Tag Archives: British Embassy

The trip to the British embassy

I was looking forward to my trip to the British embassy. According to every spy film I’ve ever watched an embassy is supposed to be the sovereign territory of the nation it represents. Also they have secret basements housing jet-propelled mini-helicopters. I have no idea if this is true, but since when was reality more important than what we learned in the movies. Theoretically this means it should have been like a little trip to the homeland. Of course, given the fact that the round trip to Warsaw took me seven hours, I could have visited the actual homeland more quickly by just flying there and back, but certain bits of paper I needed were in Warsaw.

I fondly imagined I would be ushered into a book lined study by a retired sergeant major where I would have a cosy fireside chat with a Sir Humphrey Appleby look-alike. We would ostentatiously drink tea with milk, munch jammy dodgers and roll our eyes about Poland without a hint of justification. I was a tad disappointed. Her Majesty’s Civil Service appears to have taken the view that the best image to present to the rest of the world is a recreation of a British dole office rather than, say, anything else. There were far more bolted-down plastic chairs and “assault-proof service positions” than I had expected and far fewer leather-backed chairs and book-lined studies. I had a heart-sinking moment. Poland’s bureaucratic offices may be famously shambolic but at least they don’t treat all members of the public as probable knife-wielding loons.

sir-humphrey

Sir Humphrey Appleby: notable by his absence

I approached the thick perspex buoyed by the expectation of a chat with a fellow countryman. No matter how good a Pole’s English might be, which can be very very good indeed, it’s never the same as talking to a fellow Brit. Assuming he’s not Scottish. I was a tad disappointed again. There didn’t appear to be a British person anywhere in the building. The receptionist was Polish, the security guard was Polish and the women behind the bullet-proof glass were Polish. The “service providers,” as I’m afraid they are probably called, were of that rare and strangely annoying breed of Pole who have practiced their pronunciation to the point where they sound like terminal laryngitis sufferers. Why do people do this? It’s impossible to learn an accent you didn’t grow up with and, frankly, why bother to try.

I wish I could blame the unhelpfulness of the strangulated ladies on Polish genetics, but it was clear they had been mercilessly trained in a modern British version of unhelpfulness that required them to refer you to the embassy website every other word. It was intensely annoying.

Me: Hello, I would like to get hold of document A.

Laryngitis lady:
Have you looked at the website?

Me: Yes I have.

Laryngitis lady: Makes a ‘give me documents’ gesture having decided that speech is no longer necessary.

Me: Erm… here you are.

Laryngitis lady: Are you prepared to pay?

Me: Yes, but can I ask you a couple of questions first?

Laryngitis lady: Have you looked at our website?

Me: Yes. It was very nice. Thank you. Could I ask you a couple of questions?

Laryngitis lady: Everything is on the website.

Me: That may be true, but given the fact that I’m standing in front of you and not currently looking at the website perhaps I could ask you instead?

Laryngitis lady: The website is very comprehensive.

Me: Would it help if I pretended I was holding a mouse and clicked on your face?

Laryngitis lady: There is a frequently asked questions page.

Me: (sigh) Okay, I will look at the website.

Laryngitis lady: Stamps things fiercely and randomly questions my mastery of the English language as applied to the filling in of forms

Me: How long will it take to receive document A?

Laryngitis lady: There is a section on the website about delivery times.

Me: You do realise you could have answered that question with half as many words and 100 percent more information by just telling me.

Laryngitis lady: Thank you, that will be an extraordinarily large number of zlotys please. If you need our help again do not hesitate to look at the website.

I’m sad now.

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Liberté! Égalité! Homosexualité!

Polandian is always there to report on interesting things going on around the country. On Saturday the 7th I went to Warsaw to experience the Warsaw Pride March…

Parada Równości 2008

We’re Polish, we’re queer and we’re not going away. photo: PAP

Warsaw Pride is a march in support of gay and lesbian emancipation, non-discrimination and equal rights. Homosexuality is a very controversial issue in Polish public debate. There are four factors that contribute to this in my opinion:

1) Sexuality in general, of any kind, is a rather sensitive subject and surrounded by hypocrisy. It would be tremendously difficult for a politician to admit, for example, that sex is a source of pleasure and health — not only a means of procreation. Public debate is prudish, sex is a bit of a taboo.

2) Poles find it very easy to discriminate on any grounds and feel they have the right to judge other people’s lives, and to interfere in them (as to any Polish people, this unfortunately also applies to Polish gay people).

3) Sexual education is poor, so is education on peaceful coexistence, on solving disputes, on coping with one’s emotions and frustrations… Many people therefore unload their frustrations onto whoever is the easiest target at that moment. Could be gay people, could be someone else.

4) The gay rights movement is not very strong. It is probably the strongest of all the grass-roots democracy movements in Poland, but only a tiny percentage of Poland’s 1.5 million gay people are involved. Gay Poles, like other Poles are not eager to associate, to use democratic process or to realise their interests in an organised and professional manner. But this is a universal Polish problem. Other associations, for instance associations of disabled people, are even weaker and virtually unable to provide results for their communities.

