Equality - Prejudicial thinking in Polish secondary schools uncovered

Homophobia and xenophobia are a problem, research shows

On the surface it had looked as if Poland had turned a huge corner. The elections of the first openly gay man and first transgender woman to parliament in 2011, after that of a Nigerian-born naturalised citizen the previous year, suggested that homophobia and xenophobia had been consigned to the past.

But research by two organisations has found that prejudiced thinking has not gone away and that it can be found in Poland's secondary schools.

One of the studies was carried out by the Warsaw-based Homo Homini institute on behalf of the capital's small Jewish community to mark the 70th anniversary of the ghetto uprising, which was savagely suppressed by the Nazis.

Polling about 1,250 students at Warsaw's upper secondary schools, the institute found that the majority of respondents would not like a Jewish neighbour, more than half would be resistant to having a Jewish girlfriend or boyfriend, and that 25 per cent believed that the ghetto uprising had been a victory for the Jews when the opposite was the case.

As a result of the Nazi atrocities, the Jewish population in Poland is now very small, prompting one commentator to describe the poll findings as "anti-Semitism despite there being no Jews".

"I don't think the views of Polish pupils reflect the whole truth," Marcin Duma, chairman of Homo Homini, told TES. "But xenophobia has always existed in Poland. Not much has changed. In my view, the underlying cause is that aside from Jews and the Russians, Poles suffered more than any other nationality in Europe during the Second World War."

Prejudice is also aimed at other groups, with recent political changes having relatively little impact, he added. "We may have become more liberal in a few areas but notions of 'family values' still prevail," he said.

The other study, carried out by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), revealed that Polish students who come out as gay are routinely bullied, leading many to contemplate suicide and some to take their own lives.

"When a high school student admits his or her homosexual orientation, they usually become the object of hatred at school," KPH vice-president Miroslawa Makuchowska said. "They will get hostile text messages and emails. Often teachers can be an added problem because they don't know how to deal with the situation and parents are also usually unsympathetic."

Studies have shown that gay teenagers in Poland are three times more likely than heterosexual students to try to take their own lives.

"Last time we learned about a young gay secondary school student who could not stand homophobic bullying at school and committed suicide, we tried to offer assistance to the staff. But they preferred to push the matter under the carpet and avoid 'unnecessary' problems," Ms Makuchowska said.

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