Atheists Stage a “Coming Out” March in Poland September 22, 2009

Atheists Stage a “Coming Out” March in Poland

On October 10th, atheists and agnostics in Poland will be staging a major march. The purpose is to “come out” — to show they exist and that they exist in big numbers.

The information can be found here in Polish and here in translated English.

There’s also a Facebook event page, again, in Polish and in translated English.

Here’s what they say (it’s my personal paraphrase of the translation — I’ll correct it if needed):

The aim of the March of Atheists and Agnostics (MAIA) is to show that non-religious people live in Poland — and we can be public about it. This is very important in a democracy, because we have a situation in which the minority is not visible, easy to discriminate again, and often excluded when it comes to our interests and rights, especially in the crucial area of legislation. We are marching on the assumption that if a specific minority wants others to respect its wishes and rights, it must clearly state those demands in public. In our opinion, the most appropriate way to do this is the MAIA.

We want to show that being an atheist or agnostic does not mean one is amoral, bad, or degenerate, which, unfortunately, is a frequent and unjust stereotype of people we meet.

Since the concept of morality is somehow appropriated by various religious organizations and identified with the exercise of the will of the gods, people who do not belong to any religious organization or who are not doing the will of this deity are automatically seen as being deprived of any moral principles, and therefore dangerous to society. Renunciation of faith is treated as a renunciation of humanity. Such reasoning creates harmful aggression, which is often experienced in everyday life…

Reader Anna is the editor of an English-language newspaper in Krakow, Poland.

She writes in an email:

… Now why this is happening in Poland of all places — probably the most religious country in the EU — is beyond me, but the fact that these people are doing this, in my opinion, borders on heroic. First of all, there are already protests being organized by religious groups, as well as by more radical groups like the young neo-Nazis (they prefer to go by the “all-Polish youth”), and when they show up, things tend to get violent. And to put things in perspective, during the yearly tolerance march (not gay pride march, as in “we’re here, we’re queer, etc.” but tolerance march, as in “please stop beating us up for holding hands with our partners”), there are generally more protesters than marchers, and despite heavy police protection, there are always stories of marchers getting hit with bricks or eggs or whatever is handy.

So, I’m reaching out to get as much international attention for these marchers as possible, to not only spread the word, but to assure their safety. Also, while the organizers have already received the proper permits from City Hall to hold the march, here people tend to have those types of permits magically revoked if there is enough political pressure — but if there is international media attention, that’s less likely to happen.

I hope the participants remain safe. Please spread word about this, especially if you know any Polish atheists, and make sure they know we’re watching from afar.

Good luck to the organizers! Anna will be interviewing one of them soon and I’ll post a link to it when it is published.

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  • keddaw

    The best of luck to these brave people.

    I often complain about the religious tinge on public life in the UK, but I take it for granted that when I laugh at people’s silly beliefs they will be the ones ashamed to stand up for fairy stories. I am priviledged to live in a society that, while not perfect, allows the confrontation of ideas woithout the need for marches, bricks or police presence. Usually.

    interesting to note that a group who believe human sacrifice was the only way to salvation have claimed the morality as their sole purview.

  • Valdyr

    Wow, I want a picture of the young Polish neo-Nazis just for the amazing irony value. Even better than the Russian neo-Nazi group I read about!

    And, yeah, Poland… I’d heard they’re really Catholic. Isn’t abortion still illegal there? Someone who knows more about Poland should fill us in.

  • Jan

    I’m from Poland, but I probably won’t be there – my friend’s getting married that day.

    The funny thing about this march is that it’s taking place in the home town of John Paul II – a person more popular than Jesus around here, especially in Cracow. This march is more than overdue and I hope there will be more to follow. It can get pretty lonely for a non-believer.

    We have a really devout society. For example, the Catholic Church with the right-wing parties recently tried to make in-vitro fertilization illegal. They also try to block any attempt to have decent sex-ed in schools; abortion just gets them off even more.

    Valdyr, abortion is legal, but only if the mother was raped, her life is in danger, or the fetus is damaged. A few months ago, however, some Catholic nut-jobs tried to force a 14-year old rape victim to have her baby (which was all over our news for a few days). A priest actually stalked her in the hospital.

