WARSAW, Poland — Lech Walesa, the Polish democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner, has sparked outrage in Poland by saying that gays have no right to a prominent role in politics and that as a minority they need to “adjust to smaller things.”
Some commentators are now suggesting that Walesa, the leading figure in Poland’s successful democracy struggle against communism, has irreparably harmed his legacy.
Walesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believes gays have no right to sit on the front benches in Parliament and, if represented at all, should sit in the back, “and even behind a wall.”
“They have to know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things. And not rise to the greatest heights, the greatest hours, the greatest provocations, spoiling things for the others and taking (what they want) from the majority,” he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. “I don’t agree to this and I will never agree to it.”
“A minority should not impose itself on the majority,” Walesa said.
The words have enraged many.
“From a human point of view his language was appalling. It was the statement of a troglodyte,” said Jerzy Wenderlich, a deputy speaker of Parliament with the Democratic Left Alliance.
In some ways the uproar says as much about Poland today as it does about Walesa.
Walesa, Poland’s first democratic-era president, is a deeply conservative Roman Catholic and a father of eight. But, the democracy he helped create in 1989 from the turmoil of strikes and other protests has had a profound social transformation in recent years.
Poland is a traditionally conservative and Catholic society that long suppressed discussions of gay rights. The topic was essentially taboo under communism, and in the early years of democracy. The Polish church, which has a strong role in political life, still holds that homosexuality is deviant, while gays and lesbians say they face discrimination and even violence.
However, much has changed. A watershed moment came in 2011 when a new progressive and anti-clerical party — Palikot’s Movement — entered Parliament for the first time. Taking seats for the party were Anna Grodzka, a transsexual, and Robert Biedron, who is openly gay. These were all historic firsts.
The two have been in the public eye while lawmakers have debated a civil partnership law. Though lawmakers have recently struck down proposals, the discussions continue. A new campaign was just launched to fight taboos.
Some predicted the consequences for Walesa could be serious.
A national committee devoted to fighting hate speech and other crimes filed a complaint with prosecutors on Sunday in Gdansk, Walesa’s home city, accusing him of promoting “propaganda of hate against a sexual minority.”
Walesa is no longer active in Polish political life, though he is often interviewed and asked his opinion on current affairs. Much of his time is spent giving lectures internationally on his role in fighting communism and on issues of peace and democracy.
“Now nobody in their right mind will invite Lech Walesa as a moral authority, knowing what he said,” Wenderlich said.
Monika Olejnik, a leading television journalist, said Walesa “disgraced the Nobel prize.”
Some, however, said they were not surprised by Walesa’s words.
“I am surprised that only now we are noticing that Walesa is not in control of what he says and that he has views that are far from being politically correct,” said Adam Bielan, a conservative Polish member of the European Parliament.