By Colin Graham
WARSAW, 15 August 2006
â€”Chilling out in the Jacuzzi at Warsawâ€™s "straight-friendly gay club" Tomba
Tomba is an object lesson in tolerance. Complete
strangers climb in naked and kick back shoulder to shoulder,
regardless of sexual orientation. If only the rest of Poland could show
as much accommodation towards those who dare to be different.
As with another clubâ€”Le Madameâ€”which until recently
was also located in the Polish capitalâ€™s Old Townâ€”Tomba Tomba is struggling to
survive, mainly because in its managersâ€™ view city hall is headed by
"They wonâ€™t give us permission to sell alcohol,"
said co-owner Krystian Legierski, a gay activist, who up until late March ran
the â€˜gay friendlyâ€™ Le Madame as well. "This means that we cannot advertise
Tomba Tomba as being open to everyoneâ€” only membersâ€”and weâ€™re not able to earn enough
money to keep the place at the standard weâ€™d like."
Legierski believes that Warsawâ€™s political leaders are itching to
pounce on the club should it dare to operate more conventionally and cites
his experience at Le Madame as a portent for Tomba Tomba. "They are
waiting to see if we do anything illegal so they can send in the police,"
he said. "They want to show that gay people are always engaged in illegal
That might smack of paranoia to those in Western
Europe and the USA where gay clubs have flourished but Legierski has the
trauma of seeing another of his ventures come to an unpleasant end fresh
in his mind.
Le Madameâ€”unlike Tomba Tomba it
has to be saidâ€”was more than just another nightclub, though it did its job
as a weekend venue for fun and frolics just as well as any other and
often better. Located in a former warehouse, its vast, yet labyrinthine space
allowed it to host gigs, plays, films and political meetings as well. Then,
in late March, a raid by private security guardsâ€”overseen by policeâ€”led to
its closure, despite a four-day occupation by supporters and a visit by
John Malkovichâ€”in town to promote Being Stanley Kubrick
â€”who gave his backing to the
"This sort of cultural centre is very important," he said at the club
on March 30th. "I wish it every success in trying to stay open."
The city authority said it had various grounds for shutting down Le
Madame. Neighborsâ€™ complaints at the noise late at night, rent arrears, a
need to renovate the building and supposed â€˜gay orgiesâ€™ were all cited at
one time or another, leading many of the protestors to believe that there
was an anti-liberal agenda at work. Legally, one of these reasons would
surely have been sufficient, they argued. Why wheel out others, unless you
are engaged in a propaganda war? During the week of the occupation
Legierski bargained hard with city heads over the rent issue, which he
pledged to sort out, but to no avail.
"This council is terrified of
anyone who thinks differently to them," said one demonstrator, Wojciech,
at the first day of occupation on March 27th.
The Warsaw local authority is led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party,
which is openly hostile to homosexuality. Current Polish president Lech
Kaczynski and co-founder of PiS was until his election last year mayor of
Warsaw and twice banned the annual â€˜Equality Paradeâ€™ while in office. He
has since made comments that though he has nothing against homosexuals "as
individuals, I see no reason to encourage their behaviour because it would
lead to the end of humanity."
Though the Le Madame saga made national news throughout the last week
of March, more recent developments regarding "gay rights" issues have
taken on an increasingly international gloss, particularly as the European
Union has expressed deep concern at the spoutings of certain
politicians after PiS formed a coalition government with the far-right
League of Polish Families (LPR) and farmersâ€™ party Self-Defence in
In early June the European Parliament singled out
Poland for criticism for what it referred to as a "rise in racist,
xenophobic, anti-Semitic and homophobic intolerance" which it attributed largely to the
presence of the LPR in government. Odd as it may seem given the atmosphere,
this year the Warsaw "Equality Parade" actually did go ahead on
June 10th, despite threats of violence from the LPRâ€™s militant youth
wing, the All-Polish Youth. LPR representative Wojciech Wierzejski said he
hoped marchers at the parade would be "beaten with batons. They wonâ€™t come
back after that because gays are by definition cowards." In the
end, though a group of right-wingers did throw eggs and bricks
at the 3,000 demonstratorsâ€”leading to the arrest of 12 of themâ€”the march passed off
more peacefully than expected.
Yet the tension between gay activists, leftists and concerned liberals
and the government shows no sign of abating. The coalition with the LPR
meant that its leader Roman Giertych became Minister of Education, which
has led to frequent protests by student groups opposed to his â€˜family
valuesâ€™ and nationalistic policies. And with each demonstration, Giertych
unleashes his pit bull Wierzejski, to make evermore slanderous remarks
against gays, who he equates with paedofiles and drug dealers, and as
having engineered the uprising against the Minister of Education.
"What was really interesting was that on one of the very days he made
those remarks, the police came around to check up on us," said Ela
Solanowska, Legierskiâ€™s fellow co-owner at Tomba Tomba.
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A British journalist based in
Warsaw, Colin Graham writes on culture in Central and Eastern
Europe. He also gave an inside look at trendy clubs in St.
Petersburg, Russia for Culturekiosque.com.