    Thanks for the post, and best wishes from Poland 🙂

  • JJR

    Poland is VERY catholic and more than a little homophobic, too.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some jingoistic red-baiting flung at MAIA, since of course during the Communist times the state was “officially” atheist, backed up by Soviet arms. In other words, Atheists today in Poland might also get accused of being “unpatriotic”, on top of everything else (“guilt by association”).

  • Suave

    Good luck to them!

    Poland is indeed very Catholic. I was born in Poland and I lived there until I was about eight years old. The part of Poland that I am from (southern mountain area, called Podhale), is probably the most religious part of the country. Everyone is Catholic and that’s it. Everyone goes to church on Sundays and that’s it. To be anything but Catholic is more than taboo. The bigger cities are a lot better though. Probably because there is so much international influence that is pouring in right now, and it’s becoming a lot more normal to be “non-catholic.”

    Sadly, the catholic church has a very big influence on politics in Poland. The election of the Kaczy?ski brothers as president and prime minister can pretty much be attributed to the Catholic church. Not surprisingly, they were arguable the worst leaders that post-communism Poland had.

    The last time I’ve been to Poland was two years ago. Fortunately things are slowly changing. While there I read a study that more and more people are beginning to identify themselves as non Catholic, and out of those that do identify themselves as Catholics less and less are regular church goers. I plan on going to Poland this December, maybe I can find a similar march in another city that I can come go out and support. Good luck to all those brave free thinkers. Please keep us updated on the issue.

  • Hello, I’m from Poland. First, I must say I’m proud to read something positive about my country on this blog. I was hoping for this for a very long time (sadly, no bus company in Poland would dare to put up atheist ads).

    Some background info: 95% of Polish people are baptised (in Roman Catholic Church). There are about 2-6% atheists. However, we are not really perceived as immoral, bad etc. Generally, it’s okay if you don’t believe what church tells you is true.

    It’s wrong, if you criticise the church too much. Pope John Paul II is our Ataturk. If you criticise him people might start to treat you as if you said that Hitler was a good and moral person (believe me, it’s not exaggeration).

    Many atheists in Poland regullary attend churches and claim that bishops should have really big impact on our legislators (couple of days ago they tried to ban In vitro fertilisation). If you say you don’t consider abortion to be something immoral, you support murderers – it’s as simple as that. Church probably plays such a big role in our society because pope John Paul II was from Poland and during that time church fought against communism. 20 years ago being a catholic meant being anti-communist.

    That’s probably why this march is widely criticised even among atheists. It’s just considered to be impolite to demand same rights as catholics have, even if you are right.

  • @Valdyr: You might like this ad:
    NOP ad

    It was supposed to promote the “Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski” party (National Rebirth of Poland) during electoral campaign. It says: “Facism?!? We are worse than that!!!” (It’s true, it’s them who published it!). Although one neo-facist is presently director of our public TV [1], every year those guys get calmer. I doubt they would dare to do more than shout some offensive slogans during this march. We owe this to the tolerance marches, mentioned already in the article.

    I forgot about the most important thing: Hemant, thank you for mentioning this march on your blog. Any help is most appreciated.

    [1] Well, actually he got fired yesterday, after a few months of holding this function, but he barricaded himself in his office and doesn’t let anyone in 🙂 When you get used to all this, it’s funny more than anything else… in most cases.

  • Valdyr

    @Wotjek: Funny poster! I especially like that their logo appears to be an arm holding a cross like one would hold a sword. Visuals don’t get much less subtle than that.

  • I’m in Poland right now – Gdansk to be exact. The catholic worldview is the de facto culture here. The clergy thinks of itself as movers and shakers in the political realm and priests often make opined proclamations in the media with the forgone conclusion that they be taken seriously. It’s insane, especially considering that Poles, as a population, are some of the best educated people in Europe.

    Funny thing is, the religious Poles I’ve talked to, even the most conservative types, do not believe me when I tell them that a significant fraction of Americans believe in creationism. They ask me, “How can people believe in such nonsense? Don’t you teach science in school?” 🙂

  • @FreeThoughtCrime: People here realise there are other religions in the world, but very few can imagine that those could differ from roman catholicism.

  • Andrzej

    @FreeThoughtCrime: It’s true, that most Poles will (probably) laugh at creationism, but don’t you forget that just two years ago we a creationist was head of the Ministry of Education.

    BTW, Cracow has several university-level institutions and a large population of students, yet the city is considered far more conservative, than the capital, Warsaw.

