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Poland Hosts Post-Communist Europe's First Gay EuroPride Parade


Warsaw, Poland was host to this year's gay EuroPride festival, the first ever to be held in a country in the former communist bloc. The event has sparked controversy in Poland, and the parade on Saturday was met with heckling and counter-protests.

Dancing to techno music and blaring vuvuzelas, 8,000 people from all over Europe, North America and beyond turned out in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday to march in Europe's largest annual gay pride parade, the EuroPride.

One man from the Philippines says that EuroPride is what brought him to Poland.

"It is my first ever EuroPride," he said. "I heard it was quite historical, and I am actually going through Europe, so I figured I might as well swing by here to see what is going on, to see how people are celebrating liberty."

The parade was the first EuroPride to be hosted by a former communist country. The crowd was small compared to previous marches of over a million people in cities like Madrid. But it was probably the largest event of its kind ever to be held in staunchly-Catholic Poland, where acceptance of homosexuality is considerably lower than it is to the west.

Five years ago, the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski, who was then the mayor of Warsaw, banned the city's annual gay-pride parade, saying he was afraid it would promote homosexuality in the capital.

The ban was successfully challenged in the European Court of Human rights.

As one man at Saturday's parade points out, Poland's gay community has been growing increasingly assertive.

"The most important thing is that a few years ago it was illegal, and people broke the ban," he said. "That was a really important step forward."

But the march Saturday was not without its detractors. Before the event, a petition to ban the parade was submitted to the city, with more than 50,000 signatures. There were several counter-protests during the march.

Bands of youth were scattered along the parade route, heckling the participants and throwing plastic water bottles, eggs and even firecrackers. Thousands of police were deployed to keep the peace, and in the end there was no physical violence.

But some of the EuroPride's other events, such as the National Museum's exhibition on homosexual erotic art, have sparked public controversy in Poland. One conservative politician responded to the exhibition by comparing homosexuals to pedophiles.

Sociologist Adam Ostolski says that in Poland, openly homophobic remarks by public figures are still widely accepted.

"Of course Polish society is more conservative than other Central European societies, like Czech society or Hungarian society, and it is of course more conservative that Western European societies," he said. "Politicians profit from it - it is accepted that they pronounce hate speech about gay people."

But Ostolski says, Polish society is slowly becoming more tolerant.

"There has been an evolution in terms of acceptance of gay and lesbian people in Poland you can see it in our everyday lives. It is not very fast, but it is very consistent," he added. "We can see a very clear progress."

As one man at the parade says, the event is, above all, about tolerance for everybody.

"I think that it is very important to be here with these people," he said. "I am heterosexual, but I think that everyone who wants a tolerant society, tolerant Europe, tolerant should be here, should sing and should have fun."

Warsaw's EuroPride included more than two weeks of events, and officially ended Sunday.

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