Black Eyed Peas in Polish row over rainbow armbands
A new year row has broken out in Poland after US band Black Eyed Peas showed support for LGBT rights by wearing rainbow armbands during Polish TV’s New Year’s Eve special. Some 8.3 million viewers tuned in to the public broadcaster’s New Year’s Eve of Dreams programme, a live show in the ski resort of Zakopane.
One minister condemned the “LGBT promotion” as a disgrace. But the main governing party refused to get involved in the controversy.
Growing up LGBT in Poland can still be a traumatic experience and both the Law and Justice (PiS)-led government, and President Andrzej Duda used anti-LGBT rhetoric to win votes ahead of elections in 2019 and 2020.
But this row is not only about respect for people’s sexual orientation in Poland, one of Europe’s most Catholic countries despite diminishing church attendance. It’s also about money, Poland’s role in the EU and the future of the governing right-wing coalition government.
Headline act Black Eyed Peas walked onstage wearing rainbow armbands. Singer will.i.am thanked Poles for their “open hearts and minds” for taking Ukrainian women and children into their homes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He then dedicated the band’s song Where Is the Love? “to those that experience hate throughout the year”, name-checking the Jewish community, people of African descent and the LGBTQ community.
The armbands generated a reaction on social media. “LGBT promotion on TVP2. Disgrace! This isn’t New Year’s Eve of Dreams, it’s New Year’s Eve of Degeneracy,” said Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol on Twitter.
Mr Warchol asked the singer on Twitter why the band had played gigs in countries with much worse LGBTQ records, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, accusing the musicians of selling their principles for profit.
Will.i.am responded that rather than boycott such countries, it was better to play there to inspire people to have greater tolerance. And the money? “It’s called a music career,” he replied.
“We are the Black Eyed Peas. That’s P-E-A-S, or you can say the Black Eyed Peace, or P-E-A-C-E, because we are about peace, equality and harmony. We are not the Black Eyed PiS. We stand for unity, love, tolerance,” the singer said, referring to the PiS-led government in a recording posted on Instagram after walking offstage.
The band, who according to some reports received $1 million for their performance, were a last-minute replacement for ex-Spice Girl Melanie C, who pulled out citing “issues that do not align with the communities I support”.
Poland’s dominant governing coalition party, Law and Justice, has distanced itself from the armband criticism. Asked about the row on Monday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he supported “the family” but was against restricting bands’ “artistic expression”.
Mr Warchol belongs to the junior coalition partner, United Poland, known for its hostility to LGBTQ rights and greater EU integration.
The party’s leader, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, is in open dispute with the prime minister, whom he suspects is willing to sell off the country’s sovereignty to Brussels in exchange for unblocking €35.4bn (£31bn) in EU pandemic recovery funds for Poland.
The European Commission has blocked the release of that money largely because of concerns that judicial reforms, authored by Mr Ziobro, have undermined the independence of Poland’s courts.
Prime Minister Morawiecki is keen to reach a compromise that will release the cash, but without the support of the small United Poland party, PiS loses its parliamentary majority, ahead of elections scheduled this autumn.
Mr Ziobro is not letting up. The justice minister has even questioned whether the armband display is a concession to Brussels as part of a potential compromise.
“Violence, the destruction of churches spitting at children and corrupting children… the LGBT flag is a symbol of intolerance and aggression,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
“In this matter, United Poland fundamentally disagrees with Mateusz Morawiecki and PiS. We will never agree to the artistic promotion of LGBT on Polish television.”