"Live and let live"
Same-sex couples cannot get married in Poland. It is one of six EU member states that completely reject marriage for all and do not even accept registered same-sex partnerships. In the country of the LGBTI-free zones, which have been declared in many places at local administrative levels and advocated by the conservative government, it is not easy to live as a self-confessed lesbian-bisexual couple. Poland seems to be completely torn - between the open, modern and future-oriented country on the one hand and the nationalistic, backward looking and ultra-conservative on the other. However, for all couples from the EU states there is a legal way to get married in Germany. When it comes to marriage for same-sex couples, Poland and other Central and Southeastern European countries even oppose the relevant ECJ ruling and refuse to recognize marriage certificates issued in Germany.
On the occassion of the International Day against Homophobia this week, Peter Cichon spoke to the newlyweds Aleksandra (Ola) and Karolina (Karo) Moser about the situation in their home country and about what they want for the future.
Why do two young Polish women decide to go to Berlin, due to the pandemic regulations without parents and close relatives, to say yes in front of a German register office?
We had been planning a wedding in Berlin for a long time. As you know, homosexual couples in Poland cannot marry or enter into a civil partnership. We can only have different types of powers of attorney issued by a notary, which are often - but not always - accepted in government offices or hospitals. Our marriage in Germany has no legal value at home, although Poland is a member of the EU. Yes, we are now married in Germany, but formally only until we cross the border. Many ask us why we did this anyway. Our answer is simple: For ourselves. To be able to at least informally experience the same joy that heterosexual couples in Poland and all couples in Germany can experience. We have been together for so long, in good times and in difficult times, that marriage is another fantastic step on our journey together. We hope that at some point our marriage will be recognized in Poland, although it is not likely to happen anytime soon.
We did not make the decision to get married overnight; this year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of our relationship and the 5th anniversary of our engagement, so everything worked out wonderfully for us.
The original plan was to invite our parents, siblings and best men. Everyone should be with us on this hugely important day. Unfortunately, our options were very limited by the increasingly strict Covid-19 measures, so that in the end we only had one best man and you as an interpreter at the registry office. However, we are lucky that part of Ola's family lives in Berlin. Thanks to relatives from Zehlendorf, this day was really special. Ola's cousin organized it for us, taking into account the current Corona regulations.
How would you describe the living conditions for you as a lesbian couple in Wrocław? Are there differences for the LGBTI community within Poland in terms of quality of life and freedom of movement depending on location, occupation and level of education?
To answer this question we must first say that we are only speaking for ourselves because we do not think that we can speak on behalf of other LGBTI people in Poland.
Our life in Wrocław is peaceful and we feel accepted here. Because of its location, Wrocław is generally a city where you can feel the breath of the West - both economically and culturally.
We feel relatively safe here, which is undoubtedly related to the fact that our closest environment fully accepts and supports us. Our friends' children are taught from an early age that couples like us are "normal".
It often happens that the parents of our friends, who were initially sceptical, change their attitudes towards homosexual people after getting to know us and our attitude to life. It is a really nice feeling.
We both work for large western companies that place great value on tolerance and non-discrimination against minorities in their business principles. At work, we both talk openly about who we are. We do not hide it and so far we have received a positive reception and encouragement to fight for what is due to us. Our wedding aroused and continues to arouse great interest in our companies.
We must not forget our families because their acceptance of who we are and our relationship is most important to us. Our families live in Upper Silesia, quite far away from us, so we do not have them with us every day. That does not change the fact that we feel loved and accepted in both of our families. For the youngest generation in our families, our relationship is something very natural :)
As for the differences for the LGBTI community in Poland in terms of quality of life and freedom of movement depending on where you live, occupation and level of education, we can only comment on what we see on TV or hear from our friends. The bigger the city and the more open-minded people, the easier and better it is. Unfortunately, Poland is a country of contrasts, which is best illustrated by the election results. In the big cities, the pro-European and more liberal parties win, while in the villages and small towns the extremely conservative parties are elected.
We cannot say that the level of education or occupation has a decisive influence on whether people are open-minded and tolerant. It seems to us that most of it depends on the environment in which a person grew up, on their habits and willingness to understand. Unfortunately, the current government and the Polish Catholic Church are constantly campaigning against homosexual people and portraying us as the greatest evil for the Polish nation and family. We personally have no idea why it is so. Both the government and the Catholics, i.e. Christians, should really care about the harmony, happiness, well-being and development of society and its believers, and not create division between people.
We know that there are many people who, for various reasons, do not want to admit who they are. They are afraid of rejection, rebuke, aggression, and isolation. We may have lost a person or two who were once very close to us after we admitted our relationship. However, we personally believe that life is far too short not to be enjoyed to the fullest and if there are people who are bothered by it, then their friendship is not real and therefore they do not need to be part of our lives.
How does belonging to the EU and the German neighborhood affect the life of the sexual minorities in Poland? Do you see any opportunities for a progressive and for you positive future, or is it more to be feared that Poland wants to follow the homophobic example of Putin's Russia in its socio-political development?
In our opinion, membership in the EU and being close to Germany helps. Thanks to economic development and internal market, several foreign companies come to Poland, which, due to their internal principles, have a good influence on our working environment. But not only because of this, but also because the employees have families and friends outside the company with whom they meet, talk and, intentionally or unintentionally, educate even those who would not deal with LGBTI topic in their everyday life.
What we lack from the EU is more pressure on Poland with respect to the issue of LGBTI rights. Just talking about the government in Poland and announcing any consequences is no longer enough today, and it does not make the slightest impression on those in power in Poland.
We personally - like almost 50% of Poles - hope that Poland as a whole will finally wake up from the nightmare that the current government and the Church in Poland have prepared for us.
We do not want to live in a country where every minority is treated as a great evil, where women are denied the abortion right even when the woman's life is at risk, or where a woman cannot undergo a private in vitro procedure.
We dream of open and tolerant Poland in which everyone can feel free and safe. We dream of Poland that is part of modern Europe and does not fall back into the Middle Ages.
Unfortunately, we are moving in the latter direction at the moment. Due to the LGBTI-discriminatory policies of the government and the church, the country is divided like never before, including the families. It is terribly difficult to look at it and even more difficult to live in it. As long as the government continues to give its voters financial bonuses, as long as it illegally changes the composition of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, as long as public television is absolutely in its hands, we will unfortunately not be able to vote them out. But the karma comes back and every evil has to come to an end in the end. We believe in it wholeheartedly.
What are your wishes for the future - for Poland, Germany and Europe in terms of LGBTI rights and the situation in general?
Our wish is that we can simply lead a normal life according to the motto "live and let live". There is enough space in the world for all of us and we all suffer from various calamities: illnesses, accidents, disasters. We do not understand why people like to find problems where there are not any, why they want to interfere in the life of others and dictate the conditions to others.
We therefore wish that we as a society try everything to end this and focus on the good and build a colorful and happy future together - like the rainbow.
Peter Cichon is a program coordinator Media freedom worldwide at the Department Global Topics of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Berlin.