgbt-probuja-wmowic-ze-to-ludzie-to-ideologia.
- 11 "EU founding values: Commission starts legal action against Hungary and Poland for violations of fundamental rights of LGBTIQ people," European Commission, July 15, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_3668. In another article, a teacher shares that they are afraid to mention human rights in classrooms; "Prawa ucznia? Wolimy o nich nie mówić. Alina Czyżewska o grzechach polskiej szkoły," September 1, 2021, Gazeta Wyborcza, https://lublin.wyborcza.pl/lublin/7,48724,27517556,alina-czyzewska-o-polskiej-szkole-prawa-ucznia-wolimy-o-nich.html.
- 12 Dawid Sześciło, “Opinia w sprawie dopuszczalności zaskarżenia przez Rzecznika Praw Obywatelskich uchwał rad niektórych jednostek samorządu terytorialnego w sprawie „powstrzymywania ideologii LGBT”, published online on the website of the Ombudsman of Poland, 2019. www.rpo.gov.pl.
- 13 European Parliament resolution of 18 December 2019 on public discrimination and hate speech against LGBTI people, including LGBTI free zones (2019/2933(RSP)).
- 14 “Declaration of the EU as an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone,” European Parliament, 11 March 2021.
- 15 See: Franciszek Ryszka, Państwo stanu wyjątkowego (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1974) and Giorgio Agamben, The state of exception (University of Chicago Press, 2005).
- 16 See: Conrad Taeuber and Irene B. Taeuber, “German Fertility Trends, 1933-39”, in: American Journal of Sociology Vol. 46, No. 2 (Sep., 1940), pp. 150-167, https://www.jstor.org/stable/i328791. In Poland, the nationalist narrative about how Polish women should give birth to Polish children was used by conservative parties in electoral campaign in 2005.
- 17 A fragment of our movie is available online. See: Syreny TV (Ewa Majewska & Aleksandra Polisiewicz), “Cała naprzód ku skrajnej prawicy”, 2005: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MPfcH7KRkk.
- 18 Agnieszka Graff and Elżbieta Korolczuk, Anti-Gender Politics in the Populist Moment (London and New York: Routledge, 2022).
- 19 About the Polish-Belarus border, see here: https://ecre.org/eu-eastern-borders-belarus-and-poland-enact-brutal-violence-and-block-aid-workers-lithuania-lifts-state-of-emergency/.
- 20 Arjun Appudarai, Fear of Small Numbers (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 50.
- 21 Bożena Uminska, Barykady. Kroniki obsesyjne (Kraków: Fundacja Efka, 2006).
- 22 Arjun Appudarai, Fear of Small Numbers (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 2.
- 23 Judith Butler, The Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).
- 24 Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002).
- 25 Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe (London and New York: Routlege, 2015).