The marchers at the first gay pride parade here in the conservative Polish city of Bialystok expected that they would be met with resistance. But last week when Katarzyna Sztop-Rutkowska saw the angry mob of thousands that awaited the marchers, who numbered only a few hundred, she was shocked.
“The most aggressive were the football hooligans, but they were joined by normal people — people with families, people with small children, elderly people,” she said. They blocked her way, first hurling invective, then bricks and stones and fireworks, she said. From the balconies, people threw eggs and rotten vegetables. Even before the march started, there were violent confrontations, and by the time the tear gas cleared and the crowd dispersed, dozens were injured and Poland was left reeling.
Much as the racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., shocked the conscience of America, the brutality in Bialystok last week has rocked many in Poland and raised grave concerns over a steady diet of anti-gay political propaganda in the country.
Unlike other right-wing counterparts in Poland, who have attempted to ban pride marches from their cities — Truskolaski let the Bialystock event proceed — despite widespread criticism from officials in the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Bialystok’s PRIDE marchers were outnumbered, four to one, by thousands of counter-protesters, according to local police.
Dozens of LGBT marchers were physically assaulted before, during and after the parade, according to the Warsaw-based advocacy group Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the organizers of the parade.
About 32 protest groups registered for Saturday, the majority in opposition to the pride march. It included the far-right group All-Polish Youth, which took its name from fascist and anti-Semitic Nazi WWII youth organization Hitler Youth.