  • When I saw that “MAIA” image up there for the first time, I immediately asked myself, “Is that supposed to be some sort of pun on Maya the Bee?”

  • Vladr, here you go: Tolerance March 2009

    (these are my photos from the 2009 tolerance march in Krakow, featuring plenty of neo-Nazis).

    One point to add is that a lot of Poles, especially those now in their 20s, are Catholic only by name. They are born Catholic and go through the sacraments and so on, and probably have a church wedding to please their parents, but likely only go to church on the major holidays. However, the paradox is that most of these people will still defend the church, because as someone above mentioned, to not be a proud Catholic is to disrespect the role of JPII in bringing down communism throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

    Again, thank you Hemant for posting this, and I’ll try to keep everyone updated from the march itself!

  • Ramas

    Down here in Mexico City we had one coming out march last year. This year we’ll have another, but its not a coming out one again.
    This time we’ll be asking for effective separation of church and state and the stop of discrimination against non believers.

    You may visit the official site of the march and take note:

    Down here is the same as in Poland, the catholic church and the religious right get in politics all the time, making proclamations on the media and propiciating ignorance and misinformation about skepticism, critical thinking and the scientific worldview.
    Hope you can take a look at our publicity, videos and images, I know all of it is in spanish but still you can take notice and look around, we’ll have pictures and info after the march itself.

  • Chris

    Firstly, I am very moved (proud) of these brave and inspiring people, especially the organizers whom will surely be the object of any religious ‘Reich’ backlash. History always remembers those early pioneers that stood tall in times and under circumstances that required great courage and dedication to bring forth the change that benefits future generations to come. Kudos to these heroes.

    I have gathered quite a bit about Polish religious positioning by just reading these comments upon this page from people I tend to trust more than any others (mentally stable atheists!).

    The staunch conservative (old world) Catholicism in Poland seems to be much stronger, more lingering than I would have thought. My perceptions were that Europe was much more indifferent to religion than what these beneficial postings here are educating me of.

    For instance, many enrolling in our intern programs from Prague, Bratislava, Kiev, etc., openly (almost proudly) state their atheism.

    My company is expanding our production momentum (mainstream film, studio, technologies, acting schools, etc.) into many European countries (including Poland) next year and we’re searching/selecting the given cities that are best, strategically suited to us.

    This would entail more liberal, socially modern and tolerant persuasions that would actually support an American film company looking to propel the entertainment industry in such cities. Our themes will be universal (nothing really controversial) and feature diverse, yet “common” mainstream topics, and we’d hope for the social freedom to promote said range of themes.

    The feeling I get though, is that we should stay as far away from those rural areas as possible and concentrate only upon the major metropolitan areas; meaning, Warsaw and nowhere else. I would never want to be asked or pressured into declarations of my religious standing, etc. (I never deny my atheism and find religious intoxication repugnant.)

    Ideally, I’d even like to offer some film footage (thus productive exposure) to this March and would like to feel safe while doing so, and not have the (exaggeration intended) Holy Polish Catholic Inquisition putting us to stakes by night’s end for our role in this.

    Perhaps someone (with Polish background) could elaborate more towards what differences (social intolerance) can be observed between select cities in Poland. As it stands, given what I’m taking in, its Warsaw or nothing.

    Once again, hats off to those marchers.

  • EduardoAteo

    Here in Spain,as in Mexico and Poland,we are going to have something similar called Atheism Day,wich is the Part Two of the March we did last year with our mexican friends(the same who left a comment in september 24th).In Spain there´s still a lot of christian fanatics,because only forty years ago we had a catholic and dictatorial government.All the information about this is here:´m sorry,but all the information is in Spanish.
    And congratulations to the blog´s owner.I think it´s a very good blog.

  • Jeronimas

    😀 I will organize festival for people who do not like tomatoes to show that they are ok and should not be descriminated against people who love them. You are really very funny 😀 I do not think anybody cares about you.

  • @Chris:

    I think Warsaw or Krakow is your best bet. Krakow is a university city and tends to be more liberal, though Warsaw is more international and cosmopolitan. Either way, for the most part I don’t think you would have any problems in either city, because while some extremists will defend the Church to the death, the average person will not give you any trouble.

    In addition, Krakow is a very young city thanks to the student population, and young people in Poland especially tend to be far more open-minded when compared to the older generation.

    Feel free to contact me if you need any advice.

  • And, my gratitude is sincere: someone went out of their way to help me. ,

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