Poland Under the Reign of Fundamentalist’s Conscience

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Now it is not so much about expensive kindergartens, a more difficult career start, lower wages or worse pensions as a consequence. It is all about our lives. We, women, did not took care of our own interests during a political transformation, we live in a religious state in which total ignorants took reign over the discourse. The question is: are we finally going to react?

There are two processes going on in the Polish reality, which at a first glance may seem to exclude one another. On the one hand, there is a mass decrease in the number of church-going believers (circa 2-4 millions in the last few years), and on the other, there is the phenomenon of overtaking the “moral” discourse in Poland by extreme groups related to Church. In my opinion, we have started to function in a church state. And women are paying the highest price for it.

The very beginning of the problem is related to Radio Maryja (a religious and political socially conservative Polish radio station; translator’s note), which was at one point treated as some sort of anomaly. There were attempts to explain its phenomenon. Some have mentioned people who were unable to identify with the social and economic situation of the time, suppressed by the transformation. No matter what sort of diagnosis would we like to apply here, it was simply a fraction, a side-current of the Polish religious institution. In such a way Polish journalists were the first to help Polish Church out, widely justifying its status. They were persuading people that Church authorities are not able to influence a priest from Toruń, they were explaining that the situation is non-solvable. Priest Rydzyk has been described as enfant terrible of Polish Church, who is simply getting out of control. Without much effort, Church authorities have been justified, Polish intelligentsia separated them by a firm line from Rydzyk’s actions. Church has neither never resolved the issue of Radio Maryja, nor has it accounted for it. To the contrary, it has been defended and fully vindicated. The problem is that being understanding as one might, explaining and justifying its actions – not scolding it at all – we have created a monster. We have treated Rydzyk as a peripheral anomaly when, in fact, he was a visible indication of a change the entire Church was undergoing. It has announced a tendency which now dominates in the mainstream of our public discourse.

From the time perspective, in my opinion, the case of women was lost completely already in the very beginning of the democratic transformation. No matter how controversial relating to the “achievements of communism” is in the realm of Polish public sphere may seem – and I want to assure about its faultiness in practice – from the legislative point of view the situation of women got much worse once democracy has arrived. The case of women was a sacrifice offered as a tribute to Church for its memorable role in overthrowing communist regime. From that point, we were supposed to live in a religious state, in which a third party was to decide on our bodies and whether or not we shall become mothers. We, women, were not to make this decisions on our own. Of course, full of hope, believing that the transformation shall bring only goodness – with the Church being a key symbol of goodness – we thought that it is not for real, that everything will remain only on paper, that we are so civilizationally advanced that no one will put women’s health and lives in danger. It happened otherwise. With time, demanding a right to abortion became viewed negatively. A taboo, best left undisturbed.

Legislatively, we have given Church so much that it is a strong abuse to call our state formation “secular”. Unless in Polish terminology “secular” means that everyone shall keep away from Church matters and at the same time Church will tell us all how to conduct our lives. The problem is that most people are losing interest in Church nowadays. There are mostly elderly people sitting on church benches and they have usually somewhat misguided view of modern social and political situation. Fear of change and a conflict with the present state of affairs result in the emergence of increasingly conservative attitudes. The fact that elderly people believe that it cannot get any worse than now is a permanent tendency existing since the dawn of time. The thing is that this discourse is now being pushed to the mainstream, and what is even worse, it becomes more and more dangerous.

How in a “lay” state, in which most people seem to be at least non-practising, the reign are taking over small ultraconservative groups? I think that there are two reasons for that. On the one hand, intellectuals of our country do not know how to adjust to the “golden-age-of-inquisition-like” debate hence they seem to have no idea how a well-educated person is to react to information about Satan entering through anus while one practices yoga, or whether or shall they give some thought to whether Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz has a right to receive the Eucharist and whether “gender” destroys Polish family. It is almost impossible to navigate in such discourse therefore Polish intellectuals react with embarrassment which they try to cover up with incoherent explanations of this and that, at the same time trying to refute accusations in a way that nobody would feel offended or uncomfortable. On the other hand there are politicians who hold the helm of the state, who – in the vast majority – were the main agents in the times of transformation, and who got opportunistically accustomed to remaining on good terms with Church – evidently not noticing the consequences and damages to democracy which inadvertently follow.

I find it difficult to say anything about the level of nonsense which occurred when notions of a “socially dangerous” gender issue or “satanic forces” of yoga appeared. I have no intention of evaluating the level of discourse used by Polish Catholic Church today. However, I would recommend a more extensive qualifications and a higher level of intellectual content provided. The thing is that those ignorants have begun to hover over my own and other Polish women’s lives.

My girlfriends are never sure whether a doctor they go to see will make a decision of abortion when health or life of a woman or a child would be in danger. They have no idea whether if the situation required such a solution, a decision to do a C-section would be made. A hysteria of “natural solutions” has occurred in Polish hospitals and women are forced to do natural childbirth, breastfeeding etc. even when there are serious contraindications against it and those methods shall be in such cases abandoned. What is even worse, it is the age of doctors whose consciences seem to be more important than health and life of their patients.

Now it is not so much about expensive kindergartens, a more difficult career start, lower wages or worse pensions as a consequence. It is all about our lives. We, women, did not took care of our own interests during a political transformation, we live in a religious state in which total ignorants took reign over the discourse. The question is: are we finally going to react?

Translation: Olga Łabendowicz

avatar