Approximately 800 gay rights activists marched through the southern Polish city of Krakow on Friday, appealing for greater understanding in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. But the march was met by about 200 counterdemonstrators, many with shaven heads, who threw stones, eggs, and firecrackers at the demonstrators, chanting "Down with gays!" and "Let's kick the homosexuals out of Krakow."
Police officers with guns and dogs kept the two groups apart, firing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets into the air when they were pelted with stones. No injuries or arrests were reported. Opposition to the march, held in the picturesque city where Pope John Paul II once served as bishop, highlights the difficulties homosexuals face in finding acceptance in conservative Poland.
Marcher Ilona Salczynska said that although Poland joined the European Union last weekend, the country still has far to go in achieving Western standards of tolerance. "We are only partly in Europe," the 23-year-old student said. "But although so many people are protesting this march, we are here. We are a little bit scared, but we are marching, and there are a lot of us."
Uproar over the march began weeks ago when news surfaced that an activist group, Campaign Against Homophobia, planned to hold the demonstration for Sunday, the day of an annual procession through the city in honor of St. Stanislaw, Poland's patron saint. The organization rescheduled the march for Friday, but conservative political parties and church groups still appealed for its ban--a stance rejected by city officials.