My perspective on the Warsaw Pride event is the perspective of a gay person, a gay man who is Polish and who loves this country, who is young and wants to make a change.

This year the colourful crowd started gathering on the square between the Blue Skyscraper and the City Hall a few minutes before 2 pm. The weather was, as every year, very good – sunny and warm. A picnic atmosphere encouraged people to sit back and relax in the square, or to walk around and check out the diverse people who had turned up… there were elderly ladies waving rainbow flags, cool students, guys in wheelchairs, families with children, pensioners, gay couples, beautiful drag queens, muscle guys without t-shirts, socialists, greens, anarchists, people wanting to legalize marihuana, a priest, famous people: authors, professors, philosophers, newspaper editors, gay rights activists, actors… Sources say there were 7 to 8 thousand people — people who want things to be different.

Marszałkowska

Parading down Marszałkowska, one of the main streets of Warsaw.
photo: Joe Ruffles

Marszałkowska

Further down Marszałkowska.
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

It was truly amazing to see such a huge crowd of positive people in Poland. No haters, no bad feelings, having fun, being open-minded… I certainly hope these people are the future of this country and that they will change the face of this earth… I hope that we will build somewhere better and easier to live in…

This is only a tiny percentage out of million and half of gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people in Poland. Even tinier if we add their friends and families.

There were many banners, slogans carried, as well as flags: Polish, Swedish, British, Israeli, Canadian, Dutch, EU, and of course rainbow.

Warming up before the march on Bankowy square.
photo (left and right): Joe Ruffles

Anti-gays also turned up – 100-200 of them. Haters, Christian fundamentalists, nationalists… you name them, they were there to look us the eye. Many among them were violent, hence a strong presence of police and special agents in disguise

Police and FBI
Police and the FBI. photo: Joe Ruffles


The common cheer was supported by the music provided by speakers on nine floats – a record number. Among the trucks of LGBT organisations, gay clubs and political parties, was also an ecological float of The Green Party (Zieloni 2004) which was moving by muscle power, rather then by burning petrol (or gasoline as they say across the pond).

From one of the floats Brazillian-style female dancers distributed leaflets about safe sex. M25, one of the gay clubs provided the best music (Skinni Patrini were giving a live performance), and half-naked muscle guys (very popular with the crowd), and also had a VIP area with golden cushions. We spotted Kinga Dunin, Jacek Poniedziałek, Krystian Legierski and Maciej Nowak sipping something that looked like champagne (forbidden during the pride), but we didn’t taste it, so it could have been bubbly apple juice.

Anarchists moved around by foot – in a boat. Try to work that one out.

Some of the floats:

KPH

Zieloni 2004left: The Green Party; right: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

ASDPL

left: Socialdemocratic Party of Poland; right: Anarchists (European float in the background)
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

The only public institution to fly the rainbow flag and support the LGBT emancipation movement was the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Warsaw. It was noticed by the people.

British Embassy

The British Embassy in Warsaw, in front of which marched the Gay Pride. photo: Bert Kommerij

This year the march has ended in front of the prime-minister’s office. When will we see a rainbow flag there? The place was not picked by accident, it was intended to encourage the new government, currently preoccupied with the policy of not doing anything, to act. To meet with LGBT organisations, to recognise the need for legislation acknowledging the reality of existence of same-sex couples. To implement policies preventing intolerance within public institutions and businesses and between individuals. No one at the prime-minister’s office was there to meet the demonstrators. Warsaw Pride this year, unlike previously, ended without concluding speeches, which some people found disappointing.

At the PM office

Approaching the Prime-Minister’s office. Photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

Wish you were there? Next parade in 2009! And 2010 will see a massive influx of gay people, camp, lederhosen, and wigs as Warsaw will be the host of Europride! It will be the first time in history that this event will be held in a former Eastern bloc country.

How was the parade received by the Polish media? News channels did some live broadcasts, however prime-time bulletins barely mentioned it. Traditionally mainstream media presented bigots and haters as equal sides in the argument.

At the time of the parade Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in his home town of Sopot. Asked about the parade he reportedly said that “Everyone has the right to manifest their opinion“. He also stressed that “such controversial” events as Warsaw Pride and countermanifestations are becoming more “civillised”, and no longer end with “physical violence and abusive language”. And added “And that’s how I understand the role of a prime-minister — to guarantee the safety and freedom for people to express their opinions, with whom I don’t always agree”. According to Mr Tusk “with many demands expressed at the Warsaw pride every decent person would agree. No one can be discriminated, everyone should be equal in rights, and should be able to count on tolerance and friendliness from others”.

It is a different language then what we used to hear during the reign of the Law and Justice party and Kaczynski brothers. But no difference in policies.

It proves that time itself won’t change anything for the better. If we want things to change, we have to fight for it, we have to fight for our freedom and dignity, we have to make LGBT rights a matter of political dispute. We have to be active and organise ourselves – no one will give us anything, we have to take it for ourselves.

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Big thanks to the authors of the pictures for their consent to have them used in this post.

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