Poland exposed to a fresh wave of atheist billboards
Today I learned via an email from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (Fundacja Wolnosc od Religii) in Poland that they have again gone on the offensive against the country’s theocrats with a new billboard campaign.
Posters with slogan “You have right not to believe”, against a background of the Polish national flag, began appearing on 47 billboards in 29 towns across the country from January 1.
The purpose of the campaign, says the foundation, is shatter the image that all Poles are faithful Catholics, and demand equality in all aspects of Polish life for non-believers.
The foundation pointed to open hostility shown towards Polish atheists by a number of politicians. MP Krystyna Paw?owicz, for example, said in an interview for Fronda in February 2014 that atheists have no right to organise events in the Polish capital, and former deputy Prime Minister Ludwik Dorn, in an interview for Du?y Format in October last year told atheists they should go to France.
A total of 535 people supported the billboard campaign with 1% of their taxes for 2014. In total the foundation collected almost £8,000.
October 2012 saw the launch of the foundation’s first billboard campaign, which ran until to January 2013. Slogans included “I don’t kill, I don’t steal, I don’t believe” and “You don’t believe in God? – You are not alone”, pictured above
From October to December 2013 a double campaign took place with slogan “Atheists are divine”.
When the first campaign was launched, The Scotsman reported that he arrival of the billboards had generated:
A whirlwind of publicity in a nation where more than 90 per cent of the population still classifies itself as Catholic, and is also the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, one of Poland’s most famous sons.
It quoted Jacek Tabisz, President of the Polish Association of Rationalists, as saying:
In a country considered to be Catholic, it’s very hard to be an atheist … The billboard action is not aimed at believers. It is to show people that in a country where the stereotypical Pole is a Catholic there is a large group of atheists.
The campaign fed into a widening and in many ways unprecedented debate in Poland over the position and power of the Catholic Church in the country.
Long revered as a bastion of Polish culture and mores, when communism collapsed in 1989 a combination of widespread belief and gratitude to the Church for its role in the downfall of Communism led to the state granting it a number of privileges.
Despite being an officially secular state, priests can give classes in “religion” from kindergarten age upwards, and the Church benefits from the “Church fund”, a raft of supportive financial measures from tax relief and help with pensions, to state funding for ecclesiastical property.
For the best part of two decades these rights, along with the Church’s revered status, have gone almost unchallenged but now times are changing.
In 2014, the Palikot Movement, the third largest party in the Polish parliament and one with a clear anti-clerical agenda, called for an end to religious instruction in schools, claiming it contravened articles in the Polish constitution ensuring equality of all faiths.
Even the Polish government has courted a share of criticism from the Church, with talk of reforming and reducing the “Church fund”.
Going one step further in the same year the Government also ignored strident objections from the Catholic Church when it approved state funding for in-vitro fertilisation programmes.
Sociologists quelled talk of an anti-clerical revolution in Poland, pointing out that despite the challenges to the Church’s position the Central European state remains a robustly Catholic country.
But they also stressed that as Poles travel, work abroad and are exposed to a more cosmopolitan and more secular lifestyle the once formidable power and influence of the Church has begun to wane.
• A while back I wrote a piece for the Freethinker about conversations I had with Poles living in the UK and Spain who expressed delight over their escape from theocratic Poland.