The emblematic case of the distribution of a poster featuring the Madonna and Child with rainbow halos in the town of Płock, Poland resulted in the brief detention and subsequent indictment of artist and activist, Elżbieta Podleśna. Article 196 of the Polish criminal code was invoked, on the grounds of insulting an object of religious worship in the form of the image and offending the religious feelings of others. If convicted, Ms Podleśna faces 2 years of imprisonment.
“It is not acceptable that today, within the EU, a citizen is facing the possibility of 2 years imprisonment charged in Poland with offending religious feelings for distributing a poster of the Madonna and Child with rainbow halos,” says Dr Srirak Plipat, Executive Director of Freemuse.
At its plenary session, the European Parliament will today debate the Lopez Aguilar report on the “Determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by Poland of the rule of law” 2017/0360R(NLE). Freemuse welcomes the fact that in the draft report the European Parliament highlights serious deficiencies in Poland with regards to freedom of expression, the rights of women and LGBTI persons and combating hate speech and incitement to violence online and offline. Media freedom and academic freedom are specifically referenced in the report as being under duress. Freemuse highlights that artistic freedom, an integral component of freedom of expression, is also severely restricted.
In the Freemuse report on the state of artistic freedom in Europe launched in the European Parliament in January of this year, cases of restrictions on freedom of artistic expression in Poland are documented despite the fact that Article 73 of the Polish Constitution guarantees “the freedom of artistic creation”. According to Freemuse’s research, government bodies are the main violator. Artistic freedom is being suppressed as a means to restrict the narrative to that promoted by the government, under the strong influence of the church.
Most typically, artists are being accused of “blasphemy” or “insulting religious feelings” through their art. Furthermore, a growing resentment towards LGBTI communities means that LGBTI artists and artworks are particularly targeted. Another pressure point is artwork that is deemed to be disrespectful of the state and its symbols. The “culture war” that is effectively being waged in Poland is also impacting the portrayal of history as undue government influence is displayed in the curating of museums and exhibitions.
Since the publication of its above-mentioned report, Freemuse continues to document new cases of violations, confirming that this trend is set to continue. Freemuse urges the European Parliament to take a strong stand when it votes on the draft report later this week.