WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Activists dressed as security guards climbed onto a balcony of a Polish Education Ministry building early Wednesday and hung a banner protesting the appointment of a new minister whom they consider to be a religious fundamentalist and a danger to the nation's youth and universities.
Many university academics in Poland are protesting the conservative government’s appointment of Przemyslaw Czarnek, who has said that LGBT people aren't equal to “normal people,” women were created to produce children and who has voiced support for corporal punishment.
The banner that two activists hung said “Boycott Czarnek. Homophobe. Xenophobe. Fundamentalist.” Security guards removed it quickly, before the minister arrived at work, and a large contingent of police officers showed up to question the two activists.
Wearing orange security vests and hardhats, they used a long ladder to climb up to a balcony and hang the banner.
Rafal Suszek, an assistant professor of physics at Warsaw University who was one of the two, told a police officer who questioned him afterwards that he believed a man with Czarnek's “backward views” shouldn't be allowed to have such a position of authority.
Wearing a mask, Suszek added that Czarnek represents a “virus of hate” more dangerous than the coronavirus.
Suszek later told The Associated Press that he and his fellow activist were charged with the illegal hanging of banners and not adhering to social distancing rules.
Suszek is one of 2,700 professors and other academics to sign a petition vowing to boycott Czarnek, a member of the ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, who was sworn in this week by President Andrzej Duda.
In his role, Czarnek will oversee the nation’s system of schools and universities. He was named in a recent government reshuffle, but was sworn in two weeks after the other ministers as he recovered from COVID-19.
Duda said that appointing Czarnek would help restore some ideological balance to academia, which he said has been dominated by left-wing views.
“In recent years, people trying to achieve higher ranks in scientific development ... have been brutally attacked for not having a worldview that is politically correct, that is, liberal-leftist,” Duda said. He said university life would be made richer by having people with opposing views confront each other.
The protesting academics, however, view Czarnek, who has also taken part in demonstrations organized by a far-right organization, the National Radical Camp, as an extremist and religious fundamentalist who risks damaging Poland’s educational system. They fear his hostility towards gays and lesbians means he won't act to protect young sexual minorities, who sometimes suffer from depression and bullying, and that he could seek to suppress academic research into areas like gender studies.
“Before our eyes a symbolic rape of Polish education and science is taking place,” says the petition.
The academics’ petition calls on members of the academic community to boycott events that Czarnek takes part in and to refuse to participate in the work of any collegial bodies that could subvert humanistic values. However, they say they won't take any steps that would hurt their institutions, such as not teaching their students.
During this year's summer presidential campaign that culminated in Duda’s reelection to a second term, Czarnek, who worked on that campaign, drew controversy for language against LGBT people.
He said at the time: “Let’s protect ourselves against LGBT ideology and stop listening to idiocy about some human rights or some equality. These people are not equal to normal people.”
After those words, broadcast on TV, caused a huge uproar, he insisted they were taken out of context and he later clarified his view, saying: “LGBT people are people, and LGBT ideology is ideology.”
A professor of law at the Catholic University of Lublin, Czarnek had also called LGBT “deviants" and faced disciplinary proceedings at his university for his statements.
The 43-year-old father of two has argued that parents — under certain conditions — have the constitutional right to inflict corporal punishment on their children.
He has suggested that women's key role is to have children and that they should start early.
In a lecture last year during a scholarly conference, he argued that modern society’s message that women can first pursue a career “and then maybe a child … leads to dire consequences.”
“The first child is not born at the age of 20-25, but at the age of 30. When the first child is born at the age of 30, how many of these children can be born? These are the consequences of explaining to a woman that she does not have to do what God has called her to do,” said Czarnek, whose own wife has a Ph.D. in biology and also teaches at his university.